With such an extensive history under its belt, U2 has plenty of material to cram into an 18-track collection (including two new songs). So they’ve chosen to focus on what made them big: Bono’s fervent vocals; the Edge’s radiant, reverberant guitars; and the rock-steady rhythm section of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. Most of the larger-than-life tunes that made the group a household name are here. They can be rousing (“Pride [in the Name of Love]”), romantic (“New Year’s Day”), melancholy (“With or Without You”), frantic (“Vertigo”), and introspective (“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”). And their edgy new collaboration with Green Day, a cover of the Skids’ “The Saints Are Coming,” is an excellent addition that brings together two like-minded politically if sonically different entities. U218 Singles works best for new or casual longtime listeners who want a good representation of the group’s biggest hits. You can’t fault a majority of the songs here. That said, it seems like a definitive double-disc compilation is what really needs to come next. — Bryan Reesman
Here & Now
America has come a long way. Even during the peak of the band’s early 1970s chart success — with songs like “A Horse with No Name” and “Ventura Highway” — the group was dismissed as little more than a competent Eagles rip-off, relying on a peaceful and easy formula of pleasant harmonies and mellow musical vibes. Yet, 30 years later, America has improbably become a cool band, swept up in a growing trend of hipster musicians and fans reconsidering once-reviled soft-rock acts. How else to explain the lineup of contributors for the band’s latest LP, a roster of talent that includes modern-, alt-, and indie-rock notables like Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller, and members of Nada Surf and My Morning Jacket, as well as producers like Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) and James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins). While the guest list is impressive, it does little to improve the quality of this double-disc set — one CD of new studio material and another of live versions of their biggest hits. Original members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley are still in good voice, but they add little to the material here, which includes unremarkable covers of Nada Surf’s “Always Love” and My Morning Jacket’s “Golden.” Although it’s occasionally interesting to hear the music generations mingle — as with “Ride On,” the band’s duet with Adams and Kweller — Here and Now proves a far more interesting idea on paper than in practice. — Bob Bozorgmehr
Cake or Death
As a producer, songwriter, and musical guru, Lee Hazlewood is one of the few people who can legitimately claim to be both a popular hit-maker and a cult icon. In the 1950s, his studio inventions gave an otherworldly quality to early rock and roll; in the ’60s, he played Svengali to a young Nancy Sinatra, siring a succession of chart hits. After releasing a string of moody albums as a solo artist, he moved to Scandinavia in the ’70s, fading from sight. Following two decades of self-imposed exile, he reemerged in the mid-’90s at the insistence of a new generation of alternative-rock musicians and fans who’d discovered his odd but affecting catalog. Hazlewood’s unlikely comeback has been slowed as he’s battled cancer for the past few years, but he did manage to finish what he calls his final album. Taking its title from an Eddie Izzard stand-up bit, Cake or Death features a batch of newly penned Hazlewood compositions and revamped versions of some of his classics (“These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” “Some Velvet Morning”). Produced by Hazlewood and recorded in Stockholm, Paris, Nashville, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, the disc is a mixture of high camp, low comedy, and genuinely moving moments, like the album-closing “T.O.M. (The Old Man).” If it does prove to be his swan song, the album is a fine valediction for one of pop music’s most imaginative and irascible figures. — B.B.