Monday, 28 April 2008

2008 Music Chart - April 2008

Only two new reviews this month but four albums to add - new stuff from REM, The Last Shadow Puppets, The Raconteurs and The Gutter Twins (reviews to come on the last two).
  1. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails
  2. I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope - I Was A Cub Scout
  3. The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets
  4. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  5. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
  6. Accelerate - R.E.M.
  7. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  8. Alas, I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling
  9. Midnight Boom - The Kills
  10. Do You Like Rock Music - British Sea Power
  11. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - Counting Crows
  12. Consolers Of The Lonely - The Raconteurs
  13. Saturnalia - The Gutter Twins
  14. Neptune - The Duke Spirit
  15. This Gift - Sons & Daughters

LATER...with Jools Holland (25/04/2008 - Series 32, Show 4)

Another great and interesting week in the world of Jools…an eclectic mix of artists with everything from British guitar music to Japanese drummers to Eartha Kitt.

Tuesday live set
  • The Charlatans - The Misbegotten
  • Was (Not Was) - Semi-Interesting Week
  • The Pigeon Detectives - This Is An Emergency
  • Eartha Kitt (Chat with JH)
  • Yamato - Yakura
  • Eartha Kitt with Jools - Ain’t Misbehavin’
  • Brandi Carlile - The Story
  • Was (Not Was) - Walk The Dinosaur
Friday set
  • The Charlatans - You Cross My Path
  • Was (Not Was) - Your Luck Won’t Last
  • The Pigeon Detectives - This is An Emergency
  • Eartha Kitt (Chat with JH)
  • Brandi Carlile - The Story
  • Eartha Kitt with Jools - Ain’t Misbehavin’
  • Was (Not Was) - Where Did Your Heart Go?
  • Yamato - Rakuda
  • The Charlatans - The Misbegotten
  • Don and David Was (Chat with JH)
  • Lykke Li - Little Bit
  • The Pigeon Detectives - Say It Like You Mean It
  • Yamato - Cymbals
  • Brandi Carlile - Turpentine
  • Was (Not Was) - Semi-Interesting Week
  • The Charlatans - Oh! Vanity
This week sees a huge return from the legendary Charlatans who are promoting their new album, previously given away for free on the internet. The live performances capture them at their best, newly invigorated and dynamic, living up to the top billing. They performed You Cross My Path, the very New Order-esque The Misbegotten and probably the best song the band has produced in years Oh! Vanity to close the show. Unfortunately this pushed another promising new band The Pigeon Detectives who only got two songs, both showing the band’s energy and chemistry. This Is An Emergency is a bit shouty, the overall sound not to dissimilar to, say, Bloc Party. It is a tried and tested, if a little stale, formula. Say It Like You Mean It is a much better live song but there wasn’t enough of them for my liking.

Was (Not Was) has an new album out after decades away and performed two new tracks Semi Interesting Week and Your Luck Won’t Last. In between on the Friday show they gave a spirited rendition of Where Did Your Heart Go? The Tuesday live show closed with Walk The Dinosaur. They still have a lot to offer and even though the vocals are a bit shaky these days, their support musicians are excellent, particularly the guitarist and saxophone players. Another older musician, now 86, is Eartha Kitt. She had the honorary main interview, looking very guarded on the Tuesday but much more at ease on Friday when she knew what was going on. Friday was a bit more flirtatious. She performed the same song with Jools, the best version on the Tuesday which was much more spontaneous and fun as she tried to put JH off by sidling up to him on the piano stool. Very entertaining and a genuine transformation when she performs.

World music is represented this week by Yamato (The Drummers Of Japan) who are as much a visual experience as an audio one. One piece for each show, including the biggest drum ever to appear on the show, plus a wonderful little cymbal interlude (at the risk of being patronising). They looked like they were having a lot of fun, even when not performing as they bounced to The Pigeon Detectives and clapped along to Was (Not Was).

Another great surprise was Brandi Carlile, who I must confess I have never heard of. She was fantastic, like a one-woman Coldplay infused with the spirit of Kurt Cobain. She performed two songs: The Story and Turpentine, the former showing her incredible range and including a guitar change midway through. Also on the show - again contributing to only two songs from The Pigeon Detectives - was Sweden’s latest export Lykke Li. She was a beguiling figure without a visible microphone and armed with tambourine and finger cymbals. The performance of Little Bit was a bit striped down, even for her, and just about worked.

So, a good show (again!) with lots of variety and high points. More please!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Humphrey Lyttelton


It has just been announced that Humphrey Lyttelton has died. A sad day. Known by most as chairman of the Radio 4 comedy 'antidote to panel games' I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, Humph was a wonderful jazz musician and broadcaster. I had the pleasure of seeing ISIHAC being recorded and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have ever had. I have never laughed so much and so hard since.

RIP Humph. You will be missed.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of The Understatment Album Review (2008)

Alex Turner is full of ideas. So much so that he has to form a new band just to stop himself exploding. In a similar move to Jack White and Brendan Benson creating The Raconteurs, Arctic Monkeys front man Turner has formed a side project with The Rascals Miles Kane. The Last Shadow Puppets is not a band in the conventional sense, more two lead singers/guitarists set to a swathe of orchestral accompaniment. The effect sounds like they have been listening to too many Andy Williams and John Barry albums.

The Age Of The Understatement opens with the title track and sets the tone for the rest of the album’s sound and style. The mix of Turner’s semi-acoustic barrage and Kane’s electronic chords forms a relentless charge akin to Kaiser Chiefs' I Predict A Riot. Turner and Kane take dual vocal duties, forming a new single voice. The orchestral arrangement pulls you in immediately. Standing Next To Me is more melodic and light - again with wonderful vocals from both singers and a great orchestral/guitar break. Into the last 30 seconds, the strings threaten to take over but there is just enough without overwhelming the mix. Calm Like You stomps in before settling into Turner's vocals. He is the dominating force here so for that reason it sounds the most like a AM track with added instrumentation. This is probably why it doesn’t work - stuck between two sounds and ideas.

Separate And Ever Deadly is much more stylist and menacing with huge rolling drums. The two vocalists oscillate and intertwine, separate in parts and together when required. As their voices are very similar it all gets confused. Kane opens with "When we walk the streets together, all the faces seem to smile back. And now the pavements have nothing to offer, and all the faces seem to need a slap". It shows that an old-fashioned sound has been brought right up to date with modern observations - of a jaded twenty first century Britain. The Chamber continues the slightly uneasy listening, in spite of softer vocals with Kane providing, this time, a distant backing. This only lasts just under two minutes before the descending into a delicate spooky instrumental.

Only The Truth is probably the most upbeat song. You expect the two singers to break into a rousing rendition of Conquest at any moment. The orchestra provide the same urgency and energy, adding a third voice. But the effect is empty and vacuous as the song doesn’t really go anywhere. It is saved, however, by an inspired last fifty second instrumental and brief moment of self-indulgent chaos.

My Mistakes Were Made For You sets the album back on track. A fantastic song which uses all elements - vocals, orchestra, guitars - perfectly. "Coz we're just following the flock round and in between before we’re smashed to smithereens, like they were, and we scrambled from the blame" is a strange line trying to sum up the perils and pitfalls of being a ‘rock star’. It’s only half explained by "and it's the fame that put words in her mouth; she couldn’t help but spit them out. Around your crooked conscious she will wind". It is the right mix of obscurity and well-learned observation. Great stuff.

Black Plant is another cracking song with all components expertly arranged. If anything, the orchestral pieces are a bit pick-n-mix, like samples thrown into the empty spaces. But the overall sound is dense and complex and feels crafted and not forced. The lyrics weave a sorry tale of lost love and longing, again with a menacing edge. "When it's just one of many bullets you will bite, while waiting for a ray of light" have a typically venomous tilt. The constant slowing of the vocals is a neat touch, fading after three minutes into another instrumental interlude. Continuing the theme, but with none of the quality, I Don’t Like You Any More is another faster rant, slowing and accelerating again but ultimately ending up in no man's land - too convoluted, messy and unhinged. The weakest track by far.

In My Room is another great example of why this collaboration exists - like a modern day take on an old formula Bond Theme. The vocal arrangement is excellent, as is the arrangement, full of suspense and fervour. The last thirty seconds threatens to build up to a frenzy but backs off. Meeting Place is an interesting contradiction of sound and subject - another love story told from each perspective with excellent lyrics: "He's worried she's waiting in his dreams, to drag him back to the meeting place. His love had left him there, where the voice still echoes". All this set to another great arrangement.

The album closes with the intriguing The Time Has Come Again, softly sung with simple acoustic guitar and light strings. It is pleasant enough but not the big finish that is expected.

The Age Of The Understatement is not a masterpiece but it is just too good to be a side project. A more mature sound than either of the bands it was formed from and some great observational song writing hold it all together. At times a few clichés are thrown into the mix for good measure - obvious orchestral arrangements aside - and it lapses into Walker Brothers doing Bond Themes. But it is clear that time and effort has been spent on each song and this isn't just two guys with nothing better to do. They have braved a different direction and challenged themselves. And just for good measure, it works.
-- CS

The Last Shadow Puppets

Monday, 21 April 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (18/04/2008 - Series 32, Show 3)

Two great shows this week - more guests performing on the live Tuesday show and a more eclectic line-up.

Tuesday live set
  • The Last Shadow Puppets - Age Of The Understatement
  • Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights
  • Lonnie & Eric from War - JH Chat
  • Toumani Diabate - Ala Lake
  • Devotchka - The Clockwise Witness
  • Phil Campbell - Maps
  • The Last Shadow Puppets - In My Room
  • Portishead - Machine Gun
Friday set
  • The Last Shadow Puppets - Age Of The Understatement
  • Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings - Keep On Looking
  • Portishead - Machine Gun
  • Marshall Chess from Chess Records - JH Chat
  • Devotchka - Head Honcho
  • Toumani Diabate - Elyne Road
  • The Last Shadow Puppets - My Mistakes Were Made For You
  • Portishead - The Rip
  • Lonnie & Eric from War - JH Chat
  • Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings - I’m Not Gonna Cry
  • Phil Campbell - Maps
  • Devotchka - The Clockwise Witness
  • The Last Shadow Puppets - In My Room
  • Portishead - We Carry On
The Tuesday set has everyone on the main show as a preview with The Last Shadow Puppets getting two slots. They are certainly band of the moment - the formation of Alex from Arctic Monkeys and Miles from The Rascals works incredibly well. Both play not as a band but as two lead singers, each taking turns in some wonderful vocal arrangements. The instrumentation is provided by electric (Alex) and acoustic (Miles) guitars and backed by the Metropolitan Orchestra. The music is definitely more mature than the singers’ bands and My Mistakes Were Made For You, in particular, plays like a modern Bond theme. I hope the album captures the vibrancy of the live sound.

Also impressive are Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings, who get three songs across both shows. The best - 100 days, 100 nights - is on the Tuesday show. I’m Not Gonna Cry is overwhelmed by too much brass but Jones’ voice and style is amazing.

To complete a great lead trio of artists is the best of the three - Portishead. Back with a new album after ten years away they are eager to showcase it and JH was only too happy to oblige. They close both the Tuesday set (we are teased right until the very end) and start the Friday show with the new single Machine Gun, all pounding drums and Beth Gibbons’ haunting vocals. The Rip and We Carry On are following the same formula - the band has learned how to end songs, typically with long(ish) instrumental pieces. It’s like all they have been listening to since 1998 is Radiohead albums. Again they steal the glory from The Last Shadow Puppets and end the show - after Gibbons has finished her vocal duty on We Carry On, she walks off set leaving her band to finish up. As the credits begin, only an empty microphone and stand remain. Chilling.

The support this week is provided by Devotchka, Toumani Diabate and Phil Campbell. Devotchka are a strange beast, from Denver in the US and fronted by Italian-American Nick Urata, the sound is an acquired taste. They owe a lot of their success to the sound of Gogol Bordello and the film Little Miss Sunshine. The best of the two songs The Clockwise Witness is very reminiscent of Arcade Fire and comes complete with sousaphone. Toumani Diabate is an African musician who plays a kara - a 21 string West African harp. It is a delightful sound adding some much needed ethnicity to the typical guitars, piano and big band sound. Phil Campbell, a singer songwriter who was poised for enormous success ten years ago before an attempt to live the rock lifestyle nearly ended it before it had begun, is back with a new album. It’s strange that he gets just one song and lead single Maps, performed on both shows. He clearly has much more to offer.

The only disappointment this week is the infamous ’Chat with Jools’ (usually across a table filled with glasses, or own-branded bottles, of beer). For some reason, none of the artists are interviewed. It would be great to hear from Portishead and Alex Turner to give us some truth amongst the wild speculation in the press but instead Jools interviews Marshall Chess from Chess Rcords and Lonnie & Eric from the reformed War. Rather than be informative and interesting the show has opted for a shameless plug of a Chess compilation CD (and new film) and announcement of an another old band reforming when they probably shouldn’t bother.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

New Portishead Album

It's been a while - about 15 years - since Dummy was made, an amazing album from Portishead with such masterpieces as Sour Times, Numb and Glory Box. But now the band is back with a new album Third and a harder sound, if the new single Machine Gun is anything to go by. They closed the latest Later...with Jools live Tuesday show with some style, leaving everyone slightly bemused but eager for more. Hopefully there will be more on Friday night.

You can hear the whole of Machine Gun on the band's MySpace page here.

Monday, 14 April 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (11/04/2008 - Series 32, Show 2)

A much better show (or shows) this week mainly due to the sensible choice of artists and the great performances. Also the dual show thing worked well this time.

Tuesday Live Set
  • The Kooks - Always Where I Need To Be
  • Goldfrapp - Happiness
  • Yeasayer - 2080
  • Luke Pritchard from The Kooks (Chat with JH)
  • Natty - Cold Town
  • Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - Falling Slowly
  • Goldfrapp - A&E
  • The Kooks - Mr. Maker
Friday Show
  • Goldfrapp - Happiness
  • The Kooks - Always Where I Need To Be
  • Yeasayer - 2080
  • Luke & Paul from The Kooks (Chat with JH)
  • Dawn Kinnard - One Little Step Away
  • Natty - Coloured Souls
  • Goldfrapp - Caravan Girl
  • Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (Chat with JH)
  • The Kooks - Sway
  • Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - Falling Slowly
  • Yeasayer - Sunrise
  • Dawn Kinnard with Ed Harcourt - Clear The Way
  • Goldfrapp - A&E
  • Natty - July
  • The Kooks - Do You Wanna
A much better line-up of artists with Goldfrapp and Yeasayer leading the way this week. Goldfrapp began the Friday show with current single Happiness (stealing the mantle from The Kooks), one of the more straightforward songs from new album Seventh Tree. Underneath the swathe of vocal production, Allison Goldfrapp’s voice is superb and she is a vision of beauty. Caravan Girl was even better, cumulating with a wonderful choral ending enhanced by the backing singers. A&E is also great but worked better on the Tuesday when it followed Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

Yeasayer, who were declared by The Kooks as their new favourite band, are amazing live. The manic lead singer is like a man possessed delivering a fantastic vocal range. They stomped through 2080 and Sunrise, both full of tribal rhythms, bass and electronica. The Kooks themselves were a bit of a disappointment in the full show. They seemed to relish the ’live’ experience much more, and the two Friday songs Sway and Do You Wanna pushed the band too far into sleazy rock, the former is a bit too Coldplay with heavy guitars. Always Where I Need To Be and Mr. Maker are better examples of their sound and style. This doesn’t bode well for the new album. They (singer Luke on the Tuesday then with Paul on Friday) chatted uneasily with JH about their influences and The Rolling Stones. The tobacco packet in Luke’s top pocket was either a bold pro-choice political statement or a lame attempt to look cool. You decide.

Glen Hansard (ex-The Frames) and Marketa Irglova joined Jools to perform their Oscar winning song Falling Slowly from the film Once. It is a great performance and a good song. If you are new to the pair, you only understand the full extent of the achievement on the Friday show, discovering that they also starred in the film as the two main characters.

The line-up was completed by three songs by London singer Natty and Dawn Kinnard from the US. For Natty, Cold Town on Tuesday’s show worked better than Coloured Souls and July. He sounds like Marley singing Jack Johnson covers. Kinnard delivered he unique folk-goth minimalism and was joined by Ed Harcourt for Clear The Way which is much better than the disjointed One Little Step Away.

The arrangement in the Tuesday show of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova followed by A&E by Goldfrapp is inspired and sadly missing from the Friday show. It is a real highpoint as the two songs blend together which doesn’t happen in the full set. Also for the first time, the same band or artist hasn’t started and ended the show - a strange move.

One other point of note is how ‘slack’ Jools is getting in terms of his presenting - messing up his lines, mispronouncing names, etc. He has a unique charm and style but it gets very annoying when he looks unprofessional and a bit bemused all the time. It’s a shame. Maybe he just had an off night which is more than can be said about the musicians who were largely on top form. Superb stuff.

Monday, 7 April 2008

R.E.M. - Accelerate Album Review (2008)

1994 was a defining year for R.E.M. Following the enormous musical success of the glorious ‘big label’ debut Green, the band enjoyed huge commercial success with Out Of Time and Automatic For The People - which are, thankfully, also very good albums. Extensive touring and living in the public eye for two years took it’s toll, both physically and musically, as Monster was a unmitigated disaster. R.E.M. came to the UK, never a happy hunting ground, cancelled tours and lost Bill Berry - not just a drummer but the heart and soul of the band. Given that the idea was to inject some vibrant energy into the band and deliver sexy rock n roll, the album fell flat on it’s arse. Things would never be the same again, in spite of comments by enigmatic front man Michael Stipe declaring that a three legged dog is still a dog. Putting things in perspective for a moment, R.E.M. were never going to explode or fade away. They simply are too good. And when you set a high standard, as was set in the mid-nineties, it takes time and something special to get back to your best.

Since Monster, R.E.M. have been inconsistent at best. And they always were even in the I.R.S years, from the wonderful Life’s Rich Pageant to the lows of Fables Of The Reconstruction (Of The Fables) - the last time they had troubles in the UK - so this wasn’t entirely unexpected. Perversely New Adventures In Hi-Fi is one of the best R.E.M. albums and Up contains some of the best songs from the last ten years. In between Reveal and Around The Sun, both defining horrible low points in the current musical lull, the band decided (with the help of record executives) to release a third ‘best of’ compilation. The two CD version of this attempt to appease old fans and also reign in the new, is a massive disappointment. Again, after Around The Sun, the band release yet another ‘best of’, this time the early hits, and an uninspired live album. This did nothing to help the three legged dog.

So now it is 2008, fourteen years after Monster nearly destroyed R.E.M. The band is back in the UK with a high profile gig at the Royal Albert Hall to promote new album Accelerate, a fast paced, short, sexy slice of indie rock. It all sounds horribly familiar. Thankfully it isn’t.
From the opening guitar of Living Well Is The Best Revenge you know this will not be just another lacklustre mid-tempo R.E.M. album. When Stipe comes in, he spits in the vocals at frenetic unstructured pace, only adding some melody with the flat chorus ‘All you sad and lost apostles, hum my name and flare their nostrils, choking on the bones you throw to them’. The song is full of religious reference and a reaction to being old and dated - Stipe goes on to declare ‘…history will set me free, the future’s ours…’, a stab at critics and cynics alike. The song speeds through it’s three minutes, fuelled by Stipe/Mills and Buck and Rieflin’s Dave Grohl drums.

Man-Sized Wreath starts with the same energy wrapped up in a different swagger. ’Turn on the TV, what do I see? A pageantry of empty gestures all lined up for me, wow!’. Mills adds some great bass under messy guitars. It is in danger of sounding like an aging rock band still trying to be sexy but the band pulls it off wonderfully. Stipe adds his own talkie backing vocals to the second chorus, under Mills, showing that there is a plethora of ideas being used in a very small space. If anything the ending falls a bit flat.

Supernatural Superserious should be the lead track - with more polished clear production and a great structure. It sounds like an ‘old’ R.E.M. song with new life. Buck provides a great guitar riff and again the drum arrangement is outstanding. As the song unfolds, Stipe is telling the story of how it’s easy to get lost in the crowd and suffer for it. Leading into the last thirty seconds we get some of the most intriguing lyrics: ’Now there's nothing dark and there's nothing weird. Don't be afraid I will hold you near. From the séance where you first portrayed an open heart on a darkened stage. Celebration of your teenage station’. The end of the song is amazing, a nod towards to end of Bad by U2.

Hollow Man is a respite from the pace and sees Stipe in calm reflective mood. The chorus adds the tempo: ’Believe in me, believe in nothing. Corner me and make me something. I've become the hollow man. Have I become the hollow man I see?’. He is inviting criticism and pleading for ideas. It is by no means a classic but certainly defines the mood and theme of the conception of the album. At just over two minutes, Houston is a short menacing political statement. Stipe starts in venomous mood: ‘If the storm doesn't kill me the government will. I've got to get that out of my head…’, eluding to the recent state of unrest in the US, political or otherwise, currently inspiring him. He goes on: ‘So a man's put to task and challenges. I was taught to hold my head high; collect what is mine; make the best of what today has’. Conversely the chorus is uplifting against the dark overtones and grinding distortion of guitars, but Stipe is weary and deflated by the end.

The album’s title track sounds like a reworking of The Great Beyond, with Stipe’s metaphoric musing: ’Where is the ripcord, the trapdoor, the key? Where is the cartoon escape-hatch for me?’. But the approach is much more frantic rant, less philosophical waffle. Into the last thirty seconds, the big ending again collapses.

If there is one truly outstanding song on Accelerate it is Until The Day Is Done. Like a cross between Final Straw and Swan Swan H, it is the brightest and most obvious anti-government, anti-capitalism (always a bitter pill to swallow given the money ’rock stars’ have) and anti-war song since Turn You Inside Out. Starting with a Country Feedback countdown then ‘The battle’s been lost, the war is not won’, the approach is controlled and measured. The mood lifts in the chorus which is timeless and distinctively R.E.M. Musically, the whole arrangement of guitars, piano and vocals has hidden depth. Stipe continues the sentiment with anti-Bush and anti-religion in the same line: ‘Forgive us our trespasses, father and son’. On an album full of high-tempo songs, this is a revelation and a sign that R.E.M. can still produce.

As Accelerate closes, there are a couple of divisive tracks. Mr. Richards sounds like a reworked Monkeys song with the space-aged vocal mix and the constant drone of guitars. The subject matter is clear but who it is about is not. Sing For The Submarine says very little and rather ironically takes far too long to do it. Curiously, in the first two verses Stipe namedrops two songs: Electron Blue and Feeling Gravity’s Pull (he goes on to mention two more: High Speed Train and partially ‘World As We Know It‘). The guitars on the chorus are great but generally the music is laboured and oppressive. Maybe that’s the point. Towards the end he starts to ramble: ‘Tyrel and his mechanical owl, a moth disguised as a leaf…’.

Horse To Water gets things back on track, a punchy two minute pop song with a wonderful chorus. Stipe is spitting lyrics again and what seems vacuous it very clever. He even finds time to slip in the album’s only expletive. Conversely the album closer I’m Gonna DJ just feels…wrong. Like Wanderlust on Around The Sun it is sexing up the unsexy. Annoying at the song has some great musical moments, particularly when Stipe declares ‘It’s on my mind, it’s in my mind. It’s what I found, it’s what I find’. Simple but effective. That said, the whole song never really works but ends the album with a great line: ‘Music will provide the light you cannot resist’.

Accelerate is not Monster. The first difference is Peter Buck who has never sounded better - at least not since Out Of Time. All memories of the woeful mess of a guitar solo on What’s The Frequency Kenneth? have been expelled. Mike Mills, ever dependable bass player, delivers some great backing vocals, like he used to do. And the iconic Michael Stipe is energised and inspired. It would be easy to say the reason for this new found exuberance is drummer Bill Rieflin. He was present on Around The Sun and that never revived the mood. It takes more than a new drummer to suddenly change a band but he does bring back some much needed ‘life’ into the core organic sound. Whatever has happened in the last four years, and we may never know exactly what that is, R.E.M. is sounding alive and real. Sometimes it takes a critical kicking to get a band focused but there is more to it than that. There is a distinct lack of polish, a good thing made up for by smart editing, and the inability to finish is frustrating at times. Very little of the album drags, also due to the only obvious criticism of being too short. The approach of Monster is perfectly executed on Accelerate, with proper songs and brilliant musicianship. It is a great mix of pop and political statement, not so much a reinvention as a reworking of old ideals sounding relevant and modern. Every band endures peaks and troughs, this finally sounds like the start of a peak. More please.
-- CS

LATER...with Jools Holland (04/04/2008 - Series 32, Show 1)

After a few weeks break, Jools is back with series 32 and a new format and two shows - a live preview show on Tuesday night and the main show on Friday. I’m not sure the extra half hour on Tuesday adds a great deal as it plays out like a ‘best of’ after watching the Friday show, with a couple of special additions. I have decided to review both shows together as one with main focus on the Friday line-up.

Tuesday live set
  • Estelle (ft. Kano) - American Boy
  • Adele - Chasing Pavements
  • James Taylor (Chat with JH)
  • The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet
  • James Taylor - Sweet Baby James
  • Black Kids - I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You
  • Adele and Jools - Make You Feel My Love
  • Estelle - No Substitute Love
Friday set
  • Estelle (ft. Kano) - American Boy
  • The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another PlanetAdele - Right As Rain
  • James Taylor (Chat with JH)
  • Black Kids - I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You
  • James Taylor - Copperline
  • Estelle - No Substitute Love
  • Adele (Chat With JH)
  • The Neil Cowley Trio - His Nibs
  • Adele - Hometown Glory
  • The Only Ones - Black Operations
  • James Taylor - Sweet Baby James
  • Black Kids - Hurricane Jane
  • Estelle - Wait A Minute (Just A Touch)
A very weak show this week for a number of reasons. Estelle, standing in for Gnarls Barkley, looked very uneasy and clunky rattling through recent hit American Boy. No Kanye West (surprise) but instead Kano who added a limp rap to what should have been a great performance. All the smiles and softness of the original song are not present here which is a great shame. The other problem with the ‘live’ arrangement from Estelle and her band was the constant use of scratching from the DJ. It’s annoying and adds nothing useful. This is evident on the dull No Substitute Love and closer Wait A Minute (Just A Touch), the latter looking even more awkward than the opener.

Much better was new British singer Adele, like Duffy in the last series adding much needed quality. She got the best of Tuesday live show performing two songs not included on Friday: Chasing Pavements and with Jools for Make You Feel My Love. Excellent performances on Friday and a great interview, cutting past the Kate Nash sound and demeanour telling JH about her inspiring Brit School upbringing and future aspirations to produce and write and promote new musicians. Anyone who thinks Adele is just another Winehouse is very much mistaken - she is level headed and talented.

The Only Ones, who probably should have given up a long time ago, gave a spirited rendition of the classic Another Girl, Another Planet while looking older than The Rolling Stones. Their second attempt, Black Operations was shaky and boring. The ‘new music’ was provided by Black Kids - a great new shambles of a group from Florida with two female keyboard players who also sing backing vocals. They look great and sound terrible - just what you need to offset the blandness. I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You gets a bit shouty and Hurricane Jane is just a bit dull.

More quality was added by veteran singer and guitarist James Taylor. A couple of interviews with the slightly uncomfortable interviewee on each show and couple of country feeling songs: the statesmanlike Springsteen-eque Copperline and Sweet Baby James. As always it is the unknown artists who seem to make an impact and this week it was the turn of The Neil Cowley Trio, lead by the ex-Zero 7 keyboardist. They stomped through His Nibs, a jazz piano instrumental which got a bit repetitive even with the drum solo and messy ending.

A weak line-up with Adele and James Taylor lifting the standard. Black Kids were ok but Estele and The Only Ones let things down. I would have liked more from The Neil Cowley Trio. Having watching both shows, I’m still not convinced that the format works. If Tuesday was completely different from Friday in terms of the performances - keep the same artists obviously - then it might be better.