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U2's Experience embraces band's sound

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B+ U2

Songs of Experience

Interscope

U2 has made an exciting, stage-ready album that doesn't blush or blink in its use of the band's signature sounds -- The Edge's chiming guitar, Adam Clayton's trebly, adhesive bass, Larry Mullen Jr.'s sharp and responsive drums and Bono's heart-on-his-vocal-cords singing.

Bono has worn the ensemble's colors most brightly -- the Christian zeal, the obsession with technology and its excesses, the penchant for big statements, his full immersion in the politics of the moment and his firm commitment to numerous humanitarian causes.

"Swan Lake"-like strings launch the opener "Love Is All We Have Left," as Bono duets with his own electronically modified voice on one of his Zeitgeist ballads.

On "Lights of Home" the distorted acoustic guitar and cymbal splashes give way to an emotional solo from The Edge and a gospel-like, gap-in-the-clouds ending with assistance from the group Haim, who also get co-credit for the music.

"You're the Best Thing About Me" has more of U2's DNA of thumping drums and ringing guitars but the message is ambivalent -- you're magnificent but I'm leaving anyway.

Kendrick Lamar raps on the transition between "Get Out of Your Own Way" and "American Soul," not really integrated in either, and Lady Gaga sings backing on "Summer of Love."

"Red Flag Day," a counterpart of the anthemic songs on 1983's War, references the scores of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

Closer "13 (There Is a Light)" pairs up with the opener as album bookends of Bono's most vulnerable moments.

Nearly every song has a different producer or combination thereof but they all seem to have been peeking at each other's notes. It's not so much a return to U2's roots as a modern expedition across their vast reservoir of sounds and themes.

Hot tracks: "Love Is All We Have Left," "You're the Best Thing About me," "Red Flag Day"

-- PABLO GORONDI

The Associated Press

B Sia

Everyday Is Christmas

Monkey Puzzle/Atlantic

Sia's holiday album of original songs sounds as good as any contemporary pop project, with Sia's strong songwriting skills.

"Let's go below zero and hide from the sun, I'll love you forever, Oh we'll have some fun," she sings on the ballad "Snowman."

Using the holidays and things around it as metaphors is one of the album's themes. On another soft gem, "Snowflake," Sia sings sweetly, sounding like a mother who is sending her child off to college or elsewhere.

Sia worked on the songs with longtime collaborator Greg Kurstin, who has also lent his magical touch to Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Pink and other superstars.

The lead single and opening track, "Santa's Coming for Us," is a festive adventure; "Ho Ho Ho" is the perfect, whiskey-flavored party song; and "Underneath the Mistletoe" is an R&B gem.

The most adorable song? "Puppies Are Forever." It features dogs barking near the end of the song and includes the lyrics, "Puppies are forever, not just for Christmas."

Hot tracks: "Santa's Coming for Us," "Ho Ho Ho," "Puppies Are Forever"

-- MESFIN FEKADU

The Associated Press

B Patti LaBelle and Friends

Home for the Holidays

GPE

Patti LaBelle has recruited a talented roster for Home for the Holidays and, in the spirit of Christmas generosity, she gives them ample room in the limelight.

The varied repertoire includes vocal interpretations of classical works like Schubert's "Ave Maria" (by Ruben Studdard) and "Brahms Lullaby," as well as more recent Christmas favorites with secular themes like "Don't Save It All for Christmas Day" and "Grown up Christmas List," both LaBelle solo spots.

Also featured are the relaxed "O What a Night" and the carnivalesque "Brazilian Sleigh Bells, featuring pianist Jamar Jones.

Other performers are vocalist Vivian Green on the "The Christmas Song" and "Maybe Next Year" and gospel great Tamela Mann -- who duets with LaBelle on "Jesus King!" -- which will surely get you in the spirit. If you're yearning for a diverse set for the holidays, LaBelle has cooked up a feast.

Hot tracks: "Don't Save It All for Christmas Day," "The Christmas Song," "Jesus King!"

-- PABLO GORONDI

The Associated Press

C Jessie Ware

Glasshouse

Interscope

Jessie Ware, the London-born singer-songwriter, has a versatile voice that can whisper and soar against a musical palette drawing from soul, R&B, jazz and pop.

The 12 songs here showcase Ware's range. She can go from a murmur to a scream against a disco bassline in lead single "Midnight." She can croon soulfully on "Thinking About You."

In lyrics partly inspired by the birth of her first child last year, Ware reflects on love and loss. It's not exactly Amy Winehouse-level soul baring but it delivers on the seductive, bossa nova-tinged "Selfish Love."

At times, Ware seems overwhelmed by the album's busy production. "Alone" is a catchy ballad honed to within an inch of its life. There's more freedom on "Your Domino," an appealing slice of Eurodisco fun.

The album is most effective when it slows down -- as it does on the aptly named "Slow Me Down" and on "Hearts," which lets the emotion in Ware's voice shine through.

"Sam," a lovely acoustic ballad co-written with Ed Sheeran, has a tenderness and directness that much of the album lacks.

Hot tracks: "Sam," "Slow Me Down"

-- JILL LAWLESS

The Associated Press

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Sia’s new album is titled Everyday Is Christmas. + Enlarge

Style on 12/05/2017

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