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Free Fallin' Again 

Tom Petty returns to his roots

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Mojo

(Reprise)

After more than a decade of singing about his divorce and how much the music industry sucks, Tom Petty returns to his roots on Mojo, his first album with the Heartbreakers in eight years. He and the group build most of the 15 songs around the bar-band blues they honed during their formative days. For fans of Southern Accents throwaway "Spike," this might be good news, but for everyone else, Mojo is just as dull as The Last DJ and Echo. It's Petty's least forced album in years (most of it was recorded live and without overdubs), and it sounds blithely tossed-off. But that's a problem. Many songs come off like concert set-fillers made by a band that doesn't have enough material to fill an entire night. Even the album's best tracks — "Jefferson Jericho Blues," "I Should Have Known It," and "Good Enough" — sound like they were written so Petty and the Heartbreakers have something new to jam to onstage. And anyone who's sat through a Phish record knows how tedious that can be. — Michael Gallucci

The Chemical Brothers

Further

(Freestyle Dust/Astralwerks)

The Chemical Brothers' Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have been hooking fans on hallucinogenic big-beat electronics since 1995's Exit Planet Dust. They're experts at creating coliseum-sized breakbeats, mixing dance, hip-hop, techno, house, and rock rhythms into dangerously addicting ear candy aimed at overloading the senses. On their seventh album, the Chemicals push their visionary sonics (as the title says) further with eight new tracks accompanied by films for each that are made to enhance the audio/visual experience. Further features the electro-essence of the duo's kinetic club grooves — from "Horse Power"'s huge Brit-hop dance to "Snow"'s psychedelic down-tempo — but the album's instrumental scores (there are no vocal collaborations here) fall sizably short against the group's best work. And with longtime visual collaborators Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall, the Chemical Brothers end up making eight mediocre music videos, where colorful silhouettes dance around to boring electronica — just like an iPod commercial. "Swoon" and "Dissolve" benefit from the visual presentation, but without the videos (which are included with the special-edition set), tracks like "Another World" and "Escape Velocity" sound uninspired. — Keith Gribbins

Plies

Goon Affiliated

(Big Gates/Slip-n-Slide/Atlantic)

There are two sides to Plies: the hard-thugging street loyalist and the absurdist, cackling popinjay. When the Florida MC indulges his inner court jester on Goon Affiliated, he's on. He feigns giggly eye-rolling over the misconceived notion that rich black men make their money from drug-pushing in the smugly cavalier "Look Like," giddily introduces new slang to the national urban vernacular in the riotous, insinuative "Becky" and the sneering, breakneck "Bruh Bruh," and plays poker-faced playa philanthropist in "She Got It Made," which is filled with sweet promises and molasses-thick church organs. Unfortunately, much of Affiliated is conventional, padded with cuts like "Get My Niggas Out" and half-baked premises like "Kitty Kitty," which guest crooner Trey Songz steals without even realizing it. — Ray Cummings

Robert Randolph & the Family Band

We Walk This Road

(Warner Bros.)

Over the past decade, Robert Randolph has gone from playing pedal steel in church to being crowned one of the generation's greatest guitarists. The acclaim is warranted: Randolph does things with the pedal steel that recall the lightning Jimi Hendrix produced with his axe. But Randolph's relatively mannered studio recordings don't begin to translate the heat generated from his incendiary live shows. His third album, We Walk This Road, won't change that perception — Randolph and producer T Bone Burnett are more intent on crafting atmosphere than addressing Randolph's studio passion. As usual, Randolph blends hymns of praise with contemporary songs, but with Burnett on board, there's a visceral and textural intensity to the music this time around. Their take on Bob Dylan's "Shot of Love" is transcendent, turning the loping folk-blues into a thunderous electric prayer, complete with tribal drumming. Whether playing authentic archival songs of worship ("Traveling Shoes"), modern tracks (Prince's "Walk Don't Walk"), or glorious originals, Randolph fashions a swirling sonic aura that pays tribute to the past while trumpeting the future. — Brian Baker

Robyn

Body Talk PT. 1

(Cherrytree/Interscope)

Swedish dance diva Robyn has had a wild career. She scored a pair of hits in the mid-'90s before disappearing for almost a dozen years. In 2005, she returned with a self-titled album that reinvented the chirpy singer as a smack-talking dance android with a batch of monster hooks at her side. On the brief (30 minutes) follow-up, Body Talk PT. 1, she's no more human or any less awesome. And she's still sassy, rhyming "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do" over a staccato beat that sounds straight outta 1983. But she's more at home in "Fembot," a beeping club jam that completely absorbs and embraces her hip-pop robot persona ("I've got some news for you/Fembots have feelings too," she sings). Body Talk PT. 1 is the first release in a trilogy of records due this year. Are you ready for the big chill? — Gallucci

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