Meg Mac – Low Blows
Low Blows has been a while coming from Meg Mac – the softly spoken Melbournian who belts out soul like a seasoned pro. With a couple of singles and damn fine covers to her name, a debut album was hotly anticipated and although it’s a fleeting visit, it does the trick. A hefty double-up leads Low Blows, firstly with ‘Grace Gold’ – laying down an instant groove and earworm chorus – followed by the powerful title track. While instrumentation like piano and percussion dress things up here, the real kicker is Mac’s voice, which packs serious punch, especially in urgently soulful moments like ‘Don’t Need Permission’. While there’s cool drum work on tracks like ‘Kindness’, Mac’s voice hardly even needs a musical backdrop in many places. ‘Ride It’ is a late highlight, surely crafted to be performed live with musical cutouts bound to enhance an audience sing- and clap-along. Mac made an impression several years ago, so it’s cool to see she’s now following through with an extended offering.
Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life
Honestly, I don’t care if I’m alone here – this is not a great album, not even a good one. Acclaim for Lana Del Rey’s latest seems way over the top. Sure, there’s occasionally some interesting writing on Lust for Life, and I get that her breed of pop steps away from all the expected glitzy smiles of the genre, but this is far too much of the same, bland, flat-line pop to be an enjoyable package. Lana exhibits little vocal range and draws on other big names to add flavour where she can’t – the prime example being The Weeknd’s employment to heighten the title track. A$AP Rocky appears in a couple of others, but they’re fairly terrible, while Stevie Nicks’ appearance is plain weird. Songs like ‘Groupie Love’ and ‘13 Beaches’ are unconvincing, if not vacuous, and add to an overall drone that fills a whopping 72 minutes. An attempt to rouse things up on closer ‘Get Free’ is too little, too late, as the fixed-tempo gloom of Lust for Life’s majority leaves you wondering how on earth Lana came up with the name.
Haim – Something to Tell You
Haim pick up where they left off with Something to Tell You – it’s like Days Are Gone just played right through to album number two. The sisters fall into a megastar spectrum between the guilty country pop of Shania Twain and classier efforts of Fleetwood Mac, all the while delivering some of the finest harmonies going around. They make daggy awesome, but are so good at doing so the cool kids that dig it don’t even realise. What I really love about their album is that for all the pop hooks that make Haim so accessible, they’re still able to swings things around into unexpected territory. Any single will sell Something to Tell You, but the album ends with three tracks – ‘Walking Away’, ‘Right Now’ and ‘Night So Long’ – that completely change the pace and mood set by the radio fodder before them. You’re lured into the back end of this album and when things go dark I reckon Haim prove how great they are. Variety, charm and melodic prowess make this a 2017 standout.
Vera Blue – Perennial
Perennial is a bit of a strange album – beautiful, but often cross-genred to the point of weird. There are plenty of singer songwriter types emerging at the moment and, likewise, plenty of laptop dance acts continuing to rise on the Aussie scene. While I feel like she emerged as predominantly the former, Vera Blue heavily combines the two on this album. What she leaves us with is a whole bunch of dance tracks you don’t necessarily want to dance to. Opening track ‘First Week’ is a subtle pop track – sweet vocals, simple instrumentation… Then the heavy synths drop and it morphs into something far bolder than you’d have thought it could. ‘Give In’ and ‘Regular Touch’ follow a similar mold, cranking up the production big time. Then things calm with ‘We Used To’, which relies on an incredible vocal range and rousing percussion instead of the artificial, and it feels far more natural. There’s a tug-of-war between bangers and beauties that continues from there to album’s end. For every over-manufactured one like ‘Lady Powers’ there’s a fragile stunner like ‘Pedestal/Cover Me’. And while Perennial is confusing at times, Vera Blue’s voice is the saving grace of this album. Even when everything else seems haywire – she’s got some serious power.