Review Round-up – July

24 Jul

Laura Marling – Once I was an Angel

Many reviewers of Laura Marling spend a patronisingly long and undue time talking about how young she is, when to me the strikingly obvious thing is how old she’s always sounded. Mature beyond her years, yes, but her voice sounds ancient, her melodies almost medieval and her lyrics are wise and weary. This has been played as a strength on her best work to date, but 2011’s ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ was a bit too pretentious, overly affected and cynical. ‘Once I was an Angel’ therefore feels like a real success. This is a tremendously sophisticated album where Marling doesn’t show off or adopt mannerisms. The feelings on display are real and tangible, the pain and heartbreak is well communicated.

‘When we were in love I was an eagle and you were a dove’ she croons in the middle of the 16 minute medley that opens the album. This is an album rich in pastoral imagery. Later on in the same medley she declares ‘I was a child then, we are children no more.’ It’s decisive. Nobody is going to mention her youth again. Yes, this is almost insufferably long, made longer by the stylistic limitations; melodies that stretch in the same directions, guitar figures that ramble over the same ground, lyrics that concern themselves with similar subjects. Over 16 songs this is slightly tiresome but that doesn’t prevent these songs from adding up to a brilliant record – one that submerges and captivates the listener and presents a water-tight case for Marling being the most accomplished singer-songwriter around.


Empire of the Sun – ‘Ice on the Dune’

One of the charming things about Empire of the Sun’s debut ‘Walking on a Dream’ was the ambition realised on a limited budget. It was home-made and felt enthusiastic and bashful. There was some kind of loose concept, evident in the Star Wars-esque cover art and the sci-fi lyrics but it was too ridiculous to take seriously, and the tunes were too good. ‘Standing on the Shore’, ‘Without You’, ‘We are the People’, ‘Half-Mast’ – these were seriously fine pop songs that more than made up for some of the dross on the album.
The long-awaited (well, maybe not – I don’t know who’s particularly excited about this) second album is called ‘Ice on the Dune’ and it’s an appropriate title. This is a chilly, distant record that doesn’t concern itself with things like emotion and warmth. The Icy synths and stone-cold beats that prevail sound expensive, tense and a world away from the modest retro production of the debut. The poppier stuff here is best, but even the more likeable songs lack ear-worm hooks. Only ‘Alive’ floats to the surface but that would be blown out of the water by the duo’s older singles. Full-on dance numbers make up a large part of the record and it’s here where Empire of the Sun really come unstuck; ‘Celebrate’ and ‘Old-Flavours’ sound incredibly dated and worn whilst ‘Keep a Watch’ makes you question your initial interest in the album. This is the kind of stuff Kylie was floating a decade ago and I’m sorry to say that Empire of the Sun really don’t stand much of a chance of making it to that level of pop stardom.


Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork…

‘One thing that is clear is it’s all down hill from here’ sings Josh Homme on the title track of the new album, a song about the fear of getting on with your life. It’s been six years since the last Queens record but if fear has been holding them back, they shouldn’t have worried. ‘Like Clockwork’ is a number one album that cements the band’s position as festival headliners. For those festival bookers this record ticks all the right boxes. Homme still knows how to peddle the riffs and write the chants, still knows how to sprinkle weirdness over anything remotely radio-friendly. It’s rock music made by somebody clearly in love with the genre but frustrated by its restraints and limitations. Excited by the possibilities of experimental music but still in the thrall of monster riff-rock.

This tension makes for a sometimes exciting, sometimes perplexing and sometimes down right tiresome record. ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’ is sluggish and badly judged as an album opener, ‘My God Is The Sun’ is equally unsatisfying as a single, because it’s a poor representation of the overall album. Despite the predictable hooks on display there, this is not really a predictable album. It’s reliably rock-tastic, and fans will love it, but it also attempts new things. Like piano ballads featuring Elton John. Squelchy, weird electro-pop numbers called odd things like ‘Kalopsia’. Like all Queens of the Stone Age records, ‘Like Clockwork’ is stodgy and at times fairly tough going, but like all Queens of the Stone Age albums there is a lot to enjoy and savor. You just have to take the good with the bad.


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