Album Reviews Pages

Friday, November 7, 2014

Head on the Door by The Cure

Head on the Door by Cure - Classic Albums Reviews

Back in the early '90s, there was a TV show called The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Kind of a precursor to The Mighty Boosh, inasmuch as it was comedy informed by/made for people who liked indie music. One of the sketches would involve co-star Rob Newman parodying The Cure's Robert Smith, singing a stupidly happy song (Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport') in a mope-pop, super-gloomy goth style. It was, almost always, very funny. Robert Smith certainly thought so -he appeared in one episode, playing himself. Nowadays, of course. The Cure are considered extremely cool (Razorlight, Interpol, Mogwai, Marilyn Manson, The Rapture, The Neptunes - the list of patrons is as diverse as it is endless), but back then, right through the “oi-oi!”-isms of Britpop and up until very recently, it was a different story. Despite the fact they were releasing super-happy pop singles like '92’s 'Friday I’m In Love’ or '96’s 'Mint Car’, the perception of Robert Smith and his band of outwardly unmerry men was exactly that of the show: a band who were epitomised by their ultra-gloomy, doom-ridden opuses: 1981’s ‘Faith’, 1982’s ’Pornography’ and 1989’s ‘Disintegration’.

Overlooked for a long time was the fact that, in between these (albeit brilliant) albums, The Cure made some of the finest pop -that’s proper pop - music of the decade -including ‘The Head On The Door’. The first line may run, “Yesterday I got so old I felt like I could die", but opener ‘In Between Days’ is anything but depressing. Rather, like much of this album, it - metaphorically speaking -spins carefree across the dancefloor, arms aloft: the very definition of effervescence. Songs such as ‘Kyoto Song’ and ‘Push’ may contain enough darkness to feel like the work of borderline goths, but the over-riding sense throughout is one of playfulness. Here The Cure take their new-wave sensibilities and filter them through the pop production values of the day (pounding synthetic drums, tacky keyboard sounds, lots of echo), but are also unafraid to draw influence from the most unlikely of places. Listen to the off-kilter, airy flute melodies that decorate ‘Six Different Ways’; listen to the way 'Screw"s fuzz-bass blends seamlessly with its disco backbeat; listen to the Spanish guitar flourishes of ‘Blood’ and... well, see where you reckon The Neptunes ‘discovered’ the idea for Justin Timberlake’s ‘Like I Love You’ from.

And yet, what makes ‘The Head On The Door’ such a remarkable record is that, for all its adventure and unashamed pop sensibility, it still sounds undeniably like The Cure - The Cure of those super-gloomy albums with which they are most associated. From the moments where the production veers close to being dated (the closing ‘Sinking’), to the likes of the incredible ‘Close To Me’, Robert Smith takes whatever the hell style of music he likes and, without even sounding like he’s trying, makes it his own. The Cure may have made more poppy, darker, gloomier and more experimental records, both before and since, but 'The Head On The Door' was the point at which all these traits met.

Track Listings:

01. In Between Days
02. Kyoto Song
03. The Blood
04. Six Different Ways
05. Push
06. The Baby Screams
07. Close To Me
08. A Night Like This
09. Screw
10. Sinking

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Northern Soul by The Verve

A Northern Soul by The Verve - Classic Album Reviews

Were you to tell the author of the above lyrics how things would turn out. he'd never have believed you. in 1995. The Verve, led by 22 year old 'Mad' Richard Ashcroft were busy self-destructing in South Wales, crafting their second album from days of E-fuelled madness. Depending on who and what you believe, the following are true of the sessions: they'd commence at 8am and last for hours; the record company covered the amplifiers in chicken wire due to the regularity that they were being trashed; hire cars were spun in fields until their wheels came off; tears were common, of both joy and anguish. Half-truths, perhaps, but one thing is certain: band and producer (Oasis-assisting nutcase Owen Morris - the polar opposite of a steadying influence) were pushing themselves to the edge. Madness reigned.

It's no criticism, but all the songs on 'A Northern Soul' from the opening 'A New Decade', through to '(Reprise)' sound the same. Or that's to say. they all stagger along at the same, menacing, strung out 6/7/8am pace and all blend into one another. Guitarist Nick McCabe, a foil without whom Ashcroft has never seemed complete, is either blissed-out beautiful or headfuck heavy, while the dubbed-out grooves of the title track and "Life’s An Ocean" are similarly claustrophobic. You see. musically, this is an album that captures a particular mood - the soundtrack of a never-ending comedown and the perfect backdrop for Ashcroft's anguish. “I'm gonna die alone in bed...";
“I don't believe that love is free..."; “These streets these times they tie me down...". it"s bleak, but beautifully so.

Richard Ashcroft still takes flak for his lyrics. They’re seen as serious-yet-empty sentiments, hollow shells of epicness. A valid criticism now he’s a quiet family man. but not here. This is the language of the hours from which "A Northern Soul' was born, and the hours in which it should be heard. The hours of limitless ambition, raw emotion and utter bollocks.

Punctuating all this chaos, though, there are the two songs that provide the blueprint for the future. And while the sparsely-backed ‘On Your Own', in contrast to its surroundings, is delicate, it’s the majestic 'History', on which Ashcroft: singer/songwriter, for better or for worse, is truly born. No coincidence then, that this was The Verve Mkl's final single before they reformed as stadium-fillers. With Mkll it was goodbye to madness and self-destruction and a hello to string-laden grandeur.

And so, in 2014. with the bad old days behind him. Ashcroft has the ‘Keys To The World': the wife, the family, the house (with the bag of weed inside) and the knowledge that, when he steps onstage this Saturday in Manchester there'll be the biggest crowd of his career singing his songs back at him. The knowledge that, whatever anyone may think of him today, he's made it through and made a difference. He’s a lucky man. but contentment rarely breeds greatness, and his recent material is proof. That stuff William Blake said about the road of excess and the palace of wisdom is true, y'know. Ashcroft knows because he's been there.

Track Listings:

01. A New Decade
02. This Is Music
03. On Your Own
04. So It Goes
05. A Northern Soul
06. Brainstorm Interlude
07. Drive You Home
08. History
09. No Knock On My Door
10. Life's An Ocean
11. Stormy Clouds
12. (Reprise)

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968) by Various Artists

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era (1965-1968)

Being in a garage band these days is a piece of piss. A few half ideas, an internet connection and some ripped recording software (there's a programme called Garageband, helpfully), and within days the whole world can feel the same undeniable energy you did during that first rehearsal; girls in deepest middle America can be singing lyrics by boys from Coventry minutes after pressing record. A romantic notion? I think not - there's four fellas from Sheffield who would disagree and. with any luck, there’s some group that everyone will care about even more around the corner. Maybe even by the time you read this.

In the early-'60s, with rock’n’roll's seismic impact at its height, there were more kids in garage bands than there have ever been, before or since. The so-called “British invasion" spearheaded by the Stones' sexually-charged reappropriation of the blues, was permeating the mainstream and exposing young America to music who, until then (despite it being on their doorstep - no MySpace, you see), were unaware of. It made them think, “Hey, forget getting a job, this is what it's all about! And all I gotta do is grow my hair, learn the guitar and I can get girls too! I can do this!"

Of course, just like today, a lot of them were shite. But even shite bands are capable of one moment of genius - maybe even more. And anyway, it's all about the collective desire; the attitude. That is what’s exciting. And that's what ‘Nuggets' - lovingly-compiled by future Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye - documents. None of the 27 bands here are professional, many are barely even competent. Few were taken seriously by record companies scared by this new force, and thus their output was mainly restricted to local radio and seven-inch singles unlikely to ever be repressed, due to their creators' here-today-gone-tomorrow nature. Today, every musician’s most insignificant utterance is forever-archived in cyberspace, but these songs could easily have been lost in history forever. Thank fuck they weren’t, for this is rock'n’roll at its most naive, primal and therefore perfect. Yes, Mouse's ‘A Public Execution’ or Count Five's ’Psychotic Reaction' may be blatant rip-offs (the latter from ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, the former from ‘I'm A Man'); yes. The Knickerbockers' ‘Lies' may be karaoke Beatles and yes, the likes of The Electric Prunes' T Had Too Much To Dream Last Night' may have been written by professional songwriting teams. But these are records that perfectly capture the energy and frustration of youth, far more so than the ones that inspired them. ‘Nuggets’ is punk’s DIY spirit a good decade before it happened, and much more besides. Check the LSD-drenched perfection of The 13th Floor Elevators’ ’You're Gonna Miss Me', the sophisticated harmonies of 'My World Fell Down' by Sagittarius or The Amboy Dukes’ ear-piercing take on 'Baby Please Don't Go’: recordings with urgency and immediacy, but recordings that are ambitious - that push things forward. All these tracks are vital.

Forming a band? Don't do anything until you've absorbed 'Nuggets'. Everything - everything you need to know is here.

Track Listings:

Disc: 1
1. I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) (Album Version) - By The Electric Prunes
2. Dirty Water (Single/LP Version) - By The Standells
3. Night Time - By The Strangeloves
4. Lies (Single/LP Version) - By The Knickerbockers
5. Respect - By The Vagrants
6. A Public Execution - By Mouse
7. No Time Like the Right Time - By The Blues Project
8. Oh Yeah (LP Version) - By The Shadows Of Knight
9. Pushin' Too Hard (Single/LP Version) - By The Seeds feat. Sky Saxon
10. Moulty - By The Barbarians
11. Don't Look Back - By Remains
12. An Invitation to Cry - By The Magicians
13. Liar, Liar (LP Version) - By The Castaways
14. You're Gonna Miss Me (Single Version) - By The Thirteenth Floor Elevators

Disc: 2
1. Psychotic Reaction (Single Version) - By Count Five
2. Hey Joe (Single Version) - By The Leaves
3. Romeo & Juliet - By Michael & The Messengers
4. Sugar and Spice - By The Cryan' Shames
5. Baby Please Don't Go - By The Amboy Dukes
6. Tobacco Road - By Blues Magoos
7. Let's Talk About Girls - By The Chocolate Watchband
8. Sit Down I Think I Love You (Single Version) - By The Mojo Men
9. Run, Run, Run (LP Version) - By The Third Rail
10. My World Fell Down - By Sagittarius
11. Open My Eyes (Album Version) - By Nazz
12. Farmer John (Edit Version) - By The Premiers
13. It's A-Happening - By Magic Mushrooms

Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones

Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones - Classic Album Reviews

The Beatles and the Stones, The Beatles and the Stones... They may be inseparable as the names of the two best British bands of the '60s, but we all know who is perceived by most as being superior, and not without reason. Watch the June '67 footage of the former's performance of 'All You Need Is Love' becoming part of the first ever live global television link, and in the audience you'll see Mick Jagger, grinning, clapping along, a mere disciple. Months later, with the bungling mysticism of the 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' album, his awe has mutated into imitation: in '67 The Rolling Stones tried to make their own 'Sgt Pepper's...' and sounded lost.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Around the World in a Day by Prince

Around the World in a Day by Prince - Classic Albums Reviews

How strange was it to see Prince at the Brit Awards this year? Amid the going through the motions shite, he looked amazing; every inch the sort of otherworldly megastar that time has forgotten. Yet while you couldn’t take your eyes off him. it was also hard not to snigger as he leant back, teeth gritted, ringing out the solos from ’Purple Rain’. Frankly, there was no denying that the histrionics of the song that made him famous sounded more than a little dated. He was playing to the crowd, and that's not what Prince, at his best, is about. He’s an innovator, and if you want proof, forget his biggest album and instead seek out the follow-up. ’Around The World In A Day’.

Metal Box by Public Image Limited

Metal Box by Public Image Limited - Classic Albums Reviews

You know what? Fuck the Sex Pistols. For all the endless praise that history has heaped upon them, for all the undoubted cultural and musical relevance they collectively had, individually they were - all but one of'em - idiots. Forget Steve Jones, a thuggish guitarist who would have been just as happy as part of the all-drinking, all-shagging, all-twiddly-soloing bands such as The Faces that he was supposed to be destroying; forget Glen Matlock, bassist and architect of these songs that changed so much, yet a man who abhorred the sentiments of 'God Save The Queen’, but is happy, in safe hindsight, to take credit for them. We'll let Paul Cook off, an archetypal drummer, in as much as he communicated in grunts and went along with anything.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dry by PJ Harvey

Dry by PJ Harvey - Classic Albums Reviews

A girl? In a band?
Who, as well as being able to play guitar, sing and write songs all by herself, is comfortable enough with her sexuality to use it as a manipulative tool (just like male singers since Elvis have) and not feel cheap, whaaat? Somebody, call the pedestal-makers. We got us a role model!

Astonishing isn’t it, that in 2006, with girls in bands both good and bad all over the place, the likes of Karen 0 are still being dubbed "female icons”.

Must we really patronisingly elevate every maker of a great record who doesn't have a penis to such a status? Can they not just be “icons”? Are we not done with all this? We certainly should be, and one of the reasons why is Polly Jean Harvey who - pussy or no pussy - was without question one of the most consistently innovative, entrancing and brilliant musicians of the '90s.

Faust IV by Faust

Faust IV by Faust - Classic Albums Reviews

Some bands form because they want to be famous and make money. Some bands form because they want to see endless lengths of motorway from the back of a rusty Leyland Sherpa. Some bands form because they want to get laid in the back of a rusty Leyland Sherpa. Faust weren’t like those bands, probably because they were an experimental prog-rock act from 1970s Germany. Faust formed because they wanted to make music that sounded like absolutely nothing else that had ever gone before, then play it on pneumatic drills. Naked.

While their contemporaries Kraftwerk made sleek, repetitious records, Faust meandered, threw away good ideas and took the piss. But if it’s uniformity and consistency you're after, stick with Keane.

Only After Dark by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor

Only After Dark by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor - Classic Album Reviews

For decades, we have accepted the orthodoxy that 1976 was rock music's Year Zero; that the rise of the Sex Pistols was the defining moment in modern rock history; that punk rock is the musical and ethical measure against which every new band and movement must be compared.

But, clearly, this is bollocks. The first wave of punk bands had a brutal revolutionary energy, but, between them, the Pistols, The Damned and The Clash produced barely a handful of enduring tunes. The wider punk movement, meanwhile, lapsed into the selfparody of Generation X and Sham 69.

Violator by Depeche Mode

Violator by Depeche Mode - Classic Albums Review

For a long time, Essex boys Depeche Mode found themselves in a strange position when it came to their standing in the UK. Despite achieving almost constant chart success throughout the '80s, critically they were seen as the runts of the synth-pop litter, they were seen as a bit, well, naff. The critics, as if you didn’t know it already, were wrong.
But in the US things were completely different. Depeche Mode, along with the likes of The Cure and New Order, were the hippest of the hip Brit bands, and by the late-'80s were selling out venues with mind-boggling capacities that you could comfortably fit Wembley Stadium into.
At the 80.000 capacity LA Rose Bowl, they recorded the successful live album ’101' in 1988.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Collected by Massive Attack

Classic Albums Reviews - Collected by Massive Attack

As a big football fan, Massive Attack's Robert ’3D' Del Naja might appreciate the analogy we're about to bestow on him. He’s the Sam Allardyce of music. By that, we don’t mean he’s got a head like a pumpkin and chews gum like a Friesian, What we mean is that in the 15 years of his group’s career he’s signed up, got in on loan, transferred, dropped and generally wrung fantastic performances from a disparate group of characters.
’Collected’ is a neat detour as Massive Attack journey on to their fifth album, ‘Weather Underground’, due next year. A time to reflect on an outfit who, despite more fallouts than the EU parliament, have made some of the most enduringly intelligent music of our time. And, as with everything Massive Attack have done,

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne

Classic Albums Reviews - My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne

In 2014 freedom of speech actually means you’re free to speak about almost anything as long as you remember the correct thing to say. Terrified and hysterical self-hating Christian fascists parade up and down outside provincial theatres objecting to a piece of faintly amusing musical theatre. Lunatic Muslim extremists clearly weighed down with way too much fucking time on their hands torch Norwegian mobile phone shops when there’s nothing Danish left to burn. Meanwhile, the rest of us, who realise that religions are just stories that some people are too frightened to leave behind with Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are left wondering where this madness began. Well, some of it began here.

Axis Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix

Classic Albums Reviews - Axis Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix

While it’s hardly an obscurity (it does, after all, feature Jimi Fucking Hendrix), there’s a commonly held view that the second of the three Jimi Hendrix Experience albums is the least remarkable. ‘Are You Experienced?’ has the advantage of being the album on which the world met The Greatest Guitarist Ever, while the last, the sprawling, expansive 'Electric Ladyland’
is held up as The Masterpiece; one of the defining records of the psychedelic era and one that people with more time on their hands than you and I have written entire books on. But ‘Axis: Bold As Love’? Well, it’s neither as furiously in yer face as its predecessor, nor as out there as its follow up. It’s seen by many as a mid-point; a transitional phase

Who Needs Actions When You Got Words by Plan B

Album Reviews - Who Needs Actions When You Got Words by Plan B

At a glance, east London’s Plan B is a gimmick: a hoodie-wearing. perma scowling, Asbo in waiting, with a mouth fouler than Towers Of London's week old Y-fronts. He’s also a rapper who joins himself on acoustic guitar and references Radiohead and Cobain. You can almost hear a marketing manager rubbing his hands with glee. But go beneath the obvious Marshall Mathers influences and you’ll see that while Plan B creates characters who shout bleak, brutal words about drugs, murder and absent fathers there is a strict moral tone. He doesn't glorify nastiness. Instead, ultra-violence is the road to nowhere: the Damilola Taylor inspired ’Kidz’. Drugs will eventually ruin you: the Rage Against The Machine-driven ‘No More Eatin”. a rap that rushes with the deadly thrill of an out-of-control car racing down a hill.

Silver And Fire by M. Craft

Album Reviews - Silver And Fire by M. Craft

Australians in London, eh? Cramming into Walkabouts, drinking enormous amounts of shit lager, bellowing along to 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down. Sport'... and then, if young Martin Craft is anything to go by. returning to a bedroom to write dreamy guitar pop that reconciles a number of bad taste hallmarks uber slick '80s production, bossanova rhythms  with a world weariness of Radiohead proportions, it’s not without its bland lkea pop moments, but the oddly serene 'I've Got Nobody Waiting For Me' employs picked banjo without resorting to rustic cliche, while ‘Love Knows How To Fight' builds robust emotional fortitude out of gorgeous, ethereal layers of sound.

The River in Reverse by Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint

Album Reviews - The River in Reverse by Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint

Thirty years ago, Elvis Costello was writing pop-punk songs of the kind that Alex Turner has now made his own. He has spent his career picking through rock’s back pages, trying to work with as many established greats as he can in search of THE SONG. Now, he’s hooked in Toussaint, a New Orleans songwriting and production legend. In a bid to reinvigorate New Orleans post hurricane they've covered Toussaint tunes and co-written others. It's promising, (’All These Things’), and cripplingly boring (‘Broken Promise Land’). A good album, in a well-produced way. but it's not as good or as important as it thinks it is.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Serena-Maneesh by Serena Maneesh

Album Reviews - Serena-Maneesh by Serena Maneesh

The sonic cathedral is looking a bit crowded these days, so hoarding FX pedals and attempting to sound like a hormonal whale doesn't seem as interestingly out-of-step as it would have three years ago. Aware of this, Norwegian five-piece Serena-Maneesh merely use the noisy bliss of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth as a primary building block before layering their own wonderfully dark psychosis over the top. The mesmerizing 'Candlelighted' is an intense krautrock nightmare, while at the other end. the drumkit dynamics of ‘Selina's Melodie Fountain' and 'Beehiver II' pound the brain so relentlessly that you can virtually feel a seizure coming on. Shoegazing in origin, barn storming in condusioi.

Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?: The Best Of The Replacements by The Replacements

Album Reviews - Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?: The Best Of The Replacements by The Replacements

The Replacements were one of the most iconic American alt. bands of the '80s. Paul Westerberg and his gang of misfits came out of Minneapolis in 1981 and grew from snotty punks to literate but still very drunk college rockers, equally influential on grunge (they empathised with teen angst when Kurt Cobain was still a teenager) and (there’s a melancholic twang to the likes of 'Achin' To Be'). This 20 track compilation is a decent overview of the band's career(ing) path before the reissue of all their albums later this year and the two good new tracks tacked on to the end have got hopes up for a full-scale. Pixies style reunion. Not before time.

Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship by India Arie

Album Reviews - Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship by India Arie

Ms Arie, here on her third album, is a post Lauryn Hill type with a honey-sweet voice and enough earnestness to keep Bloc Party alive for weeks. But when you’re talking about this kind of nu-soul singer, you've got the gutsy badass stuff like Angie Stone and Jill Scott, and then the weirdos like Erykah Badu. This, though, sounds like an even less energetic Alicia Keys. You can’t fault this technically, but it ain’t punk rock. Instead it’s hugely long, and apart from ‘Better People', which sounds like Eurythmics, never gathers pace beyond a sleepwalk, making the overall effect akin to a zombie army of Barefoot Doctors doling out death by contemplation. Which remains oddly terrifying.

The Greatest Hits: Why Try Harder by Fatboy Slim

Album Reviews - The Greatest Hits: Why Try Harder by Fatboy Slim

Norman Cook underestimate him musically at your peril. That's what the police at Brighton beach did in 2002  then 250,000 people turned up to his party and two ended up dead. Certainly, there's as much hyper dance nonsense here that still gets the adrenaline pumping (‘The Rockafeller Skank’, ‘Sunset (Bird Of Prey)') as there is of the grossly overfamiliar ('Praise You’, Fatboy’s remix of 'Brimful Of Asha'). He’s one of the greatest nostalgia acts for sure, but for most of us. Norm’s hits soundtracked as many blissfully debauched mash-ups as they did adverts for hatchbacks. And that picture of the obese kid on the artwork is still pretty funny.

Forest & The Sea by Leafcutter John

Album Reviews - Forest & The Sea by Leafcutter John

The fourth album from Leafcutter John, aka John Burton, is based on a ‘true story' of what became of two people lost in a forest, and is made up of field recordings from Greece, Sweden and the UK. But before you run to the hills, this actually works. Like Four Tet's Kieran Hebden playing in Circulus’ garden, it actually comes across as less pretentious than the former’s recent work and less comic than the latter’s. The blend of electronica and organic real-life sounds works best on 'Maria In The Forest’, and sits alongside more straight-up acoustic guitar numbers. For all his geography trips and squatting by rivers with microphones though, it's his haunting voice that has the most magnificent impact, on the likes of Dream III’ and beautiful harmonised closer 'Now'.

Emotional by Trabant

Album Review - Emotional by Trabant

Oh Lordi, what have you done? Icelandic quintet Trabant prove that the madcap Eurovison winners aren't the only musical mentalists from the Norselands.  An unholy amalgam of Prince. Queen and Scissor Sisters but with fewer tunes, Trabant look like a team of hod-carriers at a New Romantic-themed fancy dress party. Their music is just as subtle. Compatriots Sigur Ros and Bjork had the ability to make their lyrics either unintelligible or enchanting, but there's no such luck here. "Sexual suicide, tear out your heart/Close your eyes and kill the beast before it barks". growls 'Emotional Meltdown', it makes The Da Vinci Code read like Bukowski in comparison and much of it is set to a disturbing funk battery of bleeps, whoops and whistles. Mum. the funny men are scaring us. Make it stop.

Left by Hope of the States

Album Reviews - Left by Hope of the States

Hope Of The States seem to be running twice as fast as other bands. Skipping straight past the barely-refined-demos stage, the Chichester combo revealed a fully-formed post-rock landscape on 2004's debut ‘The Lost Riots’. Two years on, and in keeping with HOTS’ stated desire to “shrink everything down". ’Left’ is a leaner work then its predecessor and one in which the wide-eyed enchantment is restricted to just a handful of tracks. The fact they've taken their foot off the accelerator is understandable given guitarist Jimmi Lawrence's suicide just before the release of ’...Riots’, but as ’This Is A Question’ rushes along and ‘Bonfires’ bludgeons home its point, the band are left sounding like their wings have been clipped.

Enemies Like This by Radio 4

Album review - Enemies Like This by Radio 4

You know that moment at Christmas when a child stops playing with a new toy and moves on to another? You can't help feeling that Radio 4 are that toy. Two years on from their major-label debut and the punk-funk sound they were pioneers of has reached a point where the stuffing is spilling out and its head falling off. For all the inventiveness of the angular basslines of ‘As Far As The Eye Can See' (which worryingly sounds like bloated '80s stadium rockers Simple Minds) and 'Grass is Greener' (ditto U2), there’s a distinctly stale odour. Their problem? Others have overtaken them and you can include Franz and Bloc Party in that  with their own take on choppy guitar and funk basslines. It’s only 43 minutes long. That's enough.

Field Rexx by Blitzen Trapper

Album Reviews - Field Rexx by Blitzen Trapper

Hark! What that's sound? it’s the squelch you make when you move your lobster-red body off the lilo after an afternoon of ray catching. It’s the slurp of a 99 as the sticky vanilla cream makes its way down your hand. Gah, it’s the moans of little doe-eyed ducks making out with Bambi under a multi-coloured rainbow!
Yes. Oregon’s Blizten Trapper have made a near-perfect summer record. Lyrical conceits that drip with sunkissed nostalgia ("Summer hair/Harpsichord/Stealing things you can't afford/Cause you’re bored, bored, bored” from ‘Summer Twin’), snatches of dialogue from a C60 recorded in the summer of '82 and a scorching musical mix (pre-Scientology Beck, lo-fi legends Eric’s Trip and DJ Shadow), it's a vital slice of Americana.

Catch-Flame! by Paul Weller

Album Reviews - Catch-Flame! by Paul Weller

There is a fantastic but probably untrue anecdote about Paul Weller ripped to the tits at a showbiz party, tearing off his shirt and running around the garden chanting "WELLA FELLA WELLA FELLA!” Sadly. It’s more entertaining than a good 60 per cent of this 23 track live set. but when he does occasionally spark in his earnest, sweaty way. it’s difficult not to get carried along in his slipstream. There's a five song run from the blistering 'From The Floorboards Up' to 'Up In Suze's Room' which is pure Spencer Davis-style steamhammer R’n'B, but he ruins it with a snoozesome cover of Dr John’s 'I Walk On Gilded Splinters’, and a two track Style Council encore. Kick out the jams. Wellafella  that’s a suggestion, not a comparison.

Obliterati by Mission Of Burma

Album Reviews - Obliterati by Mission Of Burma

Being as old as Mission Of Burma should really be an impediment to rocking the fuck out. Formed in 1980 in response to the dark rock reconfigurations of Wire and Joy Division, the third studio album proper from these first-wave US post-punks kicks with a passion and inventiveness that’s seen them steam up the specs of everyone from Moby to Graham Coxon. Cacophonous guitar experiments swing from regimented crunch to freak-outs that narrowly skirt total chaos, but it's not all as serious as a vein in a forehead: frontman Roger Miller sneaks lyrics from disco queen Donna Summer’s ‘I Need Love' into ’Donna Sumeria', while the closing track is called 'Nancy Reagan’s Head'.

Puzzles Like You by Mojave 3

Album Reviews - Puzzles Like You by Mojave 3

You could call ‘Puzzles Like You’ Mojave 3’s Great Leap Forward except it’s taken them five albums and 12 years to get here. No matter, because they've finally gone into their rodent infested Cornish studio and pressed the button marked ‘big’; cue jangling Byrdsy '60s guitar pop, throbbing Doorsy organs and new found exuberance. ‘Breaking The ice’ is a rollicking anthem, punctured by a piano thrashed to an inch of its life and ending in a wall of guitars, while ‘Most Days’ comes across as Gram Parsons covered by Pink Floyd. Sadly, original member Rachel Goswell is on leave of absence due to suffering the severe ear complaint labyrinthitis, but Mojave 3’s confident new demeanour should prove an effective medicine.

Victory for the Comic Muse by The Divine Comedy

Album Reviews - Victory for the Comic Muse by The Divine Comedy

Just because DC main man Neil Hannon is as culturally relevant as Bernard Manning doesn’t mean his latest album should be laughed off. Not, that is, until ‘Victory For The Comic Muse' has been heard in its awful entirety, when it can indeed be shunted into the drawer marked "I can't believe l used to like this band (which I did, much as I might deny it)". As pretentious as an album with a song entitled ‘Count Grassis Passage Over Piedmont' should be. Hannon's latest parps tinkles and plucks its way through pantomime-band orchestration and lyrics about coffee mugs without daring to stalk the shadow of a tune like 'National Express' (which is a classic - don't argue). Hardly a victory.

Loose by Nelly Furtado

Album Reviews - Loose by Nelly Furtado

Nelly's transition from pop moppet to genre hopping siren has not been instant. Her biggest hit may have been the Virgin Radio anthem I'm Like A Bird', but the rougher side of her has never been far from the surface. On 'Loose' she reunites with R&B uber-producer Timberlake (who she worked with on a bootleg mix of '..Bird' featuring Missy Elliott) and the result is a top post divorce album.
From the lusty, hypnotic Hall eats Oates rush of ‘Maneater’,to the ’80s pumper ‘Do It',  to the heartbreaking Chris Martin co-write ‘All Good Things’, this is a great album of urban pop song by a woman on the verge. As thrilling as Gwen, as badass as MIA.

Fast Man Raider Man by Frank Black

Album reviews - Fast Man Raider Man by Frank Black

They say it's a sad day when a man stops being inspired by flying saucers and Mexican prostitutes, and so it is with Frank Black. While currently touring the world's stadiums and doing his best not to talk to Kim Deal as part of a rejuvenated Pixies, when solo. Black has always seemed keenest on satisfying himself. Here, satisfaction is a country tinged 27 track solo album recorded with Memphis session players. A rowdy bar-room cover of 'Dirty Old Town' - auld traditional slurred best by The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan  comes straight from the gut. But where Black's muse was once shrieked and otherworldly, it's now distinctly earth-bound.

Rather Ripped by Sonic Youth

Album Reviews - Rather Ripped by Sonic Youth

Despite being as enduringly reliable as a broken metatarsal crisis before an international football tournament, it’s, unfortunately, difficult to get too excited about a Sonic Youth record anymore. Such is the overwhelming goodwill towards the US indie guitar legends, nearly every record they release is cited by many believers as being ’arguably their best yet’. No such extravagant claims here, though with the recent departure of Jim O’Rourke, the band seem to have thankfully rediscovered the ear for a tune, which all but deserted them after their brief early-’90s mainstream flirtation. So it’s a joy to hear the sweetly pretty, Kim Gordon-sung ‘The Neutral' and hubby Thurston Moore's tuneful treatise about suicide bombers, ’Incinerate', it is indeed a really good record - but not a patch on their 1988 masterpiece ’Daydream Nation’. No arguments.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hit The Floor! by You Say Party! We Say Die!

Album Reviews - Hit The Floor! by You Say Party! We Say Die!

Is it possible to use more exclamation marks?! No! Move over,!!!. Out of our way, Panic! At The Disco, Vancouver’s YSP!WSD! are the latest band to exhibit an excitable! Overuse! Of punctuation! Which would be insufferably irritating, if this firecracker exuberance didn't somehow make it onto the record. But ’Cold Hands! Hot Bodies!' is Blondie's ‘Atomic’ as played by The Addams Family. Becky Ninkovic’s shrill banshee wail undercut with gothic keyboard, while 'The Gap (Between The Rich And The Poor)’ revolution disco for minimum-wage slaves recalls a Yeah Yeah Yeahs with more grit under their fingernails.

Twelve Stops And Home by The Feeling

Twelve Stops And Home by The Feeling - Albums Reviews

“These cats can play!" trumpets the press release, and by Jovi, it’s true! Every second of ‘Twelve Stops And Home' pulsates with the soft rock heartbeat of a distant, more comforting era, where Smashey’n’Nicey rule the airwaves and the nearest thing to an asylum seeker was Foreigner. The trouble with such shameless nostalgia is that whereas the likes of Scissor Sisters instill such daftness with personality, these Sussex session men featuring exmembers of Sophie Ellis Bextor’s band -are so busy trying to be Supertramp they've forgotten to add anything of themselves other than on closer ‘Blue Piccadilly’, a song about a tube line. An album for those who find Orson too noisy.

Popaganda by Head Automatica

What happens to emo boys when they nudge 30 and have to hang up their big shorts? In the case of Daryl Palumbo, one time primal screamer with Glassjaw, life beyond ‘downtuned’ has involved loading up on the British, '80s new wave music of his youth like Costello and Squeeze. Relocating his mojo to that of a surly teenager wishing he was a cool British rakish type allows him to still be a bit emo, just with gigantic elasticated choruses like ‘Lying Through Your Teeth' and 'Graduation Day': the sugar coated first single that features Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance on backing vox. All of which rather fabulously adds up to the fantasy soundtrack to any rite of passage teen movie you could possibly name.

Other People's Problems by Upper Room

Anyone remember The Lightning Seeds? Devoid of usual pop star traits like style and personality they may have been, but that one with the funny beard knew his way around a tune. Well, think of Brighton’s The Upper Room as a better looking, more interesting, post millennial update. The 12 gorgeous glacial pop nuggets that make up this debut album are the very definition of quintessential^ English, from ‘Combination”s New Order-ish chemical glow to the shamelessly catchy hooks of hearts on sleeve pop like ‘Kill Kill Kill' to the forked tongue misanthropy of 'Never Come Back'. They’re unlikely to be squirting syringes of their own blood at you anytime soon, but these songs could charm the pants off you.

Monday, October 6, 2014

White Bread Black Beer by Scritti Politti

They don't make pop stars like Green Gartside anymore. First notorious as a speed-snorting. Derrida-quoting academic on the intellectual bleeding edge of post-punk, the '80s saw him twitch off the chicken-wire guitars and re-emerge as honey-voiced soul singer sneaking subversion into the Top 10 in sugar-coated payloads. Released in conjunction with Gartside’s first gigs in 26 years as frontman of Double G And The Traitorous Three. 'White Bread. Black Beer' is as airbrushed as any of his '80s fare. But even the ticking percussion and trilling synths can't hide the sheer melodic oddness of Gartside's songs. Vulcan odes to love that simmer with weird possibilities.

Bright Idea by Orson

Hollywood's Orson are old enough to be Arctic Monkeys’ dads. Their frontman. Jason Pebworth, used to sing in stage musicals. They write songs with the FM sheen of the Hall & Oates school, and wear irritating hats. And yet, faced with such overwhelming grounds, it's still kind of impossible to hate them. They have tunes, great ones, bursting out from everywhere. They're not, as their press release roars, “the missing link between the Stones and Scissor Sisters” but in the title track. ‘Look Around', and 'The Okay Song’ they have at least three songs that tower over the monster Number One ‘No Tomorrow'. Pebworth’s 'woe-is-my-love-life' lyrics are second division, but there is crafted class to the record that will drag you in. It's only a matter of time before Robbie comes knocking.

How We Operate by Gomez

There's an old music hall joke that goes, “Knock knock!" “Who's there?” “Gomez!" “Gomez who?" “That’s showbusiness!" Cruel, but that’s how it feels, eight years after the Southport fivesome’s rootsy, blues-washed debut, 'Bring It On’ earned them many a glittering prize. Released five years before The White Stripes 'revived' that particular musical sub-genre, its success has hung round their necks like the weightiest of millstones. But lo! Good tidings we bring for you, Gomez! For you have hit upon a new formula that may well up your commercial stock. In songs like 'Girlshapedlovedrug' and 'See The World' you have combined the chummy West Coast country pop of The Thrills with the plink-plonk pub piano philosophising of Embrace. You are very clever. Now, have you booked your slot on GMTV yet?

Cannibal Sea by Essex Green

Brooklyn indie-pop troupe The Essex Green are musical ostriches, stuck with their heads in the sand, refusing to admit that it’s anything other than a perpetually sunny afternoon in 1966 with Buffalo Springfield and The Lovin' Spoonful playing on the hand-held transistor radio. Accordingly, then, their third full-length album overflows with pristine melodies, sugary harmonies, a barely definable sense of heartbreak and. on ‘This Isn't Farm Life', lyrics about The iIllad. Then they go and ruin it all with ‘Don't Know Why (You Stay)’, which combines Gary Numan-style synths and guitars pinched from The Cars; a band from, scandalously, the '80s! That this small step towards brain-mangling future music is so disconcerting is a tribute to how fully realised the rest of The Essex Green's '60s centric vision is.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Decemberunderground by AFI

Back in 2003, underground goth punks A Fire Inside made a break for the bright lights with their major label debut ‘Sing The Sorrow’.  Warded off by the glare of success, they skulked back to the safety of their San Franciscan crypt. Within 18 months, Franz and The Killers had driven commercial stakes through AFI’s art. Yet if a week is a long time in politics, three years is forever in music, and with MCR making dysfunctional death cults fashionable again, AFI have timed their return exquisitely. The crunching call to arms of opener ‘Kill Caustic’ and sublime, swing-tinged single ‘Miss Murder’ make for an impressive re-introduction. That the rest of ‘Decemberunderground’ is, for the main, a maudlin mope-fest comprised chiefly of schlock rock cliches (’The Killing Lights’) and slightly risible stabs at synth-pop (’The Interview’), just about redeemed by choruses you could hang a trench coat on, is almost beside the point. With a comeback pitched between the indulgent love-metal of HiM and the pubescent pop-punk of Fall Out Boy, AFl’s hiatus looks increasingly less like laziness and more like a marketing masterstroke. Don’t bet on their fire being extinguished just yet.

Down for Life by D4l

No-one has made a career out of a single musical note quite as outrageously as Atlanta’s D4L. Anyone who hasn’t yet heard the Bankhead crew’s infuriatingly catchy signature tune. 'Laffy Taffy', should count themselves lucky. Why, then, are their most annoying qualities of also unique selling points? Minimalism. There hasn’t been an album as stripped-down and reductive as ’Down For Life’ for 20 years. A deranged rap barbershop quartet reduce life’s less salubrious experiences to non-sequiturs, over synthetic beats that barely exist. ‘Scotty’’s veiled drug references, ‘Make It Rain"s pimpology, and ‘Stuntman”s “I got money” refrains, all break rap down to its most minimum, base compound. And it feels good. Sort of.

Spell by Black Heart Procession

Over the past 10 years or so. The Black Heart Procession have become something of an institution in doom-indie circles (not that you would have guessed by their chirpy, carefree name of course) so the trench coat massive will no doubt be delighted to find that ‘The Spell' again finds them excelling in the art of morbidity. With all manner of strings and pianos adding to the mournful elegance of The Replacement’ and the dirge-like opener 'Tangled', the quintet can claim to be on a par with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds when it comes to making their despair sound utterly engrossing. Spells don’t come much stronger.

Surprise by Paul Simon

Paul Simon- and bear with me on this is the only true genius working in American music today. For 50 years he’s taken worthy world music  from English folk to reggae, South African and Brazilian music  and added a sense of humour and videos starring Chevy Chase. For his tenth album, Paul's got avant garde boffin Brian Eno producing and co-writing. It might seem an odd pairing, but this is the bravest album of Simon’s career. Abandoning traditional song structures is one thing, but adding anti-war lyrics and cinematic arrangements to produce a set of songs that are funny and poignant is quite another. From the affecting ‘How Can You Live In The Northeast?' to the irate ‘Wartime Prayers’, this surprise is an entirely pleasant one.

Black Gold by King Biscuit Time

First The Beta Band split, then Grandaddy - soon we aren’t going to have any experimento-rock genii left! Thankfully Beta Band main brain Steve Mason has carried on with his solo project King Biscuit Time, but, like Pete and Carl on their latest projects, without the cohorts he forged his musicianship with, Mason falls a touch short of the mark.
The wonky Beta-pop of 'CIAM15’ is almost there, but the sparkle dust that clung to most of the Betas’ work remains in its pot and the whole shebang ends up sounding a tad clumsy. Slower, mystic tinged numbers like 'Impossible Ride’ are almost beautiful, but on the whole this is a few crumbs short of a HobNob.

Rose Has Teeth in Mouth of a Beast by Matmos

Digital Dadaists Matmos like to challenge themselves almost as much as they do their listeners. So while previous albums from this San Franciscan duo have featured beats composed from samples of plastic surgery operations, whoopee cushions and - oh yes - the amplified neural activity of crayfish, here they've constructed a series of dense electronic sound collages, each intended as an ‘aural portrait’ of one of 10 gay icons. Their choices are winningly eclectic from Joe Meek to William Burroughs, Patricia Higsmith and the flamboyant King Ludwig ll Of Bavaria, each track allows Matmos to experiment with a different style. If you're the kind of person that enjoys chopped up samples of hair being cut or people receiving cigarettes burns intertwined with vocal cameos from Bjork and Antony Hegarty then it's safe to say you probably won't need to buy another album ever again. Everyone else will find ‘The Rose...’ easy to admire, but hard to really love.

The Garden by Zero 7

Like a scented Lush bath bomb of mediocrity, Zero 7 are the chief architects of "chill-out", once the music that drug crazed ravers listened to in order to come down from their euphoria, but now, the favoured genre of people who view music not as something life affirming, but as something to listen to while pruning the window box. Under some pretence of getting with the times, here Zero 7 employ that old Chemical Brothers swindle of renting in the talent, bolting on modestly talented advert warbler losé Gonzalez for finger picked fripperies like ‘Future’. All that's left is to add a few synth burps, collect the cheque, and hit the pub. Laughing all the way about the fact that Marx thought that religion was the opium of the people.

The Corner of Miles & Gil by Shack

Great lost genii, the brothers Head, aren't they? Admittedly, it's the gaps, as they wrestle with cancelled record deals, heroin problems and sloppy side-projects that drives this judgment more than the records. ‘The Corner Of Miles And Gil’ confirms that Shack’s talents shine brightest in flashes rather than on full glare. The atmosphere of happily effortless idling is spot on; there is beauty, wit and shrewd, skewed observations (baskets of frogs and trips to Lichtenstein), but an unwillingness to cull overly self reverent showing off, like ‘Miles Away’, dilutes the mix too far. As with most genii, their obsessive charms start to look less fascinating after an hour or so.

Men, Women, & Children by Men Women & Children

Step up‘emo-disco’,a new entry to our list of previously inconceivable genres Tortured croons over'70s electro violin stabs and thumping basslines might sound like a recipe for disaster, but this lot could be on to something. New single ‘Dance In My Blood’is in a muddy field of its own, wearing star spangled wellies and having the time of its life, while 'Photosynthesis(We're Losing 02)'is another treat.OK, So there's a song that sounds like Scissor Sisters riding around in Super Mario Karts (‘Who Found Mister Fabulous’). another that puns on the vowel structure (“AEIOU nothing", from’vowels’, kill us every time), and artwork more pretentious than a coterie of fashionistas attending a show called 'Le Pretentious. Moi?'.The 'Children are the future.

Schmotime by Absentee

Absentee's mini album ‘Donkey Stock' was one of the quiet delights of last year a low key blend of‘Loaded' era velvets and the world weariness of smog, together with a disarming diversion into the Grease soundtrack. For this,their debut album proper, they've poured a large helping of pop into the mix. Pop in the sense that ‘Something To Bang’ (re-recorded form ‘Donkey Stock’) fizzes like the greatest hit single that never was. And pop in the sense that most of the songs here are drunken monologues that reveal singer Dan Michaelson to be more of rake than,say, The Rakes will ever be.So, if you're a fan of pop music, in any sense, then what are waiting for? lt's‘Schmotime'.