Friday, February 29, 2008

Rockferry - Duffy

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I'm probably going to get some stick for this review in certain circles, especially after giving Adele such a kicking recently. I'm in no doubt that I could even be accused of hypocrisy in some quarters.

Because let's get this out of the way right now; Duffy has assembled a wide-ranging of songwriters and producers on her debut album and given my opinon that Adele's 19 sounded like "album by record company committee" you would think that I would be against that. Except that wasn't my point. My point was that Adele's backers played it safe and gave her some very dull tunes indeed. And that was before that Brits "Critic's Choice" award REALLY got my goat.

But that's enough about the dull side of popular music in 2008 because Duffy is here to save the an extent anyway.

Mercy is a brilliant little pop tune (and it gladdened my heart to see it hit number one) but it's far from the only highlight on this rather wonderful debut. The opening, and title, track Rockferry is staggeringly good and I personally think the best is saved to last with the sublime Distant Dreamer. Yes the "60's" sound is identifiable but there's something timeless about Duffy when she gets it right.

Syrup and Honey is another winner, and it's minimalist backing only goes to prove that Duffy has the talent whatever the backing.

It's not all packed with winners, mind you, with a couple of tracks failing to excite but for the most part this is a very strong debut which not only delivers in the here and now, but promises so much for the future as well.

She's not Dusty Springfield of course, (though I do look forward to the Pet Shop Boys collaboration - actually if I win the lottery, I'll book them together to do What Have I Done To Deserve This?), but don't let lazy journalism put you off. Duffy is a rare talent indeed. And right about now, those that put their money on Adele might want to reconsider. Duffy is 2008's rising star.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Detours - Sheryl Crow

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At what point do you stop becoming a "fan" of an artist? For a brief moment around 1997/98 Sheryl Crow was my favourite artist. So you would think that with her first three albums ranging from excellent to merely rather good I would be a fan for life.

But then we have two really rather poor albums (plus a totally perfunctory Live album that was the absolute pits) and as I walk into HMV to buy Detours I find myself tussling with the question of whether I am a fan of Crow anymore, or mererly a curious bystander seeing if this time around is going to be better than the last two occasions. The fact I'm even considering the question doesn't bode well.

Thankfully, Detours is her best album in a decade. Granted that's not saying an awful lot, but it's a good place to start. Unfortunately one can't really say that it's up there with her best work.

At least with Bill Bottrell at the helm, Crow is back to doing what she does best after the misguided Wildflowers. Recent single Love Is Free might have been almost universally ignored but its the kind of lilting up-tempo semi-rocker that Crow excels at.

The problem is that the album starts off on a decidedly low-fi note. Now that may be designed to make you listen more carefully to the lyrics on God Bless This Mess, but therein lies another strike against Crow for me.

It takes precisely one minute 50 to sink us to the first "Anti-War, Anti-George Bush" lyrics and immediately my heart sinks. My own personal opinions are irrelevant; I quite simply don't like being preached to by multi-million earning pop stars. Sadly there are more than a few occasions during the album where I'm willing to start loving the tunes, before the lyrics drag me down into despair.

Granted, given what she's gone through over the past few years, Crow is perfectly at liberty to write about she wants to. It doesn't mean that I have to listen to it with any great pleasure. Which is a shame; occasionally Crow strikes the right balance. Love Is Free for instance is a great pop song, only subtly revealing itself as lyrically concerned with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina after a number of listens. Compare this with Gasoline, which to my mind is one of the most cringeworthy songs I've heard in a long time.

I'm quite willing to state it may well be my own personal taste that finds the lyrics a distraction. Many might find them insightful (at least in some parts) and might applaud their sentiments. And I might if I were watching Miss Crow on Question Time. On record, depsite the tunes being up there with her best in quite a few parts, it's all too easy to flip the skip button.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Wombats Proudly Present... A Guide To Love, Loss and Desperation

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Ok, so I'm a bit late on this one but I've listened to it so I might as well review it. It's not as if it's going to take too long.

Basically my opinion is this;

"Two great singles that overshadow a decent, but not that great, album."

Still, two great songs is more than a lot of the tosh that's about these days do, so some form of congratulations is in order.

Sometimes brevity is all you need.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Join With Us - The Feeling

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Contrary to common belief, I don't hate The Feeling. Granted I see no particular reason why they're so popular. Maybe it's becuase is a musical world where everyone seems at pains to be seen as credible, The Feeling toss that all aside in order to serve up catchy pop tunes.

The influences (ELO, Supertramp, Queen) are as clearly evident this time around as they were on Twelve Steps From Home which means that fans of the debut album are likely to continue their love affair with the band whilst those who, well, hate them are going to find nothing to change their minds.

The title track encapsulates the whole, ahem, feeling in five minutes. Some will find the mix of tick-tocking clocks, Queen-esque guitar solos and show tune hystrionics (the end is disturbingly similar to the Phantom Of The Opera gone heavy metal) hugely appealing and catchy, others might think it's a case of throwing everything but the sink at the kitchen wall but finding out that none of it sticks.

There's probably enough in the way of decent pop hits to ensure that they don't go the way of Orson (who's recent album famously sold less than 10,000 copies in the UK) or the Scissor Sisters (with even Jake Shears lamenting the flop of Ta Dah) but the law of diminishing returns is already being applied.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Get The Gore - Gore Gore Girls

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A late review somewhat as this was released last June, but it's only recently hit my stereo. The Gore Gore Girls have been called "the Ronettes with guitars" which certainly makes them one to delve into, even if in the final assessment that proclamation might fit their ambitions but not their product.

It's not that the comparison has no merits, just that they never come close to matching that kind of power. Their garage-punk sound is certainly entertaining in small doses, but even with an album that clocks in at less than 40 minutes in duration, by the end of it you're starting to think that it's all beginning to sound depressingly similar.

Obscure cover version Where Evil Grows is a highlight as is the pumping Voodoo Doll; the sad thing is that for large parts of the album the songs are decent, but not particularly memorable.

One for curiosity value only.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Von Bondies LIVE

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I love these early finishes at my new job. It meant an easy trip into the big city, and the chance to ride on that Manchester Eye/Wheel thing. Very entertaining.

As was the pre-game meal, at Old Orleans. No blue cheese this time though.

We arrived at the Night & Day in time to catch the back end of We Fight Apes. Apparently they were late starting, which was a pity because if they'd started on time we'd have probably have missed them. It's not that they were dreadful, but they were just plain weird. Some of the lyrics were unrepeatable on a blog families can read, and those that weren't were just baffling. Not the worst support act ever I suppose but far from the best.

So then it was time for the Von Bondies. If there's one worry with going to see a loud rock band who you've never seen before it's the chance that they might just go for "loud" at the expense of anything else. Thankfully the Bondies eschewed that route; the tunes were well and truly intact.
The highlights from Pawn Shoppe Heart were all there and in a nice change of circumstances the new songs went down just as well. If their intention was to restablish themselves after a long abscence, they went a long way towards doing that. Not only was it good, but it was even better than I was hoping it would be. And who can ask for more than that?

And I swear I would have had my photo taken with the guys in the band if they'd still been around when I met the girls. Honestly...

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Get Awkward - Be Your Own Pet

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Oh, Jemima Pearl. How I am in love with you. You're too young of course, but you're just the kind of spunky, fiesty girl I end up with in real life (only to be tossed to the kerb when they realise how boring and dull I am - and let's be honest, most women find out I'm boring long before...well let's leave it there). Matt likes mental women. That's a Lucy Porter fact for you.

If there was one problem with Be Your Own Pet's, pretty awesome, debut album it was that on a couple of occasions it was just a little to focussed on being a loud mess for it's own good. Thankfully Get Awkward rectifies that small problem and then some.

It keeps everything that was exciting about the self-titled debut and adds even more killer tunes and hooks. Pearl has a much better voice than the first album lead you to believe and she's also taken on the lyric writing on this occasion, which leads to even more nonsense about teenage problems that completely go over my head but lead to an exhillarating experience.

Once again it's only about half an hour long (which is a good thing as you all should know) but not a moment is wasted.

The only depressing note is learning that record company executives demanded three tracks were taken off the album for being "too violent." If they are half as good as most of what was allowed to slip through the coroprate net we're missing out on a treat for sure.

Monday, February 18, 2008

September - September

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Having been accused on Amazon of not doing enough research about albums, (although really how much research do you need to do to know that Adele is a trifle dull), I decided that I should find out about Petra Markland, aka September, before reviewing this album.

And basically this is her first American album, containing tracks taken from her last two Studio releases in her native Sweden.

And as it's Sweedish pop you can pretty much guess what you're going to get from this. And whilst it's not exactly reinventing the pop wheel it's catchy pop (it's even released on a label called "Catchy tunes" which must be the most awesome thing ever.

It's a little bit Infernal, a little bit Cascada but without being as, well, crap as those. If Kylie wasn't bothered about being cool and just wanted to release some fantastic pop songs which will have the crowd buzzing this is the sort of thing she would come up with. I mean come on, she has a sample of Bette Davis' Eyes on one track (as an aside it shocked me to find out, back in the day that that wasn't a Rod Stewart track.

And come on, there's something to be said for a lady who looks like the result of a Sienna Miller/Sarah Harding cross breeding experiment.

Will I be still listening to this album in a decade's time? Probably not. But it's a fun and catchy album which should appeal to pop fiends of all ages.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jukebox - Cat Power

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Riding the crest of a wave, commercially at least, after the fantastic The Greatest album, it's not particularly suprising that Chan Marshall would be somewhat contrary and follow it up with a covers album (the second of her career). Even the one new song on the album is very much inspired by Bob Dylan. And she's also one of the few musicians who would cover one of their own songs in the midst of such a project!

Her previous effort, The Covers Album, proved that Cat Power can certainly be relied on for some great "interpretations" of famous songs and there are a number of tracks on Jukebox that back that up.

New York, New York is transformed into a slinky blues number, and her take on Hank Williams Rambling Woman is, quite simply, breath-taking. A crack at another legendary Country act with the Highwaymen's Silver Stallion is similarly excellent

Sadly however the album as a whole doesn't quite match up to the sum of it's best moments, with a few too many obvious moments. You can see why Marshall would want to attempt Joni Mitchell or Janis Joplin songs, but she plays them too straight and injects too little of herself into these tracks.

There's also a slight disappointment that there has been little change in pace since The Greatest. As, well, great as that was Marshall is usually a girl for new tricks. Here she's trod the same path again.

This is a good album, no question, but falls a little short of greatness. For those already in love with Cat Power this is an album you'll want to hear and you will enjoy. Those looking for an entry point might want to check out The Greatest first.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Alas I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling

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If only because Laura Marling isn't another female singer-songwriter jumping on the Amy Winehouse bandwagon this album is like a breath of fresh air.

It's also refreshing that the teenage Marling doesn't sound, lyrically at least, her age. The likes of Adele and Amy Macdonald can instantly be identified as teenagers by some of their lyrics; Marling, on the other hand has a lyrical poise that defies her tender years.

Of course all of this is both a blessing and a curse in some ways; although one cannot say that Marling has been without her well-placed hype, her folk stylings mean that she's not got half the attention that the likes of Adele or Duffy have recieved as 2008 has kicked into gear. It's understandable, mainly due to the fact that her style is not neccesarily fit for Radio 1's target audience, so it perhaps a minor miracle that she's got the mainstream airplay she has at all.

The appeal of Marling lies somewhat in her simplicity. Background noises are left in the mix and her laughter can still be heard. But don't let the simplicity fool you; this is a darker record than her "contemporaries" have delivered. Indeed the pervading theme is the expression of acute heartbreak, a theme that Marling portrays with a lyrical sense that, again, belies her years.

It's not going to appeal to everyone and it is fair to say that it lacks the "mainstream" qualities that more hyped performers bring to the table. It's also fair to say that not everything quite hits the mark either. But there is more success than there is (relative) failure and there is certainly enough to suggest that Marling is rare talent. And like the best vintage wine, there is the definite feelining that Marling is going to improve with age.

Friday, February 15, 2008

We're In The Music Biz - Robots In Disguise.

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It would be easy to dismiss Robots In Disguise as a novelty upon a cursory glance. The Mighty Boosh appearances, the title of the album, the fake names, the fact that the two girls are, upon closer inspection, merely covered in body paint on the front would indeed be easy to lump this together as a kind of in-joke.

And if one might not be able to quite shake the feeling when listening to We're In The Music Biz that you're only a small part of an elaborate joke, it would be unfair to say that this spoils the music.

The tongue-in-cheek lyrics, the memorable melodies and the thumping basslines all add up to something which is very enjoyable indeed. Granted it might all get a little too cleverly comic for it's own good at times (only The Tears and I Don't Have A God could be termed in anyway as "serious") and some people may well find it irritating in anything more than small doses. Still its a fun album that shows some great pop sensibilities and that's more than enough for me.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Golden Age - American Music Club

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They split up to little fanfare, got back together to perhaps even less fanfare and then title their "comeback album" as The Golden Age. I can only assume that the rumour isn't true; American's "do" irony after all.

There's musicianship on display, to be fair, but why oh why is everthing so relentlessly dull? At least ten of the thirteen tracks seem to be interchangeable, and when they're as, well, boring as they are that's not a good thing.

Maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe this 9th studio album will appeal to long-term fans of the band. All I can say is that it doesn't appeal to me in the slightest.

For a better sounding take on 70's AOR you might as well check out The Feeling. At least they have a sense of fun.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ivy York - Ivy York

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Well young Ivy is certainly not going to get the hype that other female songwriters are going to get, but that might be no bad thing.

Of course it would be a pity if this album sank without a trace; dreamy, heartfelt and catchy - those are buzzwords which would, in a musical world with any justive, propel Ivy York into the hearts and minds of both the critics and the record buying public.

Admittedly those of you who think that Dido is the devil incarnate are probably not going to be amused by the gentle, whimsical, floating melodies on display (with a touch more "Indie" than Dido could ever muster I must add) here but those that lament general indifference that meets someone like St Etienne these days will find a lot to enjoy here.

She has a great voice and good songs; the only slight letdown is that 12 tracks of it is just a little bit too "samey" for comfort. Perhaps one to delve into the best tracks of (In Your Arms and Forces Of Nature to name but two) rather than devour as a whole, but all the same it is an enjoyable experience. Indeed, if the likes of Jo Wiley really had their finger on the pulse (instead of letting their Radio 1 playlist producers guide their fingers to what they think is the pulse) this is the kind of thing they might go a little crazy over.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Made In The Dark - Hot Chip

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Let's just start this off by saying I liked Hot Chip before it was cool to like them.

All joking aside, Hot Chip are one of those bands that you can almost always rely on for a cracking single or two, but need to make some use of your skip button when listening to an album of theirs.

Can Made In The Dark, their third album, buck that trend?

Well, no. But that's is a good thing as well as slightly disappointing thing. Disappointing because as ever you are left with the feeling that Hot Chip are falling just that little bit short of genuine greatness but a good thing becuase at least you have another handful of cracking tunes to add to your Hot Chip compilation.

Ready For The Floor (NOT actually written for Kylie, despite what you may have heard, but offered to her AFTER the boys had already written it) is a case in point. Whilst not up to the standards of Over And Over, it is a cracking, and bizarre, choice as the lead single. Don't Dance is another cracker, and is on par with something Timbaland could toss out at his best (and believe me, that's a compliament).

All too often though, the songs don't quite grab you as they suggest they will and some of this maybe down to the fact that Hot Chip are just that little bit too wilfully obtuse, trying to fit too much into each song in an attempt to prove how good they are. With a little slowing down in terms of their ideas, Hot Chip might yet prove able to match their music with their obvious, and commendable, ambition.

Monday, February 11, 2008

19 - Adele

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Well what a way to start the return of the Album reviews.

I don't care if one of my best mates works with her Dad (true story - made even funnier by the fact that when her dad mentioned this to my mate his reaction was "who?") I have to call it like I see it . Or hear it.

I hate Chasing Pavements. I'd probably hate it if it wasn't on Radio 1 every 13 minutes (approximately), although that doesn't help matters.

So it wasn't with the lightest of hearts that I plonked the CD into the player and cranked it up. And my opinion...? Well it's not too bad. Granted I don't particularly like it all that much, but neither did I rush out of my comfortable listening position to turn it straight off. Indeed there are odd occasions when I'm throughly enjoying what I'm listening too. Brief occasions I would admit but nevertheless that's more than I expected.

Her "other" single Hometown Glory is quite delightful, with its memorable piano led backing and My Same is the one "upbeat" moment that stands out from the pack with it's jazz stylings. Two decent songs though do not make a memorable album. Some compare her to Amy Winehouse; I'm more inclined to compare her to Joss Stone.

It's an accomplished album in terms of the music, but seems too "accomplished", or should I say, contrived. Like most of Joss Stone's ouevere, there is that nagging feeling that this is music by record industry committee. As a result it's difficult to hate the album, but even more difficult to love it. Without the hype this would just be another in a long line of "ok" female singer-songwriter albums vying for your attention.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Amy Macdonald LIVE

I told you. Amy Macdonald has definately undergone the "tarting up" process that most female artists go through after an initial burst of success. Now my mate Alan thinks it's only natural she'd want to have shiny new hairdo once playing to bigger crowds; me? Well I'm more cynical.

I'm not for one minute suggesting she's gone all Aguillera on us, but you can definately see the polish.

None of which has any bearing on the concert itself of course. The only real difference from 2007's show was a slightly more boisterous (and bigger) crowd. The songs sounded as good as they did last time and she looked to be having a whale of a time. And whilst I fail to see how Macdonald could generate quite the enthusiam in people that some of the crowd definately had, there was little that you could criticise.

That is until she brought out someone who may or may not have been a part of Ocean Colour Scene...and then murdered one of OCS's songs. A misguided choice at best. But then again, I hate Ocean Colour Scene (they were the Hoosiers of their day) so I'm not exactly an impartial observer on that score.

Anyway, it was another good night and proof that Macdonald may well be around for the long-term.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Laura Veirs LIVE

No, I'm not dead. I've just been busy. I can promise that CD reviews will be back very very soon.

In the mean time the first concert of the 2008 season kicked off with the lovely Laura Veirs at the palatial Night & Day in Manchester.

My new job means that driving to concerts has now become a much more pleasent experience than it once was. I even got to Manchester before the Gee, which doesn't often happen.

We got turned away from our favourite Chinese restaurant, so went to a cheaper one. We were done with that ridiculously early so it was off to Bar Roque for a few drinks, and a very buxom barmaid, and a short session in the Wetherspoons before heading to the sold out venue.

The "shit to flies" rule was in place again; all I will say is that if you're such a big fan of an artist that you scream out applause after every song you could at least deign to listen to some of the songs in question and not talk all the way through them!

That aside, Veirs, in a solo slot, was on top form, despite what now seems the customary Night & Day sound problems (they really should get that sorted out), as she belted out songs from nearly all her albums (she hates the first one don't you know) to the delight of the crowd.

An acquired taste she most certainly may be, but if you "get" her, there's a lot to be delighted by.

She was absolutely lovely to speak to as well; of course I just had to slip into Hugh Grant Posh Englishman mode again didn't I?

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