Friday, June 26, 2009

Jenny Lewis LIVE

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Imagine my surprise when on holiday in New Orleans and a random detour, which was really out of the way for my hotel, leads us to the House Of Blues. “Ooh, I wonder what sort of gigs they’ve got on” was the cry and a quick look at the board resulted in a double take. Jenny Lewis? Tonight? We’re having some of that. Of course I could swear that I’d checked every New Orleans venue prior to the holiday and seen that no-one of any interest was on. Indeed I even knew that the delectable Miss Lewis was in the middle of an American tour and I’d bemoaned the fact that her itinerary missed anywhere I was. But hey. Maybe there is such a thing as fate after all. Either that or some form of reverse stalking is in effect.

Anyway, it was exciting to be going to a concert in foreign climes, even if my mate’s excited pronouncement that “for once both of us will be able to get schvizted at a concert” proved to be false. Because those peculiar American’s (w ho had two nights earlier asked for no ID as I drank the night away with a bunch of strippers) wouldn’t give my mate a wrist band to prove to the bar-staff that he was old enough to drink as he didn’t have any official identification. Bear in mind that the previous trip to the Strip Club had been to celebrate his THIRTIETH birthday. Still, I could drink, that was the main thing. Even if, when you think about it, I couldn’t even hand him my mate my drink when I went to the toilets lest he get arrested on the spot for impersonating an adult.

The support was the Heartless Bastards, who weren’t bad but in all honesty were neither here nor there. As for Jenny Lewis, well any regular reader of this page, or indeed anyone who has ever took the time to read this page even once, will know that I love her. So naturally I am biased. But this was REALLY good. In fact I would go as far as to say that this was the best form that I’ve seen her in. And I don’t say that just because she was wearing tight shorts. Maybe I’m just imagining it, but there was just something about it all that seemed, well, right. In a way that Jenny Lewis on a cold and wet night in Manchester just seems to have that little something missing when compared to Jenny Lewis on a sweltering and balmy New Orleans night. Quite why she chose to sing a little snippet of “Man In The Mirror” as her tribute to the recently dead Michael Jackson in the encore though is beyond me. Still, I could forgive Jenny Lewis almost anything.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pet Shop Boys LIVE

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It’s no secret that I think (know) that Pet Shop Boys are the finest British pop group of the last twenty-five years (if not of all time, but I’m not getting into that right now) and it warms my, ahem, heart, that their Outstanding Contribution award at the BRITS has seen something of a critical and commercial renaissance (witness the sold out O2 concert, at a capacity at 16,000) and, in my opinion, recent album Yes was their best since 1993’s Very. All of which boded well for a great night’s entertainment at the Manchester Apollo.

Ok, so £15 for a programme was more than a little bit excessive (even if it was obviously produced to the same exacting high standards that everything they do) but I suppose you’re not forced to buy it are you? And when the evening’s entertainment is as good as this was, you can forgive almost everything.

It’s difficult to imagine that a stage set which consists of little more than a few hundred cardboard boxes could be so entertaining, but these are no ordinary cardboard boxes. Well…no, they actually are ordinary cardboard boxes, but they do double as video screens, walkways, weapons…well you sort of get the idea.

If their last tour was decidedly a “hits” experience, the Pandemonium tour is slightly different. All the usual favourites make their appearances but thrown in were some surprising choices, some of which had never been performed live by the boys before. The problem with this was that whilst the die-hard fans (such as myself) appreciated the likes of Two Divided By Zero, Why Don’t We Live Together?, Kings Cross and lesser hits such as Love Comes Quickly and Jealously, those just in attendance for the hits may have been left slightly non-plussed, especially when some of these tracks were lumped together.

Still by the time the evening ended with the encore of West End Girls, few will have felt disappointed. The Pandemonium tour is another winning spectacle from the Pet Shop Boys and proves that there is plenty of life left in them yet.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Hands - Little Boots

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Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me that the Little Boots "backlash" has kicked off before her debut album has even reached the shops. In fact, let's be honest, it kicked off before her debut single had even reached the shops...and then blew up when New In Town failed to reach the top 10. The problems seems to be as thus; the BBC voted her as the Sound of 2009, she's quite a pretty girl and the height of her ambition seems to be to make catchy pop songs in a world where "pop" is still a dirty word.

Well no one seemed to pour as much vitriol into slamming 2008's "Sound" winner (the dull and derivative Adele) nor 2007's winner (Mika), nor 2006's (Corrine Bailey Rae) and if anyone can tell me that any of that trio are particularly inventive or ground breaking you will be lying through your teeth. And that's before we even get to 2005 winners The Bravery (presumably currently looking for other employment).

Of course half the journalists slamming her purely for winning that poll forget that it's partly voted for by their brethren, nor do they slate Florence And The Machine (who have two single releases under their belt that never threatened the top 40) who won that Brit award, which really is shameless publicity to the 'n'th degree. But silly me, Florence is a "serious" musician isn't she?

Well with that diatribe out of the way, what is Hands actually like? Well as far as I'm concerned it's really rather good. Obviously some tracks that have been knocking around for months (Stuck On Repeat, Meddle, Mathematics) set the bar pretty high but they are far from the only highlights. Having Phil Oakey duet on the shimmeringly wonderful Symmetry might seem like a gimmick but it not only works, but exceeds all expectations, Tune Into My Heart, with it's icy, mellow sound proves that she's far from a one trick pony whilst upcoming single Remedy is the sort of song that Kylie would kill her producers for.

And therein lies the crux. The pompous music snobs out there will spend the next few months telling us everything that Little Boots isn't (and crucifying her for it) rather than focusing on what Little Boots IS.

The solo credits for a couple of the tracks (Click, Ghosts) show that the choice of producers on the other tracks are just that, a choice and haven't necessarily been forced upon her. At least half the tracks on here are superb and the other half aren't half bad either. Jam packed with catchy and memorable choruses it will do little to convince those that think "pop" is a dirty word and those who kid themselves that "promotion" and "hype" are 21st century inventions in the music industry. Yet despite the hype, the pressure and the (perhaps) inevitable backlash, Victoria Hesketh has proved that all of those of us who kept the faith when all around seemed to be laying into her were right all along. She's definitely a talent. Hands may not be a perfect record, but is a very damn good one nevertheless.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Scary Fragile - Butterfly Boucher

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It's been a long time since 2003's Flutterby, the rather wonderful debut from the Australian born Butterfly Boucher (yes, that is her REAL name) although the five year gap doesn't tell the whole story. This album was completed three years ago but seemingly fell victim to the 21st Century need to label every music "product" as something tangible.

As the lady herself stated, "they say [my music] is too quirky. They always say it's too pop for the indie scene and too indie for the pop scene." With backing like that from your record company, it's perhaps not a surprise that Boucher parted company with them, but at least she had the good fortune to work out a deal to keep the masters of her new album, hence the "DIY" release of her second album.

You might think that the opener, I Found Out, has been added since parting company from her label with lyrics such as “I found out I can only be who I am. I can only do what I can. I won’t try to describe the relief". Thankfully though, Boucher seems able to get MOST of this out of her system in the opener, leaving the listener to concentrate on the quality of her songs.

And whilst, as a whole, the album may not quite live up to the excellent debut, it has more than it's fair share of highlights.

Lead single Gun For A Tongue is a seductive, if slightly creepy, number whilst Just One Tear is a rocker that for some reason reminded me of Ladyhawke, without actually sounding anything like her whatsoever. Keeper comes across as almost a long-lost Bond theme whilst Bright Red might well have proved to be the "hit" that Boucher was presumably under immense pressure to produce if only her record company had given it the chance.

Having been absent for so long, it's almost tempting to look no further than being pleased she's back at all, but thankfully Butterfly Boucher has also returned with a very good album which proves that Flutterby was no fluke. One can only hope we get the third installment before 2014.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Good Evening - Nite Jewel

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One review of this album that I read suggested that if Nite Jewel released this album in the 1980's, a spot on the soundtrack of Romancing The Stone (a film I love by the way) would have been all but a formality...and you can certainly see their point. It also covers the fact that Good Evening is another one of the long list of albums released over the past year or so that decidedly hark back to the 1980's.

In this case it's one of those albums of this ilk that most definitely sounds as if it WAS actually recorded in the 1980's - there are precious few indications when you are listening to this that it's a modern record. And therein will lie it's charm, or alternatively it's hideous kitsch-ness for the listener.

On the first listen through, most people would probably be in the latter camp and be unable to look past the vaguely ridiculous mid-tempo keyboard sounds and the baffling mumbling lyrics that at times you can hardly hear and most of the time definitely can't make out. Those that can persevere might find their rewards, even if Ramona Gonzalez, the person behind Nite Jewel, frustratingly seems more interested in the sounds she's making than making those sounds into "proper" songs.

It would be easy to say that with a bit of tweaking here and there this could have been something very good indeed, but perhaps that's missing the point. For all it's readily apparent faults, Good Evening is what it is, even if what it is might end up being described as pleasant background music without any real punch.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix

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If you didn't already know it prior to putting this album in the CD player for a spin you'd probably struggle to tell that Phoenix are French purely from listening to this album. You might, on the other hand, guess that they, along with their record company, might be hoping that given The Killers undoubted position in the music buying public's hearts this might be the time that they can finally make that elusive commercial breakthrough.

They might, but I wouldn't be putting the mortgage on their chances. The problem is that when they started, Phoenix were arguably ahead of the trends to come; now, four albums in, they've been superceded by those that have followed them and there's no real new tricks on display to be able to suggest that they've managed to stay ahead of the curve.

In fact, despite the fact that the album clocks in at barely over 30 minutes there's a real feeling that there's a deficit of ideas and whilst their one idea might be reasonably catchy, it doesn't half get monotonous fairly quickly.

There's a couple of standout tracks (opener Lisztomania and the purposefully silly Lasso) but my overall feeling is that whilst this is an adequate record, I can't see why anyone who had heard of The Killers would want to listen to it more than once.