Monday, 31 May 2010

2010 Music Chart - May

A really busy month with some fantastic new albums. First up The Dead Weather return with the dark twisted Sea Of Cowards, LCD Soundsystem with their final act (probably) This Is Happening and the superb Brothers by The Black Keys. If that is not enough, The National's great new album High Violet and Pendulum follow up In Silico with the water world inspired Immersion.
  1. I Speak Because I Can by Laura Marling
  2. This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem
  3. The Betrayed by LostProphets
  4. Brothers by The Black Keys
  5. The Winter of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit
  6. Sea Of Cowards by The Dead Weather
  7. The Quickening by Kathryn Williams
  8. Acolyte by Delphic
  9. The Courage Of Others by Midlake
  10. High Violet by The National
  11. July Flame by Laura Veirs
  12. Year Of The Black Rainbow by Coheed & Cambria
  13. Immersion by Pendulum
  14. When This Was The Future by Lisa O Piu
  15. Handmade Life by Chris Wood
  16. End Times by Eels
  17. Fire Like This by Blood Red Shoes
  18. Graceful Bow (EP) by Jason Ward
  19. Rotten Pear by Andrew Vincent

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

It is hard to imagine life without LCD Soundsystem. If rumours are to be believed This Is Happening is the third and last album from the project led by US producer James Murphy. No doubt he will go on to other things, and continue to make music, but not in this guise. Talk about quitting while you are ahead. The band’s eponymous debut, with all its faults, is a huge exploration into modern dance-punk: exciting, unpredictable and compelling. Perversely the album’s best moments are not the more mellow echoes of what was to follow but instead the spontaneous frantic ‘straight-from-the-mind-of-a-genius’ ‘lay-it-down-in-one-take’ masterpieces: Movement, On Repeat, the mighty Losing My Edge and the epic takes of Yeah (it is debatable if these last two are actually part of the album as it is presented as a two disc pack - a mere technicality…). This is followed by the more sedate and coherent Sound of Silver, equally brilliant yet more focused and ‘planned’ record. So it comes as no surprise that This Is Happening follows perfectly to create one of the most impressive trilogies of any band in the last fifty years.

This Is Happening is one hour and nine songs of sublime storytelling. Opener Dance Yrself Clean is a very understated and sedate beginning mainly thanks to a brilliant use of volume coupled with the fact that Murphy‘s voice was ‘completely blown out‘ when the band recorded the song; the final result is a ’steroid’ enhanced Murphy who is both thoughtful and reflective, a distant voice musing about the future and the past with the first signs that the end is nigh: ‘Present company, excluded every time…present company, the best that you can find’ and ‘we’ve got to bring our results, I want to play ‘til the time comes, but there’s a string of divorces; you go and throw your little hands up…’. Things kick off at the three minute point with a thumping buzzing full-volume keyboard riff to add an injection of madness to the song which remains levelled and controlled. Murphy descends into howling (presumably the drugs kick in at this point) ‘it’s your show’ before the last act. The line ‘everybody’s getting younger, it’s the end of an era it’s true’ has a definite air of finality about it but it’s the closing shot, barely audible over stoic handclaps: ‘we should try a little harder, in the tedious march of the few…’ that stings. This was the last song recorded for the album and it feels like it. But the real story is yet to unfold…

So with the scene set, the album dives into the shortest and most inane song Drunk Girls. This is a social and political rant with just a loan or two from Blur (not just Girls & Boys but the melody from Tracy Jacks is in there somewhere…). Great lyrics aside, the message of late night carefree club life is lost within a dull repetitive delivery. Without this the album would be as close to perfect as it can get. That is how much this moment of poor judgement lets it down. Moving on, the album just gets better and better. One Touch is a whirling old-school dance track led by Bowie-esque Murphy and the wonderful Nancy Whang providing ‘American Scum’ shout outs. More organic but equally Bowie-esque is the wonderful All I Want, blending soaring guitars with some of the best vocals Murphy has cut to record - imperfect and natural, full of nonchalance and emotion. A great keyboard solo breaks into the three minute point. If anything this is layered a bit thick into the last two minutes as it all threatens to go off the rails. But it stays on even into the shambles of a conclusion.

I Can Change is another great song. You would be forgiven for thinking that your iPod had suddenly skipped to your 80s electronica play list and this was a long lost Yazoo or early Depeche Mode track. The love song of self-doubt moves from the head-over-heels hopelessness of ‘never change’ to the ultimate and inevitable ‘I can change’. The line ‘love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry…and this coming from me’ is sublime ironic writing given what is to come. You Wanted A Hit is the nine minute (not quite) centre piece for an album that is trying to reconcile the past with the future, to justify lack of success while at the same time realising that doing your best is all you can ask for. A shimmering intro is slowly taken over by a thumping drum track that feels a lot less than three minutes before Murphy starts. He opens with ‘You wanted a hit, but maybe we don’t do hits. I try and try, it ends up feeling kind of wrong’. The key line here is ‘And so you wanted a hit, well this is how we do hits. You wanted a hit. But this is not what we do…You wanted it real, but can you tell me what’s real?’. If one moment of the album sums up the situation it is this. Murphy is a delicious combination of bitter and confident, like a burden has been lifted and in an attempt to sum up the band’s lack of commercial success they are both ironic and funny (‘Yeah, you wanted the time, but maybe I can’t do time. Oh we both know that’s an awful line, but it doesn’t make it wrong’). Brilliant.

The last trio of songs on This Is Happening continue the brilliance. Pow Pow could be the reworked remnant of something from the first album. Murphy is in ‘talky’ mode, part planned, part improvised charm. All this set to tribal drums and looped beats, entrancing and engaging into the last psychedelic mesmerising two minutes. Somebody’s Calling Me is equally compelling and haunting with plodding vocals fused with tuneless cold synths. It feels like the antithesis of On Repeat - drawing you in to an odd shapeless world. Closing with the appropriately upbeat and feel-good Talking Heads inspired Home, This Is Happening refuses to stumble across the finish line. Instead it races into a new world of sounds and textures with considerable carefree style.

There is a lot to be said for quitting while you are ahead. If this isn’t LCD Soundsystem’s swan song, it sure feels like it. This is self-awareness without self-indulgence. The problem is this is not hopeless, messy and pointless; it is the sound of a band at the height of its power, analogous to Nirvana’s In Utero. But maybe that’s the point - the thought of continuing is stifling and suffocating for James Murphy. The result of this anxiety is that This Is Happening is wonderfully liberated, comfortable in its acceptance of a predetermined and inevitable fate and hopeful of an unknown yet exciting future.
-- CS

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The National - High Violet

High Violet is the fifth album from Brooklyn’s The National. As you would expect from a band composed of two pairs of brothers (Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Bryan and Scott Devendorf), The National is a cohesive unit and on the strength of High Violet the band is getting better with time and age. Following the impressive Boxer and before that the 2005 masterpiece Alligator, it is sad that the band are almost completely overlooked in the UK and is only just starting to get the recognition it deserves. Hopefully High Violet will prove this injustice.

The National takes standard guitar-led indie and take it to the next level; levelling instruments, generating melody from vocals, and pace from percussion. Lead singer Matt Berninger is a vocalist of the ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ variety - always in command but letting the band provide harmonies on request.

At the centre of High Violet is the masterful Bloodbuzz Ohio. A great choice for the first single, the song is an expertly crafted combination of musical arrangement, drums and melody. Berninger provides a commanding Nick Cave baritone worthy of the brilliant lyrics: ‘I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees’ and ‘I never thought about love when I thought about home’. More understated but arguably better, Runaway is a work of beauty. Reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot, Berninger is again superb: ‘what makes you think I enjoy being lead to the flood?’ is a great line, as is the simple motto: ‘we don’t bleed when we don’t fight’, each paired with exquisite arrangement, fragile guitars and subtle drums. In the second half an elegant brass section is introduced and slowly builds.

Conversation 16 completes a wonderful trio of songs. The best writing on the album, and bittersweet juxtaposition of nasty words set to angelic music, it is another masterpiece. This is followed by the reminiscent storytelling and stadium-bound England (‘you must be loving your life in the rain’ sums it up perfectly). This quality washes through the entire album, from the muddy guitars and soft harmonies of opener Terrible Love, which appears to start halfway through and feels more like a big finale than an introduction, to the wonderfully intriguing ’nuns versus priests’ child-like game of Little Faith with drum, bass and string combination. The music rarely falters. Only the rambling Lemonworld and the odd mid-tempo closer Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks let the side down.

High Violet is a truly beautiful album, brilliantly written and executed. The song writing duo of Berninger and Aaron Dessner with contributions from the band prove that The National are as workmanlike as they are proficient. And they are helped along the way by an equally proficient group of ‘hired help’ including Sufjan Stevens who provides harmonium and vocals on Afraid of Everyone. Always poetic, deep and often uplifting, in spite of a dour demeanour, the band place themselves on the right side of seriousness and melancholy thanks to brilliant arrangements and a clear positive sound. Even in its more sedate moments, the music is both intimate and engaging. This alone makes High Violet The National’s most accomplished album and completes a wonderful trio of records.
-- CS

The Dead Weather - Sea of Cowards

It is no surprise that Jack White’s current musical output is via The Dead Weather; the band caused a storm when its line-up was announced and the first sounds of the debut album Horehound began to reach our airwaves. The involvement of The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, Queens of the Stone Age multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita and the ever reliable Jack Lawrence from White’s ‘other band The Raconteurs was as delicious as any ‘super group’ (with the exception of Them Crooked Vultures) and the debut album (and supporting gigs) did not disappoint. So it is with a sense of trepidation that we venture toward the follow-up Sea of Cowards.

One of the big problems with The Dead Weather is that of style over substance. With the songs the band is superb; always interesting, brimming with ideas, textures and sounds, all with a growing familiarity that defines the core sound. The risk here is that the second album was rushed and like The Raconteurs fate, things were stretched just a little too far. A promising debut never transformed into a lucrative endeavour to stand the test of time, and with White’s attention span the band is doomed to be rejected for ’new’ projects. But for now The Dead Weather is an important outlet for White and Mosshart who don’t seem to be able to get things together with their respective ’day jobs’. Sea of Cowards proves this serendipity.

As with the debut, when The Dead Weather is good, it is very very good. From the dirty buzzing guitars of opener Blue Blood Blues, one of only a few songs featuring White on lead vocals - for the most he hands the microphone to Mosshart - this sets the scene by fusing space-aged keyboards with clanking tin-pot percussion. Typical of many songs, there is no discernable chorus; instead relying on recurring themes. Conversely Hustle and Cuss is just one big chorus, this time with Mosshart, a delicious bass line and more pulsating keys. The pace quickens for a quick instrumental followed by a duel vocal scream-fest finale. Great start.

The Difference Between Us and I’m Mad could be one song in two distinct movements. That said, the latter has prog-rock aspirations of its own, switching from a military style drum dance loop to a superb musical interchange led by a central riff and more of the ever determined AM on vocal duties. Another huge guitar/vocal chorus is the core of Die By The Drop with added piano and JW on backing. Then comes one of the highlights: I Can’t Hear You has Mosshart delivering a very passable White impression and a great example of everything working well together.

Issues plague the second half of Sea of Cowards. Gasoline, even with a solid organ arrangement, is a bit of everything else, self-indulgent and ideas without a clear thought. Looking at the Invisible Man is horrible song writing and lacks a much needed structure and Jawbreaker feels like nothing new. But No Horse, with its 70s soft rock feel, meshing into thrash guitars then back to lazy riff, is mostly well judged. And as expected, the most interesting song is left to last. Old Mary starts with White in demented preacher mode and unfolds like a cult movie. It quickly descends into a wonderful blend of piano, guitars, static and odd sampling. A great ending.

Sea of Cowards is more consistent than Horehound. That said, the core songs from the debut (Hang You From The Heavens, Treat Me Like Your Mother and I Cut Like a Buffalo) remain the best from the project so far. Some of Sea of Cowards is very close, and as a whole it is arguably more focused, better musically, definitely darker and more involved, but it remains the flip-side of an intriguing coin. The sporadic nature of the song writing gives an improvised edge without making the whole thing sound thrown together and he duo of White and Mosshart share vocal duties and compliment each other perfectly. Backed up by Fertita and Lawerence, the band remains a strange, spontaneous and wonderful collaboration.
-- CS

Thursday, 20 May 2010

New Laura Marling songs

Two new songs performed live by Laura Marling in session on WNYC Spinning on Air. Brilliant stuff.

Don't Ask Me Why

Rest In The Bed

Ivor Novello Awards - Lily Allen and Natasha Khan

This year's Ivor Novello song writing awards has delivered Lily Allen three awards and a much deserved 'Best Contemporary Song' for Daniel by Bat for Lashes (Natasha Khan). About time too.

The winners in full:


Song: Daniel
Writer/s: Natasha Khan
Performed By: Bat for Lashes
UK Publisher/s: Chrysalis Music


Song: The Fear
Writer/s: Lily Allen / Greg Kurstin
Performed By: Lily Allen
UK Publisher/s: Universal Music Publishing / EMI Music Publishing


Broadcast: Desperate Romantics
Composer: Daniel Pemberton
UK Publisher/s: Moncur Street Music


Album: Sunny Side Up
Writer/s: Paolo Nutini
Performed By: Paolo Nutini
UK Publisher/s: Warner/Chappell Music


Song: The Fear
Writer/s: Lily Allen / Greg Kurstin
Performed By: Lily Allen
UK Publisher/s: Universal Music Publishing / EMI Music Publishing


Film: Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Composer: John Powell
UK Publisher/s: EMI Music Publishing


Game: Killzone 2
Composer/s: Joris de Man
Developer: Guerrilla Games
UK Publisher/s: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe


Imogen Heap


Paul Weller


Trevor Horn


Lily Allen and Greg Kurstin


Neil Sedaka


Sir Tim Rice


Sir Peter Maxwell Davies


Johnny Marr

Ryan Adams 'sci-fi' concept album and new song.

Here is an article from Pitchfork about the new Ryan Adams album Orion. It's only on Vinyl and not on CD:


You can hear a track from the album: Electrosnake here:


The Dead Weather hidden 'songs'

This is a weird YouTube video showing two hidden songs on the vinyl edition of Sea of Cowards, the new album from The Dead Weather. Weird indeed...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Later... with Jools Holland - Series 36 Episode 5.

There are usually two things that lure me to watch Later… with Jools Holland: A band I love showcasing new material and the show’s tendency to throw in a few ‘unadvertised’ surprises. This week was the turn of LCD Soundsystem who release a new album This Is Happening, out on Monday. Also appearing are The National, a band I have been following for a while but I’ve never been a fan. Until now. Turns out the Brooklyn five piece are easily the best of a really bad show. More and more I seem to be going into a Later review with a heavy heart and this is no exception.

The line-up:
  • Kelis - Acapella
  • Crowded House - Saturday Sun
  • The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio
  • Sam Taylor Wood and Aaron Johnson (Chat with Jools)
  • LCD Soundsystem - Drunk Girls
  • Tracey Thorn - Oh, The Divorces!
  • Crowded House - Don’t Dream It’s Over
  • Kelis (Chat with Jools and Sweet Dreams duet)
  • The National - Anyone’s Ghost
  • Pete Molinari - Streetcar Named Desire
  • LCD Soundsystem - I Can Change
  • Crowded House - Amsterdam
  • Kelis - 4th of July (Fireworks)
  • The National - Terrible Love
I’m not going to dwell on this too much but the main problem with Later this week was how uninspired and dull it is. The good music was downbeat (mainly thanks to The National) and the upbeat music was bad (thanks to the direction taken by LCD Soundsystem and the awful Kelis). Even Jools looked (even by his standards) unenergised and almost bored with the chore of hosting what is the BBC’s flagship music performance show. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that it has now been pushed so far down the Friday night schedule that it is now on Saturday morning (something he points out with hints of bitterness).

Starting with James Murphy and crew, I’m liking the new direction LCD Soundsystem is taking less and less the more I hear of the new album. Drunk Girls is reworked Blur and I Can Change is like a lost discarded album track from one of many unknown 80s electro-pop bands that were lost in the mire of other more successful 80s electro-pop bands. And that is all we get. Hardly a great advert for a great band. Crowded House (now just one Finn, Neil minus Tim - but with the core founder members of Nick Seymour and Mark Hart) is a shadow of the great band Neil Finn formed nearly 30 years ago. With a new album Intriguer out, we were treated to two new songs: Saturday Sun and Amsterdam - the former better than the latter, plus a spirited but clumsy rendition of Don’t Dream It’s Over.

The shining light here (or maybe the least dark) is The National. The band is proficient, talented and focused, pushing the new album High Violet with three new songs: Bloodbuzz Ohio, Anyone’s Ghost and Terrible Love. Each song is a dour miserablist guitar-fest from the likes of Editors but with melodic elements of Midlake. Great stuff and a wonderful frenetic end to Terrible Love closing the show.

Elsewhere, ex-Everything But The Girl Tracey Thorn trudges through the piano ballad Oh, The Divorces! Even with the string section, the lack of melody and structure was a big surprise from a great talent. Kelis, back with yet another image change opened the show with the Goldfrapp-esque Acapella [sic] complete with over-produced vocals, a rubbish ‘impromptu’ vocal on Sweet Dreams in duet with Jools, and the dull 4th of July (Fireworks). Doesn’t inspire me to go anywhere near her new album Flesh Tones. The interview with Jools is equally dull - she grew up listening to jazz and gospel (there’s a surprise). Jools showed a VT of her last performance of that god-awful ‘I hate you so much right now’ song and I remembered how painful that show was…

The surprise this week was another pointless (tenuous) interview with director Sam Taylor Wood and actor Aaron Johnson taking about the DVD release of the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy. I wanted to hear from The National and James Murphy. And Pete Molinari’s Streetcar Named Desire with Jools and his band is truly horrible. Flat 50s throwback vocals and disjointed music.

Later… with Jools Holland is always a melting pot of musical styles, tastes and textures and so as everything that tries to be ‘everything to all people’, it sometimes ends up being a show that is relegated to selective viewing. It is becoming more miss than hit and I fear the only great music show on UK television is heading into irreversible decline. And now with the late running time, I never watch it at the scheduled time but instead catch it on BBC iPlayer - not something everyone can do but at least you can (reluctantly) skip through the dross. In anticipation of next week, my heart is still heavy…

-- CS

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away Album Review (2010)

So Runs The World Away, a line taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is the sixth album from American singer, musician and now author, Josh Ritter. Ever since 2003’s glorious masterpiece Hello Starling (later re-released in 2005), Ritter has proved that he is an exceptional song writer and So Runs The World Away, albeit lacking the final result of Hello Starling and the equally fine follow-up The Animal Years, is a solid album. It is full of few surprises but immense familiarity.

One important trait Ritter has shown in recent album is a huge sense of diversity. He is serious and moody one minute then light and breezy the next, deftly blending stories of life and death, love and hate, and weaving campfire tales with deeply personal issues. Ritter is constantly branching out while conscious of the fact that boundaries exist and he must stay within them to remain ‘himself’. This doesn’t always translate to really great music on So Runs The World Away - it is to all intents and purposes a safe place, but is much easier to accept than 2007’s The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Moving swiftly through the one minute opener of Curtains, Change of Time kicks things off in style with a simple rolling acoustic guitar and vocal melody. This tale of having a dream about being washed up on a beach opening with the line: ‘I had a dream last night. I dreamt that I was swimming. And the stars up above, directionless and drifting’ builds beautifully for the first half before a magnificent choral mid-section framed with soaring guitar work. The opening line becomes: ‘I had a dream last night. And when I opened my eyes. Your shoulder blade, your spine were shorelines in the moonlight’ transforms into a love song.

The Curse is one of the songs that is too easy to get lost in. A five minute lament of lyrical dancing broken only by a short ‘brass’ instrumental at the three minute point. Other than that it is a voice and a piano waltz the likes of which Rufus Wainwright can only dream about. The final line: ‘Long ago on the ship she asked why pyramids. He said "Think of them as an immense invitation.". She asks "Are you cursed?". He says "I think that I'm cured.". Then he kissed her and hoped that she'd forget that question’ is one of the best Ritter has written.

Southern Pacifica continues the maritime theme, dangerously mid-tempo and only lifting for the duel vocal chorus. Another love song, this time for the mythical Roxy Anne. In contrast Rattling Locks could not be more different - a dark gloomy Mark Lanegan meets Nick Cave. ‘I had a dream that I was dying. But it wasn’t a nightmare, I was real peaceful as I fell. And if I was falling into heaven, heaven must be hotter than the bible tells. I woke up sorry I was living’ is utterly brilliant, complete with soft backing vocals and grinding guitars. Very different from the usual Ritter. Speaking of Nick Cave… Folk Bloodbath is another masterpiece and probably the best song on the album. Set to a tradition tune and Ritter moulding the song around ‘The angels laid her/him/them away’, this is a country murder ballad featuring Stackalee (Stagger Lee) and Louis Collins. It is a brilliantly observed piece of folk Americana. Lark shifts the mood again, bringing back the jolly guitars and Ritter in more playful upbeat guise. Complete with empty lyric chorus, this arrives like a Simon & Garfunkel-esque breath of fresh air. More fine lyrics: ‘I am assured, yes I am assured yes. I am assured that peace will come to me. A peace that can yes, surpass the speed yes, of my understanding and my need.’. Brilliant.

In a similar way Lantern is a positive flag-waving epic but suffers terribly from being stuck in the middle ground. Even an injection of drums and a spirited instrumental half way only just pulls it from the mire. This should work but smacks of that Springsteen song that was rejected for being too patriotic and radio-friendly. An enthusiastic final minute brings the song to a close. The Remnant (like Rattling Locks to South Pacifica) is a complete change yet again. Brilliantly written but questionably executed - the pounding bass and drums quickly become an annoyance - this is a second chalk and cheese, the words coming thick and fast and not always engaging. A definite lull. Likewise See How Man Was Made is sweet and different but lacks the substance we would expect from such a great song writer.

Back on track, Another New World threatens to return to Wainwright territory but this is fortunately back to what Josh Ritter does best, rescuing So Runs The World Away and forming a strong final trilogy. This is an achingly beautiful slice of storytelling, a tale brilliantly told and unfolding at an engaging pace. This is the maritime themed epicentre of the album, focusing on the quest for discovery and stretching oneself farther than possible. Easily the best lyrics on the album, if not the best Ritter has produced. Orbital is another upbeat waltz filled with vocal melody and military drums. Closer Long Shadows ensures that So Runs The World Away does not fall flat in the second heart. Borrowing heavily from Man Burning but a different approach, this shows Ritter’s lighter side.

At nearly an hour So Runs The World Away never feels over long or padded. It rolls along at its own pace, sometimes taking its time, often laboured but always interesting. A strong first half leads to a trio of ill-judged gambles before a strong finish. A frustrating listen in the moments of self-indulgence but given the wealth of material around these misgivings, Ritter pulls it off. And he brings together a great troupe of musicians together for So Runs The World Away including fellow musician and wife Dawn Landes on backing vocals, and long-time bass player Jack Hickman. Rittter’s song writing is second to none and always delivers. It would just be nice if from time to time he would exercise better judgement and listen to his head rather than his heart.
-- CS

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Thea Gilmore Election song - My Voice

Thea Gilmore has a new song written on 6th May 2010 and entitled My Voice. It was sent first to all us 'winged critters' and can be heard (there isn't much to look at) on YouTube.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Later…with Jools Holland - Series 36 Show 4

The show that promised so much and delivered...well it didn't deliver what it promised...

The line-up:
  • Gorillaz (featuring Bobby Womack & Mos Def) - Stylo
  • Drive-by Truckers - Birthday Boy
  • Laura Marling - Devil’s Spoke
  • Bobby Womack (Chat and ‘jam’ with Jools)
  • Diane Birch - Valentino
  • Gorillaz - On Melancholy Hill
  • Bobby McFerrin - Smile
  • Damon Albarn & Jamie Hewlett (Chat with Jools)
  • Mos Def - Quiet Dog Bite Hard
  • Laura Marling - Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)
  • Gorillaz (featuring Little Dragon) - To Binge
  • Diane Birch - Fools
  • Bobby McFerrin (Chat and ‘scat’ with Jools)
  • Laura Marling - Rambling Man
  • Drive-by Truckers - Drag The Lake Charlie
  • Gorillaz (featuring De La Soul & Gruff Rhys - Superfast Jellyfish)

As I said in my review of last week’s Later Live, the full Friday show promised to be one of the best in recent series. Sadly, and maybe due to my own elevated expectations, the Tuesday Live show proves to be a manageable main course rather than an air-filled starter. That said, there are some exceptional moments and the final result is more quality than over-stuffed quantity.

Any show featuring Damon Albarn’s post-Blur ensemble Gorillaz is bound to be interesting. Featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def, the show kicks off with Stylo, complete with the Bruce Willis, gun-fest, car-chase video playing in the background. But what is clear from the four songs performed, this latest offering from Gorillaz entitled Plastic Beach, is a lot more mellow than before. The oddly dull Albarn solo effort On Melancholy Hill and the Little Dragon duet To Binge fail to impress but the finale Superfast Jellyfish with the wondrous combination of De La Soul and Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals is a piece of magic. It’s what I have come to expect from Albarn who, after fighting his band mates in Blur, is now liberated to make interesting collaborative music, even if it is hit, miss, miss, hit.

For me, Laura Marling was direct, no nonsense and gimmick free, cold and functional but injecting even more focus and power into songs already fuelled by both. Devil’s Spoke was a copy of the Live show, but the gorgeous glass-eyed Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) and the dramatic folk of Rambling Man are both excellent. Likewise Diane Birch, who sadly only gets two songs, is confident and precise. The piano-led singer drifts from jazz to soul into 70s swagger with Valentino then Fools, looking like Kate Nash but sounding like a modern day Carly Simon.

The disappointing ‘band’ is Drive-by Truckers who promised a lot with the Tom Petty-esque Birthday Boy then lapsed into country-drone with the odd Drag The Lake Charlie. Again only two songs and not enough to judge. Bobby McFerrin gets only one song, Smile, and that is a perfect example of vocal poise and control. He even adds his own fade-out. A different song from Tuesday but still, one more from his new Vocabularies album would have been great. The only other performance is from a solo Mos Def. He raps and drums (yes drums) through the messy Quiet Dog Bite Hard until the idea runs thin and he attempts to sing. Pointless and self-indulgent.

The rest of the show is filled with a short chat with Bobby Womack (featuring a ‘jam’ with Jools), another short chat with Albarn and Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl creator) in which Jools points out that Gorillaz is a music and cartoon collaboration as much as it is a series of music ones, implying that something is lost without the pictures (in which the band appears to be from a different world), and an even shorter chat with McFerrin with an ‘impromptu’ scat session. At least Jools is now talking to the musicians and not other celebrities with books and films to plug.

As always I will be tuning in next week but probably won’t write about it again for a while. This week has again reminded me of why Later…with Jools Holland is so important, why the BBC should keep showing it (even it the Friday show is on at midnight), and why it frustrates the hell out of me.