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Live Review: J-Lo Is the Ultimate Showgirl in "All I Have" Las Vegas Residency

Adele Powers Through a Lifetime of Regret & Weariness on '25': Album Review

Coldplay Creeps Onto The Dance Floor

Demi Lovato Lays It All Bare on 'Confident': Album Review

Carly Rae Jepsen: E•MO•TION


JLOLive Review: J-Lo Is the Ultimate Showgirl in "All I Have" Las Vegas Residency

Billboard.com

The only question after seeing Jennifer Lopez's "All I Have" residency in Las Vegas is: What took her so long?

Given her trajectory of Fly Girl to actress to pop star to TV personality to all of the above at once, it's not surprising that Lopez was tailor-made for Vegas. It's much like the Rat Pack's heyday in the 1960s: Was anyone asking Frank or Sammy to choose a single career path? No, they were expected to excel in all things, and J.Lo surely did that in the first night of her residency at Planet Hollywood's AXIS theater.

The show played out like a walk through her multi-hyphenate life, beginning with her very first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit, "If You Had My Love." Following the feathery and sparkly opening number, Lopez had a modern trick up her sleeve for "Love Don't Cost a Thing," as her male dancers rolled out on hoverboards, presenting her with sequined roses. As Lopez climbed up the mirrored staircase at center stage surrounded by gentleman callers, it was very reminiscent of Madonna's "Material Girl" music video (you know, aside from the hoverboards). J.Lo went full Vegas next with "Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do" from Bye Bye Birdie, performing a soft-shoe number complete with jewel-encrusted cane.

When it was time for the first costume change (we were all waiting for one), a hip-hop interlude kept the crowd occupied, as dancers dressed as speakers filled the stage. When a bedazzled 6 Train rolled out, it was clearly time for the Bronx portion of Lopez's walk down memory lane. How could she prove just how real she still is, even after all the international fame? By performing "I'm Real," of course, with special guest Ja Rule joining her as the night's first special guest. She transitioned to "Feelin' So Good" and then her signature "Jenny From the Block," rocking a sequin pink Yankees cap that she gifted to a lucky New Yorker in the crowd.

"Mind if I change?" she mused to no one in particular to kick off the sultry section of the night. This is where she really let out her inner-Vegas showgirl, as she became less and less clothed throughout "I'm Into You," "Girls" and "Booty," including some vigorous shaking of her famous derriere and a J.Lo sandwich on a chaise lounge with two female dancers. During "Booty," her band even played a line of Drake's "Hotline Bling" as Lopez announced, "Booty call!"

But forget the booty for a second, because next up was J.Lo, the mom. After performing "Feel the Light" from the animated movie Home ("You have kids and all you want to do is a cartoon," she said as an actress) in a stunning green-screen dress that made her look 10 feet tall, she wanted to do something for her twins Max and Emme. She chose Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" -- by far her most personal and emotional song of the night, as her voice cracked in the last line. "I just want them to be happy," she said of her 7-year-olds.

Jennifer Lopez's All I Have Las Vegas residency - Caesars Entertainment

Never one to bring the mood down for too long, it was time for more surprise guests. Rule returned for "Ain't It Funny" and Ne-Yo came out to duet on Debra Laws' "Very Special" and the J.Lo hit that sampled that song (and the residency's namesake) "All I Have" -- with Ne-Yo even singing LL Cool J's parts.

But what about her Latin roots? Lopez had that covered too. It started with Celia Cruz's "Quimbara," then "Quien Sera" (also known as Dean Martin's "Sway" in English) and then the Grammy-winning "Let's Get Loud," which was co-written by Gloria Estefan. Lopez never stopped dancing throughout the night (except for when she was locked into her mile-high gown), but she especially got down during the Latin section.

Finally, it was time to end in the area where J.Lo started and has found her most recent success: dance. She finished the two-hour spectacle with "Waiting for Tonight," followed by "Dance Again" and, finally, "On the Floor." The crowd was stunned to see Pitbull emerge from below the stage for the final number to cap the over-the-top night. Can the regular residency crowd expect this much star power? That remains to be seen.

A number of celebrities filled the opening-night crowd, including Justin Bieber (whose arrival prompted the biggest non-J.Lo scream of the night), Leah Remini, Rebel Wilson, Kelly Osbourne, Today host Hoda Kotb and more.

Early in the night, Lopez announced to the audience: "There's a new girl in town!" She's just kindly letting Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John and the other Vegas staples know that they have some company in Sin City -- and she already seems to have a pretty good feel for the town.

Jennifer Lopez's All I Have set list:

If You Had My Love
Love Don't Cost a Thing
Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do
Get Right
I'm Real (with Ja Rule)
Feelin' So Good
Jenny From the Block
I'm Into You
Girls
Booty
Feel the Light
I Hope You Dance
Ain't It Funny (with Ja Rule)
Very Special/All I Have (with Ne-Yo)
Hold It Don't Drop It
Quimbara
Quien Sera
Let's Get Loud
Waiting for Tonight
Dance Again
On the Floor (with Pitbull)

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AdeleAdele Powers Through a Lifetime of Regret & Weariness on '25': Album Review

Billboard.com

Adele Adkins is still a young woman -- just 27, which is to say two years older than the number on the cover of her third album. But she’s determined to sound as old as the hills. The love-wracked ingénue of 21 has given way to a lioness-in-winter, shouldering a lifetime’s worth of world-weariness and regret. The song titles tell the story: “When We Were Young,” “Water Under the Bridge,” “Million Years Ago.”

In one song, Adele casts herself as Old Woman River, reaching for a soggy riparian metaphor: “The reeds are growing out of my fingertips.” Eventually, she pumps up the ennui to Full Gallic. Harmonically and spiritually, “Million Years Ago” is a cousin to French chanson, with a brooding melody that’s nudged forward by plucked acoustic guitar, and a lyric that sounds like it’s being hissed across a café table to Jacques Brel: “I know I’m not the only one/ Who regrets the things she’s done…Life was a party to be thrown/But that was a million years ago.”

These sentiments have a slightly callow ring: a young person’s idea of an old fogey’s ruefulness. But to be fair, pop stars grow up fast and do a lot of living. Over the last five years, Adele has gone from a rising star to world-beater, releasing an album, 21, that’s the closest the music industry may ever again come to Thriller. Also, she had a baby -- a heady experience that can make a person feel like she’s aged decades overnight. In any case, Adele’s elegiac turn makes sense as a career move. From Edith Piaf to Dusty Springfield to Barbra Streisand and beyond, nostalgia has been standard torch singer fodder. If a diva isn’t mooning over lost love, she’s lamenting vanished time.

Adele certainly has the pipes for the job. 25 is first and foremost a showcase for her titanic voice. The grandeur is announced by the album opener, the global No. 1 “Hello,” which sets a mood of mournful longing while traveling the heroic power-ballad trajectory, from stately verse to booming chorus to falsetto whoops and back again. Her singing is at its most luminous on “All I Ask,” co-written and produced by Bruno Mars’ Smeezingtons crew, which strips back the instrumentation to piano only, and sets Adele gusting over the octaves.

That song, like nearly everything on 25, pursues a simple strategy: get out of the way. The liner notes reveal a roster of heavy-hitting talent -- Max Martin and Shellback, Greg Kurstin, Ryan Tedder, Danger Mouse, Adele’s longtime sidekick Paul Epworth -- but this is not a producer’s record. The one exception is Epworth’s “I Miss You,” whose stuttering beat and eerie swirl of backing vocals and effects gesture mildly in the direction of nu-R&B. For the most part, Adele and her collaborators place her burly mid-range front-and-center and keep the ornamentation to a minimum. There are hints of the singer’s soul revivalism in hooting backing vocals and tolling gospel chord progressions. But there is nothing as explicitly old-school as Motown girl group update “Rolling in the Deep” -- nor anything as gripping.

Looked at from one angle, the Adele aesthetic is perverse -- based, seemingly, on a determination to do the soberest and most uninteresting possible things with an all-world voice. Martin and Shellback’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” is sprightlier than anything else on 25, but you can sense those Swedish pop wizards straining to keep the song in check, as if too many hooks, too much fun, would be a crime against the brand and a breach of good taste. Adele, after all, is nothing if not tasteful. In everything but vocal prowess, she is aggressively normal. Her lyrics traffic in clichés but aren’t recklessly gauche enough to qualify as schlock; her arrangements are huge but tidy, prim. She doesn't have the fearless tackiness of Adult Contemporary stalwarts like Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey or, God knows, Streisand. She is, you might say, quite English.

And yet: that voice. On 25, the material is occasionally inspired, sometimes dull, but always serviceable -- and with Adele, that’s enough. Ballads like “Love in the Dark” and “Sweetest Devotion” revisit timeworn themes (of heartache and uplift, respectively); but with Adele’s voice swathed in echo, sounding like she’s wailing beneath the vaults of the planet’s most cavernous cathedral, they hit hard. History teaches us that the power to blow back ears is the power to jerk tears -- and that the pop audience craves catharsis even more than it does a hot dance beat. That’s not about to change: there’s every reason to believe it will be true when Adele actually is long in the tooth, and the title of her new album is 78.

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ColdplayColdplay Creeps Onto The Dance Floor

Billboard.com

Sooner or later, every goliath of modern stadium rock hears the siren call of the discotheque. U2, Radiohead, Arcade Fire -- all have striven to goose their sincerity with syncopation, to inject more fun, more funk, into their big, regal, high-minded songs. Now it's Coldplay's turn. On the band's seventh album, A Head Full of Dreams, Chris Martin and company nervously creep onto the dancefloor, like boys at a junior high school prom, determined to unleash the boogie, white man's overbite be damned. Thus "Adventure of a Lifetime," the first single, which puts a classic disco beat -- percolating bassline, hissing high-hat, hand claps -- behind Martin's tremulous falsetto. The song's sentiments are pure Coldplay. "We are diamonds taking shape," sings Martin. "Everything you want's a dream away."

Martin told an interviewer that the group wanted to make an uplifting album that would prompt fans to "shuffle [their] feet." Listeners familiar with Coldplay might ask if the band has ever made a record that doesn't aim to uplift. For nearly a decade and a half, Coldplay has been the global standard-bearer of Inspiration Rock. Even on Ghost Stories, the moderately downcast 2014 album released in the wake of Martin's marital breakup, the music chimed grandly, and the lyrics tilted in the direction of bombast and bromides. In Coldplay's world, we all have wings, and the band provides the wind.

As for feet-shuffling, that's where collaborators come in. On A Head Full of Dreams, the band teams with Stargate, aka Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, who share production duties with longtime Coldplay comrade Rik Simpson on all but one song. There are other boldface names in the credits: Tove Lo, Noel Gallagher and, well, President Barack Obama, whose sampled rendition of "Amazing Grace" can be heard amid a wash of piano and ;synths on the vague songlet called "Kaleidoscope." Then there's the Queen of America, Beyoncé, who provides backing vocals on three songs, including the album's grooviest, "Hymn for the Weekend," which sounds an awful lot like Coldplay's answer to "Drunk in Love." ("I'm feeling drunk and high/So high, so high/Then we'll shoot across the sky," exults Martin.)

The decision to work with Stargate was a shrewd one. The Norwegian songwriting-production duo is among the world's best at blending the flavors of R&B and bubble-gum pop. More than any previous Coldplay release, A Head Full of Dreams sounds like a pop record; the band has never been catchier. That's especially true when the tempos are brisk, in tracks like "Hymn for the Weekend" and "Birds," whose ringing guitars and thumping bass might please fans of The Cure. Of course, the songs are still big, with the peeling guitars and crescendos in which Coldplay always has specialized. But Stargate finds new ways to ornament the anthems with hooks, beats, samples and effects. Martin and Coldplay haven't exactly reined in their excesses, but they've given them new shape and weight. They've put some ballast in their ballads.

Which hasn't stopped Martin from doing what comes naturally: singing corny drivel. The lyrics are full of miracles and angels and soaring eagles, and "philosophy" along the lines of "Life has a beautiful crazy design." Coldplay has hinted that A Head Full of Dreams might be its last album. If that's true, it's a fitting swan song, a reminder the act has been a band of and for our time, proffering heroic psychobabble. The record closes with "Up and Up," which marshals a hip-hop beat and gospel-style chorales to drive home a pep-talk banality: "When you think you've had enough/Don't ever give up." It's not exactly new advice, maybe not even good advice, but it's a message that millions want to hear. And, lo and behold, you can dance to it.

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Demi LovatoDemi Lovato Lays It All Bare on 'Confident': Album Review

Billboard.com

Since her emancipation from the Disney Channel’s clutches, Demi Lovato has become one of pop’s leading motivational figures, wailing songs about self-empowerment and talking to Congress about destigmatizing mental illness. Openly discussing her struggles with bipolar disorder, bulimia and substance abuse, she has settled into herself in a manner similar to put-it-all-out-there pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Pink. Even the 23-year-old’s winkingly sapphic smash “Cool for the Summer,” the first single from her fifth album, Confident, operates in be-yourself mode.

Lovato’s sultry growling about “something that we want to try” and the pulsing track’s tinkling piano bring heat as the days grow shorter, but “Summer” is a somewhat deceptive lead-in to Confident. Befitting Lovato’s rough journey, the songs are moodier and heavier; even uptempo cuts like the defiant “Old Ways” and the swinging title track have darkness lurking underneath, like they’re sonically rebuking anyone who wants to get in Lovato’s way.

In some ways, Confident updates the adult-contemporary album archetype for tween graduates. Throughout, Lovato’s clarion voice is front and center on midtempo tracks that assert her stronger-than-yesterday bona fides. The majestic devotional “For You” has a backup choir singing “For you I would do anything” as Lovato sings about summoning strength, her performance making her inner power even more plain. “Stone Cold,” a post-breakup love letter, puts Lovato squarely in Adele mode; she’s belting out the verses but downright wistful when she drops her voice and breathes “I’m happy for you” to her former lover, who has found comfort in another. The Ryan Tedder/StarGate collaboration “Wildfire” is a little more forward-sounding, with pillowy synths and snaps floating around her voice. At times the pace can be a bit monotonous, but Lovato’s strong alto keeps things tight.

Lovato invited only female MCs to guest, an admirable gesture in line with the girl-power message that drives Confident. But the album’s overall statement might have been stronger had she gone totally solo. Iggy Azalea’s underwhelming comeback verse (“Gather ’round, now I’m back from my holiday/Long live the queen what the people say”) drags down “Kingdom Come,” while rapper Sirah’s breathy contribution to the vengeful “Waitin’ for You” blunts the song’s stark effect.

Confident closes with “Father,” a choir-assisted elegy for Lovato’s biological father, who died in 2013. He and Lovato had been estranged for six years prior to his death, and the lyrics are a raw trip through psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. On it, Lovato sings about regret and guilt, about clung-to anger and, eventually, the hope that he’s in a more peaceful place. It’s a jaw-dropping finale and makes Confident more than just an album title. Lovato not only channels her mourning, she exposes its uglier side (“You did your best/Or did you?/Sometimes I think I hate you,” she sings at one point).

Lovato’s growth since her debut as a tween TV star has been public, and it hasn’t been without stumbles. But her willingness to own every step and misstep, and to show her audience how the rough times helped her become the woman she is, makes Confident a surprisingly compelling listen.

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Carly Rae JepsenCarly Rae Jepsen: E•MO•TION

Pluggedin.com

Album Review

The third album from Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen, E•MO•TION, is aptly titled. Jepsen is truly in love with being in love, and she lives to feel her feelings. "Oh, baby, take me to the feeling," she croons to her beau on album opener "Run Away With Me." "This is the part you've got to say all that you're feeling, feeling."

The title track delivers more of the same: "Let your feelings be revealing/ … This emotion, I feel it/This emotion, you feel it/All that we could do with this emotion."

Listening to lines bursting with so many sensations, I couldn't help but think of one-hit-wonder Morris Albert's 1975 song that told us life was little more than a dance with our "feelings … nothing more than … feelings … for all my life I'll feel it."

Pro-social Content

"All That" is filled with romantic promises of friendship and commitment ("I will be your friend/ … I'll be your lighthouse when you're lost to sea/I'll keep my light on, baby, you can always come to me/I wanna be the place you call your home/ … Oh, let me be the one/The only one"). Puppy-love eagerness saturates "Gimme Love," as Jespen confesses, "I know I said that I'm too scared to try/But still think about you, think about you/And I can't lie/I like the feeling, you make me shy." And "Warm Blood" says, "I would throw in the towel for you, boy/'Cause you lift me up when I'm falling for you."

"L.A. Hallucinations" rightly recognizes that money and material things won't fill holes in hearts ("But money makes your whole world spin/'Til everything is dizzy/ … Planes I'm hopping/Cards I'm dropping/No shop can fill me up/ … There's a little black hole in my golden cup").

"Boy Problems" finds a friend confronting an overly emotional, pessimistic woman about her attitudes toward men. "So tired of hearin' all your boy problems," the friend tells her. "It could be the perfect day/You'll just make it rain anywhere." Jepsen responds, "I know that she's right/And I should not be offended." Later, she asks the rhetorical question, "What's worse?/Losing a lover or losing your best friend?" She answers her own question, telling her latest troubling boy, "She's been giving, you've been taking." Similarly, "When I Needed You" tells the tale of a woman who has enough self-respect to cut loose a guy who isn't willing to be there for her when she really needs him.

At first, "Making the Most of the Night" sounds like it's going to be a booty-call song, with Jepsen racing recklessly across town in the middle of the night ("Baby, I'm speeding and red lights are run"). But it turns out that she's perhaps trying to rescue a guy from a suicide attempt ("I know you've had a rough time/ … Baby, take my hand, now don't you cry/I won't let you sleep, I won't let you hide/No more tears, don't waste another day/Go on and fight, don't lay down to die/Come on, you'll make it through OK/ … I love you").

Objectionable Content

"Run Away With Me" includes the suggestive lyric, "You're stuck in my head, stuck on my heart, stuck on my body, body/ … I'll be your sinner in secret." "All my kisses, say you'll miss it/And you can forget me not," Jepsen sings on the title track. And the lip-locking on "I Really Like You" could easily be a prelude to more ("Yeah, we could stay alone, you and me, in this temptation/Sipping on your lips, hanging on by a thread, baby").

Lyrics on the forthright "Gimme Love" cross over from emotional to physical with, "Gimme touch/ … Fall into me/ … 'Cause I want what I want, boy, you, it's what I need/ … You got a hold of me the whole d--n night." When that tryst doesn't happen, Jepsen regretfully sings, "I toss and turn but still I can't sleep right/I should've asked you to stay, begged you to stay." Lines on "All That" could also be heard as a reference to sex ("I wanna be the best you've ever known/Just let me in your arms").

Summary Advisory

E•MO•TION feels like a throwback to a more earnest time. It's devoid of winking irony or sarcasm, slaps at other divas or double entendres snared by naughtiness. At a time when even supposed "good girls" like Demi Lovato feel compelled to sing about diving enthusiastically into, say, a same-sex relationship, Carly Rae Jepsen comes across as downright anachronistic.

Her material's hardly innocent, mind you. There's enough suggestiveness here to show us that Jepsen has no problem translating her myriad feelings into something more sensually physical. Still, I couldn't help but think about the likes of Debbie Gibson while listening to Carly Rae pour her heart out in an array of bubblegum pop tracks pining away for a guy to love her so she can love him back. And in between a few of the sugary bubbles we even get a candy jewel or two of deeper insight.

On "Gimme Love," Jepsen tells a guy, "'Cause I want what I want," then asks, "Do you think that I want too much?" That's a great question, actually. Because it's very clear here that Carly Rae Jepsen is hungry for love, security, intimacy and acceptance. Those are good desires, the kind that can be fulfilled in a good marriage and an even better relationship with God. But in her rush to realize those desires right now, the singer throws caution to the wind, unwisely giving herself—heart, soul and body—to whoever is the latest guy she longs to believe can make all those good feelings last forever.

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