Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Killers live @ The N.E.C

So here we have a band that have gone from strength to strength in the popularity stakes over the past few years.

Their debut album "Hot Fuss" was excellent by all standards, the follow up just didn't do it for me. It's an ok album, but it doesn't deliver the justice.

I missed The Killers when they played smaller venues, so I've had to make do with an Arena sized tour.
Did it work?
I don't think so.
I'm not a fan of The N.E.C Arena anyway, so to see a band that have reached this far, so quickly, in a shack thats always lacking in both sound quality and atmosphere was possibly a big mistake. The sad thing about it is, I'm sure they would be brillaint in smaller venues, but now they seem to have done this grown up thing and will only do Arenas and Stadiums, so I guess those days are all gone now.

I don't know who chose the support band, but they should be shot. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club supported and not only were their songs all lacking in anything remotely interesting, but they drummed up about as much atmosphere as a guy selling The Big Issue.

The stage was very elaborate. Lights everywhere, with a huge "Sam's Town" motif over the front. Four manual spotlights to follow them around (although in my opinion 2 would have done), explosions with coloured paper and at the begninning, the entire stage was masked by a sheet that dropped at the appropriate moment during the intro.

They delivered the songs we wanted and more. Half of Hot Fuss was played and most of the new album, as we'd expect, throw in a cover of Joy Division's "Shadowplay" and you get a pretty good setlist.

Here's some of the shiny paper bits that exploded from the top of the stage.

The big songs got the best reception, with Mr Brightside, Smile Like You Mean It and All These Things That I've Done getting the loudest sing-a-longs. Brandon did his best to move around the stage, which can only be a good thing because the rest of the band are pretty plastic. There's the occasional leg kick from one of the guitarists, but the drummer just did his best to win a face pulling contest.
The sound was crap but I put that down to the venue. The songs were a little bit too much like the recorded versions for my liking, lacking in the whole 'live vibe' department. That said though, the crowd did their very best to enjoy the night, whatever the atmosphere.

I enjoyed the gig, but nowhere near as much as I wanted to. Shame really.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

we're so miserable and stunning

It's really all ZZ Top's fault.

OK, so I was in the Virgin Megastore in Manchester on Saturday morning. Ostensibly, I'd gone in to find my daughter a DVD for her birthday and, with there being nothing that caught my eye, I stumbled upon ZZ Top's Greatest Hits CD for £3.99. Whilst brosing, I started listening to the music that was playing in the store which had caught my ear.

I was pretty sure it was Fall Out Boy, but it wasn't as, er, heavy and spiky as the stuff of theirs I had heard, so I checked with the girl at the cash desk.

Twenty four hours later, for the pricely sum of £6.94, the album was mine.

I still wasn't sure what I was doing when I put it on the other night. But, and it is a big but, it's actually (whisper it quietly) Really Quite Good.

Oddly, the songs where they get the heavy guitars out are the ones I like the least. The rest are, pure and simple, pop songs with guitars. No different to pop songs with keyboards or pop songs with shreiky vocals. From opening song "Thriller" through the irritatingly cactchy top 3 hit "This Ain't A Scene It's An Arms Race" to the great "Hum Hallelujah" it's a great selection of catchy pop rock records.

For some reason however, Fall Out Boy seem to be the bastard child of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman when it comes to the naming of their tracks. Not content with "Don't You Know Who I Think I Am?" they also charm us with "You're Crashing But You're No Wave", "I've Got All This Ringing In My Ears But None On My Fingers" and the utterly preposterous "I'm Like A Lawyer With The Way I'm Always Trying To Get You Off".

Good grief. Lads. Really?

Anyway, it's a great little record. The teenagers will of course love it ("We're the new face of failure. Prettier and younger but not any better off....") but I have to confess to being converted too. I'm off to buy myself some eye-liner and a My Chemical Romance hoodie.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Samba in the Snowy Rain

As I'm now going to be a proper, published author with my very own column, I thought I should share my first review with the interweb. So here goes.

Since their Mercury nomination for their debut album Through the Windowpane, there's been a buzz around the Guillemots. And after their Brit nomination, that buzz became louder still. So I was keen to see what all the fuss was about when they played on February 6th.

The weather wasn't very pleasant, and the venue didn't seem to be filled to capacity. The spirits of those who braved the blizzards to get to the gig were high though and the band were welcomed on stage with a rousing cheer. They opened – appropriately - with Samba in the Snowy Rain. The crowd loved it. Singer Fyfe Dangerfield chatted and bantered throughout the hour-long set and added some local colour by asking the audience if he should buy a deep-fried Mars Bar while he was in town. Response unknown.

As with most gigs, the better known songs got the best reception, particularly the popular Annie Let's Not Wait, Made Up Lovesong # 43 and Trains to Brazil. In parts, things seemed to dip and while the band played with abandon there was a definite lull in energy in the audience. While the Guillemots may be famed for their swooning instrumentals, they did drag in parts and at times the momentum seemed to get lost. The gig drew to a close with album closer Sao Paulo. Inexplicably, members of the audience were invited on stage to bash a large model bird with sticks at this point, giving a whole new dimension to percussion. It was somewhat spoiled by members of the audience leaving midway through. Okay, it's a long track, but where are your manners?

Prior to seeing the Guillemots, I'd have been inclined to lump them in with the likes of Belle and Sebastian who sound good on CD but don't work particularly well live. I exited the gig into the snowy night with an entirely different opinion.

The Guillemots are, in general, a little fey for my tastes, but I'd be more than happy to see them play live again. I suspect the next time they tour, they'll be playing to much bigger crowds in far larger venues.

(I've been kind here. But I plan to review The Fray's debut album and be less kind about that, so thought it was important to achieve balance as opposed to come over as a total bitch. There's always next month.)

Samba in the Snowy Rain - The Guillemots

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Jamie T - Panic Prevention.

He provides a breath of fresh air, he keeps things basic in most of his songs and he likes to use the C word quite a lot.

He's a quirky kind of guy, a more lovable Mike Skinner, if you will. He's been compared to the likes of The Streets (for obvious reasons), Lily Allen and Audio Bulleys to name a few, but I'd much rather like him to be in a category of his own.
He's special!

What we have here is 12 punchy songs that will either dig their claws into your skin or have you reaching for the skip button. Of course the correct button you should be messing with, is the volume control.

He doesn't really sing, par se. Well, sometimes he does, but most of his vocal are spoken/rapped/toasted. And that's one of the major keys in this collection. The way he delivers his vocals either add to the melody or more often than not are the melody. If ever there was an album with big dirty great hooks in it, that could reel in a pool of sharks, then this could certainly be in with a fighting chance.

Some of the tracks consist of very little by the way of instruments. There's two tracks with just Jamie and a guitar; the intro track "Brand New Bass Guitar", which has Jamie telling a tale of woe over a backing vocal that sounds like it's been provided by a local working men's club and "Back In The Game" in which he does a lot more singing than in any other track. Both tracks are also standout tracks on the album for being the furthest removed from the rest of 'the formula', which is more of a Street Pop/Hip Hop kinda thing. But don't let that put you off if Hip Hop ain't your thang, it's very listenable.

A lot of the songs have a keyboard that provides an insatiable hook. It's delivered in such a way that it provides an element of being something so simple that it tickles those childish feelings inside. Like when you found out that you had just enough money to buy those sweets. These hooks are particularly effective in the 'minimal' tracks such as "Dry Off Your Cheeks" and "Alicia Quays", which is just a drum loop and a bass....then the keyboard appears from nowhere.

His singles haven't paricularly faired very well. "Sheila" seemed to get loads of air-play but didn't really do much damage to the Charts. His latest single, "Calm Down Dearest" is doing pretty well and deservedly so. His vocals initially delivered in a 'drunken state', acompanied by a staggered drum beat, then we are greeted with a lush Motown style background. Samples of strings are spliced in here and there until he hits the chorus where he sings again. The chorus reminds me a Manic Street Preechers song, but I don't know if it's a specific one or just the style in which he sings.

"So Lonely Was The Ballad" is a tale about street life. Again, there's a mixture of his vocal style between rapping/talking and singing. About half-way through there's a sample of some guy talking about panic attacks. It's quite a slow tempo song, with a groovy bassline and a funky keyboard.
"Operation" chews up and spits out that idea. What we get here is a quick tempo song, with guitar, drums, bassline a plenty, tinkling keyboard and crowd samples. About half way through, the guitar melody take over and suddenly it's almost turned into one of those songs you see in movies where Russion guys dance. The final part of the song is driven by the guitar again, but this in an 'indie/pop' stylee. It works! It completely works!
There's something remeniscent of Franz Ferdinand in "Pacemaker". I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing though. The music is a standard indie type beat, with Jamie going into semi-shouting mode and using the C word quite a lot. Naughty boy!
"Salvador" is one of my favourites on the album. It's an instant song, digging its hooks in early with the chord changes, emphasized by his vocals once again. He sings the chorus in this one and it runs at great pace, ever driving forward. I'm not too convinced by the "hoo haa" chants, but the fact that he delivers the line " a wop bop baloo bop ta wop bamboo" surely must be something to cheer!
Another one of his singles, "If You Got The Money" is an infectious song at the best of times. Broken drum patterns are acompanied by a strong bassline and a figity guitar while he meanders through his tale. The sample from Inner Circle's "Sweat" is quite clever, as is the way it almost goes all Drum N Bass on yo ass for the last half,. It's just the plinking guitar that saves you from it's Junglistic nature.
"Ike And Tina" has the obligatory samples, but they're a lot more subtle than you'd expect. The pace of this song is rollercoaster speed and that's probably not such a bad thing as in my opinion, it's the weakest track on the album. Nothing outstanding on this track and even though I think it's the weakest, that doesn't mean it's not a good song, 'cos it is.

I like it Jamie T!
I've been awaiting this album for a long time now and it's comfortably delivered everything I hooped it would and so much more.

This will be filed in the "Play Very Often" folder until further notice.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Fresh from the love-it-or-hate-it "Grace Kelly" spending three weeks at the top of the singles chart, Mika's debut album "Life In Cartoon Motion" skips merrily into the shops this week.

Cutting to the chase, it is like being buried alive under a mountain of chocolate buttons and marshmallows. Clearly there is nothing wrong with that (unless you died, I suppose) but it's probably a good thing that the album comes in at forty-five minutes otherwise there is a serious chance you'd explode with gaiety.

On first listen, it's like the aural equivalent of a rainbow. Or monosodium glutamate. Tuneful, brash and utterly unpretentious, Mika falsettos his way in a Scissor Sisters style through a series of short, snappy pop records. Any of them could be a single, and at least two of them sound like you've heard them before. He nods to Cutting Crew's "I Just Died In Your Arms" on "Relax (Take It Easy)" and the excellent "My Interpretation" sounds like the perfect theme tune for a Channel 4 Sunday morning teen drama. If they ever remake "Dawsons Creek", this is the song.

It's not all froth, though. "Billy Brown" tells the tale of a husband who falls in love with another man (to some odd brass backing). "Lollipop" is the S Club answer to Kelis' "Milkshake" ("....sucking too hard on your lollipop, love's going to let you down...") and "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)" is a homage to the curvier ladies. The Freddie Mercury comparisons here are obvious but I can't really see it.

I really, really like this album. Don't get me wrong - some people will listen to it and absolutely hate it. His frothy lyrics and shrieky affected vocals will get on some people's nerves. Big time. However, if you like immersing yourself in pure chirpy pop, can tolerate the derivative guitar/piano sound of the Feeling and the Scissor Sisters and like dancing whilst vaccuuming, this is for you. Just make an appointment with your dentist as this record is so sweet it'll give you tooth decay.