Listening Log : 10-12-05 

All Jacked Up

Gretchen Wilson

(Epic)

A red-state anthem that name-checked evil empire Wal-Mart and still provoked plenty of lefty love, "Redneck Woman" didn't just have it both ways, it had it every which way. It was undeniable. But now Wilson's calculation and pop ambition is getting the best of her. The litany of product-placement pop -- "All Jacked Up," "Skoal Ring," "One Bud Wiser" -- on this sophomore effort (this is the kind of record that cliche was made for) feels forced and false. She's celebrated Hank Jr. as an icon, but here it sounds like she's heading too fast for beer commercial/football jingle territory. Wilson and Merle Haggard strain their wrists patting their own backs with "Politically Uncorrect," which would be less annoying if either had a songwriting credit. And, giving the game away for good, she closes with an über-classy reading of "Good Morning Heartache," hoping a redneck woman can get in on some of that Norah Jones/O Brother crossover action. ("One Bud Wiser," "Not Bad for a Bartender," "He Ain't Even Cold Yet") -- CH

Grade: B-

You Could Have It So Much Better

Franz Ferdinand

(Domino)

A year ago, when this Scottish band was just beginning its stateside conquest, some heard Gang of Four in their herky-jerk guitar attack. I cited the Talking Heads -- art-band gone pop, with hit singles and cool videos and the whole shebang. Well, frontman Alex Kapranos isn't a conceptualist on the order of David Byrne, but I was still more right than I knew, as theory became reality and Franz Ferdinand became something like rock stars in the U.S. The band's negotiation with a broad audience deepened their music: The single "Take Me Out" became a desperate, danceable, Rorschach-worthy anthem for a very bad year. Primed to respond from the get-go this time, I'm still knocked out by how great You Could Have It So Much Better sounds and feels. The cryptic lyrics get over on a few Morrissey moves and provocative suggestions (see that album title), but with music that motorvates this much, the message has time to catch up. ("The Fallen," "You're the Reason I'm Leaving," "Outsiders") -- CH

Grade: A-

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