'Tha Carter III' shows Lil Wayne's hype greatly exaggerated

Lil Wayne: "Tha Carter III"
(Universal Motown)

More than most rappers, Lil Wayne is a master at self-mythologizing. Like his predecessors the Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z, Wayne claims of no longer writing down his lyrics before recording. Given the volume of record-stealing guest appearances and the flood of mixtapes since his last studio album, "Tha Carter II" (2005), that free-association songwriting approach seems all the more remarkable. So much so that he has claimed to be the best rapper alive.

Now with the release of "Tha Carter III," Wayne attempts to live up to his own hype, but falls short. The disc is a frustratingly uneven effort that's filled with safe songs aimed at commercial radio and a few quirky cuts that feature Wayne's bizarre sense of humor and inflated opinion of his rap skills. The best of the latter is "A Milli," a bizarre, breathless rundown of Wayne's self-worth:

"Threw the pencil and leak on the sheet of the tablet in my mind
Cause I don't write (expletive) cause I ain't got time
Cause my seconds, minutes, hours go to the all mighty dollar."

He gets conceptual on the jazzy, Swizz Beatz-produced "Dr. Carter," on which he diagnoses and cures rap's ailments. Later Kanye West lends a soaring soul sample under Wayne's staccato, twangy flow on "Let the Beat Build." And on "Phone Home," he channels E.T. in a semi-robotic cadence:

"We are not the same
I am a martian."

However, it's obvious that Wayne's rap ambition is more dependent on radio play than true experimentation. Hence, there are Auto-Tuned throwaway ditties — "Got Money" with T-Pain and the ubiquitous first single, "Lollipop" featuring the late Static Major. And he further tempers the out-there moments with conventional R&B hooks and smoothed-out grooves — Robin Thicke, Bobby Valentino and Babyface all make appearances. Ultimately the gloss seems to dull Wayne's potential to be one of rap's true innovators.

— Brett Johnson, for The Associated Press

Montgomery Gentry: "Back When I Knew It All"
(Columbia Nashville)

Of country music's redneck rockers, the duo Montgomery Gentry most willfully tip-toe the line between laudable rural pride and tired Southern stereotypes. At their best, they also balance party-hardy anthems with reflective songs about gaining maturity with age.

Unfortunately, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry's latest, "Back When I Knew It All," occasionally relies more than it should on cliches and one-dimensional characters. The religious-referencing Southern stomper, "The Big Revival," cites snake handling and other backwoods oddities merely for shock value, while "One In Every Crowd" is a one-dimensional rewrite of Billy Joe Shaver's classic "Honky Tonk Heroes."

The depth that characterizes their best hits surfaces elsewhere. The title track recognizes the humility that comes with experience, while "Long Line of Losers" probes family dysfunction without trying to make it sound cool. The duo also recruit buddy Toby Keith for "I Pick My Parties," which suggests that rowdy guys can slow down without completely stopping.

Montgomery Gentry know they can persuade fans to pump a fist in the air; "Back When I Knew It All" proposes that they're still at their best when they prompt listeners to think and feel, too.

— Michael McCall, for The Associated Press

N.E.R.D.: "Seeing Sounds"
(Star Trak/Interscope)

There are no drums better than the Neptunes' drums. Crisp, authoritative and crackling, they have laid the bedrock for many of the most electrifying rap songs of the last decade. And even though it's been a few years since the duo — Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo — has had a stranglehold on urban radio, those who have followed the pair have failed to improve on its foundation.

The drums, refreshingly, are in glorious form on "Seeing Sounds," the third album from the Neptunes' rock side project, N.E.R.D., which includes rapper Shay Haley. It's Williams, though, who really has rock-star aspirations. Though he lacks range and depth, he's a supremely cocky vocalist. And charm, in his case, suffices.

Happily, there are moments of successful vulnerability here. On the breezy, jazz-inflected "Yeah You," about a one-night-stand turned unbalanced stalker, Williams delights in the chase — and the escape. And throughout the album, he is in vivid form. He's a cynical seducer on "You Know What" and a paranoid hippie on "Love Bomb":

"I'm trying to unblind a few
By removing propaganda but
They must have used the devil's superglue
I'm trying to take the machine apart."

But while "Seeing Sounds" is a triumph of will, it is not quite a triumph. In many places the music can't keep up with Williams' effervescence. Songs shift abruptly midway; "Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom)" moves inexplicably from a raucous Miami bass chant to pensive Barry Manilow-esque piano. "Sooner or Later" is sweet, but it sounds as if it were lifted from the middling English soft-rock band Keane. (N.E.R.D. has a fetish with things British.) And worse, it ends with an indulgent, grating, nearly three-minute jam.

But my, those drums. They're like miniature explosions on "Anti Matter," especially behind the apt closing shout, "You jump around like you ADHD! ADHD! ADHD!" And "Spaz" is a masterwork, with punishing rhythms plucked straight from the drum 'n' bass of mid-'90s London. They are overpowering enough to distract from the fact that Williams is singing, essentially, about nothing.

— Jon Caramanica, New York Times

Alanis Morissette: "Flavors of Entanglement"
(Warner Bros.)

This isn't the best Alanis album. With its Mideast swirls, trip-hop beats and oft-turgid self-analysis, it can play like a parody. But there are spots of remarkable revelation, including the spellbinding breakup song "Not As We." "Day one, day one, start over again ..."

— Sean Daly, St. Petersburg Times

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