Ani Glas, Deacon Blue, Elbow, Emmet Cohen, Kiwi Jr, Lavender Diamond, Pearl Charles, Steven Wilson
This Week's Music
As ever this playlist can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. The link to the Youtube playlist is https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7Eh_sy55y6i18Qj7w_Z3CQft
Thanks to the Beautiful South, Grace Jones, Pet Shop Boys, XTC and Flash and the Pan who provide the section headings this week.
A couple of 9s this week, just short of perfection, but no perfect 10.
I'm Not Perfect (But I'm Perfect For You)
Mirores : Ani Glas
This is an entertaining mix of language, styles, tone and spoken word. It can, perhaps, be summed up as a Welsh Kylie meeting a Celtic princess in the 21st Century. 'Peirianwaith Perffaith' celebrates the Welsh referendum result; 'Cariad' sounds full of synthesised Arthurian mysticism and legends preserved in the myths and legends of ancient Wales. When you don't understand the language (or languages - there may be some Cornish in here too!) you're free to use your imagination to fill in the gaps.
It's certainly not all dragons and pixies though. It's mainly light and airy club lite music, with some darker, more ambient elements thrown in to stop the sweetness turning sickly. 'Mirore' is a fine example of this. Throughout, songs such as 'Agnes' are engagingly poppy. There's a bit of bewildering humour too. 'The Rising of the Moon' has a Welsh speaker break off to sing the theme to Six Five Special in English. Its incongruity will make you smile.
There aren't many albums which take in and encapsulate centuries of what it means to be Welsh, but in a 21st century way. This is one of them. It's a lovely, beguiling surprise that was over far too quickly.
Taster Track : Peirianwaith Perffaith
Now Is The Time : Lavender Diamond
This is the sound of the Faerie Queen providing an entertainment for mortal folk. That's not as twee as it sounds. It suggests an airy, delicate, dream like sound and does not disappoint.
In another sense, away from the effects of whatever I've accidentally inhaled, it's an album full of chamber pop gems. Its strength is in the details. The sound is intricate, even ornate, but not fussy. It's a record to enjoy through headphones.
I've seen it criticised in some quarters for lacking tunes. That's unfair. 'Look Through The Window', 'This Is How We Rise' and 'In The Garden' spin tunes that more than hold the attention. More than that, I can imagine our imaginary record retailer in Fairyland saying "Here's some pastoral magic for you and, I'll tell you what, let me throw in some added trumpet for free". The trumpets appear to good effect on 'In The Garden' The piano motif in 'Now Is The Time' is a similarly welcome addition to a song that is already strong. The jazz touches, culled from the soundtrack of an imaginary 1920s film, that garnish 'In The Middle' are a lovely touch too.
Everything is judged to good effect. Restraint is the watchword. The outro to 'New Religion' is as close to letting rip as they'll ever come, but it's letting rip with the handbrake on. Each track and the album as a whole is tightly structured. There's no improvisation here.
All told, this is a gentle delight of an album, quietly comforting in an age of noise.
Taster Track : In The Garden
Riding On the Tide of Love : Deacon Blue
One day I will coin a new name for a genre. Take soul. We've had Memphis Soul, New Orleans Soul, Chicago Soul and Philly Soul. These names have two things in common. First, they're centred on America. Secondly, they're named after a place rather than background. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you a new musical genre that breaks the mould. The name of that genre is Ordinary People Soul, and Deacon Blue are one of its finest practitioners.
It's not so much in the sound as the attitude and concern on real life matters. Musically, it's not a million miles from the formula Deacon Blue have followed since they started. They're still adept at the big ballads that swell from a single instrument to an epic conclusion in tribute to the emotions witnessed in the song ('Dignity', 'Chocolate Girl' and 'When Will You Make My Telephone Ring?' from their debut). Here, 'Not Gonna Be That Girl' follows the same template with brass added to a climactic crescendo. Doubtless the kitchen sink will follow on the 12" extended remix.
Even with its new genre name, this is essentially an album of strong, classic pop songs. 'Riding On The Tide Of Love' starts off as straightforward rock and roll before softening into a fuller sound complete with strings and extended fade out. 'Nothing Changed' is less typically Deacon Blue with a lolloping acoustic guitar and falsetto prompting a lovely, haunting sound. 'Send A Note Out' strikes a trans Atlantic sound, not quite American, not quite Van Morrison but with a foot in both camps. 'Look Up' is a duet that highlights how well preserved Ricky Ross' voice is still, whilst also pointing up that Lorraine McIntosh's voice is, perhaps, a little thinner than it was, while still doing a good job. The insistent drums bursting in half way through 'Time' provide a more dramatic sound, and the backing vocals on 'It's Still Early' are soul whichever sub genre you attribute to the song.
One of the other things the various categories of soul have in common is a self confidence. When Ricky Ross sings "There's still time........... Is there still time?" there's a note of uncertainty and vulnerability, and a layer of welcome complexity and depth - just like the real lives of ordinary people. That's Ordinary People Soul.
Taster Track : Nothing's Changed
Elbowrooms : Elbow
Time to confess. There's not a lot about Elbow, on paper, to dislike - sensitive, mature songwriting, liked by friends and possessing an ability to craft a serious song. But I cannot manage a whole album, and that includes their Greatest Hits. I don't know why that is, which is why I'm constantly giving them one last chance.
Enter Elbowroom, a compilation of some of their greatest songs, reimagined under lockdown. Whilst it may have been performed live (ie in a single take) it's not a live album. There's no live audience or breaking of the fourth wall with the listener. Its success depends on how you feel about these versions compared to the originals. (If you're not a regular Elbow listener, I've put together a playlist on Spotify that puts the originals and the reworked versions next to each other. It's at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3TaoDqjYEhTMrTxMrydUHJ?si=32aPTY4oQrS3JGjlqE_VLQ)
Does it work? Yes, it does. It's unmistakably Elbow. They've not transformed the songs but they've given them more space to work in. That allows their beauty to shine through more clearly, as in 'Great Expectations'. Guy Garvey's voice even sounds tender here.
Tracks where the uncluttered approach works most effectively are 'Weightless' with a lovely, highlighted piano glissando towards the end - even I didn't know I knew terms like that! - 'Scattered Black and White' and 'Lippy Kids'. It's still Elbow, but it's easier on the ear than the full blown version.
Taster Track : Weightless
Cooler Returns : Kiwi Jr
I reviewed Kiwi Jr's debut a few weeks ago. This follow up is even better.
They've sharpened their sound. Some call it jangle pop, but I'd look further back to the sound of late 70s new wave. It's guitar led pop in three to four minute bursts. Opening tracks 'Tyler' and 'Undecided Voters' would have been Top 10 contenders back in the day. It's unfair to single them out though as all the tracks are great examples of this era and the 'let's form a band and have some fun' attitude.
They sound a more complete band now, less reliant on singer and front man Jeremy Gaudet. The songs, in fact the whole album, proceeds at a brisk pace making its point and moving briskly on.
It's a good album. One day all albums will be made this way. Once they always were!
Taster Track : Undecided Votes
The Future Bites : Steven Wilson
"So, Steven, thanks for the new album. Is it listenable?"
"Up to your usual standard?"
"So I'm told."
"Possessing something to grab the listeners attention, reeling them in and immersing them in the music? "
"...... Hmm...... Bugger! That must be one of the 12 things I forgot."
We can't say he didn't warn us. On '12 Things I Forgot' he sings "What does it take to get your attention?" I'm not sure he's found the answer here.
That's harsh, but it's the only way to explain why a well made, highly listenable album nonetheless sounds a little bland and underwhelming. '12 Things I Forgot' is the most conventional song here. It's the sound of an established performer who's past the stage of being hyped but still delivering the goods.
There's much to like here. ''Self' shows both sides of him - the catchy melody of the chorus and the backing vocals set against the synth noises to good effect. 'King Ghost' offers a kind of mutant pop, similar to but not exactly like the mainstream variety. It's a sea-bound mammal, a dolphin, compared to a fish. 'Follower' brings a more urgent, aggressive sound. The central track - 'Personal Shopper', all 9 minutes 49 seconds of it - carries the impact of Heaven 17 at their best. Several of the songs carry a strong, anti consumerism perspective and maybe that's the issue here. The songs are supporting the message and do not want to drown it out.
It may be a grower, but in summary it's a pleasant but not gripping listen.
Taster Track : 12 Things I Forgot
Future Stride : Emmet Cohen
Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine 1920's New York. Your scenes are probably influenced by jerky newsreel footage from the time. This is the modern soundtrack to that footage.
This is jazz piano to bring a smile to your face, quite deliberately so. There are little bits of musical humour - the break in the piano to allow little drum fills during 'Symphonic Raps', for example. 'Reflections At Dusk' incorporates saxophone and trumpet to add to the 1920s New York feel. 'Future Stride' is brimful of ideas and little touches that hold the attention. At the end of 'You Already Know' the title is spoken out loud - the only words on the album. It jolts you out of your reveries as if checking you're still paying attention. It's that moment in a meeting when, having zoned out you're brought sharply back by the sound of your name.
There are moments when it's easy to lose focus. 'Toast To Lo' is a less light, more meandering piece and less entertaining too. 'You Already Know' falls foul of the 'too many notes' principle. (Don't take that to heart Emmet. Emperor Joseph II said that of Mozart so you're in good company. The emperor is regarded as a bit of an idiot for saying that too!)
There's one track that is causing me a bit of grief. 3 minutes and 52 seconds into 'Second Time Around' there's a fragment of a musical memory from a different musical genre. It's immediately familiar but I can't for the life of me recall what it is. It only lasts a few seconds and is the equivalent of seeing a very familiar face out of context. I've posted it on the forum in case anyone can put me out of my misery.
Even if you don't understand jazz, there's a joy to be had in simply hearing a piano played this well and sounding this good.
Taster Track : Symphonic Raps
When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty
Magic Mirror : Pearl Charles
Pearl Charles has it within her grasp to be the new Taylor Swift. She has the country music origins. She's developing the dance pop bangers. What she lacks is the ability to talk to her peers directly, and that undermines everything.
'Only For Tonight' crystallises the issue. It's the authentic sound of early Abba, particularly in the keyboards and twinkling 70s music. But she sings, or rather agonises, over a one night stand. OK, I'm not advocating one night stands as a lifestyle choice but, in this day and age, how can I put it............... who cares? It's no longer a dramatic issue, so it sounds like TMI for her generation's worried parents, aided and abetted by the 70s soft rock music. It's a trick that fails to work across this album.
'What I Need' and 'Impostor' do the 70s thing very well, and the latter sounds as if it is more directed towards her generation. There are a few easy cliches scattered throughout. "The tough get going. I don't want to run away" she sings on 'All The Way' (Please, tell me this isn't another agonising over going 'all the way'!) Perhaps the best / worst is saved for last. Is it just me but is the message in the chorus, just a little self centred, a little selfish, a little out of touch?
It doesn't matter that there's rockets flyin'
It doesn't matter that the water's risin'
It doesn't matter as long as you're mine.
(And what's with the dropped final 'g'? Do we recognise poor pronunciation now?)
I know pop isn't meant to save the world. It's supposed to provide an escape from reality. It just seems a bit rich to explicitly disregard and dismiss real problems rather than simply sing about something else. Grr!
To be fair, this may prove to be a transitional record, one that takes her from singing what an older generation wants to hear in a spirit of nostalgia for what was important 50 years ago, to one that speaks for and to her generation. I'm a fan of the soft 70s AOR sound and she nails this on tracks such as 'Sweet Sunshine Wine' although it would benefit from a stronger production sound. And someone needs to show her that her future lies with her generation, not sucking up to the grown ups!
Taster Track : What I Need
Down Among The Dead Men
Nothing to see here. Move along now.