Joji ‘Ballads 1’ – Review

8 Nov

Joji, aka George Miller, aka Pink Guy, aka Filthy Frank, has built a successful career as a YouTube prankster – a career that seems at odds with his new direction, as a balladeer. Everything from the moody press photos to the album title, ‘Ballads 1’, speaks of someone trying very hard to be taken seriously. The addition of the 1 in the title hints that this is a redo of sorts, but nothing about the content suggests it’s one that Joji is particularly attached to. It’s not that he still has the vibe of prankster, it’s that there is a calculated design to the album that plays against the intimacy and sincerity of the form he’s chosen. Its another disguise. Many of his artistic impulses – not least the curtailed and oh so trendy mix of trap, quiet storm, sound cloud rap and alt-r&b – result in the moodiness coming across as just another aesthetic choice designed to appease a niche but influential audience.

When it works, ‘Ballads 1’ can be surprisingly endearing. It opens with ‘Attention’ a pretty piano noodle that recalls nothing so much as Youth Lagoon’s emotive lo-fi masterpiece ‘Year of Hibernation’. In fact the album as a whole sent me back to that dark, alternative streak that ran through Li-if r&b at the start of the decade. ‘Slow Dancing in the Dark’ mines the same ground as Twin Shadow’s similarly titled ‘When We’re Dancing’ and conveys a moonlit romance unsettled by the sinister production from Chairlift’s Patrick Wemberly (the latest in a line of startling productions by Wemberly this year). ‘Yeah Right’ stands out; with its spluttering beat and vapid hook it has the vibe of early 00’s N.E.R.D and in contrast to much of the album, is notable for how much Joji seems to be trying to convey more than indifference.

There are subtle musical surprises at points – the noisy interlude of ‘Why Am I Still in L.A, the blast of pitch distorted 80s synths on ‘Slow Dancing…’ but these risks are not enough to rise above the predictable, glum atmosphere created by twelve slow paced confessionals strung out in a row. ‘Ballads 1’ is derivative of Kanye’s far more groundbreaking ‘808s and Heartbreaks’ and Drake’s ‘Take Care’. But whereas those artists carved their masterpieces out of life or death necessity, Joji sounds like he’s weaponising heartbreak for career progression. There is a lack of conviction at odds with the genre Joji has dedicated himself to, and he fails to do his ideas justice with half cut mumbles and generic trap beats. It’s something he seems aware of – at the very opening he states ‘I know I’m cryptic and I’m weird / that shit comes off as indifferent.’ That’s the kind of self awareness that suggests these ballads are coming from the brain instead of the heart. Joji trades mainly in affected cliches and vague proclamations, usually detailing some kind of romantic break down or defiant revenge. His lyrics are often too steeped in loathing to be romantic, too self interested to be truly connective and too vague to offer precise insight.

Throughout the album Joji delivers the kind of heart in mouth lines with all the bluster of a leaf floating across the skyline on an autumn day. ‘I would die for you’ he mumbles on ‘R.I.P without the conviction to convince me, let alone the object of his affections. The undersell might work if you didn’t get the distinct impression that ‘Ballads 1’ is all too conveniently stylised like this to appeal to a young, Hipster audience. His vocal tics and affectations are particularly trying. Everything from the dozing melodies to the the auto-tuned vocals, the half arsed trap beats to the shadowy synths, suggests somebody overly indebted to the current fashion. And the problem with adhering so closely to fashion is that before you know it the moment has passed and people have moved on to the next thing. The album’s back half in particular is clogged with the type of druggy slow jams that How to Dress Well, The XX and James Blake put to bed eight years ago with classics like ‘Love Remains’, ‘Coexist’ and ‘James Blake’. Joji is not short on talent but ‘Ballads 1’ is too preoccupied with its moment to truly transcend it.

5.5/10

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Interpol ‘Marauder’ – Review

30 Oct

If the strokes were the perfect embodiment of New York City’s stylish, debauched nightlife, then Interpol symbolised the walk home alone in the early hours. The cold chill in the air, the reflections of neon signs in puddles, steely skyscrapers – a lonely yet glamorous existence. But it’s been a while since Interpol encapsulated this melancholic romance. Recent albums, ‘Interpol’ and ‘El Pintor’ felt like they were constructed in a dark bunker, miles below NYC’s surface. Crushing misery was always part of the bargain, but never from so close a range, and never in such dull terms.

Order is restored in surprising ways on ‘Marauder’ where dark themes are explored with unexpected attitude and sharp humour. In contrast to their classic debut, where riffs and melodies jutted out at right angles, there is a machine gun fire dynamism to everything on ‘Marauder’. Even the slow songs have a sharpness. The opening trio, ‘If You Really Love Nothing’, ‘The Rover’ and ‘Complications’ are almost Ramonic in their forward momentum – if not quite their melodic ingenuity.

But to the disservice of his newly energised band, Paul Banks continues to drown his songs in faux-profundity. occasionally he aims clumsily at such odd targets that you wonder if he ever had the insight that brooding classics like ‘Untitled’ and ‘Obstacle 1’ suggested. ‘If you really love nothing, on what future do we build illusions?’ He mysteriously muses on the opening track. It’s nowhere near as smart as Banks thinks it is. And look, if you have any desire to know what he means by ‘prostrated faded’ then he’s written paragraphs on the subject over at Genius.com. Knock yourself out. Needless to say, he’s very preoccupied with shadowy ‘cult guys’ and ‘pseudo spiritualism’.

But that’s not the crux of ‘Marauder’. In fact, in the correct setting, some of these lyrics roar to life – once Bank’s distinctive baritone wraps menacingly around them. At points, such is his conviction, you become almost convinced that he’s a deceptive genius. It helps immensely that his band are behind him, urging him forward. Legendary producer Dave Friedman has captured Interpol’s live sound straight to tape, and the record gains something vital as a result. Scrappy guitar lines, distortion, dials turned up to ten and given a heated mix – it creates a frazzling sound alright. But after the funeral atmosphere of their previous three albums, the intensity and passion is a welcome surprise. That the album doesn’t manage to sustain that intensity for 45 minutes, is not so much of a surprise. The back half is podgy and forgettable. Nonetheless, ‘Marauder’ should be celebrated as more than the successful Comeback it is – it’s one of the best things Interpol have ever done. Period.

7/10

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Review Round-up

28 Oct

Bodega ‘Endless Scroll’

Bodega are exactly what you want from a post punk band. They make tense, wiry songs that are executed with minimal fuss, and explore dark themes with an abundance of wit and just the right amount of sophistication. Across fourteen razor sharp songs the band jab at familiar targets – the new world, the internet, consumerism, culture snobs – and even find success when they trade the cynicism for a more personal analysis on Jack From Titanic; a wry, self deprecating ode to Titanic’s heroic lead.

The album was recorded by Austin Brown, and once you know this it’s difficult not to hear his influence, particularly in the intonation and stresses of the frontman’s deadpan vocals. But Bodega are more stylisticly slick than Parquet Courts, and this is certainly a more one dimensional album than any that band have put out – one that occasionally feels repetitive and short on ambition. But in stretches ‘Endless Scroll’ is one of the smarter, and more enjoyable, social commentaries you’re likely to hear in 2018.

7.5/10

Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears

Let’s Eat Grandma have made a modern album built on the ruins of cannon culture. As the opener – the drawling and menacing ‘Whitewater’ – slithers to an end, you get the strong impression that the instrumental is what tripping Deadheads might have imagined pop music to sound like in the 21st century. At its best, ‘I’m all Ears’ more than lives up to this promise. It’s a youthful, optimistic vision of what pop can achieve when it’s made by Goths raised on Spice Girls. The hyperactive hooks on ‘Hot Pink’ were provided by Sophie and Farsi Baldwin – an odd combination who nonetheless find the balance of sweet and sour, and unleash Let’s Eat Grandma’s poptimist sensibilities. Even better than the hyperactive ‘Hot Pink’ are the wild, extended ‘Cool and Collected’ and ‘Donnie Darko’ which sharply explore themes of dependency and rejection. Best of all is the stripped back piano ballad ‘Ava’ which reflects on a lonely friend who lost touch years before – a simple and moving evocation that contrasts with the more ambitious and eclectic numbers.

8.5/10

Father John Misty ‘God’s Favourite Customer’

Father John Misty’s ‘Pure Comedy’ was one of the most self indulgent acts of artistic hubris since the fall of Britpop. His trademark irony soured in to sarcasm and knives once sharpened for self diagnosis pointed outwards, towards easy targets. Musically, everything felt simultaneously overthought and under worked. Vague ideas stretched across 70 minutes of tedious piano noodling, conveying an overwhelmingly cynical and meloncholic sneer in the face of humanity. ‘God’s Favourite Customer’ feels like an earnest attempt to distill ‘Pure Comedy’s general and self loathing in to something more palatable. It’s about half the length for starters, and even the longest song would be one of the shortest on ‘Pure Comedy’. whilst Misty still sticks to a pretty repetitive, melancholic formula, there is less to actively loathe on this album, and quite a bit to enjoy. Misty’s voice, gorgeous even in the most tedious moments, is complimented by rich, warm arrangements. In ‘Please Don’t Die’ and ‘Disapointing Diamonds are the Rarest’ he has found some of his pretties melodies in years. Not quite a return to the form of ‘I Love You Honeybear’ but a nice record that goes some way to redeeming the artist.

6.5/10

 

Joyce Manor ‘A Million Dollers To Kill Me’ – Review

20 Oct

Joyce Manor have spent much of the past decade searching for the exact point where emo meets Indie and pop-punk. Having discovered that point, and upon naming it ‘Cody’, the band now seek out unexplored terrain for new adventures. And so they arrive at ‘A Million Dollers to Kill Me’, their most surprising left turn to date.

At its opening nothing appears to be any different. First track ‘Fighting Kangaroos’ features recognisably fractured singing, propulsive, power house drumming and a day glo melody. But it goes on for longer than Joyce Manor fans have become accustomed to. It goes on past the two minute mark. It goes on past the second chorus. Then you notice the sheen of the guitars and the subtle harmonies underpinning Barry Johnson’s more carefully considered tone. This is definitely something new. Then ‘Fighting Kangaroos’ bursts in to ‘Think I’m Still In Love With You’, by which point we’re in pure power pop territory. There is nothing ambiguous or sly about it. And it’s brilliant. The album continues to develop and mature as it goes on. The tempo dramatically dips on ‘Not the One’ and never really springs back to the pop punk pace we are used to (except perhaps on the title track, which is as sprightly as anything the band have yet recorded). The hushed contemplation is notable, as is the lack of venom, sarcasm or anything remotely unempathetic or insincere.

The artistic success of these choices is perhaps debatable and depends largely on your attachment to Joyce Manors established sound and style. The ballads are pretty and all the tunes are polished and professional- but then that could be a problem to some. Half the joy used to come from the implicit spontaneity and reckless enthusiasm captured on songs like ‘Constant Headache’ and ‘Heart Tattoo’. There was something endearing about the group’s broad grins and sloppy dynamics; the way they melted emo sentiments with Indie smarts and pop punk energy. All the loose ends have been tied up on ‘A Million Dollers to Kill Me’ and the themes are treated with reverence. Nothing is really left to the imagination this time around and there is something less enigmatic about the way they are revelling brazenly in sounds rather than deftly hinting at them – the shoe-gazing atmospherics of ‘Gone Tomorrow’ for example or the lush, mid 70s studio production on ‘Silly Games’, which rather overstate the band’s influences.

Growing up, straightening out and settling down without losing your youthful verve and enthusiasm – this is the challenge we all have to face at some point. Joyce Manor are personifying this on ‘A Million Dollars to Kill Me’. I think they can be both proud of what they achieved and mournful for what they left behind. Ultimately, this could be the album that sets them up for life – after all, pop punk isn’t a particularly good look for middle aged men (just look at Blink 182 or Green Day at the moment to see how hard it is to navigate this space). This is a grown up Joyce Manor album for childish times. We can be thankful for that.

7/10

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The Kooks ‘Lets Go Sunshine’ – Review

29 Sep

Back in 2006 Arctic Monkeys were riding a monumental wave that felt like it could crash at any moment. Perhaps anticipating a backlash, the band opted not to perform on Top of the Pops, do interviews or release songs with obvious hit potential. The likes of ‘Mardy Bum’ and ‘From the Ritz to the rubble’ were left to languish on the album and you can only imagine the frustration felt by radio programmers and TV producers. There to scratch that itch were the more affable Kooks, a band brimming with stage school talent who just so happened to hit puberty at a time when boys with long Curley hair and leather jackets were in vogue. In another decade ‘Naive’ could have been dressed up as a New Romantic synth pop number or a sweeping britpop ballad. In 2006, it was at the forefront of the nu-indie revolution. Less dangerous than The Libertines, better looking than Arctic Monkeys, easier on the ears than Razorlight, The Kooks were the major label face (and for one summer the sound) of British indie rock.

The older guard of Indie were, perhaps understandably, perplexed by the commercialisation of their genre but The Kooks youthful peans to love and innocence, tempered by soft melodies and bursts of energy, caught the mood of a generation. A mood as sweet as it was short lived. The likes of ‘She Moves in Her Own Way’ and ‘Seaside’ always sounded vaguely nostalgic for something slightly out of reach, and now, in the rear view mirror, that warm, glowing feeling is only amplified. But what was once hazy and romantic has crusted over on ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’. Here the nostalgia is spelt out in felt tip colours; the past dressed up and sold as something tangible and sellable. The nostalgia somehow feels too on the nose, and at points cynical.

The most overt example is ‘Tesco Disco’, where Luke Pritchard describes a misspent youth of drinking from warm cans and working part time jobs. ‘Where did you go, sweet Caroline? The girl I used to know…’ the ghostly reverb oversells the detachment between past and present, innocence and experience, and the lyrical cliches (‘we laughed until we cried’ ‘I’m no good at goodbyes’) provide a dissonance that is hard to get past. It’s a catchy song though – Pritchard is a gifted melodist, (if something of a marmite singer) but, as on ‘Tesco Disco’, these catchy melodies are often hampered by his lyrics. Even The Kooks most likeable choruses convey an underwhelming (if often charming) mundanity – ‘she moves in her own way, she came to my show just to hear about my day’ ‘I know, she knows, I’m not fond of asking’ – often mumbled beyond the point of clarity. More dammingly though, he has a fatal tendency to overshare. On the thrilling ‘Eddie’s Gun’ the bad metaphors couldn’t hide that this song was about erectile disfunction. The titles of ‘Jackie Bit Tits’ and ‘Do You Wanna Make Love’ gave the crudity of the game away before you even pressed play.

The Kooks have cited their own ‘Ooh La’ is a principal inspiration, which isn’t surprising; few bands ride on the coat tails of their debut’s success with as much oblivion as this lot (their subsequent albums have all been dead on arrival both critically and commercially); still burdened by their own early success yet unable to see past it, ‘Inside In/Inside Out’ hangs over their head as a constant reminder and challenge. Generally they seem incapable of replicating that magical, hard to describe quality of those early hits. The calculated sophista-pop of ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’, makes all the right noises and presses all the obvious buttons but never produces a song that transcends its dreary setting (dreamier than even the beige album art would suggest).

But dreary isn’t so bad, not when disastrous served as a far more apt adjective when describing some songs on their past three albums. As Nu-Indie’s cultural cache faded, The Kooks made ill-fated efforts to update and expand their sound, messing around with electronic elements on the utterly uneventful ‘Junk of the Heart’ and (tragically) r&b, gospel and hip hop on the shockingly Ill judged ‘Listen’. In comparison, concerns about the bland, basic palette of ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ seem relatively tame. The Kooks aren’t aiming particularly high and ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ actually counts as something of a return to form – albeit the patchy, hit and miss form of their sophomore album ‘Konk’. In some regards the first half of this album can be interpreted as the cliched ‘back to basics’ thing that is often the direct consequence of unsuccessful experimentation. But it also suffers slightly in its vague attempts to sound familiar and relevant at the same time. prerequisite ‘wooh woohs’ and processed snare beats highlight predictable choruses that sound designed by a committee. Put these contemporary elements alongside the acoustic shuffles heard on ‘Fractured and Dazed’, ‘Chicken Bone’, ‘Four Leaf Clover’ and the jangly riffs of ‘All This Time’ and you have a pretty safe return on your investment.

Where there is adventure, it’s sensible adventure; the album’s back half is more exploratory and more interesting as a result. Freed from the limiting constraints of trying to replicate their old sound and staying current, the band investigate whilst staying in their natural range. ‘Initials for Gainsbourg’ adds baroque elements to their acoustic mix and the pretty ‘Honeybee’ features a folky melody provided by Pritchard’s father. ‘No Pressure’ manages to convey the breeziness of their early material while utilising subtle harmonic touches running just below the surface. It’s so good, the band use it as the intro and final track.

As the band’s recent ‘best of’ compilation suggested, The Kooks are a good singles band (even if most of their best single come from the same album). ‘Lets Go Sunshine’ provides a couple that would have been worthy of inclusion on such an album, a couple of more album tracks that subtly expand their sound in interesting ways, and then a lot in between that is fairly dull and forgettable. Thankfully though, nothing is truely terrible, and that’s a step in the right direction. But even a generous fan giving ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ a go might justifiably find themselves pondering, if time spent listening to this could be time better spent listening to ‘Naive’ fifteen times on repeat.

5/10

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The Lemon Twigs ‘Go to School’ – Review

16 Sep

The Lemon Twigs ‘Do Hollywood’ was one of the most accomplished debut albums of the last decade, rendered more remarkable by the fact that its chief architects weren’t out of school when they recorded the album for the legendary 4AD studios. Now, the band are describing their new, second album as a musical – and this isn’t a half hearted claim either, there are points were it really goes full on Bugsy Malone. To say that this is an unexpected development for a band coming hot on the heals of a cool, acclaimed debut might be an understatement. But then there was always a theatrical edge to the band that split critics down the middle, and a prevalent sense of ‘expect the unexpected’. For fans, ‘Do Hollywood’, demonstrated a range and ability that artists twice their age would struggle to compete with. ‘Go to School’ ups the ante in almost every sense; it’s even more eclectic, even more ambitious and, somehow, likely to prove even more divisive.

The attribute that Lemon Twigs have in spades, that separates them from the crowd, is enthusiasm. They remind us of how fun it feels to be young, celebrated and drunk on rock n roll. This is the band we would want to be in if we were 17 and had a touch of the same confidence, talent and tenacity (just one of the three might do). Every single song lives out a different kind of absurdist rock n roll fantasy with an excitement that belies any sense of giving a damn. Sincerity is just another pose. High kicks are the cost of entry. Eyes wide, eyeliner primed, glitter bombs at the ready.

And why not? When did Rock stars start taking themselves so seriously? In their heyday, bands like Queen and Led Zeppelin were characterised by flamboyant lead singers and a sense that they were in on the joke. Somewhere down the line Rock became the domain of boring Joes, your Royal Bloods and Imagine Dragons. And that really is a striking about The Lemon Twigs – the unabashed silliness of two brothers parading around on stage in tight vintage outfits, singing songs about a monkey who falls in love with a human girl. That they find the humour in their subject without becoming the joke is testament to an insane natural ability and impeccably well honed understanding of their genre.

This all encompassing rock n roll vision is filtered through a homespun lens that gives a charm to material that might easily become cliched in a more refined setting. The brothers produced the album themselves, from a home studio, and as a result it has a close, warm atmosphere that appropriately gives ‘Go to School’ a distinct vintage feel at odds with modern rock music. The Lemon Twigs are a throwback in other respects as well. The gutsy, bold songwriting, particularly in the opening few numbers, will remind you of Big Star, The Beatles Todd Rundgren, Beach Boys and The Who – all bands The Lemon Twigs have covered at gigs in the past year. These aren’t just imitations; theirs are unusual, creative melodies accompanied by expansive, and daring arrangements. In isolation, any one of these songs will inspire distinct admiration. The album’s success as a whole piece is more debatable.

The thing about musicals is that they have a strong visual element and almost always contain dialogue to set out exposition. Without either of those elements, Lemon Twigs rely purely on their lyrics to do the heavy lifting. Invariably the songs that advance the plot drag the album down. The middle third is particularly exposition heavy, and suffers as a result with show tunes that seem to serve no other purpose than to make a plot point. And, as you might expect, the storyline about poor Shane, an unloved and well meaning chimp,, doesnt keep your attention outright. Only when accompanied by blistering music, as on the incredibly powerful ‘The Fire’, or the explosive ‘Rock Dreams’ does the plot truly come to life. The campy piano ballads that clog up the middle stretch (‘The Lesson’, ‘Wonderin Ways’, ‘Born Wrong’) feel too calculated and generic to really excite.

Not all the songs benefit from being so tethered to the plot. The sincere message of ‘Lonely’ a disaffected, pretty ballad in The Carpenters mould, and a song written about personal experience when Michael was still at school, gets lost in between the more contrived showtunes. Likewise, the cute, yet moralising, ‘If You Give Enough’, and even the whip cracking ‘Queen of my School’, so memorable as The Twigs staple set closer, feel reduced in this context, burdened by odd plot details, awkward turns of phrase (‘Shane boy, be my toy / my pussy, you’ll employ’) and overbaked production.

In fact, Michael and Brian overegg the pudding at almost every opportunity. Too many songs descend in to ridiculous musical extravaganzas. The bossanova inflected ‘The Bully’ unexpectedly bursts in the second half with processional horns and marching band drum rolls. ‘Rock Dreams’ comes undone towards the end with a chorus of demented choir vocals that strongly remind me of the voices from The Beatles ‘Flying’. The hyperactive, scattergun arrangements nearly undid their debut but this approach feels more significantly detrimental on a record nearly double the length of ‘Do Hollywood’. The more understated harmonic touches on ‘Always in my Heart, Never in my Arms’ and particularly the coda to ‘The Student Becomes the Teacher’ speak to the Twigs true calling; not as stage school wannabes but as heirs apparent to The Beach Boy and Beatles.

Even so, their faults, if you want to categorise them as such, are endearing and stem from that genuine enthusiasm I gushed about earlier. The same instincts that led them down these roads are the same instincts that inspired the abandon and wonder inherent in their finest moments. They don’t just get by on giddy excitement either; their understanding of craft and there attention to detail is notable, particularly for anyone whose ever paid close attention to ‘Radio City’ or ‘Something / Anything’, classic albums of a similar ilk made by far more experienced artists, with significantly higher bank balances, in posh studios. Without meaning to be condescending, the fact that The Lemon Twigs produced a concept album as daring and accomplished as this, at their age, with their resources, is somewhat remarkable. ‘Go to School’ isn’t the masterpiece musical it desperately wants to be but it is something more precious – an unguarded, kooky snapshot of youth and a love letter to rock n roll dreams.

8/10

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Miles Kane ‘Coup de Grace’ – Review

28 Aug

Miles Kane sounds like a man who still hasn’t figured out who he truly is, yet has made a career out of demonstrating the long list of people he’d like to be (starting with Paul Weller and ending with Mark Boland). On third solo album ‘Coup de Grace’ the flaws in that strategy become abundantly clear. The problem isn’t necessarily that imitation reaps limited rewards (Miles has proven throughout his career that he can be a very successful impersonator in the right circumstances), it’s that his imitations are so obviously rendered that the listener is left with no discernible role. Everything is spelt out in big, bright letters. Every note, every lyric, every cliche is delivered so predictably that you end up becoming a passive participant, not trusted to think for yourself. There’s little fun in that.

‘Coup de Grace’ was allegedly composed in a fortnight, and it shows in the scrappy, barely there opener ‘Too Little, Too Late’, a song apparently inspired by the Dammed and The Fall. But there’s more to punk rock than turning up and stringing the right three chords together over a strong backbeat. The faster numbers all suffer from a similar lack of understanding. ‘Cold Light of Day’ has an infuriatingly simplistic hook, repeated ad-nausium and mirrored almost identically by the melody. It’s bargain bin riff rock. ‘Cry on my Guitar’ is just a bit more slinky, Miles’ heavily affected snarl imitating T-Rex whilst name checking Sweet.

Kane has called this his ‘Adele album, and I think he means that it was inspired by a break up (certainly, he can’t conjure up the same level of vulnerability, let alone sense of power that Adele has). Indeed, the best songs are the ones that cut most closely to the bone. The ones where the swagger and tomfoolery is kept (mostly) at arms length. ‘Since you’ve been gone, left the tv on / let the milk go sour, let the bills pile up / but I swear I’m a funny guy’ he croons mid way through ‘Killing the Joke’, which comes as close to a revelation as you’re likely to get on ‘Coup de Grace’. You see, In certain quarters Miles Kane has built a reputation as something of a sleaze, in part down to a bizarre series of interviews given to promote the last Shadow Puppets record, and particularly one unfortunate joke made to a female reporter on said press circuit. However real or unreal, offensive or otherwise Kane’s persona may be, it seems to have cost him at least one relationship as well as any lingering critical credibility. That lyric is as close as he gets to unpacking this reputation.

I think that when people say they dislike Miles Kane, what they really mean is that they dislike what he represents – rather than what he presents. ‘Coup de Grace’ is a totally inoffensive collection of sprightly rock n roll songs that surely wouldn’t agitate a soul anymore than it could stir up a flame. It’s reasonably short and listenable from start to finish. But to many critics, Kane is as clear a representation of toxic masculinity as any – he’s your moderately talented white male, almost entirely influenced by and reflective of other (often inexplicably) successful white males, who was granted opportunity because he was cousins with the guy from the Coral and best mates with Alex Turner; a sleaze ball who ditched his friends in The Little Flames and The Rascals to put his own name up there under bright lights, who, to paraphrase Pitchfork, always happens to be in the right place at the right time whether he’s welcome there or not. Of course this is an ungenerous perspective that misreads the winking humour of Kane’s personality, and undersells the difficulty of remaining in the indie cosmos for over a decade. After all, one could argue, there must be a better reason for his continued success, when so many of those indie landfill bands from 2003-08 fell by the wayside, than ‘he’s Bessie’s with the singer from Arctic Monkeys.’

Kane is one of the best showmen left in Rock n Roll, and has a dynamic stage presence that belies the mundanity of his solo material. On stage his talents are far easier to ascertain – his style, his charisma, his fierce vocals, his banter – on records those traits are concealed. Then again, I don’t see any discernible reason why Kane has to prove himself as a songwriter at all. Some of the best performers – Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Englebert Humperdink and of course Elvis – were ultimately at the mercy of other songwriters, for better or worse. I’d like to see Miles wrap his lips around an album of rock n roll standards. Or what would happen if he truly gave himself over to other writers? Not an ambitious or alluring career progression perhaps, but one that would suit his particular set of talents. Because the truth is, no matter how many friends he has in high places, an album as average as ‘Coup de Grace’ is nothing to sustain a career on.

5/10

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