INXS INXS
Switch
(Epic)
½

After turning the search for a new lead singer into a reality TV show, INXS emerged from 2005 with a new lead singer and a new studio album. The release is the band's first since the death of Michael Hutchence at the end of the 1990s.

New front man J.D. Fortune is an able vocalist and carries the mantle well, sounding a lot like Hutchence, though not quite ever matching the band's former vocalist's depth of charisma.

But from the horn punches of "Devil's Party" to the familiar rhythmic guitar bends of the first single, "Pretty Vegas," it's clear the remaining members of INXS remember how to write catchy, funky, groove rock. This occasionally is done with the help of other members who appeared on the band's extended audition reality show.

You can almost forget that it's not a 1980s INXS album, at times. Fortune sounds the most distinct from the legacy of Hutchence on the quiet ballad "Afterglow." But when the Farriss brothers turn on their punchy groove rhythms, Switch doesn't sound like much of a switch at all.

There are a couple of clunkers here, but the first couple of tracks the juvenile-but-fun strut rock of "Hot Girls" and the ambient contemplation of "God's Top Ten" make this a worthy addition to the INXS canon.

 

Fort Minor
The Rising Tied
(Warner Bros.)

Linkin Park made its name forging catchy hard rock with rap. Now, head rapper Mike Shinoda has stepped out with his Fort Minor project that allows him to focus on the rap side of the Linkin Park equation.

There are some hooky, potential hits here in the sing-song "Remember the Name," as well as the repetitive "Petrified" and "Cigarettes," as Shinoda pairs with members of the Roots, Styles of Beyond, Bobo, Holly Brook, Kenna and others to mix a solid release of rap pop.

Never as hard-rocking as Linkin Park, focusing more on beats and keyboard riffs, this disc allows Shinoda to explore his personal roots.For example, he tells how Japanese-Americans were put in internment camps in World War II.

The CD also deals with fame and other themes, without the angst-factor required to propel a Linkin Park song.

 

Conjure One Conjure One
Extraordinary Ways
(Nettwerk)

If you enjoy entrancing, hypnotic CDs, don't miss the sophomore release by Conjure One, which is just out from Canada's innovative Nettwerk label. Conjure One mastermind Rhys Fulber founded the wildly successful ethereal dance collective Delerium with Bill Leeb in the 1990s, after the two made waves on the industrial music club circuit with the band Frontline Assembly.

Delerium scored its biggest hit in partnership with Sarah McLachlan. But the group's long-running modus operandi has been to write catchy, synthesizer-based tracks with a variety of exotic rhythms and pair them with an ever-changing parade of sensual singers. The formula was hugely successful and, in 2002, Fulber stepped out from Delerium and repeated the formula with brilliant effect as Conjure One.

The first CO release featured heavyweight vocalists like Poe and Sinead O'Connor. Now, three years later, Conjure One returns, though without any name vocalists. But the sound remains the same. A burbling wall-of-sound filled with mesmerizing synthesizer loops, throbbing bass lines and achingly echoing piano melodies as well as exotic and entrancing vocalists makes Extraordinary Ways a dream of a CD.

It's subtle, layered and gorgeous. The best tracks come in the building mystery of the title track, the warmly engaging "One Word," the enthralling "Forever Lost" and the ice-piano, bass groove opener "Endless Dream." The latter features a vocalist reminiscient of Poe's performance on the last Conjure One offering.

The one misstep is when Fulber takes the microphone himself for an 1980s-esque Kraftwerk-ian exercise in synth pop that seems completely out of place on this disc.

Overall, this is a quieter release than CO's first, and consequently takes a little longer to "grow" on the listener. But the pearls are here, and the joy is in their slow, delicious discovery. Take the time to enjoy this beautiful, ethereal exercise in pop dreaming.

More information, including a sample of Conjure One's amazing and angelic world beat sound, may be found online at www.conjureone.com.

 

Lovemakers The Lovemakers
Times of Romance
(Interscope)

Sounding like a merger of Duran Duran and the Human League, they trade off vocal duties, amid the dozen tracks (plus a remix) on their debut. It's all catchy, poppy bubblegum fare.

In one track, they invoke a come-hither strutting bass line and Bee Gees falsetto while singing,

"you can have my love
take my body
you can have anything you want
if you shake that ass for me."

Other songs invoke the listener to "dance" and ponder why nothing's happening between two attracted people when "we should be taking our clothes off."

The tease element runs high on many tracks, but never with more than a PG-13 rating. This is just fun 1980s-derivative dance pop.