NEW YORK (Billboard) - Against all odds, Axl Rose is at last releasing “Chinese Democracy,” the first album of new Guns N’ Roses material since 1991 (it will be an exclusive at Best Buy). The opening track is a hard-rocking cyberpunk drama, complete with an action-movie intro, neurotic multitrack vocals and plenty of spaced-out guitar solos (Buckethead?) designed to make up for Slash’s absence. Over an industrial riff with shades of the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Axl wails about “Real time visionaries sitting in a Chinese stew” — and he must be the first rock star to name-check “Falun Gong” and “masturbation” in the same song. This is not a typical radio hit; it’s not built around an obvious melody or hook like so many Guns N’ Roses classics. But that hasn’t hindered massive early airplay, and fans are clearly responding favorably to their first (authorized) taste of new GNR music in nearly a decade.
SINGLE: LOST+ (Parlophone/Capitol Records)
The best thing about a collaboration between Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Jay-Z (see “Beach Chair” from the latter’s 2006 set “Kingdom Come”) is that the artists remain themselves. Neither compromises style to suit the other, and that makes for interesting records. Musically, “Lost+” is gloomy instrumentation with a series of drums and claps that perfectly fits the lyrical content of the song and makes the transition from Martin’s singing to Jay’s rapping seem effortless. Each delivers introspective lyrics about the penalty of achievement and how perception can become reality. Both men have conquered their respective musical genres and now take a moment to share what they’ve learned about life in the limelight. Jay-Z says it best: “Success is like suicide/If you succeed, prepare to be crucified.”
SINGLE: THE LOVERS ARE LOSING (Interscope Records)
British pop/rock act Keane has topped album charts at home three out of three times while delivering nine top 40 hits. Sadly, while the trio persistently sells out live shows in America, radio has yet to get with the program; the band’s only solid airplay hit here is 2003’s top five “Somewhere Only We Know,” on adult top 40. “Symmetry,” released October 14 in the States, arrived at No. 7, further proving popularity, despite the airplay disconnect. First single “The Lovers Are Losing” typifies the trio’s piano-based pop/rock signature, offering a madcap melody; adhesive chorus; clean, timeless production; and ever-accessible vocals from Tom Chaplin, who expresses Tim Rice-Oxley’s smart lyric about fading infatuation: “We cling to love like a skidding car clings to a corner/I try to hold onto what we are, the more I squeeze the quicker we alter.” What will it take to propel Keane to mainstream fame — a track on “Grey’s Anatomy?”
SINGLE: A CHANGE IS GONNA COME (Warner Bros. Records)
Any time Seal decides to offer new material is a homecoming for fans of majestic, cultured melodies. “Crazy” became his first top 10, egads, 18 years ago. Seventh studio album “Soul,” due November 11, is a study in soul classics, led by first single “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a No. 9 hit from Sam Cooke after his death in December 1964 — and among 29 top 40 hits he charted between 1957 and 1965. At the time, the song became an anthem for the civil rights movement; obviously its message before the 2008 presidential election is relevant. Production from David Foster is decidedly retro, brimming with silken strings, cast as an ultimate should-be James Bond theme. Seal, as ever, is smooth as velvet, passionate and as familiar as a next door neighbor. As stimulating as his return, “Change” is befitting a full moon, red wine and a sighful glance at a lover. Seal is simply incapable of conjuring anything less.
SINGLE: BUST YOUR WINDOWS (J Records)
Philly newcomer Jazmine Sullivan is the first female in two years to top Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with a debut — “Need U Bad” — not to mention No. 1 R&B album “Fearless.” Theatrical yet believable, the 21-year-old follows with the midtempo “Bust Your Windows,” emoting one of the most challenging vocals from a female R&B artist this year. And she nails it: Sullivan’s husky voice floats effortlessly over an eerie underlining violin score, originating from a sample of producer Salaam Remi’s composition “Bad Man Waltz.” With two singles on the pop charts (and climbing), Sullivan is on fire and set to become one of the heralded new acts of the year.