CMAT, Eels, Elvis Costello, Martyn Joseph, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Paul Draper, The Rolling Stones, The Weather Station
Album Cover of the Week
I chose this as the Album Cover of the Week for two reasons. First, when it came out in 1981, it was genuinely startling. It's also a very good picture of Mick Jagger.
The second reason is that Mick Jagger isn't the only member of the Rolling Stones, so choosing this allowed me to include a picture of the full band alongside the review of the Super Deluxe edition of the album.
This Week's Music
If you added together the total number of years this week's acts have been performing you'd end up with a very big number indeed. Aside from CMAT, all the acts have been striving to please you, the listener, for at least 15 years.
More impressively, the quality of the longer established names has held up nicely, as I hope you'll agree.
Here are the reviews.
If My Wife New, I’d Be Dead : CMAT
Not many records achieve the perfect pop sound and blend it with such upbeat singing about miserable happenings. This is one of them.
CMAT is Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, an Irish singer. The Irish are proud of their literary sensitivities, and CMAT is no exception. She namechecks Marian Keyes, Philip Larkin and Anna Karina during the album. It fizzes with wider cultural references too - the Louvre, Mona Lisa, Peter Bogdanovic and even Glee. Add in some of the catchiest melodies for a while and a complete understanding of pop’s DNA and it all adds up to a knowingly sharp package.
She’s arrived from nowhere with a fully formed sound and personality. It’s a mix of country music and 60s girl groups. Both elements are carefully selected to suit her songs.
She’s flirty, hapless and her bucket of self esteem has a big hole in it. If Bridget Jones had spent less time writing her diary and started writing songs she would have sounded like this. ‘2 Wrecked 2 Care’ is about the inability to sleep. It’s typical of songs grounded in everyday life, filled with exasperated complaints about the days that get too much. It can sound cheesy, but it’s a cheese that bites. Its saving grace is to be shot through with humour and telling phrases, and that’s what stops it from sounding downbeat.
I have a ffondness for 60s style backing vocals. They’re an essential part of the classic pop sound. Here they are very good indeed, lifting songs into the realms of something special. Try ‘No More Virgos’ for one, but they work on nearly every track.
The lyrics are smart. “Everyday there’s nothing more to do” is one example. “Getting older doesn’t feel like Glee.” is another. My favourite line is “Every bottle is a boyfriend that didn’t work out.”
Unlike others documenting life’s trials and unfairnesses, she’s not on the attack. She’s struggling with everyday life, voicing her grievances and blaming herself for what’s wrong. In sound she’s a direct descendent of Kirsty McColl.
This is an album that will satisfy your ears, your mind and your love of excellent pop.
Taster Track : I Don’t Really Care For You
Tattoo You (Super Deluxe Edition) : The Rolling Stones
Like it or not, the Rolling Stones are now firmly established as a corporate heritage business. And they’ve been around long enough that, if they choose to, they can simply recycle old songs and content including stuff that didn’t make the cut the first time around. That doesn’t stop some of the previously unheard songs being rather good.
The Tattoo You (Super Deluxe Edition) comprises the original remastered album, an album of rare out takes and a three album live concert from 1982. If you were tempted to buy it, Amazon currently has the vinyl set for £90.97 and the CD set for £74.01, You can download the full works of i-Tunes for £15.99 or you can do as I did and listen to it as part of your Spotify subscription. Because it’s a deluxe, sorry ‘super deluxe’ edition it probably comes with booklets, posters, badges, tea towels and a chance to own a chipped plectrum that may or may not have been used by Keef. Probably!
Leaving the weary cynicism to one side, Tattoo You’ is, perhaps, an odd album to commemorate with a 40th Anniversary set. Over the years they’ve been completely transparent that it was cobbled together from songs that didn’t make the cut on previous albums so that they had something to tour. These were the dark days in The Rolling Stones when it was touch and go that they would survive as a band.
Much to everyone’s surprise it turned out to be an album well worth having. You could argue that it is the last truly great Rolling Stones album. It has one of the great Stones ballads ‘Waiting On A Friend’, some terrific rhythm and blues about cars and girls and, in ‘Start Me Up, a bona fide contender for the greatest Stones song ever. It’s worn well.
Its history though means that the album of outtakes and rarities is essentially the outtakes from an outtakes album. That’s not quite true as the songs don’t all come from the same period. I’m pretty certain that in 1981, E Bay wasn’t a thing, but it’s referenced in ‘It’s A Lie’.
The bulk of the nine outtakes are standard Stones fare, the kind of Chuck Berry rock and roll they can knock out all day And all night and all the next day if they need to! If you like this side of their music, and I do, these songs are a treat.
Their cover versions are always interesting. Dobie Gray’s ‘Drift Away’ works well here. It sounds as if they mean it, and that it means something to them. ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ is probably best known for Shirley and Co’s disco version. That being so, the return to its screeching blues roots is a revelation and, in itself, a reason to have this kind of album.
I haven’t listened to the live album - the whole package comes in at over three hours so I’ll catch up with that later. Very initial impressions suggest that the atmosphere of the live shows may have been quietened down a bit but don’t hold me to that.
Ultimately, this is an exercise in expensive corporate marketing and instinctively I resent that. However, on a musical level, it’s great to be reminded of the original album and the outtakes to the outtakes are superior to the releases of any number of Stones copyists and their own work in the years that followed.
It’s fair to say that I enjoyed it a lot, but through gritted teeth.
Taster Track : It’s A Lie
...And The Rest
Extreme Witchcraft : Eels
Eels return to basics on their 14th album. Their basics may not be flashy, but they’re still good.
There aren’t many bands that have a more sharply split musical personality than Eels. Their recordings are split between tender, heartbreaking songs and scuzzy wig out rockers. They’re lucky. They do both beautifully, sometimes in the same song as here, in ‘What It Isn’t’.
Listening to this it struck me that, whilst we’ve known for years that Mark ‘E’ Everett has hardly been overwhelmed by self love, and that he has found it equally hard to love others, he has always shown us a complete love of music. As he sings on ‘Good Night On Earth’ he wants to “soak it all in like tonic and gin.”
In taking the music back to basics it’s clear that he’s a master of many musical styles. He gives us the psychedelic stomper of ‘Good Night On Earth’, the blues of ‘Steam Engine’, the funk of ‘Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve’, the infectious toe tapping, hip swinging dance rock of ‘Better Living Through Desperation’ and the sweet rock and roll of ‘Learning While I Lose.’
He only falters once. ‘The Magic’ sounds a little forced into shape, a slave to his chosen rhythm. It’s by no means a bad song. It’s just that it’s not the simple, direct emotion he does best.
For all the darkness that underpins his records and the desperate, clinging optimism he’s made his forte, he’s still delivering consistently good music you want to listen to.
Taster Track : Learning While I Lose
The Boy Named If : Elvis Costello
Thirty two new Elvis Costello records in forty five years is pretty good going, especially when they remain consistently high quality.
The reviews hailed this as a return to the punk energy of, say, ‘This Year’s Model, his second album. They have a point, but I don’t think they’ve done Elvis any favours in ramming the comparison home.
If we want to time travel with Elvis, we can stream ‘This Year’s Model’. Personally I wouldn’t want to go that far back. I’d be very happy if he took us back to the run of records from ‘Trust’ to ‘King Of America’. I can’t think of another run of records by the same artist that takes bitter cynicism and sweet melody up to 11so well.
Nowadays, Elvis is much more about the lyrics than the music. His approach to songs, especially on this album, is akin to writing a short story. He’s aiming for an audience that prefers reading books to chanting slogans. Where before he might have sneered and spat out savage one liners, now he narrates.
The tracks such as ‘Farewell, OK’ are what I used to like. But I’ve changed, Elvis has changed and the world has changed. I’d like him to celebrate the songwriter he’s become. When he does this, as on ‘Mistook Me For A Friend’, ‘Magnificent Hurt’, ‘The Man You Love To Hate’ he writes better and more enjoyable songs.
Thirty two records in forty five years, and he’s still not run out of ideas. That’s worth celebrating!
Taster Track : My Most Beautiful Mistake
1960 : Martyn Joseph
Here’s a serious album of reflective folk that engages the attention and calms the mind.
One of the reasons I was drawn to this record is because I was born in 1961. I thought here was a good chance that the music would prompt and stimulate memories. I was not disappointed. Well, there’s a time for Blondie and a time for music to trigger some deeper considerations.
It’s not surprising that this is a strongly reflective record. Released last year it was written when the world faced lockdown and, as Joseph approached a milestone birthday. It’s full of reflections born of lying awake at night, processing the state of the world and the course of your life.
Joseph’s gravelly voice, the one man acoustic guitar, restrained keyboards and percussion no more forceful than handclaps create the right mood for contemplation. There are nice, complementary touches too, such as the unexpected trumpet on ‘Under Every Smile’. A cover Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ is a hidden track and it fits right in. It’s a record that doesn’t want to be shouted over.
It’s personal to an extent but it’s also a record that is embedded in its community. Joseph is born and bred in Wales and he has a strong line in serious choruses that could be sung together in mass choirs. They’re secular hymns, rallying the community to a common cause, less Americana and more Glamorganana.The mix of personal and the community says something important about connection and our place in the grand scheme of things.
There’s also a sense of being part of a wider community of singers who have trod this path before, and not necessarily the expected names. It includes the forerunners of Dylan, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, mature Deacon Blue, Richard Thompson and Runrig. I kept coming back to Bruce Springsteen in his quieter phases.
This isn’t my usual listening fare but I was fully engaged with it across the 50 minute running time.
Taster Track : Felt So Much
The Future : Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff’s simmering pot of soulful blues is hard to dislike but it’s in danger of going down as a missed opportunity because of the muddy sound.
Everything is in place for this to be a record that it’s hard to leave off the turntable. Rateliff sings like a preacher man. Honky tonk piano adds exuberance to the tone. The horns are always going to add a touch of class.
It has the immediacy of a live record, but from the vantage point in the hall where the sound is muddy, nor crystalline. It’s a disappointingly thin, trebly sound and that means it lacks impact, like a boxer who telegraphs his next punch too clearly. If Dexy’s Midnight Runners could capture the ideal balance in 1979, I’m not sure why it’s not possible in 2022.
I’m left with a frustrating sense that the album fails to make the most of its parts, like a mobile phone that’s used only for calls or a pigeon that chooses to walk out of the way of an oncoming car. It’s a musical style that’s competently done, but more ecstasy and euphoria should be possible. Then you’d have an album to treasure.
It’s by no means bad. Rateliff’s voice is as passionate and anguished as ever. ‘It’s sequenced like a live show, building to ‘Love Don’t’. There’s even a song tinged with both gospel and reggae - ‘Oh, I’ - which works surprisingly well. It’s appealing just to have a record with this Stax meets Van Morrison vibe. Over the course of the record you adjust to the sound and it’s less of a problem
Ultimately, though, this is a record that plays like an anti-climax.
Taster Track : Love Don’t
Cult Leader Tactics : Paul Draper
Paul Draper’s second solo album is a cynical and sneering look at modern life. It has some sharp observations but it’s not an uplifting album.
If you remember Mansun from the days of Britpop, you’ll be familiar with Draper’s vocals. Mansun were always at the weightier end of Britpop and nothing’s changed in that respect for this album.
It’s an album prompted by negative forces. His view is that the world is a grim place. He’s sickened by leaders, attitudes and manipulative behaviours. He’s not a fan of Boris (‘Internationalle’) for example, although he’s a cheap target at the moment. His perspective is that the world is a stomach-churning, grubby mess as if Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ was set to music.
The trouble is, it’s all delivered a little too forcefully. It becomes a bit much like a man with a cold shouting in your face. In the fable of the north wind and the sun, he’s on the side of the wind, huffing and puffing to achieve his ends.
One of his musical tricks is to deploy a relentless, rolling way with lyrics and phrasing. Occasionally it’s like an out of control steam roller but when it’s joined to a lighter, catchy melody as it is on ‘You’ve Got No Life Skills, Baby’ it makes for a good song. He has a neat way with one liners. “She took away my pain but gave it back to me.” comes from ‘Everyone Becomes A Problem Eventually.’ And there’s an occasionally weird sense of humour running through the songs. ‘U Killed My Fish’ has a Monty Python like recitation of fish to a terrace chant backing.
As Mansun, there was something about the band that worked in small doses. It’s the same here.
Taster Track : You’ve Got No Life Skills, Baby
How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars? : The Weather Station
Listening to this intensely personal collection of songs may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but there are moments of such vulnerable beauty that the album leaves a mark long after it is finished.
Last year’s Weather Station album ‘Ignorance’ was a lush and pastoral affair focused on climate change. ‘How Is It I Should Look At The Stars?’ is a follow up to that album, using tracks that for various reasons could not be accommodated at the time.
The link between the two is through nature - the marsh, magpies, the stars and rivers. That’s just the starting point for this album, a foundation for an irreversible and glacial exploration of more personal matters.
It’s a defeated, mournful and wintery album, as if she’s grieving for a relationship that hasn’t worked. There’s a sense that something has to give, a tear duct waiting to burst, One tear will tear it apart.
Albums are rarely this honest and personal. It’s an achievement to set down complex thoughts and emotions with such clarity. Joni Mitchell is not someone I’m familiar with - except through Emma Thompson’s experience in ‘Love Actually’ - but other reviews make a connection to her style of introspective songs. Although the sound is different, I feel the same about this as I do about late period Kate Bush or Talk Talk. It makes demands of the listener, but the rewards are plenty if you can meet them.
This is poetry set to music. It’s a beautiful depiction of unhappy times, whether they’re due to the state of the world or her confused and conflicted relationships. Perversely, she’s articulate about her inability to express herself in these. ‘Sway’ is the most dumbly optimistic song, a momentary, but only momentary, respite from the prevailing gloom.
For the right person at the right time, this record could be life changing doing the work of a hundred support groups. Others may feel trapped by the songs and that it’s rude to break away from such a sincere and personal exploration. And for everyone else it’s a masterclass in portraying heartfelt emotion in song.
Taster Track : Ignorance
As ever this week's Taster Track playlists 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
The Shadowplay playlists are at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/01iU7Jy80SMvJO5QBF7Oux?si=00d9d1fb8b2f4baa and https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7EjsaT8idWnNv42LqIGEGSmH&feature=share