Sunday, 26 April 2009

Later...with Jool Holland (Series 34, Show 3 - 21st and 24th April 2009)

Another week, another Later...with Jools Holland on the BCC. From the start of this weeks Tuesday show it was all about Madness. Jools walked into the studio with Suggs by his side. looking as perky and mischievous as ever. After enduring The Specials and their very uncomfortable comeback, I was looking forward to hearing some new stuff from the legends. I was also looking forward to Bat For Lashes. Other than that I went into the week not knowing the rest of the line-up.

Tuesday (live)

Madness - Dust Devil
Hockey - Song Away
Bat For Lashes - Daniel
Madness (Chat with JH)
Yusuf - The Rain
Everyone - Happy Birthday (for Mike)
Oumou Sangare - Sounsoumba
Madness - Embarrassment


Madness - Forever Young
Bat For Lashes - Daniel
Hockey - Too Fake
Yusuf (Chat with JH)
Oumou Sangare - Sounsoumba
Yusuf - The Rain
Madness - The Sun And The Rain
Bat For Lashes (Chat with JH)
Hockey - Song Away
William Elliott Whitmore - Old Devils
Madness (Suggs and Woody chat with JH)
Bat For Lashes - Sleep Alone
Oumou Sangare - Seya
Madness - Clerkenwell Polka

Madness kicked off Tuesday with Dust Devil - a new song from new album The Liberty of Norton Folgate, sounding as good as ever. Plenty of brass and Suggs on top vocal form. Not the best the band have done but ok. Friday opener was Forever Young - slower mid-tempo number trying to break the usual mould. They closed Tuesday with Embarrassment and performed The Sun And The Rain on Friday, showing that they can still churn out the old hits. The latter was a bit 'sax heavy'. Jools spoke to Suggs and Mike on Tuesday and showed some footage from 1980 of a very young band, comedicly miming to Baggy Trousers. It was Mike's birthday on Tuesday - and the Queens, and Iggy Pop's! On Friday Suggs was joined by Woody to talk about the new album and London, and the disastrous Danger Men project - Madness in disguise so well that they went unnoticed. It is revealed that Woody is running the London Marathon this year. Jools encourages them to take part in a sing-along at the piano in the old tradition. Mixed results. The band closed Friday with Clerkenwell Polka which didn't quite work but the sped up ending was great. For me, it's not enough for me to rush out and get the album. But good to see them back.

A new American band Hockey got a headline slot this week, making their TV debut. This came as a huge surprise to me mainly as I had never heard them. The band was very interesting and they tried their best to inject some energy into a laboured Song Away. Benjamin Grubin's vocals reminded me of the early 1990s and all those generic new-wave bands. On Friday Too Fake sounded horribly familiar and I realised I had heard it before. The live version sounded more funky and less structured. Grubin is an enigmatic lead singer, if a bit mad. He looks and sounds like he is permanently in 'stroppy teenager' mode.

Bat For Lashes, AKA Natasha Khan, sounded amazing. Her vocals were a bit over-produced but sometimes you want your live acts to sound like a studio track. Daniel was supremely delivered - one of the best singles of this year and destined to be a performance of this series. Khan's band helped her out with exquisite backing vocals. As for her own vocals - haunting and flawless. Jools grabbed her (literally) for a chat and she talked him through her set, including a Marxophone from 1870. She gives a demonstration. Second song Sleep Alone is a great example of the quality of the new album Two Suns. Again her vocals are perfect. But only two songs? Such a shame.

Yusuf Islam, who has now sadly dropped the 'Islam', AKA Cat Stevens was back with new songs from his new album. He is very intense and deep these days and singing about doom and gloom and his voice is lacking hope these days. It is still stirring stuff. The Rain is dramatic and biblical (or maybe Qur’an-ical). He spoke to Jools about making music in the 60s and what it was like. "When the world goes bad, it creates the ambience for talent to rise up", he says. Behind all the depth is a real humanity and a genuine humility. Jools played a clip of Father & Son - a classic beautifully performed. He is working on a new musical called Moon Shadow and this is generating more music and his first albums for 28 years. Shame he only got one song to perform.

Following on from last week, Oumou Sangare from Mali brought some Wassoulou to the show. It is African jazz-funk. It is great that Later still draws world musicians but a bit more variety would be nice. Sounsoumba on Tuesday and Friday and Seya (was the laughing part of the song?) on Friday was a nice introduction but not much to work with. It is, however, engaging stuff.

Jools' surprise guest was singer and guitarist William Elliott Whitmore, providing some deep south American roots. His voice is an acquired taste but you can't question his powerful delivery - social, political and earthy.

A good show in the end. Madness were excellent with the perfect mix of old and new. Bat For Lashes was superb and had the audience in the palm of her hand at every performance. Hockey were good, as was Yusuf and Sangare. William Elliott Whitmore was the surprise antithesis of Yusuf. It was a shame that it was such a packed show and there wasn't enough time for additional songs from some artists.

Next week is Depeche Mode and Lily Allen…and Sonic Youth! Should be interesting.

Dananananaykroyd - Hey Everyone! Album Review (2009)

Another (and possibly my last) review for The Music Magazine. I heard news today that the site will be closed at the the end of May :(

So what about Dananananaykroyd? Interesting but not great unfortunately. Big shame as I heard a single and thought they sounded more exciting than they are.

The review:

Ok let's get this out of the way first: Dananananaykroyd is a ridiculous name for a band. A six piece from Scotland, Dananananaykroyd has released four singles and an EP on four different record labels and in the brief time the band has been creating music, they've had two lead singers and replaced one of their two - yes two - drummers. So not a great start but then again most of the band has other 'pursuits' such as playing in other bands and producing 'breakcore' as a side-project. The sound they make has been described as fight-pop, which is a euphemism for shouting a lot and sounding fresh and punky. Most of Hey Everyone! is full of frantic vocals, thrashing guitars and the odd moment of genuine talent trying to escape.

Opening with the short title track, Hey Everyone has a promising start - an AC/DC meets Manics power-guitar instrumental that decays into a lot of messy grinding and feedback. So the band has our attention, what now?

Watch This! goes from riot to punk-pop in seconds. The shared vocal duties of Calum Gunn and John Baillie Junior are interesting even if they are not entirely effective; they keep up a relentless pace until about a minute and half to go when it all settles down into a wonderful delicate outro. Then the shouting starts again, this time with focus and control as the drums smash around the room and the guitars attempt to add some structure. The intriguingly named The Greater Than Symbol & The Hash (computer nerds amongst you will relate) is a much calmer song, at least for the first minute or so, driven by a wonderful vocal melody. Then the thrashing starts and the pace doubles. Some neat guitars hold it together. Within all the noise, are some decent lyrics. Slightly baffling is a repeat of the end of the title track, like a tribute to Hendrix closing Woodstock. It is an irritating prelude to what becomes a truly horrible closing minute of evil guitars, pounding drums and wavering vocals.

Black Wax picks thing up with more intertwining vocals and another great melody. The cheesy cheering adds something light and breezy. "Take everything she's got: rubber and plastic..." is delivered with precise pop proficiency before it predictably gets messy again. This is like diamonds floating on a sea of coal. The same formula seems to be used throughout with few diversions: start well, do about a minute of a pop song, then add some heavy guitars and screaming. The song ends well with some fragile guitar work. Totally Bone, Dananananaykroyd's first single, is a great example of why they got noticed in the first place. It is simple guitar-driven indie-pop, structured and predictable. A Lack of surprises and some wayward drumming is the only issue but the song is a world away from where the band are now. Pink Sabbath continues where that left off, like a forgotten Jane's Addiction album track. "Forget to segregate...yourself" is a great line.

Moving into the second half of the album, some straight-forward no-nonsense guitar indie forms the central core of the album. Infinity Milk is a good example of taking the simple approach of the early singles and weaving in new ideas and a slightly progressive sound. The charisma and chemistry between Gunn and Baillie Junior really starts to come through. But this leads to ultimate disappointment as the initial momentum is lost and it all gets bogged down. An attempt at a rousing fast finish is too over-the-top and incoherent. One Chance is all over the place from the start and does very little in it's short fifty nine second duration. The choral vocal opening of Some Dresses leads into some neat guitar pop. Again some great lines are spoiled by a bad vocal mix and aggressive delivery, whereas some really appalling song writing is appropriately hidden. So everyone wins. As is the now well-established format, the five minute song grinds to a halt after three - into something that resembles R2D2 rapping at high speed. Then it transforms into an exquisite piece of meshed guitars for the last minute of relentless vocals and some excellent guitars. Inconsistency has lead to Dananananaykroyd being sadly predictable.

1993 is a mess from start to finish, transforming from punchy-pop into slowed-down prog within the first minute. The lines here are incredibly self-effacing: "We'll turn your hissy fits into sissy hits" is a one gem. For a band with such energy and power, the momentum and drive is lost so often and songs become as fragmented as a typical Mars Volta offering. It is incredibly frustrating. This time, after three minutes (a time limit Dananananaykroyd should really learn to stick to), the song becomes something else. For a brief time, we are treated to a Mogwai-esque instrumental, then joined by choral vocals singing, yes you guessed it, the only decent (aforementioned) line of the song, over and over. And then drums stomp all over the ending. Hey James is an attempt at a more direct strategy but just ends up as annoying repetition and a torrent of expletives. A definite low-point. The whispering outro doesn't help. Closer Song One Puzzle starts as an excellent instrumental. But for some reason that isn't enough so it becomes a mess for the second third before diverting again into a heavier outro. Take out the middle section and it would be perfect.

Dananananaykroyd is an interesting project. The band make an incredible noise but this doesn't always translate into great music. Hey Everyone! is gloriously musical, packed with twists and turns, ups and downs, highs and lows. The album is not an easy listen thanks to inconsistent timing, lack of structure and a tendency to for Gunn and Baillie Junior to scream incoherently. There seem to be plenty of ideas and enough talent but Hey Everyone! is messy, unhinged, and like a bar brawl between musicians trying to fight their ways to the stage. If it's all about attitude, and not output, in the battle of the bands Dananananaykroyd will win every time. But it is never enough to prevent Hey Everyone! only being half a good album.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Later...with Jool Holland (Series 34, Show 2 - 14th and 17th April 2009)

I was hoping for much better things from this weeks Later…with Jools Holland. If not great music, some decent entertainment would be nice.

New band Noisettes took a prime spot and opened Tuesday‘s live show, proving that either the BBC are getting desperate or they are genuinely putting faith in new artists. But it was Doves who showed some real class with lead singer Jim Goodwin looking and sounding more and more like Guy Garvey (Elbow) at every performance, as the band showcase the new album Kingdom Of Rust. An ethnic feel this week was added by Rokia Traore, a wonderful singer from Mali. There was also a return for Madeleine Peyroux and Marianne Faithfulll.

On Friday’s show, a real treat: Grand Master Flash!

Tuesday (live) show
  • Noisettes - Don’t Upset The Rhythm
  • Doves - Kingdom Of Rust
  • Rokia Traore - Zen
  • Marianne Faithfull (Chat with JH)
  • Madeleine Peyroux - Instead
  • Marianne Faithfulll - The Crane Wife 3
  • Doves - Winter Hill
Friday show
  • Doves - Kingdom Of Rust
  • Noisettes - Don’t Upset The Rhythm
  • Marianne Faithfull - Hold On Hold On
  • Grand Master Flash (Chat with JH)
  • Rokia Traore - Zen
  • Madeleine Peyroux - River Of Tears
  • Joe Bonamassa - Lonesome Road Blues
  • Doves - Winter Hill
  • Marianne Faithfull - Come And Stay With Me
  • Noisettes - Never Forget You
  • Marianne Faithfull (Chat with JH)
  • Rokia Traore - Tounka
  • Marianne Faithfull - Dear God Please Help Me
  • Doves - 10:03
Doves sounded great, with Kingdom Of Rust delivered like the band has never been away. Fantastic guitar work and dark brooding vocals from one of Manchester’s best bands of our times. Winter Hill, closing the show on Tuesday, builds from a guitar driven opening into another immediate classic. Great stuff. They closed the Friday with 10:03, a slow building guitar epic, transforming into furious bass funk and crashing drums. A competent preview of a good new album.

Noisettes put on a good show - a weird ramshackle bunch of musicians but actually just a three piece, like a modern M People, the lead singer performing on a heart shaped platform and switching to the stand on the drum kit. Don’t Upset The Rhythm sounds a bit dated, but then most things do these days. Never Forget You is a bit Motown and much better 60s style pop. Singer Shingai Shoniwa dons a bass transforming her into a statuesque presence.

Rokia Traore was enchanting and mysterious, her band an incredible mix of jazz funk, soul and African rhythms. I would rather listen to this all show than most of the new stuff the well established British artists are peddling at the moment. Tounka was amazing, Traore on guitar ans showing Shoniwa how it is really done. Really powerful music with her vocals and her band giving it everything. Could be the performance of the series.

Madeleine Peyroux this time round was more like Devon Sproule, at the mic with a guitar for Instead. She doesn’t look entirely comfortable but then again her voice is an acquired taste and never puts you at ease in the first place. The arrangement of Instead is a bit twee but conjures images of dusty sunsets and campfires out on the plains. River Of Tears is a slower more captivating piece. This is music to get lost in. Peyroux’s vocals are much more solid and controlled these days.

A big surprise was a turn from singer and guitarist Joe Bonamassa which suffered horribly from Jools stomping all over his great work with his usual piano - he managed nearly two shows without getting stuck in. It was pretty standard modern rhythm and blues fare with at least one stolen Clapton riff (who was mentioned in the introduction and then in a brief chat later). An attempt to get things moving, it ended up a bit messy, and apart from a wonderful guitar break late on that could have gone on for days, and nothing special, which is a shame.

Marianne Faithfull, who I hoped wouldn’t sing, unfortunately did. Jools talks to her first about her new record and showed some footage of the singer at her haunting best - when she could get away with her unique voice . And to accompany this she advises new musicians to be themselves and not copy people. Complete with lyric sheet, which was a constant distraction, The Crane Wife 3 and Hold On Hold On were performed with spirit and a steely determination but was well past her best vocally. She now sings much deeper which is horrible. Come And Stay With Me was better but vaguely out of tune at times. And this is the problem with Jools. He believes in legends. Legends that never die. Legends that can go on forever. I would have thought he would have learned from the Glen Campbell ‘issue’ last year and countless other old-timers trying to recapture the glory years. The BBC needs to get better at working out who still has it and who doesn’t. As horrible as that sounds, no one wants to see and hear someone struggling. Dear God Please Help Me is appropriately named. A great song, brilliant guitars, awful vocals.

Jools also interviewed hip hop legend Grand Master Flash which was much more natural and entertaining. Yes he has a new record to plug (everyone does) but he has a genuine passion for a musical genre that has been ridiculed in the past twenty years. There is some great archive of Debby Harry rapping. He performs in the second half. I say performed, the piece has no name and was a glorious mix of old-school scratching with proper vinyl! Absolutely amazing skills and a demonstration of how it should be done.

Another mixed bag, both good and bad. Doves excellent, as is Madeleine Peyroux and Rokia Traore who put in the best performance of the night with the powerful Tounka. Noisettes are entertaining even if their approach doesn’t work and Faithfull was exactly as expected. At least her band were good. In the end GMF almost stole the show…

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Neil Young - Fork In The Road Album Review (2009)

So happy to get this to review for The Music Magazine. A really interesting album motivated by Young's LincVolt project for alternative automotive fuel.

The review:

What do you do if you are a 63 year old American musical legend, an inspiration to millions, who has been through just about everything it is possible to go through - both personally and politically? You keep doing what you do best and thankfully Neil Young is still doing that. On the surface, Fork In The Road is an automotive-themed concept album highlighting Young's own obsession with a project to create an alternative power supply for cars (the LincVolt project is using his own 1959 Lincoln Continental as a prototype) but it follows the blatant political objections of Living With War in a much more concise and direct way. Young has created a fairly ordinary garage rock (see what he did there?) album celebrating the world of the automobile and fused in some ironic commentary about the environmentally destructive pastime. This approach will ultimately divide fans and critics but knowing what Young is now dedicating his life to, it all makes sense. And this process has created a decent album.

To begin with a criticism, Fork In The Road does not start well. Opener When Worlds Collide is a mess of muddy guitars, laboured drums and tuneless vocals - Young has never had the most stable of voices but some the world's greatest poets have questionable vocal ability, Dylan to name one. In the second verse, he seems to lose his voice all together and go off on a ramble but the song does set the scene for a great American road trip: "Cruising down Route 66 where the guys and gals used to get their the old days...", he reminisces, followed by "Running low on the people's fuel, riding in something that's really cool... on the proud highway". There are always two sides to Young's lyrics. Fuel Line continues this trend, as a simplistic strained old-fashioned blues song. It falls flat as shouts of "Fill her up!" are limply delivered but behind this crass exterior is a genuine message with some more great lines, including "She's not the car that she used to be, she wants to take you and she wants to take me, into the future - that's her destiny. Young's passion eventually comes through with twenty seconds to go.

Just Singing A Song is a distinct improvement. From the outset the guitars shine with a vibrancy last heard on Sleeps With Angels, before Young adds his own unique vocal melody. The message here is simple: actions not words. It is very much an ensemble piece with glorious choral backing vocals adding depth and softness to the spiky guitar work. Johnny Magic pulls everything together in a vaguely comedic style with a lament for Jonathan Goodwin, the mechanic working with Young on the LincVolt project. Young's reference to Goodwin as 'a motor-head messiah' is faintly unnerving. Moving on, Cough Up The Bucks is superb as a meeting of styles and influences, from Young's pseudo-rapping (take note Bono!) to the shimmering guitars, into a delicately controlled rant asking where the money has gone. Young weaves in several characters for this story which is one of the most ambitious songs he has written, highlighting both the absurd selfishness of the situation, and his own vision with "'s all about my's all about my world...".

Get Behind The Wheel is another steady blues track with more great backing from Young's band. You keep expecting another political motivated rant at any minute but it never happens. So this becomes a neat preacher-free interlude. The same could be said for Off The Road, at least in terms of pace. This proves that Young can rock out like a furious teenager but then slow things down. His voice is as good as it has ever been, coupled with fragile strings, only briefly getting heavy into the last minute. Hit The Road could be written by Nick Cave and would fit perfectly on Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus as a companion piece to Hiding All Away, thanks to wonderful backing vocals. This marks the start of the last and best trilogy of songs on the album. The mood changes to serious for Light A Candle, which pays homage (intentional or not?) to Chris Rea's Road To Hell. Another superb vocal of hope and optimism from Young instantly captures the attention, followed by more great guitars.

Fork In The Road closes with the title track, a near six minute rant with Young as another character, marked with a deep lower-register vocal. The song is near-perfect country-folk-rock, full of the rambling of an old, but wise, mind. "I got hope...but you can't eat hope" is followed by "There's a bailout comin' but it's not for me...It's for all those creeps watching tickers on TV". Young lays on the irony way too thick and the wires get crossed - telling us "Download sounds like shit". It is a bizarre turn. Things pick up with "Keep on blogging 'til the power goes out". As the vocals get deeper and more sinister, he creates an apocalyptic world in which the only thing that matters is missing the 'Raiders game' when your flat-screen gets repossessed. And then comes the money shot: "'s for all those creeps hiding what they do". With that, the album is over. What starts as an optimistic environmentally-friendly road trip, in which he will prove to the world that by ending America's dependency on oil there will be no more wars, now ends with the global financial crisis. Young is still tackling the small issues then...

Within all the greasy overall-wearing car-based metaphor is a real sense of reality; a finger firmly on the social and political pulse, like it has always been. It would be difficult to understand why Neil Young would do anything else than to comment on current times, particularly when the world is under the clouds of global economic crisis and impending threat. And there is no better muse than misery. While Springsteen has his head full of dreams, and Dylan is removing himself from the political lure, Young has his feet on solid ground, still toiling and campaigning for the common 'middle-American' man. The title of the album, and indeed the title track itself, represents a divided America with citizens faced with a choice of left or right...but at the same time it is the perfect analogy for convergence, as the old broken America of Bush makes way for the new historic vision of Obama. Whether Fork In The Road is remembered as a classic like After The Goldrush and Harvest is a matter of debate but it certainly is an album marking a point in history.

Fork In The Road may have been inspired by one idea but it has fuelled many more. (sorry it had to be done...)
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Monday, 13 April 2009

Later…with Jools Holland (Series 34, Show 1 - 7th and 10th April 2009)

Another year, another series of the seminal Music television show Later…with Jools Holland on the BBC. It remains the only decent ‘live’ music programme showcasing the best new music from current artists, exclusive performances and interviews with established stars and the occasional up-and-coming promising new talent. So that’s enough blatant PR, what about the line-up? For the first two shows of this series, Franz Ferdinand are plugging their new album, The Specials are back (for reasons best known to them) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, also with new music to promote. Jools’ special guest is Carol King.

Tuesday (live)
  • Franz Ferdinand - No You Girls
  • The Specials - Gangsters
  • Carole King (chat with JH at the piano)
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
  • Carole King - You’ve Got A Friend
  • The Mummers - March Of The Dawn
  • The Specials - A Message To You Rudy
  • Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses
Franz Ferdinand hardly provided the best opening to a new series with a faintly embarrassed lacklustre No You Girls, proving yet again that the band’s best songs are behind them. They open and close the live show, ending with first single Ulysses - again failing to engage or entertain.

The Specials. It’s hard to know what to say about such a great band, reformed and now sounding like their own tribute act. Terry Hall, one the world’s most influential and important musicians, looked and sounded like he really didn’t want to be there. Maybe that was part of the act…who knows. Opening with a very spirited Gangsters, the band still look like a bunch of individuals. If anything A Message To You Rudy was even more uncomfortable. Much of this has to be down to the conspicuous absence of Jerry Dammers who describes the band reunion as a ‘takeover’. For many he is (or was) the heart and soul of the band.

Expecting some much needed injection of pace and energy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs plodded through new single Zero, a mid-tempo drawl of a song with Karen O doing her best to sexy things up. She is a great performer but the new songs just do not capture the band’s wonderful presence. They have now gone all 80s (like every other band on the planet) with mixed results.

Speaking of performers, the brilliant Carole King added the class this week, struggling with her top-end vocals but providing a great rendition of You’ve Got A Friend at the piano - Jools resisted the temptation to stomp all over it and left her to it.

This week’s interesting band are The Mummers (which everyone knows is the name for a medieval group performing folk plays). The slightly disjointed orchestral pop of March Of The Dawn is complete with staccato trumpet and strings and ethereal vocals from Raissa Khan-Panni, a curious mix of Björk and Jerri Ryan. The song does its best to draw you in but you are never at ease.

  • Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses
  • The Specials - Gangsters
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
  • Carole King (chat with JH at the piano)
  • The Mummers - Wonderland
  • The Specials - Man At C&A
  • Franz Ferdinand - No You Girls
  • The Specials (chat with JH)
  • Karima Francis - Francis
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll
  • Alex from Franz Ferdinand (chat with JH)
  • Carole King - (You Make Me Feel Like ) A Natural Woman
  • The Mummers - March Of The Dawn
  • Franz Ferdinand - Turn It On
  • The Specials - Little Bitch
Starting where the band left off on Tuesday, Franz Ferdinand kick off with Ulysses - a better take to be fair with much more commitment but just as much end result. The Specials rattle through Gangsters once more, showing at least that the band are consistent. Starting as predicted, Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform Zero again. Karen O is in danger of becoming a parody of herself, her vocals descending into a series of squeaks and moans like the human embodiment of R2D2.

The intro out of the way, Jools chats some more with Carole King about her early musical career and the re-release of Tapestry. He shows some more archive footage of King in her irresistible prime, and then gets obsessed with the album cover (which shows King weaving).

There is more of The Mummers, with Khan-Panni switching from keyboard to keyboard then to vocals within the opening thirty seconds, only to return for a messy instrumental break. It is interesting stuff but could quickly become a bit one dimensional. Or maybe it is too much to execute live, suffering from over-ambition.

Back to Carole King, So Far Away is another emotional classic complete with exquisite piano playing and depth. Sometimes it takes a great performer to lift the quality of the show and this time it has worked.

The Specials seal their own fate with the terrible Man At C&A - even less relevant now than it was then and not the band’s finest hour, it sounds like a new song. Again Terry Hall shows no emotion or energy as he stands motionless. Then Franz Ferdinand launch into No You Girls again. What little interest I have at the half way point is slipping away…

And comes the bit I have been waiting for: Jools talking to The Specials. Frankly the interview is a mess and Hall is not part of it. What the hell? The band claim that they are kicking off their reunion at the BBC which was the last place they performed as a band (Ghost Town on TOTP back in the day…). Jools shows some archive footage, as he often does, of the band in their prime on the Whistle Test. Hall, who was never the most committed of performers, at least had an aggressive charm back then - a youthful exuberance. That is now replaced with nonchalance and bitterness. Jools at last asks the question: where is Dammers? The band asked him to join, he refused, let’s not talk about it. Then Jools revealed that JD phoned him and asked if the band would be on and asked if JH would not introduce the band as ’The Specials’. Love, apparently, is the answer to all these things. Then they joke about the recession. Sour tastes all round.

Moving on…Jools introduces a new talent: Karima Francis. WOW, what a voice. The song she performs jumps around all over the place, all pinned together with delicate classical guitar, but her voice remains a source of interest. This is quickly followed by Heads Will Roll by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, another new song that doesn’t quite get moving, doing nothing new or interesting musically. Maybe the band are not enjoying the forced live situation as much as one of their own shows. It all ends in embarrassment and even Karen doesn’t believe what she is doing.

Jools breaks things up with a quick chat with Alex from Franz Ferdinand about the band’s name - not very original but more interesting than the music. Then another treat from Carole King with (You Make Me Feel Like ) A Natural Woman. She does her best to get the audience, and other artists, involved… and it almost works. She has single-handedly transformed one of the worst Laters into a few moments of joy. Raissa Khan-Panni and The Mummers have helped and another outing of March Of The Dawn proves that it is a grower.

And then back to Franz Ferdinand with Turn It On. Much better than the two ‘singles’. Alex is possessed by the ghost of Elvis and it all has dark energy, like a forgotten Jesus And Mary Chain b-side. Another one to download for the iPod. With 5 minutes of the show remaining, the new series finally gets moving…

Then The Specials close things with the vile Little Bitch, a Dammers song. Not sure what the point of that choice was - but I hope for everyone’s sake that it was a cry for help and not to thrust the knife in some more.

So not a great show (or the start of the series). I failed to be engaged yet again by good bands with new songs. Carole King saves the day, The Mummers were interesting, as was Karima Francis. Shame that one of the best British bands of a generation The Specials decided to wash their dirty laundry in public and look so pissed off about. One lesson here: If you aren’t going to do something right, don’t do it at all. It will only end in tears.
-- CS

Friday, 3 April 2009

Lisa Hannigan - Sea Sew Album Review (2009)

I was very interested to hear this album. It was out last year in Ireland and the US and is now released in the UK. I heard a couple of tracks and the signs were great. But the album is a bit of a let down with four excellent songs and a lot of fluffy padding which does little to set it aside from many other albums in the same style.

The review:

Best known for her wonderful collaborations with fellow Irish musician Damien Rice, folk singer Lisa Hannigan is now a fully fledged solo artist. However badly her relationship with Rice ended, it has certainly generated a keen and determined motivation. Her debut Sea Sew, complete with her own embroidery of dice on the cover, was released in Ireland and the US in 2008. A US tour with Jason Mraz followed, earning Hannigan crucial exposure and marking her place on the musical map. It is strange that we have had to wait until now for the album to be released in the UK, but in 2009, here it is. And expectation makes way for ultimate disappointment. Like the natural forces it professes to aspire to, Sea Sew crashes and swells, then ripples and subsides into a flat mill pond.

Opener Ocean And A Rock is a mesmerising metaphor-filled love song, with Hannigan's delicious musical vocals delivering such wonders as "...I feel you in the pocket of my fingers wrap around your words and take the shape of games we play" followed by "I spoon you into my coffee cup; spin you through a delicate wash...I wear you all day". She conveys a level of depth and involvement Dido can only dream about. There are clear Damien Rice influences in the darker moments and Hannigan's band for Sea Sew impressively includes Cathy Davey providing backing vocals, and Vyvienne Long and Tom Osander borrowed from Rice; they provide a wealth of talent and deep resonating music from the start. Venn Diagram, proving that even the most simple of subjects can inspire an idea, is equally as effective. Sitting somewhere between Marianne Faithful and Martha Wainwright, Hannigan delivers a wordless vocal chorus that gets darker and more menacing at each visit. Musically the delicate brass is a wonderful touch.

Sea Song is softer and whimsical, with an almost Eastern European Romany folk sound. If anything it becomes a relentless ramble but is over before it has a chance to become a distraction. But the signs of decent are becoming clear. From here Splishy Splashy (a contender for worst song title of the decade, let alone the year) is a horribly dull nursery rhyme. It is all a bit too light and airy with little substance. Thankfully this leads to the best song on the album: I Don't Know mimics Edie Brickell at her magnificent best. The sensual charm of this folk-pop love song is an instance highlight and some of the best song writing: "If you eat what you've been given, or push it round your plate...I'd like to cook for you all the same...I would want you, I am game" captures the innocent recollections of Kate Rusby. What emerges is an engaging mix of instruments, some more great brass and a slightly wild liberated ending. Excellent.

Completely different, but almost as good, Keep it All is dark and haunting, cold yet emotional. The song is all sharp edges and angles complete with buzzing Stylophone and a busy multi-layered outro. Compelling stuff. The Bert Jansch cover Courting Blues, also covered by Nick Drake, is not as out-of-place as it could be - treated with respect but with the now familiar Hannigan stamp. On the down side, it does drift away into wordless vocals and too much 'atmosphere'. Pistachio is another low, with an attempt at the same empty chorus formula, all sound and no substance. It could easily be Jack Johnson and a horrible turn for the worst. Expecting a final lift, Teeth is the big bold ballad. No structure but plenty of emotion and huge sweeping movements. Hannigan's vocals, however, are superb. But it is the start of another, and final, down turn.

The final song on Sea Sew should be a worthy closer but Lille is a limp reworking of Coldplay's Kingdom Come, with toy instruments and simple plucked strings. It is clear why this was a free download lead single. The attempt at a delicate production makes for a frustrating listen and the subdued ending to such an annoying collection of ebbs and flows is worthy of the oceanic theme. Obvious as the comparison sounds, and maybe that was the idea, it fails to make an impact musically and suffers from under-ambition.

There is much more to Lisa Hannigan than just a musician living in the shadow of Damien Rice, but to reach her full potential, she really needs to step out into the new light. There are flashes of brilliance on Sea Sew but most of it is way too comfortable. The tendency to fill empty spaces with wordless vocals, the overuse of brass sections, an atmosphere created by low bass strings - all become too obvious. In spite of a promising start and four great songs, not enough happens with the remainder. It is a shame as there is evidence of well crafted, lovingly conceived and genuinely thought-out ideas on Sea Sew. But only half of it truly translates into a great album.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

(Another) New *FREE* Nine Inch Nails album

Check out the link here.

The track list in full...
  1. intro skit
  2. everybody's doing it (featuring chris martin, jay-z AND bono)
  3. black t-shirt
  4. pussygrinder (featuring sheryl crow)
  5. coffin on the dancefloor
  6. this rhythm is infected
  7. slide to the dark side
  8. even closer (featuring justin timberlake and maynard james keenan)
  9. on the list (she's not)
  10. clap trap crack slap
  11. laid, paid and played (featuring fergie of the black eyed peas and al jourgensen)
  12. feel like being dead again
  13. still hurts (featuring alicia keys)
  14. outro skit

And I nearly fell for it. What is the date again???