Friday, January 26, 2007

The Good, The Bad & The Queen

I’m afraid I'm going to do this the disservice of reviewing it track by track as I listen through the album. I’ve not done this before, and it may break down into stream of consciousness ramble, but bear with me.

1. “History Song”

Dreamy, acoustic start and then that utterly unmistakeable bass arrives and provides the song with a faintly menacing undertone. What sounds like a fairground organ and some echoing backing vocals give the song a slightly nostalgic, Olde Englande feel.

2. “’80s Life”

The song has a slightly doo-wop feel. Almost Elvis-like until Albarn starts to sing and changes the tone slightly as this waltzing backing track plays along underneath him. It sounds regretful and yet ethereal.

3. “Northern Whale”

Another quiet song – the third in a row now. It’s very downbeat, and Albarn is singing so gently that he’s almost whispering. Again, the backing vocals on the chorus (all “oooohhs” and “aaahhs”) gives the song a dreamlike feel. This album so far is very chilled out – good listening on a quiet, mellow night in. It’s not downbeat exactly, but it does sound very melancholy.

4. “Kingdom of Doom”

This one is the most familiar to me and I must have heard this one somewhere before. I love the image conjured by the lyric “a raven flies across the moon”. It feels ominous somehow, and again, the piano and the soft backing track give this a distant feel. The chorus here is the most “Blur” moment on the record so far. It sounds a touch – and just a touch - like latter-day, post Graham Coxon era Blur.

5. “Herculean”

There’s a definite “sound” emerging here. Another song where the instrumentation is almost muted beneath a gently sung lyric. Word to describe the album so far? “Dreamy”. It’s also wistful, regretful and melancholy… and perhaps a little ominous. There’s an unspoken threat here somewhere, a hint that something terrible has either happened or is about to happen. I like the production: there is quite a lot of electronic noise added around the band, but it’s done so well that you can’t see the joins, and it just washes into mix. It’s noticeable but not obtrusive. These songs are almost blending into a continuum.

6. “Behind the Sun”

Lovely bassline from Paul Simonon here … it’s simple enough, but it walks gently all over the background as Albarn works the upper end of his vocal range. Lots of “ooohs” and “aaahs” again behind the chorus.

7. “The Bunting Song”

The song opens to some gentle electronic beeping before the bassline kicks in and then the vocal. The beeping on its own is almost cheery, but when the rest of it is added on, the song sounds so sad. “And the whole place didn’t look the same that night / They put a party on and waited for the sunlight to recall all the days are a ticking bomb”. Cheery stuff, huh? There seems to be a clear lyrical reference here to the classic children’s book “Where The Wild Things Are”.

8. “Nature Springs”

The song opens with the sound of someone moving their fingers around a fretboard, and yet when the song finally kicks in, the guitar in question can barely be heard. It sounds like another song about loss and regret. “Everyone’s a submarine, looking for a dream far away”.

9. “A Soldier’s Tale”

There’s a lyrical reference here to “Birdsong in the night” – is that the Sebastian Faulks novel, I wonder? “Emptiness in computers bothers me / These are the scenes in our mind / We make our own confining type” Is he having writer’s block? There’s also some whistling here that is eerily reminiscent of “Wind Of Change” by the Scorpions.

10. “Three Changes”

We’re back to the fairground organ again. This is a more traditionally arranged sounding song – the drums and the bass are a lot higher up the mix than in the other songs, and there’s less electronic “wash”. This is the first time that we can really hear the famed ‘afrobeat’ drumming at the forefront of a song. It still seems to be a song about isolation and loneliness though. I think Albarn’s had a long, dark teatime of the soul. We’re a “stroppy little island of mixed up people”, apparently. He’s probably right. “Oh it’s alright / everything’s jolly”. I don’t think you mean that, do you? It certainly doesn’t sound like you do, anyway.

11. “Green Fields”

Oh bad start – I hate lyrical references to song writing. “I wrote this song years ago, late at night”. He continues: “Before the war and the tidal wave engulfed us all it’s true, how the world has changed and I was learning how to change with you” The chorus sounds a bit like the Kinks. The Kinks on a very melancholy day perhaps, but the Kinks nonetheless. This is probably the first proper chorus on the album, and is that a hint of a guitar solo? This is a nice song.

12. “The Good, The Bad & The Queen”

This opens with an almost music hall piece of piano. It mightn’t sound out of place at the start of a Smith’s song – one of the particularly sad ones. Perhaps it’s surprising then when Albarn’s lyric is the most cheerful on the album (admittedly not saying very much, and it’s not exactly S Club 7 cheerful now). It starts slow, but you can hear the reel getting faster and faster as the song continues… An excellent way to finish the album and leave you wanting more. Is this the first time that they sound like a ‘proper’ band with a bassist, guitarist and drummer? It might be.


Well, that’s a slightly odd review, I know… I think this was meant to be listened to and enjoyed as a whole rather than picked apart song by song. But still, it’s a captivating album. It’s not an obvious album, there aren’t really any big choruses or anything like that, and yet right from the very first listen I was entranced. Something about it just seized me and wouldn’t let go. Yes, the voice tells you instantly that this is the work of Damon Albarn, but don’t let that put you off – Gorillaz may have been a cartoon band but this is a serious album. I’ve heard it criticised for hiding the depth of the musical talent in the band beneath Dangermouse’s electronic wash, but I don’t buy that… I think that the wash only adds to the atmosphere that builds up as you listen to the album.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

you'd be amazed at what you can achieve in a year

If you have heard The View's "Same Jeans" and thought "That's a great little catchy pop record, I might buy that album", be warned. It is not terribly representative of the rest of their new album, out this week.

It's a bit like Nelly Furtado releasing "Maneater" and sticking it on a CD otherwise full of Polish folk music.

The three singles here are excellent pieces of guitar pop. "Superstar Tradesmen" and "Wasted Little DJ's" chug along merrily and with "Same Jeans" currently sitting pretty in the top 3 the View can't be accused of not being a great singles band.

The rest of the album though is therefore somewhat of a disappointment. Most of it is fuzzy, loud and not terribly catchy ("Coming Down" reminds me in places of "Ace of Spades") and in parts they remind me of those guitar bands that I don't really like - the Zutons, for example. It's not at all original (not always a bad thing, of course) but it means the whole thing is, well, dull.

It's a shame, as I was really expecting big things of this lot. If you like what you have heard you may be as well downloading the singles for 79p each and not buying the album. There are a couple of half decent tunes on it, but even they are miles away from being anywhere near the standard of the singles. It may be a grower, I don't know, but on the first couple of listens it's the least inspiring debut album I have heard in a little while. Shame.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Luv U

Has there ever been a more shit title for a song than "I Luv U"? For anyone who's not been subjected to it yet, this is the pitiful title of The Ordinary Boys' new track. And has there ever been a more shit song, come to think of it?

Not so long ago, The Ordinary Boys were a credible little band. I've seen them live and they were fine. Unremarkable, but fine. I own their albums, and they too are fine. I don't listen to them often, but nor do I hide them at the foot of the stacks and hope no-one notices they are there.

And then came Celebrity Big Brother. And Chantelle. Closely followed by a relationship played out in the public arena, matched all the way by a relationship with the nation's media. OK magazine covered their wedding, for God's sake.

Suddenly, The Ordinary Boys are less credible. And producing pap like this with bastardised English in the title. They are this week taking part in a thing on Radio 1 where they will spend a day at a listener's school. So, not only no longer credible, but marketed towards kids. Is this really where the money is now? And are they so keen to make money they are happy to compromise their artistic integrity? Clearly, yes. Hell, why not just invite Hello magazine to do an "at home" - surely that would be worth more than churning out this drivel.

I wonder if Morrissey will ask for the name back?

I Luv U - The Ordinary Boys

Thursday, January 18, 2007

And the nominations are....

The Brit Awards 2007 are happening on Valentines day this year. Not only that, but somebody in their wisdom has decided to broadcast the event 'Live' on the TV (I would presume with a slight delay!).

Designated driver this year is in the guise of Russell Brand, he of Big Brother's Big Mouth and his (in my opinion) piss poor excuse for his own show. He could be a great host, who knows? One thing's for certain, he can't be any more embarassing than that fateful year with Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood, huh!

Apparently, Russell is going to "Bring back the mayhem!".

Just for fun, the nominations follow below in category order. To play along, leave your predictions in the comments (obviously before the event on February 14th) and we can see just who's "In With The In Crowd" and who's "Left Outside Alone".

Please remember this is a British awards ceremony, so all nominations will be British Artists unless of course it's for an International Award. Also the winners are chosen (except where stated) by 'members of the music industry'....and I use that term very loosely.

And the nominations are....

Male Solo Artist :
James Morrison
Jarvis Cocker
Paolo Nutini
Thom Yorke

Female Solo Artist :
Amy Winehouse
Corinne Bailey Rae
Lily Allen
Nerina Pallot

Group :
Arctic Monkeys
Snow Patrol

Album :
Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I am, That's What I'm Not
Lily Allen - Alright Still
Muse - Black Holes And Revelations
Snow Patrol - Eyes Open

Single : Filtered down to 5 nominations, winner chosen live on the night by viewers

Corinne Bailey Rae - Put Your Records On
The Feeling - Fill My Little World
James Morrison - You Give Me Something
Kooks - She Moves In Her Own Way
Leona Lewis - A Moment Like This
Lily Allen - Smile
Razorlight - America
Sandi Thom - I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker
Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars
Take That - Patience
Will Young - All Time Love

Breakthrough Act :Winner chosen by Radio 1 listeners

Corinne Bailey Rae
James Morrison
Lily Allen

Live Act :Winner chosen by Radio 2 listeners

George Michael
Robbie Williams

International Male Solo Artist :
Bob Dylan
Damien Rice
Jack Johnson
Justin Timberlake

International Female Solo Artist :
Cat Power
Christina Aguilera
Nelly Furtado

Internation Group :
Flaming Lips
Gnarls Barkley
Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Scissor Sisters

International Album :
Bob Dylan - Modern Times
Gnarls Barkley - St Elsewhere
Justin Timberlake - Futuresex/Lovesounds
Killers - Sam's Town
Scissor Sisters - Ta Da

International Breakthrough Artist :Winner chosen by viewers of MTV

Gnarls Barkley
Ray Lamontagne

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

from the sky down to the sea

I know it's hardly a brand new release, but someone bought it me recently and so I thought I'd give it a mention.

On the face of it, James Morrison is simply the latest in a new brigade of shaggy-haired British singer songwriters following the likes of James Blunt and Paolo Nutini. The reality is that James Morrison is simply the latest in a new brigade of shaggy-haired British singer songwriters following the likes of James Blunt and Paolo Nutini.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. It isn't particularly challenging and I'm not sure it's lyrical content is going to call anyone to arms in protest. It's jangly, spangly background music littered with three or four catchy singles.

Although, there is something appealing about it. His voice is great and the album chugs along pretty merrily. The hit singles "You Give Me Something" and "Wonderful World" are excellent and it's hard to find anything to dislike, other than, I suppose, it's lack of originality. That doesn't mean to say it is derivative (it isn't), but it doesn't do a great deal to differentiate itself from any number of similar musicians out there (and I'd include people like KT Tunstall in that group).

It has sold in its truckloads, though (it was one of the UK's top 10 selling albums in 2006) and it's not difficult to see why.

Interestingly, the singles and some of the rest of the album was co-written by Eg White, a man not only responsible for Will Young's "Leave Right Now", Natalie Imbruglia's "Shiver", Joss Stone's "You Had Me" and "Call My Name" by Charlotte Church but also remembered for being in the original line-up of Brother Beyond. There you go.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The contest that nobody admits to care about.

I'm talking about The Eurovision Song Contest.

This event get an unprecedented amount of TV and press coverage and susbequently can be responsible for launching solo artists and bands into a sucessful career. Of course it can also be a fatal wound, leaving them with so little dignity left that even The Richard and Judy Show or This Morning shun them.

I find the whole thing bemusing with their rules and regulations and I don't think I'm the only one.
In the UK, we seem to take the whole 'choosing our representative' very seriously, with discussions on chat shows and more often than not a TV show dedicated to the artists who want to represent the country, performing in a similar style to a talent show. Once the winner is chosen, it feels like we switch our feelings on the contest and view the whole thing as a bit of a joke.
Result! By not taking the contest seriously, we surely give up our right to be diseppointed by the result.

The rumour mill has already started and by far the strongest out there is that Morrissey is being commissioned to represent us in some way. Acording to many reports, he is in talks to write the song, although it still seems a little sketchy as to whether he will actually preform the song himself.

I can already sense the feelings of dread coming from Mozza and Smiths fans worldwide.

Perhaps this could be a good move.
Perhaps this is where the UK has been going wrong all these years by having wannabe's and unknowns represent them in a contest which is supposed to highlight the best songwriters and performers from each country.

Who knows what will happen? Who knows if these rumours will come to fruition?
One thing's for sure, nothing can even come close to the embrassment that was Katie Price's offering. We can only be thankful she didn't go all the way.