Sunday, 30 November 2008

2008 Music Chart - November

Only one new album for November in a quiet month. Snow Patrol return after a few years out with A Hundred Million Suns.
  1. The Hawk Is Howling - Mogwai
  2. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails
  3. I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope - I Was A Cub Scout
  4. Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - Sigur Rós
  5. Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down - Noah And The Whale
  6. The Rhumb Line - Ra Ra Riot
  7. Death Magnetic - Metallica
  8. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  9. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
  10. Third - Portishead
  11. A Hundred Million Suns - Snow Patrol
  12. Save The World, Get The Girl - The King Blues
  13. Mountain Meadows - Elliott Brood
  14. Accelerate - R.E.M.
  15. We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings
  16. Church Bell Blues - Catherine MacLellan
  17. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow
  18. Gossip In The Grain - Ray LaMontagne
  19. Arther - Arther
  20. Poor Man's Heaven - Seth Lakeman
  21. The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets
  22. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
  23. Consolers Of The Lonely - The Raconteurs
  24. Do You Like Rock Music - British Sea Power
  25. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - Counting Crows
  26. Attack & Release - The Black Keys
  27. Seven Months And A Fire Blanket - Proceed
  28. Little Voice - Sara Bareilles
  29. Silent Cry - Feeder
  30. Liejacker - Thea Gilmore
  31. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab For Cutie
  32. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  33. Alas, I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling
  34. Midnight Boom - The Kills
  35. This Is A Fix - The Automatic
  36. Friday Night Lights - Attic Lights
  37. Welcome To Goon Island - XX Teens
  38. Viva La Vida - Coldplay
  39. I Am Undone - My Epic
  40. Rosie And The Goldbug - Rosie And The Goldbug
  41. Songs In A&E - Spiritualized
  42. You Cross My Path - The Charlatans
  43. @#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
  44. Under Summer Sun - Matt Wertz
  45. The Slip - Nine Inch Nails
  46. Toy Tugboats - Sunfold
  47. The Hollow Of Morning - Gemma Hayes
  48. Neptune - The Duke Spirit
  49. When The Night Time Comes - Jenny Lindfors
  50. The Well - Sarah Perrotta
  51. Those We Leave Behind - I Am Ghost
  52. Elliot Minor - Elliot Minor
  53. Saturnalia - The Gutter Twins
  54. Heat: The Remixes - Soft Cell
  55. This Gift - Sons & Daughters
  56. Sunny Day Sets Fire - Summer Palace
  57. Seaside Rock - Peter, Bjorn and John
  58. Kids Aflame - ARMS
  59. Revolving Doors - Nelson

Friday, 28 November 2008

New Christmas Single from Chris Difford

Yes it's that time of year again...

The BBC One Show and, the talented one from Squeeze, Chris Difford (with the Decorations) release a new Christmas single entitled "Let's Not Fight This Christmas". The song is released (download only) on 8th December and will be previewed on The One Show next week. All proceeds to Children In Need.

I haven't heard it yet so no review but thought I would mention it as there is very little else to talk about atm :P. Looking forward to hearing it soon.

Monday, 17 November 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 9)

So the end of the current series and last Later until the famous Hootananny! at New Year. One thing I always criticise the show for is not being diverse enough - more often than not it is safe and predictable with the guests. When I saw that Stereophonics were on this week I thought 'oh no, another fading 90's band trying to peddle new material', but they don't have a new album as such. The band's new Greatest Hits compilation just gets a passing mention which is exactly what the band give us - something sadly missing from other so called 'big' artists. As for the rest of the line-up, with the exception of Jools himself with singer Ruby Turner, I must admit I don't know any of them. And I was pleasantly surprised.


Stereophonics - Dakota
Solange - Decided Pt 1
Ray Davies (Chat with JH)
Dengue Fever - Tiger Phone Land
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Don't Get Trouble In Your Mind
Jools Holland & Louise Marshall - I Went By
Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves - Take My Love With You
Stereophonics - Local Boy In The Photograph


Stereophonics - The Bartender And The Thief
Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves - Take My Love With You
Dengue Fever - Tiger Phone Land
Ray Davies (Chat with JH)
Solange - I Decided (Decided Pt 1?)
Jools Holland & Louise Marshall - Waterloo Bridge
Stereophonics - You're My Star
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Real Old Mountain Dew
Sanjeev Bhaskar (Chat with JH)
Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves - It's Easier
Dengue Fever - Seeing Hands
Jools Holland & Ruby Turner - St. Louis Blues (with the Carolina Chocolate Drops)
Solange - Sandcastle Disco
Stereophonics - Dakota

Starting with the 'big' name band Stereophonics - the band were supreme. They opened the Tuesday live show and closed Friday with the mighty Dakota, easily the best song from the band's later years. Kelly and the boys were on top form throughout and also performed the slow melodic You're My Star and the more rough and ready The Bartender And The Thief. But the big song was the best in their catalogue: Local Boy In The Photograph - and it took me right back to when I first head it, and was then told what it was about. I guessed immediately that the band were on the show to promote a new Best Of collection but this can be excused because they gave us exactly what was needed - good renditions of familiar popular songs, not just new weaker stuff from a new album, something which has plagued this series. No interview with the band and just a passing mention of the Greatest Hits record.

Where on earth do I start with the rest? Eclectic, diverse and just plain odd on the surface. Things did not start well with Solange who does a bad Diana Ross impression. The empty soul of Decided (credited with two different names on each show, confusingly) had a self-centred stupid intro that the song failed to live up to and the clumsy girl pop of Sandcastle Disco was terrible. After a quick chat with Ray Davies about his musical Come Dancing (he didn't perform, sadly) and some good advice - stay true to your heart and only write while disparate, we were treated to a very interesting band: Dengue Fever (named after an actual tropical disease) is one of those multi-cultural bands from different parts of the world. Cute singer Chhom Nimol has a very amateurish voice but such charm. That said, Tiger Phone Land was awful, worse on Tuesday after a bad start, but the Khmer vocals of Seeing Hands were much better, and the song has a great vibe. Ray Davies described the band as a cross between Blondie and Led Zeppelin. Hmm...not quite Ray.

From here things get much better. The wonderful Carolina Chocolate Drops are real musicians making real music - a frantic swing stomp from the buzzing Don't Get Trouble In Your Mind to the great Real Old Mountain Dew, in spite of two many wordless vocals. The violin and banjo were exchanged for the latter performance showing such diversity. Also good was Eli "Paperboy" Reed - far too showy on Take My Love With You but great on the slow bluesy It's Easier. He has a great voice, when he uses it properly, and a style more akin with BB King.

Jools had to finish the series with a bit of piano but the two performances were predictable JH and 'his big band' stuff - and why not? It is what he does well and it wouldn't be the same without him. Louise Marshall was great, as was Ruby Turner and thankfully we didn't have to endue the new single. Instead Carolina Chocolate Drops helped out on St. Louis Blues with steel guitars and kazoo. Yes really!

The second interview, oddly, was with comedian and now musical performer Sanjeev Bhaskar. He is currently in the Monty Python influenced show Spamalot.

All in all it was a subdued end to the series and much more of a 'party' atmosphere. Obviously all of the performances were not to my taste but that is life. But this was almost the perfect show - a great band with their best songs, a bit of JH and his piano, and loads of people I have never heard before. Excellent entertainment. If only every show was like this.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart EP Review (2008)

A review for The Music Magazine.

Musical collaboration can create the most interesting of partnerships. Who would have thought that Scottish singer Isobel Campbell from Belle & Sebastian would end up making music with Mark Lanegan, the dysfunctional front man of 1980s post-grunge US rock band Screaming Trees. They have now released two albums together and 'Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart' is an extra EP taken from the 'Sunday At Devil Dirt' recording sessions. Now that Lanegan has got the latest bout of angst out of his system, with the semi-disastrous Greg Dulli project The Gutter Twins, it is now back to business as usual.

The title track, and only song to be taken from the album, is a short simple country blues ballad with Lanegan's baritone taking the lead. Campbell provides the softness for this gorgeous love song. 'Fight Fire With Fire' is much more complete, again with Lanegan in Tom Waits mode set to an upbeat rolling backdrop. The chorus is ludicrously jolly. Campbell again adds a delicate breeze, letting her voice wash through the song like Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star. A key line, and maybe an echo to Lanegan's current uneasy situation, is: "My mind's in the gutter; my heart's solid gold", followed by the more heartfelt, but clumsy, "When they made you, they busted the mould". The lyrical journey through the songs is a constant rocky road but always compelling.

'Asleep On A Sixpence' is an old-time piano melody coupled with more of Lanegan's rasping vocals. He is going solo this time. The strange outro appears to be a few bars of 'While Shepherd's Watched Their Flocks By Night'. The scratchy 'Violin Tango' provides a brief interlude before the true country duet of 'Rambling Rose' gets things back on course. This is like the antithesis of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant with both voices intertwined. Campbell's only solo effort 'Hang On' closes the EP and is hard to place - like Juliana Hatfield fronting Fountains Of Wayne. As pleasant as it is, the song becomes a relentless plod and could benefit from a stronger vocal.

This very unique pairing is a genuine combining of souls. Campbell is the calm for Lanegan's storm, keeping everything in balance; in spite of a dominating male presence, it is a near perfect equilibrium. The EP captures the dark focus of Lanegan's fantastic solo album 'Bubblegum' and echoes the more stripped down feel of 'Sunday At Devil Dirt'. This never feels like a side project, nor a sordid affair in a downbeat seedy motel, more a safe place to hide out when things get heavy. Both singers sound at home in each other's company. The ever wandering Mark Lanegan has his muse and may eventually rest his boots - but for now, Isobel Campbell is drawing the best out of him, whenever and wherever they meet.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Monday, 10 November 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 8)

This week on Later...was a return for another band trying to prove new material, The Killers. Also a special guest in the form of Al Green, plus Fleet Foxes and Pendulum. A strange inclusion was the latest project from Damon Albarn: Monkey Journey To The West which thankfully did not include the music used extensively in this years Olympics coverage.


The Killers - Human
Monkey Journey To The West - Monkey's World
Al Green (Chat with Jools)
Pendulum - Granite
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
The Killers - Spaceman


The Killers - Human
Pendulum - Granite
Monkey Journey To The West - Monkey's World
Marc Almond (Chat with JH)
Fleet Foxes - He Doesn't Know Why
The Killers - Losing Touch
Little Boots - Meddle
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett (Chat with Jools)
Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
Monkey Journey To The West - Heavenly Peach Banquet
The Killers - Neon Tiger
Al Green (Chat with Jools)
Fleet Foxes - Your Protector
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
The Killers - Spaceman

Unlike many bands recently making a comeback after years away, including Razorlight and Snow Patrol, The Killers has been busy grafting away through a series of albums. The latest offering is a mixed bag of stuff. The band perform four new songs, opening and closing both shows: latest 80's synth pop single Human, the aptly named soft rock of Losing Touch, the string pleasantries of Neon Tiger, and the ever so long and boring Spaceman. It all sounds a lot more consistent than the usual Killers 'one great song and a bunch of fillers' albums but with no really great song. There is no Mr Brightside or When You Were Young. I lost interest in the band with Sam's Town which is hard work, and then I skipped the compilation Sawdust. Day & Age seems to be well received but does nothing for me. No interview with the band either.

Pendulum were very disappointing. Only two songs : the powerhouse riff-heavy space rock of Granite and the more mixed up Propane Nightmares. The big problem was the weak vocals and repetitive nature of the guitars and guitar/keyboard hybrid. Likewise Fleet Foxes, one of the best vocal harmony groups around only really impressed with the heavier Your Protector - the choral ending is sublime. Tuesday's White Winter Hymnal was decent enough but the balance was all wrong on He Doesn't Know Why. And the legend that is Al Green gave a very messy interview on Tuesday and rattled his way through Let's Stay Together, his ageing vocals getting more and more croaky. He obviously still has the passion for touring and performing but like many of Jools' guests, he probably doesn't know when to stop. Friday was a better interview in which he talked about his early life and career - his brothers threw him out of their group so he went solo, struggled with music synch on his first video and told new musicians to "hold on to your dreams". Wise words.

Far too much of the show was dedicated to the Monkey Journey To The West project. The central interview on Friday was a real mess - confrontational, incoherent and showed the annoying side of Albarn. He said that they had attempted to scale down the usual orchestra into more of a band for the show - a completely pointless half-arsed exercise. The two songs: the baffling Monkey's World and the giggling, la la la vocals and bleeps of Heavenly Peach Banquet work brilliantly as part of a soundtrack and stage show but not in the studio. It all looked like a budget version of The Lion King with Chinese songs remixed by two guys in a shed.

So the best is left until last: the wonderful Little Boots. Victoria Hesketh performed Meddle with effortless talent. At one point she was singing, playing piano and stylaphone all at the same time. She even found time to add a few hand claps. Breathtaking to watch and a good song. But one only one. She could have been a headliner for me.

This weeks pointless interview went to the great Marc Almond - which doesn't make it excusable as he was just plugging a new DVD/CD of his latest stageshow in an seedy part of old London. Jools asked him about his accident and subsequent recovery and Almond thanked Jools and his band for supporting him. Good stuff...but it would have been nice to hear a set from him.

So one average headliner, a fading legend, a pointless interview from someone plugging a new product, a couple of disappointing new bands, a scaled down show which didn't work and a superb unknown artist who only gets one song. Business as usual then...

Ray Lamontagne - Gossip In The Grain Album Review (2008)

Ray Lamontagne - Gossip In The Grain reviewed for Last Broadcast.

Ray Lamontagne, everyone's favourite grizzly bear mountain man with a voice that can melt stone and iron hearts, releases his third album 'Gossip In The Grain'. There are major differences from his previous albums: this is less of a solo project bringing in Lamontagne's touring band and in his own words he wants to "open up a little bit more". This immediately hints at lack of inspiration and the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind. But in branching out and trying to be different, the New Hampshire singer song writer has achieved a remarkable thing. It actually works.

Opening song 'You Are The Best Thing' kicks off with a blast of big band horns before Lamontagne's wonderful gruff yet soulful voice launches into what it does best. The song is a simple offering, with a less than inspired chorus, lots of repetition, some Motown backing vocals and a neat 'happy' vibe. It proves to be a deceptive start. Things settle down with 'Let It Be Me', a gorgeous ballad of hope and longing: "Feels like you're always coming up last; Pockets full of nothing ain't got no cash; No matter where you turn you ain't got no place to stand; You reach out for something and they slap your hand". The music around him lets Lamontagne always do his thing - he is always at the centre even when the piano and strings begin to rise. 'Sarah' brings in a third style: delicate winding instrumentation underpinning a more earnest, soft and urgent vocal performance. A central string break provides a brief respite.

From the outset 'I Still Care For You' is more loose and ragged around the edges. But the song immediately softens into a breathy ethereal chorus and rolling drums. The first contribution from Leona Naess almost goes by unnoticed. The last minute and a half briefly transforms into something much more organic before more of the same. 'Winter Birds' is an atmospheric poetic ramble of a love song - one of those songs that is difficult to pin down thanks to the lack of a defined structure. Six songs in and we are treated to a huge surprise. 'Meg White' (yes, the one from The White Stripes) is a no holds barred (ironic or otherwise) tale of love and obsession. It starts like a Ennio Morricone western score then quickly into thumping drums (a tribute indeed) and Lamontagne declaring that "Someday I'd like to take a walk with you; maybe ride our bikes down by the seaside". The line "Oh Jack is great, don't get me wrong...but this is your song" is bordering on comedy. All this with Pink Floyd style backing vocals and a slightly creepy vocal arrangement adds to the insanity. Totally unexpected and utterly brilliant.

'Hey Me, Hey Mama' does not quite get the album back on track but it is more familiar - a slick old-fashioned country-blues number that never lifts from mid-tempo drawl. The brass section in the second half is a nice touch and even when a horrible chord change is dropped in, it all holds together. 'Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's A Shame)' veers left once more with dark brooding railroad blues. Halfway through when Lamontagne begins panting like a dog, you get the feeling he really wants to just let go - but he never does. 'A Falling Through' is much more of what we expect, but sounds a bit of a let down given the surprises that have come before. Saying that however, it is a wonderful heartfelt ballad, again with Naess on backing vocals - this time more obvious and relevant. The subtle complexity of the music is incredible. The title track closes the album in understated style with a beautiful arrangement into the final minute - one of the best moments of the album. Then Lamontagne parting shot: "Truth be: Beggar that holds his tongue; Dines on none...none but air alone".

In spite of every attempt to "open up" and try new things, 'Gossip In The Grain' still plays it very safe. Producer Ethan Johns still adds to the mix but the musical contribution from others is much more consistent. It feels more complete, and even with the unexpected twist in the middle of the album, this just adds to the album exactly when it needs to do something different; something more. This is not the huge disastrous experiment which befalls many artists. On the contrary: this is a rewarding, consistent and compelling piece of work.

13th October 2008, 14th Floor Records

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line Album Review (2008)

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line reviewed for Last Broadcast.

Formed a couple of years ago in New York State, Ra Ra Riot build on the early promise of an eponymous EP with a new full length album, 'The Rhumb Line'.

The first thing that strikes you on the album is the consistent use of string arrangements. The violin and cello, from Zeller and Lawn respectively, transform each song into a delicious slice of chamber-pop and at its most simple (the Beatles-esque 'Winter '05' for example), the effect works incredibly well. But when there is a juxtaposition of guitar-driven indie and orchestral backing, the contrast can split a song in two - and coupled with the unstructured and wavering vocal style of Wes Miles, initially it can be a frustrating listen.

'The Rhumb Line' has at its core the wondrous 'Dying Is Fine', an obvious tribute to former drummer John Pike who died in 2007. It is a great example of how everything comes together as one - when the strings build with a minute and a half to go, rising above the guitars and drums to bring back Miles, it marks a distinct highlight. The uneasy mix of upbeat music and dour subject matter adds to the feel. This sentiment continues later with the string laden 'Oh, La' and the chorus: "We've got a lot to learn from each other, we have got to stick together". After tragedy is hope.

Opening song 'Ghost Under Rocks' suffers from a very loose vocal arrangement and drum track. Most of the time the strings are swamped by everything else and only when the song settles into the final stretch - the gorgeous combination of vocals and delicate backing - does the strength immerge. The chorus is expertly arranged to be both obvious and original. It becomes another fine example of the band working together. Likewise album closer 'Run My Mouth' is a compelling journey - a simple chorus framed by swirling arrangements and Miles on top form.

Elsewhere the band expands their core sound. 'Too Too Too Fast' is mesmerising electro-pop fronted by Johnny Borrell, with a Human League quality - female backing vocals, elegant strings and lush keyboards. The feminine touch washes through the entire album but never more so than here. The best thing about 'Each Year' is the ever-present guitar melody and remains an odd choice for an early single. Kate Bush cover 'Suspended In Gaffa' is a stupendously brave attempt to do something a bit different - complete with kooky verses, talky bits and a swinging chorus. A fine tribute the band just about gets away with.

Ultimately 'The Rhumb Line' is an accomplished piece of work - always interesting and never overstaying its welcome. The combination of instrumentation and styles quickly moves from frustration to delight as hidden depths are revealed at every string soaked twist and turn.

Released on 29th September 2008 on V2/Co-Op.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Peter, Bjorn And John - Seaside Rock Album Review (2008)

Peter, Bjorn And John - Seaside Rock reviewed for Last Broadcast.

Pop Quiz: What do you do after releasing a critically acclaimed album (9/10 from the NME), have a successful underground indie hit single and become a household name on the pop circuit? You make a downbeat and kooky semi-instrumental album without any obvious singles. And this is exactly what Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn And John have done with 'Seaside Rock'.

The album opens with two decent songs. The furious mix of 'Inland Empire' from the Spanish feel and delicious piano to whale sounds, harsh percussion and car horns, it is a compelling fusion of ideas. The big guitars and brass outro set things up for 'Say Something (Mukiya)', a steel drum and bass driven ditty with wordless warbling and a jolly melody. But from here, things go downhill fast. The worst of the compositions are centred round three 'songs' involving strange monologues: 'Next Stop Bjursele', 'Erik's Fishing Trip' and 'Norrlands Riviera' fail on many levels. Only the latter is lifted by a nice harp arrangement, seagull samples and simple ambience. The previous two get annoying very quickly.

After the lull, 'Needles And Pills' provides a much needed lift. The first half is great - guitars and a recorder make way for layers of percussion before whistling arrives and heavier guitars lead to a tuneless orchestra. Likewise, 'Barcelona' is not as great as it could be - it takes too long to get moving and when it does, the delicate ambience holds it back. Only the piano stands out among the beach samples.

After the compelling 'Writer's Block' (how ironic is that title now?), this album feels like a very noticeable step backwards. On the surface it is comparable to Radiohead's 'fall from grace' - after 'OK Computer' comes 'Kid A' - even hardened fans will be perplexed. The success of 'Young Folks' was justified (also thanks to Victoria Bergsman, formerly of The Concretes), even if the song is annoyingly catchy in the way only Scandinavian pop can be. But Peter, Bjorn And John have failed to capitalise. In spite of a few moments of true class, 'Seaside Rock' feels lazy, self-indulgent and uninspired.

Released on 23rd September 2008 on Wichita.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Last Broadcast Single Reviews - CSS, Dido and Razlorlight

Last month I wrote three single reviews for Last Broadcast.

Here they are in full:

CSS - Move

Brazilian sextet CSS has been making catchy infectious indie synth-pop for over two years and are veritable freshman in today's music scene. 'Move', which sees a departure from the cheeky playful approach of the band's early songs, is the third single from the band's second album 'Donkey'.

Like former singles 'Left Behind' and 'Rat Is Dead (Rage), 'Move' is a pulsating slice of spiky electro-pop with one major difference: consistency. The song rolls along with an upbeat keyboard melody coupled with a choral vocal before lead singer Lovefoxxx takes over. Her insatiable charm is slightly muted here and the chorus especially feels tinged with melancholy; reflective and considered. The rest of band provide some very subtle backing vocals. If there is a problem it is that the song doesn't stop at the usual three minute cut-off point. Lovefoxxx attempts a clumsy pseudo-rap, continuing the warning theme. It feels like a step too far.

CSS has gone a long way since early hit 'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above'. The sound is now more solid and at the risk of a cliché, more mature. The production is slick and smooth, so the instrumentation glides with clarity and purity. The sound of progress.

Released on 13th October 2008.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Dido - Don't Believe In Love

The huge success of Dido is a mystery. She rose to prominence as 'that singer' on 'Stan' by U.S. rapper Eminem, which samples her song 'Thank You'. Her debut album No Angel had such great promise, but her vocal delivery and her voice remains something of a dividing line. 'Don't Believe In Love' is the first single taken from Dido's new album 'Safe Trip Home'. From the outset it is business as usual.

The opening bass sets up the first line "I want to go to bed with arms around me...wake up on my own" followed by "Pretend that I'm still sleeping...til you go home". This is a twist on the anti-love song, seeped in self-doubt and depressive loathing. Even the chorus, a sweet rolling melody, is weak and uninspired. The drum arrangement is basic and the inclusion of a string section, barely audible, is predictable and listless. A minute and a half in, there is little attempt to change things. Only into the third minute, after a very dull string-based instrumental, Dido again shows no emotion. But that is probably the point. The line "If I don't believe in love, what do you get from me? When I don't believe in love, nothing is real for me" sums it up.

The big problem with Dido is her flat lifeless vocal style. Coupled with obvious lyrics, devoid of any imagination and metaphor, this is song writing at its most basic. 'Don't Believe In Love' may be deliberately free of emotion, in line with the dispassionate subject matter but this translates badly into a listenable song. Even a spirited guitar outro does not break the monotony. So, as expected, Dido continues to bring us more of the same.

Released on 3rd November 2008 on RCA and available to download from 26th October 2008.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

Razorlight - Wire To Wire

Over two impressive albums, Razorlight has gone from being a punchy pseudo-punk indie band to a colossal rock act. The 2006 eponymous album was well received by fans and critics alike and in spite of a more polished focused sound Johnny Borrell did not become the new Chris Martin. 'Wire To Wire' is the band's first single since the huge success of 'America' and the two songs could not be more different.

Opening with chilling piano, the first thirty seconds has Borrell crooning the first verse. His voice changes dramatically with "She lives on disillusion row; we go where the wild blood flows; on our bodies we share the same scars; love me, where ever you are...". The last refrain has Borrell hitting an impossible note, never to be repeated with such spine-tingling accuracy, and a short interlude brings in the rest of the band. The mid-section is typical flowing Razorlight. The song soon lifts again for more drama, climaxing with the line "How do you love on a night without feeling? She says love, I hear sound, I see fury; She says love's not a hostile condition..." complete with huge rolling drums. But the song soon backs off for a calm vocal and piano outro.

Borrell has talked about the new album 'Slipway Fires' as impulsive and not over worked. The band did not want to over-think the new material, keep things simple and let the song writing out. This may not be the best song in the Razorlight catalogue but it is a great teaser for the new album. In near-three minutes of perfection, it has plenty of space to breathe. Haunting down to the very last note, not since 'Drive' by R.E.M. has a debut single from a new album had such an impact as 'Wire To Wire'. It is subtle, understated and remarkably brilliant.

Released on 27th October on Vertigo and available to download from 26th September 2008.

-- CS (for Last Broadcast)

I hope to write more reviews for Last Broadcast in the near future. So watch this space, as they say...

Friday, 7 November 2008

LATER...with Jools Holland (Series 33, Show 7)

A journey into the strange and wonderful this week - a really messed up, mixed up and musically diverse couple of shows. In anticipation of an Obama win in the upcoming US elections, it was a very 'Black' line-up: Grace Jones, Akon and Seu Jorge forming the core sound. It was also a return for Razorlight, back with the new album Slipway Fires.


Grace Jones - Williams' Blood
Razorlight - Tabloid Lover
Seu Jorge - Burguesinha
Grace Jones (Chat with JH)
Akon - Right Away (Na Na Na)
Geraint Watkins - Easy To Say 'Bon Temps Rouler'
Razorlight - Wire To Wire
Grace Jones - Slave To The Rhythm


Razorlight - Burberry Blue Eyes
Grace Jones - Williams' Blood
Seu Jorge - America Do Norte
Grace Jones (Chat with JH)
Akon - Birthmark
Razorlight - Wire To Wire
Geraint Watkins - Champion
David Arnold (Chat with JH)
Grace Jones - Love You To Life
Akon - Right Away (Na Na Na)
Novice Theory - About The Dream
Dave Edmonds (Chat with JH)
Seu Jorge - Burguesinha
Razorlight - Hostage Of Love
Grace Jones - Pull Up To The Bumper

The show's reputation as an exercise in promotion started with Grace Jones, back after 19 (not 20 as she corrected Jools) years with new album Hurricane. Thankfully she closed both shows with the classics Slave To The Rhythm and Pull Up To The Bumper. She opened Tuesday with a new song Williams' Blood and on the Friday introduced us to Love You To Life. You can probably tell which duo was the more superior. The new songs paled in comparison with the former marginally better than the latter. Love You To Life is a mess of talky vocals and such obvious vocals after the chorus: "and not to death" - yeah, Grace we get what you did. No need to patronise us with an explanation. I wondered how Jools would handle an interview but it went much better than anyone expected - she declared herself a huge JH fan which probably helped. The Friday chat talked about her new album, her childhood in Jamaica enduring 'boring church hymns' and people singing off-key. She regards modelling as 'prostitution' and did it just to pay the bills - not a glowing endorsement of what got her noticed in the first place. And her love of jigsaw puzzles and hula hoops came up. It was compelling. On the Tuesday it was a bit more frosty - she was asked by Jools why she mesmerises men. Her slick sharp reply was "I hope I mesmerise women too". Brilliant. In the now obligatory question about advice, it was simple: "do it don't talk about it".

Now to Razorlight, also plugging new material from Slipway Fires. It's a real mixed bag and I'm not too sure about it. Wire To Wire (performed on both shows) is superb, even with looser vocals and bit too much power from Borrell at times. But the stomp rock of Tabloid Lover, Burberry Blue Eyes (opening Friday) and the rushed and noisy Hostage Of Love left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. The band obviously think the new songs are great - like Coldplay - it is all very efficient and well presented but lacking decent songs. Maybe time will be kind. And no interview with the band which was a real let down. Instead there was another (and I know I go on about this a lot) completely pointless chat with someone not performing, just on to show us their new Greatest Hits collection.

Sadly, two of the best performers: Senegalese-American soul rapper Akon and Brazilian singer/songwriter and actor Seu Jorge were both pushed down the order. Akon's set suffered from over-produced vocals but Birthmark was a decent highlight. Likewise Seu Jorge was great, really embracing the spirit of show - at one point the entire ensemble was bopping along to Grace Jones. A wealth of musicians added percussion and backing vocals to the apt America Do Norte and Burguesinha. Also Geraint Watkins performed a couple of songs. Apparently Jools had been introduced to him after a Bob Dylan Radio 2 show. Champion was a wonderful slice of old time storytelling like a lighter Nick Cave.

A real surprise, forming almost the centrepiece of the show was a performance from Novice Theory (aka Geo Wyeth). One man/women with an accordion had the entire studio enthralled as About The Dream unfolded. The vocals in part were very Seth Lakeman (no bad thing) but at times the music was too fast. The key line is: "we had blood on our white hands". Given such a positive message, it it strange the show wasn't arranged for next week to coinside with next week's US elections. The bizarre 'drunken' ending saw Wyeth disappear into the darkness. Utterly captivating.

In a blatant attempt by the show to jump on the latest Bond bandwagon, David Arnold turned up for an interview. Again, nothing to do with the performances, but also not really plugging anything (except the film score), and it was a surprisingly good chat. He clearly understands the nature of scoring films and did not expect to do more Bond films after 'Tomorrow Never Dies'. This is now his fifth. He describes it as trying to scale Everest each time with history and responsibility to keep in mind. Also the famous signature tune is not really used in the Daniel Craig films. Arnold explains why: he is a very different Bond and every time the theme is used, you know he is safe and will win. It dissolves any kind of danger from the action. A victim of success perhaps? I suppose this was an example of a good 'pointless interview', even if it was so obvious.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns Album Review (2008)

My latest review for The Music Magazine. I would not say that I am a huge fan of Snow Patrol which is why I wanted to review the new album. I liked Final Straw - up to a point - but did not get on with the follow-up Eyes Open. Then the band disappeared for a bit. The band appeared recently on LATER... and were impressive. I wanted to describe the album as 'being aurally assaulted...with marshmallows'. But I didn't.

The review:

In 2005, between the releases of 'Final Straw' and 'Eyes Open', opening for U2 across Europe and performing at Live 8, Snow Patrol was as big as Coldplay. And then the momentum faded. After the release of 'Eyes Open', which shadows 'Final Straw' in terms of sales but lacks the quality, all the break through success vanished. In the wake of extensive touring, the band disappeared to make a fifth album. And like the band's career so far, ultimately 'A Hundred Million Suns' feels like the build-up to a climax which never happens.

Opener 'If There's A Rocket Tie Me To It' is an impressive introduction, once it gets going, even if it does get sucked into a vacuum of empty vocals and big drums. 'Crack The Shutters' starts as simple piano and vocal and is near perfect three minute pop. The chorus lifts with underwhelming majesty. The first single 'Take Back The City' is brilliantly arranged, full of little twists and ideas and a lot more urgency. Vocalist Gary Lightbody delivers a great vocal but this is coupled with many annoying 'woahs'. At least there are no dreaded handclaps. The chorus, in two parts, is first framed with harsh guitars and then softened with more soaring instrumentation swamped with slack production (the only time the superb Jacknife Lee drops the ball). The mainly acoustic dark charms of 'Lifeboats' is also excellent, like a lost Ray LaMontagne album track but with odd electronic strings and fragments of guitars. Lightbody sums up the nature of the album with "Life is too short to scream and shout".

After a brief lull threatened by the Kate Bush styled and limp backing vocals of 'The Golden Floor' and then the indie plod-rock of 'Please Just Take These Photos From My Hands', things pick up again with 'Set Down Your Glass' - all delicate guitar melody, soft vocals and a pleasant lift in the second half. The understated yet beautiful 'The Planets Bend Between Us' is even better, in spite of suspect falsetto vocals, with wonderful bubbly electronics. It is simple yet epic, not unlike the album as a whole. Penultimate song 'Disaster Button', apart from providing the album's only (and slightly unexpected) expletive, is a fast-paced self-destructive rant with not so much a chorus as another build-up. There is a great (yet brief) space-aged guitar solo and again it is a unique moment.

But all this is a prelude for the final act, a sixteen minute Craig Armstrong inspired three part odyssey entitled 'The Lightning Strike'. It starts with one of the best pieces on the album: 'What If The Storm Ends?'. Lightbody earnestly delivers in dramatic style as the story unfolds. It is the only time an orchestral arrangement is used with true effect. From here 'The Sunlight Through The Flags' is more like Moby but soon descends into muddy guitars. 'Daybreak' ends the proceedings, a stirring electronic upsurge of storytelling: "You held on to me like I was your life raft" conjures up images of hope and survival in rising waters. Like British Sea Power, the members of Snow Patrol have been reading far too many National Geographic magazines. A great 'concept album' style track to close.

'A Hundred Million Suns' does not quite get the big stadium-rock finale it so rightfully deserves but there is considerable quality throughout. Each song rises like a torrent of emotion but never quite reaches the peak, not backing away as such just never getting to that point in the first place. Lightbody is excellent, his best vocals so far - strong and taking risks with good results. Musically, the band make up for a lack of interesting moves with skill and precision. And each song is perfectly inoffensive and welcomed, with the only real down point being the overlong clumsy 80s sounding and disjointed 'Engines'. Otherwise the album has an unwavering consistency; something lacking in the last two albums. Yes, Snow Patrol are as self-absorbed and as universe embracing as Coldplay, while trying to strive for a similar style, but at least they are not resorting to image-altering gimmicks and mind-scrambling production. Oh, and 'A Hundred Million Suns' has some great songs which is always a good idea.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)