Saturday, 29 September 2012

Album Reviews (The Killers, Mumford & Sons and The Raveonettes)

The Killers - Battle Born

After a brief hiatus following years of touring, The Killers are now continuing their quest for world domination. Fourth album Battle Born is both hugely enjoyable and massively frustrating; a real hotch-potch of ideas, styles and pace produced mainly by Brendan O'Brien and Steve Lillywhite. A few songs are co-written by Daniel Lanois (best known as the producer of U2's The Joshua Tree) and Travis's Fran Healy and as an album it all holds together with moments of brilliance everywhere. However, each song doesn't always stick to a tried and tested plan and they veer off course regularly, leading to the aforementioned frustration - opener Flesh and Bone is the best example of this. Definite highlights include the single Runaways (the only song produced by both O'Brien and Lillywhite, with Damien Taylor) pulling in bits of The Who and Springsteen - a tale of love, loss and a man fighting against the odds to keep a family together ("We used to laugh now we only fight" and "I come home after they go to sleep; like a stumbling ghost I haunt these walls..."). This is one of the redeeming parts of Battle Born - the outright honesty and intimate storytelling of everyday people, even though lyrically, this is not the band's best work. Brandon Flowers is excellent throughout, fully committed and full-blooded and only The Rising Tide is a badly judged four minutes. A Matter Of Time brings the past and the present together for another high point and more musical ideas than most albums have in their entire running time, and Miss Atomic Bomb is equally compelling, if a little too clever for its own good. Here With Me is the big open-hearted ballad with the teenage-poet chorus: "I don't want your picture on my cellphone..." and Heart Of A Girl builds to a gloriously pleasant finale. The last three songs on Battle Born form a strong finale, from the short pop-punk of From Here On Out, through the smooth electronic vibes of Be Still, to the bombastic epic closing title track. Always interesting and often baffling, Battle Born is not The Killers at their most consistent but it is certainly their most ambitious album to date.

Mumford & Sons - Babel

Mumford & Sons have proved that it doesn't have to be a 'difficult second album'. Following their superb début Sigh No More, the band release Babel, after three years of tours, television appearances and helping make Laura Marling's I Speak Because I Can a massive success. And this is now Mumford & Sons at the top of their game - building their sound while keeping its soul, and improving each and every part. The result is incredible. Arguably Sigh No More has better songs but with stand-out moments like the beautiful Holland Road, mighty stadium-epic Lover Of The Light (easily the album's finest song and destined to be a stadium centre piece) and the dark, powerful Broken Crown, this eclipses anything that has come before, simply through the musicianship and execution. Every moment is well-judged, perfectly delivered and brimming with quality. Even the delicate Below My Feet manages to do a lot with very little in five minutes, even at the three-minute mark when the music builds to a banjo/vocal climax. Delicious harmonies are added when required but it's the fantastic voice of Marcus Mumford leading the music forward. Babel's longest song Ghosts That We Knew is also perfectly arranged, slow and methodical for the most part and never resorting to a huge swathe of instrumentation. And Hopeless Wanderer proves that prog-folk is possible as it bounces from slow to fast with relentless energy. Ultimately, even though it sticks to tried-and-tested formula, Babel is a triumph and should launch Mumford & Sons further into people's hearts and minds.

The Raveonettes - Observator

Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo are one of music's odd couples. Ever since the release of début EP Whip It On, with lead track Attack Of The Ghost Riders, they have made great music - a compelling blend of 60s shimmering harmonies and Jesus And Mary Chain meets My Bloody Valentine guitars. Previous album Raven In The Grave, while inconsistent, is much more ambitious than their early work and now Observator shows that The Raveonettes have even more variation, as hinted by 2007's Lust Lust Lust. The main problem with this album is how annoyingly short it is, nine songs at just over half an hour. But this is quality over quantity and every song earns its place. The early highlight is Observations, an odd Gothic take on Gimme Shelter with dramatic piano, fuzzy guitars and Wagner's super-slick vocals. The duo recorded the album at the famous Sunset Sound in LA and the album oozes the effects of the oppressive California heat, the myriad of Venice Beach characters and the ghosts of the past. The Enemy, with Foo's delicious vocals taking the lead, is also impressive, while Sinking With The Sun is a super-fast guitar-drum duet with a cool chorus, and She Owns the Streets is brilliant storytelling. Observator ends impressively: Downtown is a great mix of distortion and pop melody, You Hit Me (I'm Down) sums up the mood of the album while turning the 'drug' theme on its head, and Till the End is a fine, if a little rushed, pop finish. More great music from the Danish duo.
-- CS

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