Saturday, 30 April 2011

Bowling For Soup - Fishin' For Woos (Album Review 2011)

Eleven albums on and Bowling For Soup are still riding the pop-punk wave that has engulfed so many others and, like their musical contemporaries Green Day, are sticking to what they do best. The last few Bowling For Soup albums, after the career defining Drunk Enough To Dance and A Hangover You Don’t Deserve, have been a bit patchy but there have always been signs that musically the band still has the power to move and amuse in equal measure. But recently the subject matter has shifted from obvious observations about girls and booze and ‘being back in school’ to more thought-provoking tales of lost relationships and friendships. Granted singer Jaret Reddick seems unable to grow-up and continues to deliver songs that conjure up a world that is perpetually stuck in ‘college party week’ – it is what defines the band after all – but as the years go by, he is more reflective when writing about the past. It is this juxtaposition of the shallow and the deep that forms the basis of Fishin’ For Woos.

The highlights of Fishin’ For Woos come after a somewhat shaky start. Let’s Pretend We’re Not In Love is an okay opener with short punchy verses and a soaring chorus but Girls In America sounds dull and out-dated, even with an ironic slant. S-S-S-Saturday is a much better three-minute pop song and starts a trio of great songs. A supreme arrangement frames a catchy chorus. What About Us is the first of three heartfelt torch songs and a perfect example of what Bowling For Soup does very well. Putting the humour aside, they lay down a middle-of-the-road rock ballad as brilliant as ever.

In musical contrast, but just as good, is Here’s Your Freakin’ Song. Making no pretence as to his state of sobriety for the performance, Reddick is superb as he produces a story within a story – girlfriend asking you to write a song for her and it turning out to be a ‘hate’ song. What could easily be nasty and venomous is instead a new take on an old idea, which ends in a shambolic monologue. And the guitar work from Erik Chandler and Chris Burney, as always, is wonderful. The flip-side of this is when Bowling For Soup sound like they are going through the motions. This Ain’t My Day and Smiley Face (It’s All Good) are the songs the band could make in their sleep. Only a handful of funny lines (in the latter Reddick recalling all the places they have ‘got naked’ is inspired) and some neat melodies provide a lift.

Turbulence, another heart-on-sleeve love song, is the high point of the album and one of the best songs Bowling For Soup have written. The clean acoustic feel, blending piano and harmonies, works very well and the production never takes over. As before this is followed by another classic funny moment – the provocative I’ve Never Done Anything Like This, featuring the vocals of Kay Hanley – formerly of Letters To Cleo. After a one-night-stand hook-up that starts with a shower and ‘dirty’ cell-phone pictures, Reddick posts his date’s bail when she takes her clothes off at a bar only to discover that the car they drive away in is stolen. The song ends on that cliffhanger.

After the obvious Friends Chicks Guitars, Guard My Heart, the song the band has performed live many times but never recorded, starts a very sober finale. Another fantastic chorus and excellent guitar-work at its core, this is another sign that Bowling For Soup can mix it up and deliver ‘real’ songs. But it is closer Graduation Trip that is the real surprise. Lacking any melody whatsoever with Reddick sounding deliberately flat, and driving forward through the painful nostalgia of a holiday romance, this just about works.

By no means a brilliant Bowling For Soup album, Fishin’ For Woos continues and maintains the manic, vibrant and colourful world the band inhabit. The album progresses from a typical inane start to end with two very serious, and seriously delivered, songs. This shows that behind all the laughs and drunken parties, there is a mature side to the band, choosing to express this as credible (if slightly ironic) soft rock. You spend the first few songs waiting for brilliance and that is exactly what you get – those two or three tracks that lift an album, and a real sense of a furious work ethic combined with natural musical talent. And that ever-present unique sense of fun.

Friday, 29 April 2011

2011 Music Chart - April

Another busy month and some great new albums. First up is Last Night On Earth by Noah And The Whale, a contender for album of the year. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are in danger of being of new favourite band: their album Belong is another amazing record. Also this month is Fishin' For Woos from the mighty Bowling For Soup which does exactly what you expect. And another powerful album from Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters: Wasting Light.
  1. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will by Mogwai
  2. Last Night On Earth by Noah And The Whale
  3. Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.
  4. Belong by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
  5. The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable
  6. Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow
  7. Ritual by White Lies
  8. Fishin' For Woos by Bowling For Soup
  9. The Fool by Warpaint
  10. Wasting Light by Foo Fighters
  11. The King Of Limbs by Radiohead
  12. Buffalo by The Phoenix Foundation

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (April 2011)

For April, Thea has provided her Angels with a new song: Money Shot. Here's how she describes it:

"So here is a track that popped into me a few weeks ago.. about living life in the public eye, about damage and loss.. probably about someone in particular, but I'll leave that up to you to decide."

Not the best song Thea has written musically and somewhat tired and well-trodden subject-matter. Plus a really odd whistling ending that doesn't really work. But the lyrics are spot-on and worthy of much better arrangement. They can't all be gems.

Noah And The Whale - Last Night On Earth (Album Review 2011)

When Noah And The Whale rereleased their debut single Five Years Time in 2008, the world was properly introduced to the music of Charlie Fink. After the well-publicised personal and professional break-up (Laura Marling) and the departure of brother Doug, Noah And The Whale is now a different beast. The follow-up to Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down may have been the ‘difficult’ second album but The First Days Of Spring serves as a noticeable progression for Fink and the band. The media can no longer label them ‘twee’ (or worse ‘anti-folk’) as third album Last Night On Earth completes this progression; the band emerging with a surprising collection of upbeat optimistic pop.

Last Night On Earth is packed with highlights from the opening song: Life Is Life pulsates with electronica, drum machine and buzzing synths, the first line setting the tone for the entire album: ‘You used to be somebody, and now you’re someone else…’; Fink starting the tale of disillusionment and wanting a fresh new start. The piano is stunning throughout, right up to the choral ending. This is followed by the vibrant pop of Tonight’s The Kind Of Night, a curious mix of Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet and Deacon Blue’s Dignity. Again the theme is of leaving, starting again and taking control. Fink delivers another great line: ‘He can see that his debt is to experience only... and not to those who plan out his life’. To complete the opening trio, L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. (not too far from Love Of The Common People by Paul Young) combines excellent guitars with booming drums and an instantly catching chorus.

Wild Thing slows the album down and is more Velvet Underground than Bachman-Turner Overdrive. This is more small-town alienation and of feeling trapped with Fink recalling the story of a young woman who discovers she is a werewolf. Brilliant song writing with dense guitars and shimmering keyboards. Give It All Back is a new take on an old theme – school friends forming a band and dreaming of ‘making it big’ – and the nostalgia is clear through a brilliant delivery. Likewise Just Me Before We Met reflects on the past using a wonderful string arrangement and, in stark contrast, more keyboards. The calm reflection is transformed into energy and Fink delivers more great lyrics: ‘It’s better to live…than to hide’.

After the brief instrumental Paradise Stars, Waiting For My Chance To Come brings back the Americana (and owes much to Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down) has more fantastic strings and guitars before what is quite a downbeat finale. The Line is a past relationship played out as a script – a neat idea that only suffers from a laboured outro with Fink declaring ‘I live my life like a diamond… bright and hard’ – one of the album’s only weak moments. The delicate choral piano ballad Old Joy is right from the Jay Spaceman back catalogue and could be twice as long. The arrangement is simple yet stunning and the closing words say it all: ‘Don’t dream of yesterday…’

Last Night On Earth is the third in an impressive trilogy of albums from Noah And The Whale. Fink draws upon (whether intentionally or not) a curious mix of Americana and Lou Reed introspection, transforming him and the band into something bold and interesting; adding a new reinvention of old tunes and melodies. Occasionally dragging up the past lyrically, he has moved forward musically – choosing to go somewhere else instead of descending into a pseudo-folk quagmire that is in danger of drying up entirely. If the next five years are anything like the last for Noah And The Whale then we should expect three more superb records of well-crafted pop songs and emotional twists and turns.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

New Death Cab For Cutie song/video - You Are A Tourist

The brilliant new video for You Are A Tourist from Death Cab For Cutie (from the forthcoming album Codes And Keys, out next month).

Monday, 4 April 2011

New Kate Bush album - Director's Cut

Kate Bush is set to release a new album, her first for six years. Sadly it's not new material but instead a reworking of some of the best of her back catalogue. Only eleven tracks and none of the commercially successful work such as The Hounds Of Love, Cloudbusting and Running Up That Hill.

First single is Deeper Understanding, out on the 5th April.

Read about it on Pitchfork.

The tracklisting for Director's Cut:

01 Flower of the Mountain (new version of "The Sensual World")
02 Song of Solomon
03 Deeper Understanding
04 Lily
05 Red Shoes
06 This Woman's Work
07 Moments of Pleasure
08 Never Be Mine
09 Top of the City
10 And So Is Love
11 Rubberband Girl