Archive | October, 2012

Tame Impala ‘Lonerism’ – Review

21 Oct

Psychedelic music has traditionally been community music. When you picture the summer of love, you picture hordes of loved-up hippies getting high under a summer sun. Increasingly though the tropes of the genre are being used to signify loneliness, otherness and separation. This is actually more fitting when you think about it – it’s what the delay loops, wah-wahs, phasing and reverb all initially add to the music. The cover of Tame Impala’s second album, ‘Lonerism’, features a picture of somebody looking through a locked gate at a crowd of happy people. Seperation.

The musical effects on the album enhance and distort (sonwriter/band leader/singer/musician) Kevin Parker’s destructive thoughts about being alone; the effects both entertain and confuse the listener and ultimately leave you in a dizzy state. ‘Mind Mischief’ as one of the songs is appropriately called. Parker is concerned with feeling apart from the rest of society and those he loves. He’s the type who would rather day-dream about girls than approach them. He’s also smart enough to know the damage this kind of living can do.  On ‘Music to Walk Home by’ he sing ‘I can almost hear the fun that I should be having, Instead of all this dreaming’.

To be fair his day-dreaming has paid off handsomely. According to an interview, Parker went to uni to study engineering but he says he spent most of his time thinking about music. “It was a disease. I would not be able to listen to a word in lectures because I’d just be thinking about my new song.” Parker’s obsessive nature means that this record is stunningly well realised, with every little detail being carefully considered. It is an incredibly polished record but unlike most albums that have been this finely tuned, it doesn’t sound over-done or synthetic; it’s raw and honest. Hi-fi music approached by a lo-fi fan – or maybe it’s the other way around. It could be an album from the past or it could be from the future. Really it doesn’t sound like anything else I know.

‘Well, am I’m getting closer? Will I ever get there? Does it even matter?’ questions like this spiral around Parker’s head, and bounce from channel to channel in a frankly disorienting way. He over does the effects just slightly for my tastes but there is something endearing (and not at all retro) about his passion for 60’s psyh music and all its associations. The album’s long list of influences runs from Led Zeppelin to MGMT, Pink Floyd to Flaming lips – and oh yeah, The Beatles. I’d be hard-pressed to write this review and not mention the fact that Parker has an uncanny vocal similarity to John Lennon. If I played you some of these songs and said they were long-lost Lennon vocals, I bet you wouldn’t doubt it. The comparison could also be made about their lyrics. While Parker is sometimes as elusive and slippery as you’d expect a psychedelic musician to be, he’s usually thoughtful and articulate. He shares Lennon’s anxieties as well as his wit; you can see that in lines like ‘Every man is happy until happiness is suddenly a goal’.

Every song on ‘Lonerism’ strikes a different note and every song is a success. From the incredibly loose and lively ‘Mind Mischief’ to the condensed jam ‘Endors Toi’. From the extremely catchy and thoughtful ‘It Feels Like We’re Only Going Backwards’ to the mind bending ‘Apocalypse Dreams’. Best of all is ‘Elephant’, a song that could have been lifted from the classic White Stripes album of the same name. It’s hard to convey the sheer confidence and strut this song has – it’s just a perfect meeting of words and music. Parker barely pauses for breath as he describes a particularly obnoxious, smarmy man. Listen to the way he wraps his voice around the line ‘He pulled the mirrors off his Cadillac (yeah) ‘cause he doesn’t like it looking like he looks back’. He punches each syllable in perfect harmony with the riff. This is the best rock song of the year.

It should be noted that this is Tame Impala’s second album. The first, ‘Innerspeaker’, was well received but I never really got on board with it. Partially because the band seemed very rockist and indulgent, but mainly because none of the songs grabbed my attention – there were no choons. ‘Lonerism’ is just on a different planet all together. The fact that one man wrote, performed and produced all these songs only goes to show that sometimes being on your own isn’t so depressing after all, sometimes it can be incredibly rewarding. Throughout though Parker tells us that he craves company and reassurance. ‘I just need to hear somebody say that this will make sense one day’ he sings. Well, after people hear this album I have no doubt that lots of people will be telling Parker that it does make sense – a lot of sense.

9/10

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Michael Jackson ‘BAD 25’ – Review

18 Oct

“Well they say the sky’s the limit/and to me that’s really true.”

So sang Michael Jackson on the title track to his 1987 album ‘Bad’. But if the sky’s the limit, then surely Michael Jackson was well and truly flying when he released Thriller, unable to travel any higher? ‘Thriller’, after all, was (even at that point) the biggest selling album of all time by quite a considerable distance. But Michael Joe Jackson was simply unable to recognise that it was impossible to sell more copies than ‘Thriller’. This was a man who was born with an unnatural dose of talent. A man who had ambition beaten in to him before he could walk. For Michael Jackson the only option was to shift more units than Thriller, more units than Madonna’s last album, more units than crates of beer, more units than knives and forks, more units than the King James Bible or cough medicine.

And this was how he arrived at ‘Bad’, ‘Thriller’s highly anticipated follow-up. Michael used the term ’Bad’ in the street sense of the word as in ‘cool’, ‘hip’, ‘swinging’ ‘down’, ‘gangasta’, ‘bangin’, ‘dope’, ‘totally, like, amazing man. Unfortunately, some journalists at the time wrote the headlines before they heard the album. According to them the record was only bad in the true sense of the word – as in ‘it stinks’. Clearly though, in retrospect, it doesn’t stink. To my ears it may be the most consistently brilliant pop album ever made.

*

‘Bad’ sounds of its time whilst sounding out of time. It’s very much a late 80’s sounding record, full of dated effects and cheesy synths, but it has a futuristic bent. It clearly has influences but it’s difficult to pin point what exactly (at least, without reference to the purple one). Bad is very much a product of the hit pop factory and yet it sounds strange and unique. On this album he took the reins for the first time, by writing all the material himself, by having a much greater hand in the production and by following his natural artistic instincts without diversion.

Despite this brave approach he followed the same formula that made ‘Thriller’ such a smash. Hyesterical Duet? Tick. Theatrical title track? Tick. Emotional power ballad? Tick. A hard rock number featuring a solo from one of the world’s best guitarists? Tick. It’s this combination of safety and bravery, the old and the new, the known and the unknown, that makes bad such a success.

Whilst the album borrowed a lot of tricks from its older brother, there are also a lot of differences between the two records. It seems to me that the biggest difference is how frivolous ‘Bad’ sounds in comparison to ‘Thriller’, a record that was at times so tightly wound it was in danger of bursting. On ‘Bad’ everything is much looser; the bass is lighter, Michael’s vocals are more playful and the lyrics aren’t as dark or despairing (a couple of noticeable exceptions aside). Buoyed on by the success of ‘Thriller’, Michael sounds so much more confident on ‘Bad’.

On ‘Thriller’, the delights lay in the centre of the record, that core trio of ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Beat It’ and ‘Thriller’. Before you arrived at these classics you had to listen to the relatively forgettable ‘Baby Be Mine’ and ‘The Girl Is Mine’. On ‘Bad’ the highlights are spread over the whole record, and surprises spring from the strangest of places. It starts quite literally with a crash bang and wallop, before that creeping baseline appears out of the chaos to signal Michael’s arrival. He sounds like he never has before; dirty, depraved and dangerous. ‘Your butt is mine’ has to be one of the best opening lines to any album. Here, however briefly, he sounds as bad as he wants us to believe he is. This is the most declarative opening to a Michael Jackson album yet.

And Michael longed for us to think he was this dangerous rebel. Originally he wanted the cover of the album to be a close up of his face distorted by a veil (you can see it in the booklet to the deluxe edition) but in the end the label decided on a more threatening photo of Michael in a leather studded jacket. They wanted to earn him some much needed man points. Just look at it for a minute though: Does Michael look threatening? Bad? Dangerous? The answer has to be no. In fact it’s impossible to look at it in 2012 with clear, fresh eyes, to see what’s really there without our knowledge of the man influencing our verdict. Look at his tanned skin for example; In the picture he is paler than he was ten years before, considerably paler. He is more white than black if anything, regardless of whether that’s down to skin bleaching or vitiligo. In some ways you look at this and see the beginning of the end. The start of the demise. Trying to be objective though, he actually looks very cool, in a very unusual way.

Michael’s hair caught on fire in 1985 and the flames demolished his Afro and Jerry Curls. In the picture his locks of curly, shiny hair make him look pretty effeminate. It’s in bizarre contrast to the masculine clothes he’s wearing. I mean, honestly, he looks like nothing else; no man or woman I’ve ever known. He looks like an alien, if an alien was trying to hang out with a street gang. This is an album cover that poses many interesting questions and shrouds yet more mystery on the music.

But back to that title track; on this song, and others (‘Speed Daemon’, ‘Smooth Criminal’) Michael adopts a new vocal style for the verse, a kind of low volume grunt that he would use more and more in the nineties. Here it’s still novel and it suits the songs, as do the groans and exclamations that pepper the tracks, but would go on to litter future albums. Shamone! He He! Awww! *grabs crotch*.

The vocabulary is delightful and unstoppable, and throughout the album Michael sounds like he’s having a ball. On ‘Speed Deamon’ he rides the bouncing bass-line like a child rides a space hopper, full of glee. ‘On Leave Me Alone’ the synth chords are elastic, Michael stretches them. They could snap but they never do. Michael delights. ‘Dirty Di-an-a’ Michael moans over a crunching, grasping guitar. It’s a type of agony Michael is describing. He is a torn man. Torn between right and wrong. It’s a song about groupie love, In contrast to the pure love that is described in the song that precedes it, the corny ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’. Michael is in a sudden dark descent as the album tumbles to an close. The song after ‘Dirty Diana’ is about Murder. Bad Michael, bad.

The first type of love we encounter on the album isn’t really love at all, it’s lust disguised as love. A song called ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’. A sure fire sign of his total desire comes in the first line of the song, which finds Michael addressing a girl as ‘pretty baby’. It catches him dreaming of her dagger high heels, before he works his way up her body. ‘You Give Me fever like I’ve never, ever known’, Michael squeals, stretching the eee’s like they’re Mr Muscle toys. Michael can’t even express his lustful thoughts in complex sentences, instead he screams out in snatches. ‘The way you make me feel! You really turn me on! You knock me off of my feet! My lonely days are gone!’

The song is the first real example, and the best, of Michael expressing such direct, lustful thoughts. It feels more adolescent than the songs on ‘Off the Wall’ and ‘Thriller’, but also more grown up, more honest, more in your face. On ‘Workin Day and Night’ Michael was working 24 hours a day to provide for the love of his life, here he’s only prepared to slave away from ‘9-till 5’. The night hours are for something else entirely. The drum attack that introduces the song recalls a similar introduction to ‘Rock With You’, but this opening feels manipulated and sexual. It flickers from channel to channel in a way that instantly catches the listener’s attention and instantly makes them dizzy. ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, despite being a piece of perfectly constructed, perfectly realised pop, is as Carefree as Michael had sounded since the early days of the Jackson Five, and it’s more carefree than he would ever sound again.

This is the most commercial track on the album, and perhaps the one most in thrall to Prince, the genius who had stolen some of Mike’s thunder in the five year gap between Thriller and Bad, and perhaps the biggest influence on this record’s sound. He was going to duet on the title track, which was envisioned as a kind of duel between the two biggest superstars on the planet. Prince didn’t show up. Michael won by proxy. Ding Ding!

To be honest, as consistently brilliant as this album is, nothing on here can quite compare to the best bits on ‘Off the Wall’ or ‘Thriller’. That’s saying nothing about the quality of ‘Bad’, it’s just that nothing shines quite as brightly as the sun and nothing sounds as good as ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Don’t Stop till You Get Enough’. ‘Smooth Criminal’ probably comes closest; It reminds me of those former tracks, with the mysterious and captivating lyrics, the bassline that serves as the song’s main hook and the dramatic opening. Here the instruments are slightly synthetic and a drum machine has replaced the human back beat of ‘Billie Jean, but it still has a serious case of the funk.

‘Man in the Mirror’ is of course another classic. It wasn’t the first song Michael performed that bemoaned the state of the planet, but it’s the first one that was given pride of place as a single, the first one to strike out a convincing message and it’s become perhaps his signature anthem.

*

Not many Michael Jackson albums have an overriding theme; Off The Wall does, it’s a love letter to the art of dancing your heartbreak away; ‘History’ (and therefore the remix album ‘Blood on the Dancefloor’) is an autobiography that with stunning honesty and directness addresses the emotional tornadoes raging at Michael’s core (these are two very overlooked records that deserve a critical reappraisal). ‘Bad’ though, like ‘Thriller’, can’t be summed up in a nifty sentence. It’s essentially a collection of short stories, which is just how Michael pictured it. Working titles for Smooth Criminal and ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ were ‘Al Capone’ and ‘Hot Fever’. Michael wanted to create a cinematic soundscape. ‘Bad’ appeals to all the senses.

It’s the record where Michael the man retreats from public view and Michael the enigma steps into it. It was at this point in his career where the tabloid rumours started becoming common place and for the first time, on ‘Leave Me Alone’, he addresses them. An attack on the tabloid press? This is not a song that would ever have appeared on ‘Off the Wall’ or ‘Thriller’. Nobody else could/would have made a song like this. In the 90’s Michael would make a lot more. Bad is the dividing line between Michael the artist and Michael the tabloid spectacle. Michael the man and Michael the enigma. Michael the musician and Michael the mystery.

It’s also the first time that the singles were more important than the album, and that’s because the singles ARE the album. Almost all the songs on the record were released as singles. He had five number ones from ‘Bad’, which was more than any other artist had taken from one single record. Most records tail off at the end, but all the songs on the second half of ‘Bad’ were top ten singles. Most were number ones. To all intent and purposes, ‘Bad’ is a greatest hits – a joyful greatest hits. Because of this, the minor songs (the two not released as a singles) are among the most overlooked and underrated in all of Jackson’s back catalogue.

‘Just Good Friends’ is an astonishingly unimportant duet with Stevie Wonder that takes the template of ‘The Girl is Mine’ and betters it without even trying. The interplay between the two legends is great, as is the organ sound, the harmonica solo and the bridge. Oh the bridge! It’s hard to believe a duet between two of the biggest names on the planet could sound so effortless when appearing on the most anticipated album ever, but this is fantastic!

If the album does have a low point then ‘Just Good Friends’ has been identified as being it, however it would stand out as a highlight on almost any other record. I’m not saying ‘Bad is a flawless album though. At times it’s a bit too big budget and spectacular for its own good, a bit like a Hollywood blockbuster that slightly overdoses it with the special effects just because it can. Everything sounds so smooth and polished that some of these songs sound like they were produced by robots rather than human being. ‘Bad’ doesn’t have that live, authentic, subtle dance kick that previous Jackson album had. Perhaps because of this, I’ve always preferred ‘Off the Wall’ to ‘Bad’, even though I’d probably chose both over ‘Thriller’. Despite this (or perhaps because of this) ‘Bad’s’ pop intent was fully realised and the record stands as a towering achievement of pop excess.

*

So what exactly is ‘Bad’s’ legacy? Does it have one? Well to start with, yes, ‘Bad’ does have a legacy. Lady Ga Ga gets compared to MJ all the time, and which incarnation are they comparing her with? Bad Michael of course. Just compare the covers of  their records. Listen to the ‘Alejandro’ then listen to Liberian Girl’. The album has also had an influence on dance music as well as pop, and I’ve even heard indie acts like Klaxons and CSS sing its praises. Despite living in the shadow of ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’ has been just as influential, if not more so.

The 25th anniversary reissue is interesting because it’s making an important event out of an album that, to me at least, has always felt like the least consciously important of all Jackson’s major albums. By that I mean it is the one without an agenda. With ‘Off the Wall’ he was battling his image as a washed up child Star, his perception as a ‘has been’; he had everything to prove. On Thriller’ he was challenging the world’s assumptions about race – he was challenging what it was possible for a black artist to achieve by breaking down barriers and opening doors. On ‘Bad’ the only person he needed to prove anything to was himself. After ‘Bad’ he would spend years straining to sound relevant and meaningful. On ‘Bad’ that was a given. His albums post ‘Bad’ are about his own insecurities and anxieties, reflected out on the world. On ‘Bad’ he isn’t analysing himself or the planet, nor is he asking questions he can’t answer. He isn’t building a persona or chipping away at it. He’s simply, perhaps naively, trying to create the best pop album ever made. And he may just have succeeded, even if it took his death for the world to realise it.

(The extras that make up this reissue are an added bonus, but dvd aside, they aren’t essentiall listening. The demos offer a fascinating glimpse at his creative process, the new remixes by Nero and Afrojack are as heavy-handed and bass heavy as you’d expect, but they really aren’t as bad as they could be. The packaging, particularly for the £30 deluxe edition, is top-notch; The album comes with a colourful booklet and some sketchy but interesting liner notes. The best part about the reissue though is the live dvd. The concert was recorded for Michael’s Wembley performance on the 1988 tour and it is p.h.e.o.n.o.m.i.n.a.l. A whole essay could be written about the gig; about the way MJ dances, sings and invigorates the audience – but i’ll leave it for now. All I will say is it’s a crying shame it’s taken this long to be released.)

10/10

Muse ‘The 2nd Law’ – Review

10 Oct

‘Race! Life’s a race! I’m gonna win!’ This was the key line in Muse’s comeback single, ‘Survival’, the song that was chosen to soundtrack the London 2012 Olympic Games. It kind of threw me when I first heard it. Muse have never been ones for subtlety or understatement, that just isn’t what they’re about and that’s fine, but even by their standards this song sounded slightly ridiculous. It’s almost like a parody of a Muse song, what with the guitar histrionics, the virtuoso flourishes, the over-the-top choir and the crushing baseline. In my review of ‘The Resistance’ I stated that such is the band’s addiction to making each consecutive album bigger and more bombastic than the one before,  it would only be a matter of time before they put too much air into their balloon. ‘One day Muse will fail and rest assured it will be an epic fail’ I said. After hearing ‘Survival’, I suspected ‘The 2nd Law’ may be that epic fail.

Then came second single ‘Madness’, which turned out to be an unexpectedly brilliant slice of modern pop. It was, possibly correctly, identified by Chris Martin as the best thing the band have ever done. Muse don’t typically entertain songs about feelings or romance, it’s always been there under the surface but never before have they been this honest, simple and direct. Sonically its a fabulous record with a pulsating synth bass-line and a hysterical guitar solo that is in delightful contrast to the clean lines of the other instruments. The harmonies are meticulously stacked on top of each other in the style of ELO or Queen (a very obvious reference point, but for good reason) and you could even use the adjective ‘restrained’ to describe the arrangement, which is surely a first for Muse. ‘Madness’ restored hope that the band still have something  interesting to say.

So which route do Muse go down on the album? The ‘Survival’ route of bigger is (not necessarily) better, or the stripped back, more experimental route of ‘Madness’?  While stripped back is not how I would describe any other track on this album, most songs have more in common with the experimentation of ‘Madness’ than the parodical excess of ‘Survival’. It’s not a wholly successful album but ‘The 2nd Law’ is usualy a lot of daft fun. I fail to see how anybody couldn’t love the Prince humping ‘Panic Stations’ or the incredibly earnest and indulgent ‘Follow Me’. Even the aforementioned ‘Survival’ has a loveable quality because it’s so over the top – who else would dare make something this mad?

Because Muse are clearly having fun, the listener has fun as a result. But while there is a lot to be said for how free Muse obviously felt to try out new ideas, this experimentation leads to the album’s big problem – how disjointed it feels. ‘The Resistance’ suffered from the same issues but not to the same degree. Here we have a pointless orchestral interlude in the first quarter of the album while in the final quarter Matt’s vocals don’t feature at all. In fact for the final four tracks you barely hear a peep from him (two songs are sung by the bass player and the final two are instrumentals). In fact, the final 15-20 minutes of this album are surely among the most anticlimactic in all of recorded music.

You also have the fact that a pop song sits alongside a drum n bass song, a stadium rock song comes after an orchestral song, etc, etc. All these genre experiments still sound like Muse, but none of them sit particularly comfortably alongside each other. Structural issues aside, there is no getting past the fact that some of these songs just aren’t that good. Not particularly bad, just very, very average. ‘Save Me’, ‘Liquid State’ and ‘Animals’ just sound like filler in comparison to the songs that make up the first half of the album which makes this a bumpy downhill decent.

‘The 2nd Law’ features a handful of incredible Muse songs, some of the best of their career, but their experimental bent sometimes comes off as over-indulgence, and it doesn’t always pay off as handsomely as it does on ‘Madness’.  Despite some flirtation with ‘brostep’ and r&b, their true strength lies in the high octane rock music they perfected on ‘Absolution’. Very little from that album would sound at home on ‘The 2nd Law’ which means this may be the first disapointing album in the group’s back catalouge. However, once again Muse have pushed the boat out without pushing it over the waterfall, and that in itself is pretty impressive.

6/10

Alt J ‘An Awesome Wave’ – Review

7 Oct

From Wikipedia

‘Alt J is the command used on a Mac keyboard to achieve the Greek letter “Delta”. Guitarist and bassist Gwil Sainsbury noted, “in mathematical equations it’s used to show change” and the band’s relatively new name came at a turning point in their lives. “Alt-J” were formerly known as ‘Daljit Dhaliwal’

Is there really any need for me to go on reviewing this album or does that paragraph tell you all you need to know? That Alt-J are a bunch of pretentious, Mac obsessed hipsters. Not only that, they’re the worst kind of pretentious hipsters – the ones who are nowhere near as clever or cool as they think they are. A lot of influential people seem to think they’re the ‘new Radiohead’ when actually they’re the new Everything Everything – purveyors of jittery, ADHD inflected, soulless gloop.

To be fair Alt-J are never as terrible as I want them to be and, despite their irritating sensibilities, ‘An Awesome Wave’ is an almost decent debut album. It’s all over the place (in fact it’s possibly the most badly structured, unfocused record I’ve heard all year) but it’s often pleasant and occasionally intriguing. The singer has an odd voice that sounds quite ugly one minute and almost heavenly the next (see ‘Ripe and Ruin’ for an example of how this works in one song). The harmonies are ambitious and on some of the a cappella moments they shine quite brightly. In fact if ‘An Awesome Wave’ was all about the singing then this would be a fine record – but it isn’t all about the singing.

The instrumentation across the album is fairly bland and unadventurous – the odd time signatures and flashes of synth may try and convince you otherwise but pay them no attention. Everything you’re hearing here has been done before, and better. ‘Taro’ sounds like early Yaysayer without the urgency, the various interludes are eerily similar to ‘Flaws’ era Bombay Bicycle Club, and closer ‘Hand-made’ sounds like an unanthemic Mumford and Sons knock off.

Alt-J do an excellent job of sounding more ambitious and experimental than they actually are. Strip these songs back and they are often built around solid melodies and ornate acoustic guitar arrangements, but nothing that would grab your attention and hold it. Nothing that would inspire Radiohead comparisons. The constant tension caused by the overthinking rhymn section really doesn’t compliment these fairly linear songs, and the tracklisting doesn’t help either, sitting fast songs alongside slow songs, loud songs alongside quiet songs, and short songs alongside long songs. Essentially this is an easy listening album that is actually quite difficult to listen to.

You get the sense that the lyrics came very late in the equation, long after the music and melodies had been settled on, as often words seem to have been paired together purely because they rhyme or share a vowel sound. Often they make no sense, no matter how thorough you interrogate them. ‘Capa, jumps jeep, two feet creep up the road’, ‘very yellow white skin’, ‘a violent wrench grips mass’. Some themes of the album (conflict, tension, war, depression) aren’t a good match with the almost childish, impressionistic use of language, but when Alt-J’s aims are less intellectual they succeed far better. I like the line ‘something good tonight will make me forget about you for now’ and ‘broken sweethearts who sleep apart/ both still pine for the other side’s spine.’ In other words Alt-J do heartbreak pretty well. Towards the end of Breezblocks they start chanting ‘please don’t go, I love you so, I love you so.’ and it’s best moment on the album.

At one point on ‘Tessellate’ the singer decides to tell us that ‘triangles are my favourite shape’, as if that’s relevant, as if that’s interesting, as if we’d care. It’s a bizarre statement to make, coming as it does after a rather awkward shark metaphor that’s dragged out for a whole verse. But as odd as this line is, it’s something I kept coming back to – in fact this may be the crux of the record. Triangles obviously mean something important to Alt-J, I can only assume that’s why they say it and that’s why they named their band after the shape. The problem is you’re left with no idea as to what triangles are symbolic of, and you don’t really care because Alt-J don’t make you want to care. This is symptematic of an album made by a talented band who already sound complacent. A band who are probably too clever for their own good.

4/10

New Music Blast

4 Oct

Palma Violets ‘Best of Friends’

Savages ‘Husbands’

Childhood ‘Haltija’

Sufjan Stevens announces new christmas album

3 Oct

This November Sufjan Stevens will release ‘Silver & Gold: Songs For Christmas, Vols. 6-10 ‘. This is the follow-up to his fantastic festive ‘Songs For Christmas I-V’ which was released in 2006. That was a pretty lush package in itself but the new volume is even more packed with goodies. Too many goodies in fact to list here, so instead go to his website for full details and track listings.

http://music.sufjan.com/album/silver-gold

Frankly this is the best music related news I’ve heard in ages.

Green Day ‘Uno!’ – Review.

1 Oct

The title of Greenday’s new record, the first in a three part trilogy, is a joke. This album is called ‘Uno’, the next will be called ‘Dos’, and the final part will be ‘Tre’. You know, like Green Day’s drummer. After two albums with titles as loaded as ‘American Idiot’ and ’21st Century Breakdown’ this change in tactic comes as something of a surprise. Will ‘Uno’ see the return of the band that named their full length debut ‘Dookie’, an album famed for its juvinile songs about masterbating, smoking and partying?

Well not really. You see ‘Uno!’ isn’t a big concept album like it’s two predocessors but neither is it a full on return to their roots. It has nothing profound to say nor does it have anything un-profound to say either. It’s neither knowingly smart or knowingly dumb. On ‘Dokie’ they were singing about having nothing to do but now they simply have nothing to say. Dookie sounded as cheep and trashy as the lifestyle that was being described. It sounded live and real. ‘Uno’ sounds like it was recorded in an expensive studio with expensive instruments by a trio of efficiant but uninspired 40 year old millionaires. It is what it is.

Back when they started Green Day could write songs about doing nothing much in particular and it was great because people could relate to it. ‘Longview’ and ‘Basketcase’ sound just as relevant and exciting today as I imagine they did back then because these songs were performed with such energy and authenticity – you can actually hear the frustration, boredom and anger being released. None of that is present on ‘Uno! and if they wanted to do a better job of recreating it they should have recorded this in some dodgy downtown studio, live and off the cuff.

Musically it’s a return to the three chord pop punk that the band can clearly knock out in their sleep. ‘Nuclear Family’ and ‘Stay the Night’ get things off to a lively start and the pace rarely drops. After the ambitious, more experimental and not wholly successful ’21st Century Breakdown’ these songs are enjoyable because of how laid back the band are sounding. In fact, the album is rarely anything less than enjoyable, it’s just never anything more than that. ‘Let Yourself Go’ and ‘Fell For You’ are two of the highlights, not for revolutionary reasons, but simply because they are well constructed, expertly executed pop-punk songs without any political messages or deeper meaning. It’s been a while since you’ve been able to say that about a Green Day song.

The band have always released killer singles, which is why it’s surprising that the only stinkers on here are the songs that have been released as singles. ‘Oh Love’ is mind numbingly dull, particularly that mundane introduction that seems to plod on forever. This is the one song that represents the awful riff rock that they flirted with briefly on tracks like ‘Know Your Enemy’ and ‘Are we the Waiting’. Second single  ‘Kill the Dj’ is built around a classic four to the floor beat that is being greeted by Green Day fans as some kind of genius innovation. It isn’t. But what really lets this song down is the tiresome chorus where Billie Jo yawns ‘Kill the fucking DJ’ over and over again. This is the first time I recall being embarressed by a Green Day experiment. However these two mishaps aside, the album is full of decent to good songs, most of which have catchy, memorable hooks.

If ‘Uno!’ is a tribute to Green Day’s origins then ‘Dos!’ and ‘Tres!’ are sure to take us further and further into uncharted waters, which is probably no bad thing. Whilst I’m a fan of the classic pop punk style, and the band do a fine objective job of reproducting that sound, they come across as bored on ‘Uno!’ On ‘Dookie’ they turned to music to escape and release that boredom, but on here they sound unintrsted, distracted and well within their comfort zone. I get the impression that they now view music as a job rather than a passion. Which is fine for most groups that have been around for this long; by the standereds of say U2, AC/DC or Garbage this record would be considered a success, but Green Day are still capable of so much more. It’s good that they’ve reawoken some of their old punk sensabilities, they just haven’t convinced me they still want the same thing they wanted way back when.

6/10