Animal Serenade, Lou Reed (Warner Bros.) Fronting a fine ensemble and sounding like he hasn't had a smoke in years (okay, weeks), Lou Reed fills two discs with live versions of his incomparable songs--some new and others as much as 40 years old--about life's heartbreaking underbelly. Recorded in Los Angeles last year, this is an intimate, entertaining, and important statement by the now grizzly rock 'n' roll animal.
Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand (Domino) Who can blame this stylish and energetic Glaswegian foursome for mimicking a few effects (distorted vocals, chugging guitar) from the Strokes' playbook in order to smuggle their hook-happy--and ultimately original--tunes into your heart? If you dig the dance-rock hybrids of Vancouver's Hot Hot Heat and San Diego's The Rapture, this is your new favorite band.
Give, The Bad Plus (Columbia) Last year, this piano-bass-drums trio knocked critics out with These Are the Vistas, a collection of fresh jazz renditions of songs by Blondie, Nirvana, and Aphex Twin. This time around, the Pixies and Black Sabbath get the hard bop treatment--and somehow it works. But don't overlook the original compositions, which are shot through with wit and fireworks.
Misery Is a Butterfly, Blonde Redhead (4AD) These veterans of the New York City indie scene, who drew comparisons to Sonic Youth until they mellowed out their sound and posed for a Gap ad, have hit the mark on this, their sixth full-length album. With askew vocals and moody instrumentations, it sounds like what would happen if the Beatles' George Martin dropped strong acid and produced a Bjork album.
Winning Days, The Vines (Capitol) The platinum sales of their debut Highly Evolved haven't stunted this Aussie outfit's growth. Winning Days finds them formulating Beach Boys harmonies and, thankfully, reducing their debt to Nirvana. Famously eccentric frontman Craig Nicholls always complains about having to tour when he wants to stay home, write, and record. Judging from this result, he might have a point. -Rowan West
Word Craft: The Art of Turning Little Words Into Big Business, by Alex Frankel (Crown, 241 pages, $24) Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Maybe. But would the handheld BlackBerry have sold as well if it had been named AirWire, Badge, Hula, Sling, Vuant, or TelTop? In Word Craft, business writer Alex Frankel explores how "namers," working for consulting firms like Lexicon and Wood Worldwide, came up with Pentium, PowerBook, e-business, Saturn, and Viagra. A good name must support the product's "message," suggest a subtle backstory of meaning, and function as a kind of one-word haiku. With the impotence pill Viagra, for example, "Vi" evokes vitality, vigor, and virility. The right name, moreover, creates brand awareness and controls a consumer's perceptions. The mellifluous-sounding Viagra transformed life-destroying impotence into treatable erectile dysfunction. Frankel includes a half-dozen winning profiles of corporate wordsmiths, image makers, and advertising gurus. Yet even a literary light can flub the name game. When Ford Motor Co. asked Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Marianne Moore to christen a new automobile, she suggested the Silver Sword, the Resilient Bullet, and the Utopian Turtletop. Ford rejected them all and instead chose...the Edsel. -Michael Dirda
Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press, 788 pages, $35) On the back of the $10 bill, Alexander Hamilton may look like another dull powderhead, but Ron Chernow's weighty biography of the Founding Father makes you wish that money really could talk. Chernow, author of The House of Morgan and the John D. Rockefeller Sr. bio Titan, delivers a complex, gripping, and operatic take on this penniless, self-taught orphan who became the country's first secretary of the Treasury. Not just a number cruncher, Hamilton was also a lawyer, general, and first-class flirt--and the architect of the national economy as we know it. Often cast as a supporting actor to George Washington or as the Federalist control freak pit against the more laissez-faire Thomas Jefferson, Chernow wisely chooses character over politics. He uncovers Hamilton's squalid, Dickensian youth on the slave-trading island of Nevis and addresses allegations that dogged the man in his political prime (that he was illegitimate, part black, had a longstanding affair with his wife's sister, and bought the silence of his mistress's husband). Towering, ingenious, and fatally flawed, Hamilton was killed by archnemesis Aaron Burr in a duel--a more merciful fate, perhaps, than a Kenneth Starr investigation. -Craig Offman
Grand Slam DVD Giftset (MGM Home Entertainment, $49.96) A fantastic four-disc set of classic baseball movies solves the perennial tough problem just around the corner: what to get Dad for Father's Day. Leading off is Ron Shelton's hokey hipster classic Bull Durham, a reminder that Kevin Costner wasn't always so tiresome and that Susan Sarandon has always sizzled. Costner and co-star Tim Robbins provide running commentary. Eight Men Out stars John Cusack and Charlie Sheen in John Sayles's colorful characterization of how "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and the 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series in the game's greatest scandal pre-Pete Rose. More than 50 years old and just 77 minutes long, The Jackie Robinson Story stars Robinson as himself (with a young Ruby Dee as his wife) in the biopic of his life. Finally, break out the hankies for The Pride of the Yankees, the story of the life and death of the inimitable Lou Gehrig, which will get even the toughest pop misty-eyed. -Larry Smith