Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Yes - Pet Shop Boys

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Every since 1993’s Very, critics have always been looking for, or touting, a “return to form” for Pet Shop Boys. Indeed it’s a process that every long-standing act eventually faces. What makes this even more strange for Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe is that they’ve never really made a terrible album and you certainly never get the feeling that they are about to start now. But whilst it may be a cliché to say it, there is little doubt in my mind that Yes, their 10th Studio Album, is indeed a return to form. With the help of the wonderful Xenomania, PSB have, largely, gone back to what they do best – catchy, pithy and warm pop music that gets your feet tapping and your brain thinking.

The opening track Love Etc, despite a certain reader of this page’s feelings, is up there with any single they’ve done since Can You Forgive Her and it’s by no means the only cracker on the album.

All Over The World lyrically apes the Behaviour classic The End Of The World but wraps it up with a touch of Tchaikovsky whilst Beautiful People drags in the strings arranger from the Last Shadow Puppets to great effect. Building A Wall is the most Fundamental-esque track lyrically (thankfully this time around the politics are kept down to a minimum as a whole) and is another delightful entry into the Chris Lowe “singing” canon, More Than A Dream is a slice of effortless pop that would fit very nicely on Very (still my favourite PSB album) and, perhaps best of all, Pandemonium mixes lyrics inspired by Kate Moss and Pete(r) Doherty, Harmonica provided by Johnny Marr and a souped up version of the Doctor Who theme to provide four of the most joyous minutes of pop you’ll hear all year.

Ok, so it’s not a perfect album; the boys can’t resist more “experiments” but at least Legacy, which ends the album on somewhat of a mediocre note, isn’t the dog that the likes of Boy Strange or Love Is A Catastrophe were on Nightlife and Release respectively.

All in all the “back to basics” approach and the reinvigorating effect of Xenomania have resulted in the Pet Shop Boys finest album in a decade. And if I’m being honest, that’s more than enough to keep me happy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lily Allen LIVE

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I have to admit that in the time since her debut album, I’ve grown bored of Lily Allen. I’m sure its of no consequence to her, of course, and given that her new album and single shot straight to number one in their respective charts all the evidence would suggest that I’m in the minority. A sold out Manchester Academy would also appear to prove that point.

My main problem with “It’s Not Me It’s You” was that for all the talk of a “maturing” Lily Allen, the album was largely more of the same from Alright, Still just not as good. Perhaps when you’ve heard one song about a boyfriend being crap in bed you’ve heard them all.

So all didn’t really bode well for the evening’s entertainment and the end result was pretty middle of the road too. Focussing largely on the new album, the crowd’s reaction to most of the songs at least proved that Allen has fans who are interested in more than just the singles; the fact that it was largely young teenage girls singing along to the likes of “Fuck You Very Much” and “It’s Not Fair” might well suggest the core audience who would find such songs amusing in any sense.
Cover versions of Dance With Me and Oh My God were pointless, assuming you can call singing the chorus of the former a few times and one verse of the latter as “cover versions” and the likes of Smile and LDN from the debut album were well received.

It was perhaps telling though that arguably the biggest reaction from the crowd was reserved for her final song, a rollicking cover of Britney Spears’ Womanizer. It ended what had been up until that point, for me anyway, a fairly frustrating evening. My growing boredom with Lily Allen could have been diverted by a killer second album. The fact that I just can’t bring myself to listen to it for any length of time means that this concert was pretty much dead to me before it even kicked off. And that’s not to decry the hundreds of people who were seemingly having the time of their lives but I think my position on the Lily Allen “Style or Substance” axis has been irreversibly shunted towards the style end of the scale.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


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Hype in the music industry can be a terrible thing. Hype doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s being hyped is any good. It also doesn’t mean in any way shape or form that any artist will have any success. And I’m as cynical as the next person, but if you only bring one thing away from this review it is this. Little Boots is worth every bit of the hype. My evening didn’t exactly start off too well as SOMEONE had booked a hotel four miles away from where we were supposed to be…a necessity after finding out AFTER I’d bought the tickets that the doors only opened to the venue at 9:30pm. Having got into Preston by five o’clock, it’s safe to say I was rather inebriated by the time we got to the venue, and then had to wait more than another hour for Little Boots to appear.

And yet, against all the odds, the concert itself was brilliant. Victoria Hesketh has the tunes (and, yes, I’ll admit, the looks) to make a serious dent on the charts, (even if secretly I fear it may well be another Annie all over again) and its fair to point out that there wasn’t really a duff moment in the entire set Those who have followed her for a while will have been familiar with most of the songs (particular highlights included Meddle, Stuck On Repeat and Too Late) but the unveiling of her first proper single (the name of which I’ve forgotten, but includes Phil Oakley on guest vocals – a fact preceded by a deadpan Hesketh informing the crowd that Oakley couldn’t make it to the show) proved that she’s got more to come.

Rather bizarrely after the concert I ended up being accosted by her brother (who had spotted my Little Boots pin badge) and being introduced to her mother, shortly before being chatted up by a group of 18 year old girls who had no idea there was such a thing as Little Boots.

I may be falling into the “cool” trap, but I think you can give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m not just doing it for the sake of looking cool. Little Boots is amazing.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Franz Ferdinand LIVE

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The fact that I once saw Franz Ferdinand headline (and fill) the cavernous MEN Arena and yet in 2009 they’re playing the much smaller Manchester Academy might suggest that the intervening years haven’t been kind to the Scottish quartet, commercially.

And indeed the general conception critically now is that their second album, You Could Have It So Much Better, was a disappointment and critical reaction to their latest album, Tonight, has been decidedly mixed. Yet for my money, whilst admitting that their debut album remains their finest achievement, they had continually made some great pop records and their latest album is chock full of cracking tunes. A point that was proved on this particular occasion.

Whether it was Take Me Out, This Fire, Do You Want To or upcoming single No You Girls, there was rarely a dull moment throughout and almost every song had you tapping your feet (or, heaven forbid, dancing). The days of filling arena’s may be over, but Franz Ferdinand remain as good as ever.

Monday, March 02, 2009

It's Not Me, It's You - Lily Allen

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The problem with having a smash hit debut album that sounds so fresh and new is that when the time for the follow up comes along, more of the same can often lead you to be labelled as a one-trick pony. Lily Allen seems to have avoided this commercially, this album smashed right to the top of the charts, but she hasn’t convinced this particular listener that she’s moved on one iota from Alright Still.

If this is meant to be the new “mature” Lilly (and I acknowledge here that she has to some extent distanced herself from this label, but has echoed the sentiment behind it) something must have been lost in the translation. You could take the catchy lead single The Fear and its apparent attack on the growing commercialism of modern life at face value if Allen hadn’t been an almost constant figure in the tabloids over the past two years. Some might say that “personality” has nothing to do with how good a record is, but considering Allen has made a career of being the personality of Lily Allen its impossible to detach yourself from it.

So it might be that those who haven’t long since got bored of her might find the humour in songs like It’s Not Fair, but those who found her first album such a breath of fresh air might come to the conclusion that that particular song is merely a “less good” version of Not Big from the debut. And it’s a similar feeling me throughout the album. Even when I find a catchy tune to tap my foot along to, there’s the nagging feeling that you’ve heard it all before and, more pertinently, you’ve heard it done better.

I wanted to like this, especially after having stuck out my neck out so far in favour of her debut, but try as I might, it’s just no good. The worst thing a “personality” can do is make a boring record; sadly, Lily Allen appears to have done just that.