Sunday, March 30, 2008

Diamond Hoo Hah - Supergrass

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After Road To Rouen, which was a decent album without justifying the complete change of tone is signified for the Supergrass boys, it was perhaps inevitable that they should then come up with something more akin to 1995's I Should Coco.

Experimentation can only last so long with a diminishing fan-base.

And that's not to have a knock at the boys. The very fact they are here in 2008 releasing a brand new album shows that there is still a lot of love for them. Sadly, I don't have a lot of love for this album.

Quite frankly, I found it boring and plodding for the most part. To be honest it's only by the time I got to the final track, Butterfly, that I found anything I would want to add to a homemade Supergrass compilation. That's not to say that the rest is completely without merit, but it just doesn't excite me in the slightest.

But to put it into context, it's still a thousand times better than The Hoosiers.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sugababes LIVE

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Amusing at it was to be sat in the middle of teenage girls for the Sugababes night at Blackburn's King George's Hall, it was even more amusing to not be the oldest men there without kids. Seriously, if I'm still doing this when I'm 60 you might want to shoot me.

Still, who am I to mock? They certainly seemed to enjoy the evening along with everyone a quarter of their age. And in fairness there was much to enjoy.

I was a little worried prior to the show that the 'Babes would once again be at pains to prove that they were "serious artists" which would mean ballad after ballad and the obligatory acoustic interlude. Thankfully there was none of that bollocks.

The pace of the set was kept up throughout, with only a handful of the slower songs tossed in throughout. And whilst I still say it's ridiculous to see them sing Overload with only one of the people who actually sang on that record, the current line up can certainly belt out the tunes.

All the big hits were played (as far as I can remember anyway - Dave was disappointed that they didn't do Easy, but I think that was more to do with the fact he wanted to see them act out the risque lyrics) and it's difficult to imagine that anyone went away disappointed.

Still it wasn't all perfect. If musically they got it spot on (including a thrilling cover of En Vogue's Don't Let Go) visually it was a bit of a mess. Obviously the budget wasn't the biggest and this led to some tacky outfits which had me laughing if I'm being honest. Still the ramshackle nature of that side of things couldn't really detract from a great night out.

That said though, roll on Girls Aloud ;-D

Friday, March 28, 2008

Red - Guillemots

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If there was a problem with the Guillemots, and in my book there most certainly was, it was that for all their willful quirkiness and "we're not like a normal band" posturing, there was a problem with their tunes. They were ok, but not the most memorable in a strict pop sense. Hence my opinion that I could take them or leave them.

It's nothing to do with me of course, unless one of the three people who read this blog is releated to them, but the one thing you cannot throw against them this time around is any complaint that they aren't catering to the mainstream.

Pop may still be a dirty word, but it's what the Guillemots are aiming for. Which makes the album all the more frustrating as a result.

When it's "on" it's really quite magical; Cockateels and Kriss Kross provide two of the most sublime pop moments of the year so far and lead single Get Over It was good enough to make me reconsider my opinion of the band.

Still, the same problems remain. In an attempt to prove they are nothing like anyone else there is a definate "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" mentality. Sadly, too little of it does stick. Last Kiss, for instance, is particularly muddled to little apparent effect.

It's not a terrible listen, but for me it falls into thumbs down territory more than it rises into the thumbs up. Proof that individual and quirky isn't always 100% a good thing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Slow Motion Addict - Carina Round

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This has been around for ages I think but A) it's getting a re-release somewhere and B) I've only just got around to getting it anyway. So I think that more than justifies reviewing it here.

Whether or not you're that excited about Glenn "Alanis Morisette" Ballard is at the production helm is a matter of personal taste but he can have a tendency to smother some artists and for a while it seems like he's going to chalk up another victim in the shape of Round; but fear not. Round is far too wilful and self-minded to allow this for too long.

This does make for a somewhat hit and miss experience. Whilst the likes of Stolen Car (with its hugely radio-friendly rock guitar riff) and Take The Money (which gives you everything you'd want from Round based on her previous output) there are the likes of Ready To Confess (where, sadly, it could be anyone delivering the lines given how the production smothers any individuality out of the proceedings).

Thankfully, most of the "duff" songs are done with early and by the time you hit the aforementioned Take The Money, the ride to the end of the album is a thrilling and exhilarating one. Any attempts to homogenise Round have obviously failed. She's as individual as ever. And in this form she's well worth a listen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Be Your Own Pet LIVE

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Get Awkward, the new album from BYOP, is one of my favourite of the year so far so it was with a certain sense of anticipation that I looked forward to this concert, back at my favourite venue of Manchester Academy 3.

Sad to say, it didn't really come close to living up to expectations.

It wasn't awful, but any nuances visible on record had virtually disappeared. If I'm being kind, the best way to describe the night would be unremarkable noise.

Not even the delectable Jemima Pearl could save the evening and I can't exactly say I'll be rushing to get tickets for their next UK tour.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Baroness - Sarah Slean

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Female singer-songwriters are ten a penny in 2008 so it would be tempting to dismiss Sarah Slean merely on this point. Slean, however, has been plying her trade for over 10 years and this is her fifth studio album.

One listen to The Baroness is enough to both tell you why she's lasted so long and why you've probably never heard of her.

Her voice is pretty wonderful and she's more than a decent songwriter and on occasions, like on the really rather good Please Be Good To Me, she soars to beautiful heights. The sad thing is that a lot of the album doesn't come close to matching that emotion.

Lyrically there is a lot to admire on the album (and certainly enough to suggest that there is some cruel force at work which leaves fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan feted worldwide and Slean herself virtually ignored) but the tunes just don't match up.

What's more, the album ignores the upbeat perky pop that I most enjoy about her (the superlative Day One) in favour of more contemplative melodies.

All in all it's not a terrible album, but neither is it the great one that I believe Slean could deliver. Maybe next time hey?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Just A Little Lovin - Shelby Lynne

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2000's I Am Shelby Lynne may well have successfully drawn her away from her previous incarnation as straight down the middle country but it's cast a pale shadow on her subsequent career. That's not to say that recent efforts such as 2003's Identity Crisis have been poor, just that she's never really lived up to the promise of the I Am album on a consistent basis.

Just A Little Lovin' carries on that trend. Some might say that the attempt to channel Dusty Springfield was ill-advised and upon listening to the album I wouldn't neccesarily disagree. If you're going to record an album with four tracks off the seminal Dusty In Memphis album you are going to have to come up with something pretty special to make your make. Lynne doesn't really come close.

The attempt to provide a paired-down, almost simple, version of Dusty doesn't work, the biggest culprit being I Only Want To Be With You. If there's a person alive that would rather hear Lynne's cover version than Dusty's then I trust their padded cell is comfortable.

And therein lies the rub. There's nothing on the album that even comes close to matching the majesty of it's inspiration. For Dusty fans it's an interesting curiosity but not one that ever reaches "must-have" levels. Sometimes it seems, creative freedom doesn't always lead to the best ideas.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Best Of Both Worlds - Hanna Montana/Miley Cirus

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The next time you feel the need to criticise Girls Aloud, please remember that there is absolute tosh like this polluting our airwaves.

I bear no grudge against "manufactured" pop in the slightest. What I do bear a grudge against is soulless dirge like this.

This may not be the worst album I've ever heard, but it's not far off. Still as it's genetically engineered to appeal to your pre-teen daughter, she'll love it I'm sure.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Inspiral Carpets LIVE

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Never really being a fan of the Carpets, I didn't quite know what to expect with a live date. They certainly still have a fanbase (although really if they can't pack out a Manchester date they would be scraping the bottom of the barrel) and if it does feel slightly ridiculous to see the now middle-aged band bouncing about to a selection of their biggest hits it doesn't in any way detract from the entertainment.

Yes the "visuals" (basically a projection of random pictures onto a white sheet) are hardly state of the art but that slightly ramshackle feel seems right at home.

Eschewing any new songs might have been a necessity rather than a choice, despite rumours of a new studio album, but in the final analysis they gave their adoring fans exactly what they wanted...a high velocity trip down memory lane.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love - Trisha Yearwood

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Trisha Yearwood has long been a favourite of mine and whilst her commercial and critical success and favour may not be at it's mid 90's peak, this album still cracked the Billboard Country Charts Top 10 upon it's release and listening to it it's clear that time has not withered that beautiful voice.

Over 10 albums into her career you pretty much know what you're going to get with a Yearwood album. You have the up-tempo honky-tonk rockers like the excellent Drown Me side by side with the mellow and contemplative ballads like Help Me.

It's difficult to say that this is a challenger for her best album, but it's clear that she remains a voice worth listening to. Fans will be delighted and anyone with an ear for a good Country song will find much to adore here as well.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Kate Nash LIVE

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Traffic problems abounded, but we found our way eventually to the Apollo. An absolutely RANK burger and chips was followed by a trip to The Union. Seriously if anyone is reading this who goes to the Apollo for gigs, don't go to that pub that backs onto the venue, go round the corner and go to The Union instead. Although don't too many of you follow that advice as I don't want it getting too crowded.

We got to the venue five minutes before Kate Nash hit the stage and my worst fears were immediately confirmed. This was Fisher Price My First Concert territory. It did go to prove though that the NME mean virtually nothing to Nash's fanbase, consisting as it did of largely girls roughly aged 10-14 all screaming along to most songs. And whatever Nash may suggest she knows where her bread is buttered...hence the non-appearance of Dickhead in the set list. Not that that stopped the kids in the audience heartily singing along to the swearwords in her other hits.

It all added up to a slightly surreal atmosphere and experience. What little subtlety Nash possesses in amongst her insanely catchy pop tunes was largely lost and at times it was difficult to hear her over the band. Some artists who excel on the smaller stage (Nash's previous Manchester gigs at the Night & Day were excellent) manage to make the step up to the 3,000 seater halls with ease; on this evidence Nash hasn't quite cracked it yet. Still, it's difficult to imagine that many in the sold out crowd left unhappy and if pleasing the audience is the main aim of a concert, this one more than managed on that score.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Another Country - Tift Merritt

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Another Country doesn't actually refer to some kind of re-inventing of Country Music (or Americana in it's other guise) but to the fact that how, in a time of personal turmoil, Tift Merritt emigrated to France. The problems aren't quantified in any great detail, but its clear that the Tift Merritt of her third album is more disillusioned and introspective than the Tift Merritt of her earlier albums.

And whilst one wouldn't wish to inflict such emotional pain onto anyone, it is clear that these problems have gone some way to raising her music up to another level.

There are a handful of up-tempo numbers, Tell Me Something True, with it's Mowton-esque backing is one such highlight, but most of the album is a more subdued affair. It's none the less compelling for all that though. It's an album that practically aches with sorrow, but never in a wallowing way. Indeed with a scant listen, most listeners would probably miss most of the lyrical content and just be pleased with what is a very listenable album.

This is an album which benefits from a few repeated spins. Slowly Merritt draws you in, deeper into the emotional content of the album. Her voice is warm, inviting and soulful and is difficult to resist.

After 2003's Tambourine album some might fell that the production is a little too light on this one, but that's a minor concern to say the least. Another Country may not grab a Grammy Nomination for Best Country Album like it's predecessor did, but it's no less a winner of an album.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Not Sokute (EP) - Soko

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Cute. Funny. French.

Is it any wonder I'm falling in love with Soko.

You might have been lucky enough to hear the rather wonderful "I'll Kill Her", which I'm reliably informed is a myspace "phenomenon", but that only scratches the surface of Soko.

It is of course difficult to predit how a career will go based on one debut EP but there's at least enough on this to suggest that her debut album (apparently produced by Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - which excites me even more) could be quite awesome.

Her lilting French accent adds a playful charm to her English lyrics, and her sugary delivery makes the sheer vitriol in I'll Kill Her all the more amazingly brilliant. If we're being lazy, think Feist with added bite.

On Shitty Today, Soko laments that she's not the perfect girl. I don't know. She just might be.