This week Incubus reinvents itself, Yes revisits the '70s (of course), the Cool Kids rewind some classic hip-hop beats, Colbie Caillat reclaims pop music from the teases, and Blake Shelton wants to turn some of that "Voice" attention into country cash. It's all good, clean summer fun. Well, almost all of it . . .
PLAY: Colbie Caillat, "All of You"
Colbie Caillat may be the smartest girl in the pop-rock girls school. Whereas the rest of her class is filled with spoiled divas, teases, and underachievers, Caillat is determined to keep her feet on the ground, her songs smart, and her clothes on. "All of You" has the same bubbly charm that inhabits much of the Disney/Nick Jr. pop fare polluting the airwaves, but Caillat also draws upon her strong musical DNA (her dad co-produced the Fleetwood Mac classic "Rumours"). The result is that her music feels less manufactured than crafted, and "All of You" sounds like it belongs in a Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson playlist more than in a Disney Radio set. Yes, kids, you can have summer fun AND keep it real. Colbie Caillat is a lesson in how femme pop stars can grow up gracefully.
SKIP: Blake Shelton, "Red River Blue"
There's nothing like a hit TV show to motivate a singer. Thanks to "The Voice," these days Blake Shelton has a bigger audience, and he wants those fans to buy some Blake Shelton music. Make no mistake, "Red River Blue" is built for the super-sized, mainstream, commercial mother lode. Go to Blake Shelton's website and buy the "Red River Blue" commemorative plaque, shot glass, leather cuff bracelet, or behind-the-scenes video. Some of you may ask, "What about the songs, Shawn?" Does it matter? The Blake Shelton "Have You Seen Me on the 'The Voice?' " country invasion is coming. Get onboard or get out of the way. You'll learn to like the songs. They're catchy (enough). Besides, the music will fade, but the shot glass will last forever.
PLAY: Incubus, "If Not Now, When?"
After a five-year break, Incubus returns as a different band. Some will say the group has gone soft. Hopefully, more will say that they're embracing what so many bands fear: change. "If Not Now, When?" leaves the heavy rock (mostly) behind and turns the angst inward. These are songs that are more introspective, romantic, and . . . soft. But that's a good thing. Most bands who've built a career on hard-rock riffing would either be too scared to screw with their formula or else would fail miserably trying. Incubus has the heart, soul, and musical chops to pull it off. "If Not Now, When?" is a triumph of musical bravery and a blueprint for any band that wants to put their own growth ahead of career calculations.
SKIP: Yes, "Fly From Here"
Sure, purists will immediately dismiss Yes' first new album in ten years for one simple reason: No Jon Anderson. The band's signature vocalist was replaced by Benoit David, a Yes cover band frontman (hey, it worked for Journey). You can call "Fly From Here" a sort-of Yes cover album, as performed by some players who used to be Yes. Three of the five classic Yes band members are here, but three out of five isn't enough. "Fly From Here" is prog-rock lite from a bunch of pioneers who have lost their way.
PLAY: The Cool Kids, "When Fish Ride Bicycles"
Hip-hop duo the Cool Kids have been kicking around since 2007, releasing mixes and singles that have made them the next big thing for four years. Now, after Mountain Dew endorsements and "Entourage" song placements, the Cool Kids are ready for their close-up. "When Fish Ride Bicycles" is a throwback to the glory days of hip-hop, when the bass blew through the speakers with the top pulled down. The Cool Kids' raps and beats travel to the edge but never get dark. With the help of co-producers the Neptunes, the vibe is always playful and unpredictable. Even "I Love College" smart-ass Asher Roth can't stop the good time. The Cool Kids are hot summer fun.