Picks and Pans Review: New Sacred Cow

UPDATED 09/01/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/01/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

Kenna (Columbia)
Critic's Choice

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Kenna's debut CD is the best '80s album to come out this year. Taking his cues from acts like the Cars, the Cure, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode, the singer keyboardist has brought synth-pop into the 21st century without missing a drum-machine beat. The Ethiopian-born, U.S.-reared Kenna teams up with his high school friend Chad Hugo, half of the hit-making Neptunes production duo. Hugo, who cowrote 11 of 14 songs with Kenna, updates '80s keyboard riffs with crisp, funky drum sounds. Meanwhile Kenna's anguished wail sounds like a cross between the Cars' Ric Ocasek and the Cure's Robert Smith on songs like the jumpy "Freetime." He also brings a keen melodic and lyrical sense to tracks like the sweetly melancholy "Sunday After You": "My life ain't what it seems/ Living out tired dreams." But there is nothing tired about Kenna's music.

BOTTOM LINE: Kenna winner.

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