Thursday, April 30, 2009

Duke Special LIVE

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As you will see when I get around to reviewing his new album, Duke Special has never quite convinced me on record. I enjoy his records, but never quite love them. Live, however, Peter Wilson never disappoints. And suffice to say, this sold out concert at the Manchester Academy proved to be another winner.

Refreshingly free of performer's ego, Duke was joined on stage at various points by support acts Foreign Slippers (who I missed, but who had a gorgeous voice when she joined Duke on stage) and Bailey and Bowles (as in The Temperance Society Chip Bailey, a long-time cohort) and even delivered a trio of songs inspired by little known 1920's silent movie star Hector Mann.

Indeed it was these interludes which made for some of the most special moments of the evening. Foreign Slippers joined him for a spellbinding version of the title track of his new album, I Never Thought This Day Would Come, and two of the "Hector Mann" tracks, The Jockey Club and Jumping Jacks were two of the most well received songs of the evening.

Throw in a liberal sprinkling of some of his earlier work, including the eternally brilliant Salvation Tambourine and you had a great night of music, part vaudeville part old time music hall, but always fascinating. Even if you remain unconvinced by his recorded work, give him a go won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Time To Think - Sarah Whatmore

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On the surface, Sarah Whatmore's proclamation that she had no interest in becoming yet another cookie-cutter popstar churned out and spat out by Pop Idol is commendable. After all, she was a budding singer-songwriter before her appearance on the aforementioned show and she did capitalise in the early days after that show with two top 20 hits. If we're to believe her, she decided that continuing on that route wasn't "her" and she wanted to make it on her merits.

That it took eight years or so for her debut album to hit the shops suggests that the journey might not have been paved with the gold she was hoping for. Indeed the only things of note about her in the intervening years was the story that she was gazumped by Britney for "Toxic" and that one of my mates once rather bizarrely accused an ex-girlfriend of mine of being "large" because she was the same build as Sarah Whatmore. Don't worry though, his guide dog is fine now.

All of this would become an irrelevance if female singer (some-time) songwriters weren't all the rage (in some ways making the timing of Whatmore's reappearance right on the money) and if her album was actually much cop. Sadly it isn't.

You've certainly heard worse and I couldn't sit here and tell you the album is awful. But it contains nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd and contains absolutely nothing that sticks in your head ten minutes after you've heard it.

One paced, this album gives you nothing that you can't get better elsewhere. So whilst it might be a commendable effort in one sense, in another it's almost certain to sink without trace.

Still, for what it's worth, back in the day I loved Automatic.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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It's easy to be cynical isn't it? Rock-punk band comes back with an "all-new" electro sound...not exactly the most unheard of concepts in the 21st Century is it? Yet one listen of It's Blitz, the third album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is enough to melt away any pre-conceptions you might have about the new sound being little more than clever marketing. Because when an album is as good as this, who cares why it's here?

Opening track, and new single, Zero was easily the most overtly "pop" thing the group have ever done (not that that's a bad thing in my book...) but the brilliance of that is soon blown away by the track that follows it, Heads Will Roll. It might be trite to label it Blondie for the 21st Century, but that doesn't make it any less awesome.

I'd have to admit that, from a "pop single" point of view, these two tracks are never beaten, but that's not to say that what follows isn't extremely good either. Dragon Queen in a slinky slice of Disco (which reminds me of Franz Ferdinand's latest album - again, a good thing in my book) and the likes of Soft Shock and Runaway slow the pace down from these up-tempo Disco numbers but still manage to be genuinely affecting songs.

It's by no means a perfect album but neither are there too many moments where you think that this change of sound isn't working. It might not be the album that long-standing fans were expecting (or hoping for) but in it's own way it's a definite success.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sounds Of The Universe - Depeche Modde

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Like any act with more than a two decade back catalogue to fall back on, Depeche Mode have perhaps struggled to live up to their "glory" days, despite continued commercial success. And whilst, surprise surprise, their 12th album Sounds Of The Universe is no Violator, it's certainly one of their better albums of recent years. It's certainly a better listen than 2005's Playing The Angel.

Sonically it sounds like an attempt towards capturing the "old school" sound but isn't as retro as early suggestions may have led some to believe. Indeed it is perhaps a testament to the currently popularity of "electro" that, if anything, it sounds like it's completely of it's time now.

There are problems though. Whilst you would never listen to the album thinking "they've lost their magic touch", neither would you listen to it thinking that the old magic is completely back. What it really boils down to is that whilst it contains its fair share of good tracks (mostly contained in the first half of the album with the likes of In Chains, Fragile Tension and lead single Wrong) there is nothing that REALLY grabs you and instantly demands inclusion on any home-made "best of" you would put together.

The die-hards will lap it up, and even casual fans will probably enjoy it. If pushed though, most would probably have to admit that this is a good, rather than great album.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My One And Only Thrill - Melody Gardot

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Melody Gardot is one of those artists whose name I've heard, and indeed heard great things about, but never really bothered to properly check out. So when I saw her new album, My One And Only Thrill, getting rave reviews I decided the time was right to correct that flaw. And boy, am I glad I did.

Granted, if you are going to enjoy Gardot you're going to have to be pre-disposed to her lilting late-night jazz and introspective blues sound but if that seems like it could be your kind of thing you are going to love this.

Whether it be the the jazz-noir of Your Heart Is As Black As The Night, the string-laden Deep Within The Corners Of My Mind or the sultry shuffle of Who Will Comfort Me, Gardot has unleashed an album packed full of quality.

Indeed, perhaps the only wrong note is the uncharacteristically breezy bossanova version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. It's a perfectly pleasant version of a famous tune, but seems incongruous in the company of Gardot's self-penned tracks and you are almost tempted to think that it's been tagged on purely for commercial reasons. Still, you can't let that spoil all the greatness that came before it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jigsaw - Lady Sovereign

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It seems a long time since the days that Lady Sov was signed by Jay Z to his American label and when the world did indeed seem like her oyster. The reasons behind Sov moving from the Def Jam label onto her own are somewhat vague, although there is the suggestion that it's a chance for her to return to what she knows best. Which makes the "electropop" sound of Jigsaw all the more of a surprise.

The Cure-sampling opening single So Human was a surprise, and at first didn't seem like a particularly good one, but after a number of plays revealed itself to be a decent tune. Sadly it's one of the few out and out memorable tunes on a patchy second album.

When it's good, like on the lilting Guitar (which admittedly tries it's best to through away any goodwill over the tune by being about how Lady Sov can't play the guitar - which strikes me as slightly pointless) or the magnificent I Got The Goods, it almost matches up to her best, but far too often the tunes simply don't stack up.

Which is a shame because the album does feature the wit that marked out Sovereign as someone to listen to. But when the tunes don't thrill you, the lyrics aren't quite enough to save the day.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Bat For Lashes LIVE

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Given how much I enjoyed the last Bat For Lashes concert, in the summer of 2008, where the new songs that we’re debuted sounded absolutely awesome, I was really looking forward to reacquainting myself with the delightful Natasha Khan (complete with a new band). For the most part I wasn’t disappointed.

There’s no depreciably downturn in quality on Two Suns from what was on her debut album Fur And Gold. If anything, whilst it could unfairly be labelled “more of the same” in terms of style, she has notched up the ambition quota and provided another stunningly beautiful collection of songs.

The likes of Sleep Alone and Daniel were well received, as were “older” classics such as What’s A Girl To Do and The Wizard. My only complaint about the set list would be the baffling omission of Priscilla. That may have been, however, a victim of the continued technical problems that interrupted the evening. It wasn’t Khan’s fault of course, but despite her good natured banter with the crowd it didn’t help the flow of the evening.

My only other point of concern surrounds her new band, which includes former Ash axe-woman Charlotte Hatherley. They seemed a little pedestrian compared to the band that had backed up Khan previously; which is not to say there were bad in any way, just that they didn’t quite match their predecessors.

Still, it may have been first night nerves and none of these minor quibbles in anyway spoiled the evening too much. Khan seems to be finally getting the recognition that she deserves (I’m still peeved over her not winning the Mercury Prize you know) and it’s difficult to see how anyone in attendance could begrudge her that success.