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by Carey Murphy and Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & & r & The Strokes & lt;a href= & quot; & amp;offerid=78941 & amp;type=3 & amp;subid=0 & amp;tmpid=1826 & amp; & quot; & First Impressions of Earth & lt;/a & ** & r & I'm afraid we've heard it all before. So Julian Casablancas just can't help caricaturing himself in his most recent batch of lyrics. "I've got nothing to say," he emotes on "Ask Me Anything," and that might be the most prescient statement regarding Impressions. And the album seldom does. The Strokes, I'm afraid, have gotten lazy -- they've resorted to ripping themselves off.

The shortcomings here are the byproduct of reinvigorating rock with Is This It, an album that set an impossibly high standard. By comparison, few tracks on the new album stand out -- and only because they're the ones that don't sound like Strokes songs. "Juicebox" is a frantic, bass-driven fiasco that showcases the Casablancas' wail. "Vision of Division," another bass-forward rocker, offers the line most capable of intuiting fan hopefulness: "How long must I wait?" we all get to ask before the Strokes shrug off their complacency.

Because I waited three years, I'll keep listening. But it's sad to already be looking yearning for the next one. -- Carey Murphy

Neil Diamond & lt;a href= & quot; & amp;offerid=78941 & amp;type=3 & amp;subid=0 & amp;tmpid=1826 & amp; & quot; & 12 Songs & lt;/a & **** & r & Before the marketing machine bathed him in rhinestones, and way before "Heartlight," Neil Diamond was a songwriter who could kind of sing. Of course, other voices that have taken some getting used to -- Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash -- have also become American icons.

Superproducer Rick Rubin wanted to strip away all the glitz and syrupy string sections to reveal the Diamond in the rough -- a trick he pulled for Johnny Cash, too. The result is a 50-minute exercise in musical simplicity. Rubin and Diamond prove that great songwriting, spare arrangements and a well-worn voice can add up to musical perfection.

And Diamond hits perfection on most of these tunes, especially "Hell Yeah," "Evermore" and "Man of God." The keyboards by Benmont Tench and Billy Preston are worth the price of the CD by themselves. And Diamond, who turns 65 this month, picks up the guitar, too, playing in that minor key he has relied upon since his first hit in 1962, "Solitary Man." But as Rubin shows, if you ignore the glitz, Diamond's talent is anything but minor. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
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