Taylor Swift – reputation
I’ve never listened to a Taylor Swift album before and have zero intentions of dipping into the back catalogue. However, I figured I’d give this one a go given all the hype surrounding it and all things Tay Tay. Turns out reputation is a fairly solid pop album, albeit tainted by Swift’s attempts to convince everyone that she doesn’t want restitution for having been a victim all this time, she just wants to be a badass. The problem is, she’s terrible at her new persona (I can’t vouch for her previous ones) – her “dark passenger” is as cheesy as that very Dexter voice-over reference. Lead single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is where the reputation journey started. It’s hard to convince anyone this is a good track when its chorus is as bad as it is, but if you were to cut that out it’s actually pretty cool. Funnily enough there’s a bit of Lorde rip-off on the track, as Swift makes it clear she’s keen for a little melodrama of her own. The single will go down as a 2017 flop, but it’s kinda fun to see some kook from a mainstream mainstay. Follow up single ‘…Ready For It?’ is far more solid of a pop tune, and as the album’s lead track it kicks things into gear before you’re jolted back with ‘End Game’, a mixed-genre attempt that for some ungodly reason reboots rapping Ed. It’s probably more shocking than samples of Right Said Fred, but at least it’s out of the way early, leaving Swift enough time to try and make it up to us. What we’re left with is a package of mostly fun pop tunes, the odd misstep (like ‘Gorgeous’ – what a dud), and a question of why Swift needed to go “dark” so hard. Pop reinvention shouldn’t seem so forced.
* I thought we left rapping Ed back in January!? Why was he not murdered on Game of Thrones!?
Sam Smith – The Thrill Of It All
Bringing mum music to the masses, Sam Smith returns with some superb soul on The Thrill Of It All and confirms classic components like piano and choir are fit for the mainstream in 2017. This is a seriously schmick record, beautifully produced with Smith delivering vocals that are smooth af. The album flows between forlorn balladry and roof-lifting gospel, the latter of which truly shines. The gutsier stuff hits hard early on, which meant there were many quieter moments on which I just wanted that choir to come back (and the odd time they did so frightfully – ‘The Thrill Of It All’). Musically, this album is consistently strong, although there are moments that hint a Chrissy album is on the cards (‘One Last Song’). Complimentary then are the words placed to those songs, which work especially well when Smith is conflicted between faith and feeling (‘HIM’). The Thrill Of It All is a bold follow up to a huge debut, but given Smith is just 25, his best is very likely yet to come. If that’s the case, watch this space.
Pnau – Changa
Pnau’s self-titled record – their third, released in 2007 – was an unexpected delight, embracing us with the kind of strawberry kisses we actually wanted, and earning its place among the memorable Aussie dance records of the naughties. With the exception of the kinda novel Elton John material, it’s taken Pnau a good ten years to come back to form. And while they’ve taken a new form, it’s pretty damn cool. Lead single ‘Chameleon’ was flogged hard in 2016, yet being almost a year older than its album home doesn’t mean it’s not a good indication of what to expect on Changa. The neon spattered jungle feels are all over opener ‘Save Disco’, as the tripped-out vibes blend into the fluro-bounce of ‘Chameleon’. It’s an altogether new brand of whacky thought up, at least in part, by the man who used to completely lose his mind and hang precariously from stage scaffolding – Nick Littlemore. There are a lot of pools that Pnau then dip in and out of among the tribal path of Changa, from pop rave ‘Go Bang’ to falsetto thumper ‘Please Forgive Me’ and from 90s British club vibes on ‘Into The Sky’ to all out sci-fi theme in ‘La Grenouille’. There’s even an intriguing cameo from Vera Blue on pulsating ‘Young Melody’, who delivers some of the rare lyrics you can actually understand. Pnau have created a real animal in Changa, which I feel is what they were after.
Paloma Faith – The Architect
Paloma Faith’s latest begins with a monologue from Samuel L Jackson. It’s meant to be a political rally call, but there are no obscenities to be heard from the king of yelling “motherf*er” and a minute into The Architect I’m already left yelling “Snakes on a plane!” It’s a strange way to begin things, sitting alongside the title track, which totally blasts off. But while the lyrical message demonstrates Faith in political mode, The Architect is still an brazen pop record. Gutsy at its best and cheesy at its worst, glossy summer jams (‘Crybaby’) neighbour Smooth FM fodder (‘I’ll Be Gentle’) and Faith moves through a kaleidoscope of pop varieties. ‘Kings and Queens’ is an early crowd pleaser, built for the theatrics of a live arena, while the neo-soul likeness to Amy Winehouse and Duffy (‘Guilty’ and ‘Love Me As I Am’, respectively) offer more substantial emotion. The Sia-penned ‘Warrior’ bares more likeness to the writer than just its words, with Faith’s marbles-in-the-mouth delivery a vocal doppelganger of the Adelaide songstress. ‘Til I’m Done’ follows that up as though it were a new Sia collection, nodding to her We Are Born material. The likenesses play in Faith’s favour, coupling with her own kookiness to create an album simultaneously familiar and standalone.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built The Moon?
Liam Gallagher just released a chart topping solo album and within a month his bro Noel is back… Get the popcorn. While the post-Oasis Gallagher race has been neck and neck tool-wise, musically Noel’s been out in front when compared to Liam’s Beady Eye material. Where Liam’s 2017 As You Were won’t let go of the brothers’ heyday, Noel’s found his own groove as a solo artist, marking prominent territory with a High Flying Birds debut and backing it up with Who Built the Moon? While High Flying Birds is no Oasis 2.0 (ala Beady Eye), there is a familiarity to much of the material here, with Noel often doing a kind of Kasabian doing a kind of Beatles. The psychedelic side that made the first High Flying Birds album such a trip isn’t quite as prominent, but there’s enough loud, fuzzy grit to keep it real and the horns that feature heavily are superb. ‘Fort Knox’ is a formidable opening track, bound to soundtrack a big action sequence someday and one of the album’s finest moments straight out of the gate. From there the album is a reminder of great rock and roll, which Noel does justice. There are plenty of nods to Noel’s merry ol’ home of England: ‘Holy Mountain’ rings Bryan Ferry’s ‘Let’s Stick Together’, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ borrows from The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’, ‘End Credits (Wednesday Part 2)’ smells of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’, and ‘The Man Who Built The Moon’ is all kinds of, well, Oasis. It seems he’s not completely over the good old days.