October album reviews

Liam Gallagher – As You Were

I’ve seen Liam Gallagher live once and as entertaining as it was, once is probably enough. Fronting Beady Eye, he spent the whole show wrapping a towel around his fist and threatening to bash some guy up front at the end of the show. He is the epitome of “lad”. But regardless, he’s made some pretty cool music over the years. Throwing in Beady Eye and with no hope of Oasis ever coming back, Liam’s pulled together his first solo effort – As You Were – a rehash of old ideas and Britpop nostalgia. Single ‘For What It’s Worth’ is one of the album’s musical highlights, a sure Brit-festival corker with a sweet strings ensemble. But lyrically, it sets the album up as a bit of a joke. “I’d be the first to say I made my own mistakes,” he sings. “Sometimes we lose our way.” I’m pretty sure, based on any interview or quote I’ve heard from him, that he’s still lost. “Cause I’ve been crucified for just being alive,” he goes on… No, Liam, you’ve been crucified because you’re a knob. Move on. Elsewhere is a mix bag of predictable, albeit still enjoyable tracks. The rhyming dictionary gets a workout on ‘Greedy Soul’, brother Noel’s solo psychedelics are borrowed on ‘Come Back To Me’ and a classic stirring send off via ‘I’ve All I Need’ rounds things out nicely with a rich build. Managing to get through 12 tracks of Liam’s nasal isn’t the easiest, but there’s enough rousing meets rock to make this an worthwhile visit, even if it’s not going to get the repeat business of Oasis.

The Darkness – Pinewood Smile

“We’re gonna blow people’s fucking heads off / Ooh, they’re gonna shit themselves / Crying out for more / Caution, wet floor.” ‘Solid Gold’, from the Darkness’ latest Pinewood Smile, pretty much sums up everything about the band and their most recent glam rock offering. “We are legends / With a power that you can’t deny / We’re immortal / ‘Cause these songs will never die / And we’re never gonna stop / Shitting out solid gold.” The lyrics are the review. Pinewood Smile is a massively tongue-in-cheek venture into the lavish rock and roll world, every song full of nonsense quips and hilarious one-liners. Justin Hawkins is as flamboyant as ever, delivering songs that inflate egos and ignite mosh pits. ‘All the Pretty Girls’ is a blatant nod to stardom, with Hawkins flaunting the rock star appeal (“Girls in my orbit, I’ve got my own gravitational pull”) and how all the mums want him, too. It’s the over-the-top nonsense you’d expect. Then there’s rollicking pirate hair metal (‘Buccaneers of Hispaniola’), very rocking English whinge about the trains (‘Southern Trains’) and ballad-sung vanity musings (‘Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?’). And yet I want to say, “of course there is”. Expect nonsense, expect comedy, and expect one of the wildest rock jaunts of the year.

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“There’s a guy coming down from Sony / Artist an’ repertoire / If he likes what he hears in those stupid ears / I’ll buy myself a faster car / He’s blowing smoke up our asses / Everything we do is ace / He wants to wine and dine us, desperate to sign us / ‘Cause we melted his fuckin’ face”

Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life

There’s a tug-of-war happening on this Wolf Alice record – it wants to be a wispy dream, yet it’s torn apart with vicious outbursts. There’s grunge that slips in and out of existence and a tonne of fuzz that’s there one minute and forgotten the next as polished vocal lines take over. Ellie Rowsell sings “you’re a walking contradiction” on ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, a line that stands out given the 180 turn taken on the upbeat number when compared with the vicious mess of ‘Yuk Foo’ before it (“I don’t give a shit shit, shit, shit”). The shoegaze approach of Visions Of A Life is not too far removed from the debut album, except this time around it all feels altogether more angsty (shouldn’t they be moving past that?). They’ve taken a real uncertainty about their twenties and washed it with feedback, sadness, and some lashings of malice. Rowsell’s vocal then glazes the lot of it, flicking between hushed lines and piercing shrieks. There’s a bunch of levels going on throughout Visions Of A Life that make it an exciting album, but altogether a confused one.

St. Vincent – Masseduction

Annie Clark’s latest St. Vincent record is the incredible amalgamation of her experimental background and all that’s good about contemporary pop. Masseduction is wildly clever and varied, engaging from end to end, and one of the most memorable listens 2017 has dished out. There is a lot going on here – ‘Sugarboy’ is manic, ‘Los Ageless’ as slick as they come, and ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ devastating. Meanwhile ‘Young Lover’ is filled with high pitched wails and thumping drums, while ‘Slow Disco’ is stirring with a far calmer string ensemble. Each track is mismatched from the others, yet there’s an eccentricity that moulds them all so perfectly together. Amongst it all, the occasional bursts of thrashed guitar, unexpected arrangement twists and slippery synth lines are reminders of a quirkier past, but the tracks here hold up easily against the best pop material going around right now.

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September album reviews

The National – Sleep Well Beast

‘Nobody Else Will Be There’, ‘Day I Die’, ‘Born to Beg’, ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’. These are all titles from the National’s latest, Sleep Well Beast. They really are the emos of indie, but they manage repeatedly to find sincere musical splendour in all that’s so terrible. High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me made the National an arena band, a festival headliner – they’ve become one of this decade’s most formidable acts. And yet, seven years on from High Violet, their tracks reflect the spirit of their works spanning back almost 20 years. Sleep Well Beast presents everything already loved about the National, with many gentle, pensive moments (‘Born to Beg’, ‘Carin At The Liquor Store’) facing up against the kind of “mainstream” National (‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’) and aggressively huge tracks that demand attention (‘Turtleneck’). Its title track ends the album as one of its more intriguing inclusions – a warping addition with just-woke-up vocals and discordant guitar solos. Like much of Sleep Well Beast, it’s gloom-filled, yet lets shards of hope through. It’s confusing, but it’s beautiful.

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Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold

Foo Fighters release albums like clockwork, having not let three years pass between any of their nine records. For a long time I’ve been strung along by Dave’s rock formula. Yes it’s predictable, but who cares – it’s bloody fun. There’s no denying there’s been some duds along the way, but there’s also no denying the anthems that have shone through, along with unrivalled videos and stage antics. A Foo Fighters live set is looong, because they have a lot to get through. Now they’re extending all that with Concrete and Gold. Album nine combines classic Fooies with the visceral grunt Wasting Light and Sonic Highways only hinted at. It’s exciting, a little unpredictable and blatantly heavy in its most exciting moments. Compared with previous efforts, Concrete and Gold has collectively more screaming, less lyrics and about the same guitar work. Opener ‘T-Shirt’ pulls the old-but-clever trick of “start really quiet and make them turn their speakers riiight up” before booming into a gone-too-soon, Queen-esque rock pomp. It kicks the adrenaline into gear and leads into ‘Run’, an altogether less interesting song, but screamed triumphantly none-the-less. Concrete and Gold continues with all sorts of throwback, greatly 70s sounding rock and roll. ‘Arrows’ is the big chorus track, as is pub rock chanter ‘The Sky Is A Neighborhood’, while ‘La Dee Da’ introduces psychedelic fuzz to the mix. Looking at the new additions to their collection, it’s easy for them to choose the crowd pleasers rather than the curveballs, but wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t?

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Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – Choir of the Mind

I love Metric and had no idea Emily Haines had released a solo album before. Said solo debut is now 11 years old and Metric have had plenty of successes between then and now. Dressing her name up as Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, Choir of the Mind is not what you’d expect if, like me, you’d only heard the Canadian voice via Metric. If you expect the anthemic pop rock of Fantasies or Synthetica, you’re not gonna find it here. But if you’re keen to hear Haines’ calm side, her introspection, and something soulful and comforting, this solo outing is for you. There’s a dream state that floats through this record, held my Haines’ soothing voice and minimalist accompaniment. Piano, self-harmonies and vocal effects complement the voice, but there are occasional moments (like ‘Strangle All Romance’) where isolated vocals are all there is – a fine example of this pop vocalist’s versatility, given she’s more often heard layered over synths and guitars. ‘Nihilist Abyss’ is a standout track, with a distinctly eerie feeling and vocal trail-offs. It’s nice spooky punctuation on an otherwise wistful outing.

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

Another one bites the dust, only to come back a few years later for a massive festival circuit and new album. Unless you’re particularly old or seriously despise one another, a band breakup these days actually just means a hiatus. Whether a comeback is actually worth doing is another matter. For LCD Soundsystem, coming back was absolutely the right thing to do. With only three albums to their name before this, the band was too young, had far too many huge tunes and maintained too killer a live reputation to call it quits. A reunion only took five years, but American Dream has taken seven. And it was well and truly worth the wait. The songs here are long (really long) and rekindle the band’s build and release methodology – layering infectious hooks slowly into dance pop tunes that get stuck in your head for days. There’s familiarity in various forms, too. ‘oh baby’ and ‘american dream’ sound like they’re from a classic 80s teen-film soundtrack and feel like they’ve always been a part of your musical life, while ‘other voices’ lends the spoken word character of ‘Pow Pow’ (from This Is Happening), punctuated by a chorus of voices chanting its title. The six minute ‘tonite’ proves the most driving, most addictive, and most dance worthy on American Dream, and takes out top track. This album is so distinctly LCD, its songs could have come from any time in the past two decades. Yet each song brings its own strengths to a catalogue already bulging with treasure, failing to disappoint from start to finish.

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The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

The feature presentation is right up front on The Killers’ latest outing – ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is a damn cool opener, blending oldschool U2 verses, desert psychedelia, and a rousing chorus for big effect. It’s a statement piece – The Killers announcing a mighty return to form. It leads into some of the most exciting Killers material since their inception, with bombastic track ‘The Man’ getting celebrations started before expansive ‘Rut’ presents the album’s second epic so close to its opener. The remainder of the album’s first half is large; ‘Life to Come’ delivering some more obvious U2-throwback with its wailing chorus, ‘Tyson vs Douglas’ providing the sick 80s guitar solos and ‘Run For Cover’ surpassing all other tracks on Wonderful Wonderful with its quick fire lyrics and addictive hook. Then, oddly, it all goes a bit soft. The back end of Wonderful Wonderful is full of glossy ballads and loses the edge that previously cut through the cheesiness. The division of tracks is obvious, and while I don’t have much against the latter tracks individually (‘Out Of My Mind’ is synth pop solid), all bunched together they round out the album somewhat unexcitedly. Maybe hit shuffle on this one, or stop half way. In any case, there are at least a few real keepers here.

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