Monday, April 23, 2007

that bloody mary's lacking in tabasco

So, the Arctic Monkeys are back. Back! BACK! Actually, I am not sure they ever went away, to tell you the truth. Indeed, it's only been about fifteen months since their eagerly awaited debut "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" sold about 6.2 gazillion copies in the first forty-five minutes of a cold January morning.

Perhaps I should start by saying that I thought their debut album was alright. No, perhaps it's slightly better than alright. What it isn't is absolute bloody genius of the highest order and The Future Of Pop Music. It's a jaunty and refreshing record, but if you told me I could never listen to it again, there would be a raising of an eyebrow rather than the clenching of a fist.

That didn't stop me heading out at lunchtime for the specific purpose of buying "Favourite Worst Nightmare", mind, so they must be doing something right. In fact, it's not a bad record, truth be told. Whether it suffers from being so similar a sound to their debut album or benefits from it, that's for you to decide. It does give you the impression that you've heard it all before, although they have a big enough fan base that I don't imagine that matters very much.

Somehow the humour and carefree attitude of "Whatever People Say I Am...." seems to be missing. It has it's moments, but strangely the highlights are when they take a less bombastic and more laid-back (can I say grown-up?) approach on "Only Ones Who Know", "Do Me A Favour" and "505".

I wonder if the freshness of their sound and the perceptiveness of their lyrics when they broke onto the scene rather deflected the attention from whether they were actually any good or not. Clearly they have something but when you look beyond the hype at what remains, whilst perfectly OK, it might not be quite as brilliant as everyone had hoped.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Superstar Tradesman

The second in an occasional series of extracts from Cat's column...

There have been a spate of Next Big Things to come out of Scotland of late. The Fratellis, Sandi Thom and Paulo Nutini to name a few. But the next and biggest thing has to be The View, surely due an award for going from zero to hero in the shortest time possible.

Darlings of the media and the public alike, The View are worth the watching. And watch them I did, at the Music Hall on Wednesday 11th April. Support came from the Towers of London, fronted by the belligerent Donny Tourette, last seen escaping over the fence in the Big Brother house. His attitude wasn't well received by the good folks of Aberdeen, and he exited stage right to a chorus of boos and a shower of beer. At least I hope it was beer...

The View came on stage at around 10pm to an uproarious welcome, and played their way through most of their debut album - Hats off to the Buskers. The crowd bounced in time, chanting along with abandon. Hit tunes Wasted Little DJs and Same Jeans brought the house down, and the new single The Don was well received. In contrast to the upbeat numbers - which, let's face it, comprise most of the band's repertoire -
the slower Face for Radio provided a welcome change of tempo. Lead singer Kyle Falconer engaged the crowd with snippets of conversation between numbers, and while the audience roared their appreciation, one wonders if anyone actually understood what he said. I certainly didn't.

As with any relatively new band, the range of material was fairly limited, and consequently, the set was shorter than anyone would have liked. The band exited to rapturous applause after encoring with a cover of Squeeze's Up the Junction, followed by hit single Superstar Tradesman leaving the audience happy but wanting more - a winning combination.

If I had one criticism of the evening, it would be that the crowd were a little too enthusiastic. At one stage, security halted the gig because people were being trampled underfoot. Perhaps I'm just getting old and that's rock and roll nowadays. Either way, a thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all, and The View proved nicely that there's far more to come out of Dundee than just jute, jam and journalism.

Superstar Tradesman - The View


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

love is dead

There have been various incarnations of the Suede boys over the years. The original Suede line-up, Bernard Butler solo material, the later Suede albums, McAlmont and Butler and the Tears.

Now, it's frontman Brett Anderson's turn with his eponymously titled debut solo album.

Despite me being a great fan of Suede (there is merit even in their later work) I hesitated in the purchase of this album. Almost without exception, the reviews have been lukewarm at best, even from what you might consider the most sympathetic of sources.

So, I spoke to a friend of mine who I knew was hitherto a fan and as he was more positive about the album, I took a chance.

In simple terms, it is wonderful. Whilst gone are the rebellious lyrics and aggression, in its place are some beautifully crafted string arrangements and melodies. The melancholy of the old Suede remains right from the fantastic opening single "Love Is Dead" through the gentle "One Lazy Morning" to the excellent "Song For My Father".

It's his voice I love more than anything. It is soulful, honest and distinctive and the accompaniment of the gentle Sunday morning sound of acoustic guitar, piano and strings makes for a really good record.

I don't see what the critics dislike. Maybe they bemoan the lack of cutting edge or anger - it's the voice of recognition and world-weariness not the gasoline-fuelled teenage angst of old. For me, I think that suits him perfectly. Brilliant.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Oh that Shakira.

Amazing how one song can have such an effect on people.

It appears my previous video post of Alanis covering "My Humps" has been swallowed by Blogger.
I hope you choke....I hope you choke....

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Kaiser Chiefs - Yours Truly, Angry Mob.

It took me a while to get into The Kaiser Chiefs, I have to admit. The turning point may have been watching them play live on the second stage at V Festival a couple of years back. Judging by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, I felt like I'd been missing out on something quite special.

Their debut album was ok and although I found constant keyboard nagging a little....well, nagging, I can't help but feel like they were onto something. Unfortunately, they apparently didn't feel the same, hence the lack of nagging hooks on this album, instead being replaced with a more guitar based, vocal washed, drum pounding album that feels like it's been written with the sole intention of being played live in large Arenas and Festivals.
I'm not sure if I'm being slightly unfair by saying that sometimes their lyrics seem to struggle. There are often times when the same word or phrase is repeated and it begs the question, "run out of ideas or just rushing to get something released?".

Ruby, the lead single, is also the opening track. I dunno what it is, but this always makes me uncomfortable about an album. Have they put the single that's likely to gain the most radio play as track one because the rest of the album doesn't quite live it to it? In this case I kinda think so because there's nothing else coming close to being this 'instant'.

Snapping at it's heals for radio play, but nowhere near as infectious is The Angry Mob. A Shed Seven-esq song which bounces along at quite a nice pace. This should surely be a single! The bridge contains all those familiar Kaiser elements, I just wish the guitar was more chunky. It's there, but it's almost lost at times. When the chants of "We are the angry mob" come in towards the end, you can just imagine how this is gonna become a live favourite.

Heat Dies Down sounds like an out take from the previous album, less the nagging keyboard of course. Guitar driven, uptempo, with a catchy chorus. What more could they want? The guitar riff is bang on the money, it's just a shame it sounds like they ran out of things to say in the chorus. Good song though.

Highroyds begins with some promising feedback, then launches into an untidy song that attempts to be a lot more 'rock' than it is. His vocals don't sit very well with this song, either in the way he delivers them or the fact that his accent is creeping out. I dunno, but something doesn't sound too clever.

Next is Love's Not A Competition (But I'm Winning). A dreamy song, with acoustic guitar and atmospheric keyboards that pay pleasantries on the ear. Again, there's a 'dated' feel to this song, drawing elements from 80's bands that struggled to find a market. He sounds good singing this one, backed up with some nice harmonised backing vocals and some interesting guitar play. Sounding very much like the producer was actually sat at the chair when they mixed this.

Thank You Very Much gallops along nicely. Beginning with keyboards, this sounds promising. The rest of the band kick in and the guitar takes over the keyboard parts, which is a shame. The chorus would be in more familiar territory on their debut album and should this be a single, people would undoubtedly recognise it as a Kaiser Chiefs song long before said chorus kicks in.

I Can Do It Without You is pleasant enough. But what's with all the repetition again? On the first few listens of the album, this song stood out as being the one with the guitar solo in it. It's nothing outstanding, in fact sneeze and you might miss it, but there's definitely a solo in there. Good harmonies in this song, coupled with lush melodies and nice under-pinning from the keyboard. It breaks down towards the end and it would have been nice to have continued along that theme a little longer.

My Kind Of Guy has an even longer guitar solo. It's almost like they just realised they had a guitar player in the band who can do more than just strum power chords. Once again, we have a catchy chorus, but it feels lost in the rest of the song. Three quarters of the way through and it's apparent they didn't have an ending for this song, so lets all just strum along with each other until we get the nod to fade each other out.

Everything Is Average Nowadays has that familiar keyboard sound that dominated their previous album. And it's just not enough. His vocals are borderline shouty, particularly on the chorus and at just over 2.40, you can't but wonder if it could have been a great song with a bit more work. That said, this has 'anthem potential' written all over it.

Boxing Champ slows thing down. Sung by the drummer, accompanied by a meandering piano and what do ya know, it's really rather good. If anything, at least it shows they are willing to give different things a try and in my opinion this really works, even if it is very short. Running at one and a half minutes gives even The Smiths a run for their money in the concise stakes.

Learnt My Lesson Well has a great guitar riff that begs live crowds to jump up in the air and pound their fists. Unfortunately, it's rather short lived when it gets drowned out by the rest of the song.

Try Your Best is another slower tempo song. Nice verse and chorus arrangement alongside a quietly building wall of instruments behind. A touch of Blur here perhaps? This would have a great song to finish off the album. It's got that 'draw a line under this one' feel to it and sounds like the most produced song on the album.

Retirement finishes off this album and what a shame. After the previous song, this just doesn't sit well at all, well not in my ears anyway. Drums a la Doves, washed guitar chords and a mass of vocals all fighting for space don't do this song any favours. A case of one song too many?

Ok, so I'm not too taken by his vocals, but sometimes their lyrics are borderline amusing. I can't help imagine these being easy songs for a band who play down the Local Working Man's Club to master, but perhaps that's the appeal of them. Stories unfold quite easily within the lyrics and let's face it, it hasn't done The Arctic Monkeys any harm, has it.

It's a Kaiser Chiefs album, that's for sure. They've matured their sound since Employment, that's also a given, but I don't think it's the sort of album that you would over-hear playing in a local music store and go, "hey, what's this?"
Is it a competent second album, often seen as the most difficult?
Well, it's not a let down, but then again....

Currently filed in my 'give it a few more listens' folder.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

all the signs are there

Well, I could have sworn I wrote this yesterday, but Blogger appears to have eaten it. There you go.

Considering I have seen no publicity surrounding the release of this album and that my local HMV didn't have it in their "new releases" category, perhaps it is some anti-Thirteen Senses conspiracy. Who knows?

"The Invitation" is one of my favourite albums of recent years and"Contact" basically takes on where that left off.

It's a fair bit more guitar based, a bit stronger and grittier and I like it. By their own admission, their live performances have always fallen a bit flat mainly due to "The Invitaion"'s melodic but gentle content. Thie record retains the tunes, but adds a bit more depth to the sound.

It's unmistakeably a Thirteen Senses record. The soaring gentle vocals, the piano, the laid-bare sound makes it so. But it is a bit like "X&Y" in the sense that it's a "bigger" record - retaining the bands sound whilst making it somehow stronger and more guitar based. The opening track "Contact", the single "All The Love In Your Hands" and the beautiful "A Lot Of Silence Here" are stand out tracks.

If you dislike Thirteen Senses, I doubt this will persuade you otherwise. And despite the fact I like it, I worry that it won't do enough to prolong their stay much beyond this album. So let's enjoy them whilst we can, eh?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Damien Rice live at The Apollo, Manchester.

After more than 5 years of wanting to participate in The Damien Rice Live Experience, I finally got my wish.
I've enjoyed major over-play of both "O" and his latest offering "9" and enjoyed what he had to say and how he said it so much, that I scouted around for even more. Collecting live, acoustic and non album tracks, as well as video clips kept me going through the quiet time in between the albums.

For me, he is everything a singer-songwriter should be. His personal lyrics, reflecting on past loves and losses evoke just the right amount of sadness and reflection. His slighty twisted lyrics and playful, sometimes foolery words make me cunjure up black and white scenarios as I try to make some kind of sense.
And what to make of the subliminal elephants?

A huge part of Damien Rice's music is Lisa Hannigan, a singer with the voice of an angel, who doesn't just compliment Damien with backing vocals, but shares vocal duties in many of his songs from both albums and beyond. In my opinion, she's not only a vital element for many of his songs, but she's also a critical ingredient for his live shows. I've seen loads of live clips and there's definately a chemistry there when they sing together.
The worst possible news broke 3 days before I was going to see him. The 'Official' announcement offers this; "After much thought and discussion Damien has decided that his professional relationship with Lisa Hannigan has run its creative course."
I knew I'd miss her being there, I guess I just didn't realise just how much.

The venue itself is great. Standing downstairs (although they have seated gigs too, when appropriate) with a sloping floor and seating upstairs on a balcony type affair. The whole 'look' of the place is perfect for a gig and I have to say it's one of the best 'smaller' venues I've been to. I'm sure I've been there before....5 or 6 years ago to see Prince in rare form.

The crowd certainly had atmopshere, but I wouldn't say it was 'anticipation' in a good way. It was almost like a smell of fear....fear of the unknown....fear of how the gig would go without such a prime character.
After the first couple of songs, the occasional voice could be heard, "Where's Lisa" and I think those were a good indication of the general feeling of the crowd. We felt her presence missing.

He began with "Woman like a man", a non album track that rocked out from beginning to end. The guitars were definately turned up and at several points even the drummer looked capable of breaking into a sweat. The sound mixing desk were slow as hell though, the result being his vocals being constantly drowned out and I couldn't actually hear his vocals properly until halfway through "Cannonball".
His set was chocfull of great songs, but he seemed to miss out a lot of what I would call 'fan favourites'; Cold Water, Elephant, Prague and Grey Room to name but a few, although there's only so much time, huh. "Volcano" was really good, "The Blower's Daughter" was lovely and "Accidental Babies" was a pure moment of emotion. Absolutely gorgeous.
"I Remember", which is one of my favourite songs was awful without Lisa. As was "Nine Crimes" and "The Professor".
With the songs with verses normally sung by Lisa, I'd have thought he'd have had a back up plan. Somebody else....another singer to take her place, even on a temporary basis, but no. Nobody....just Damien singing the parts in a different, usually higher key. Some songs weren't too bad, but some songs just didn't sound the same. I wonder if he'll ever replace her or just carry on as he is?

The whole gig was uncomfortable for me. The audience were restless, even heckling and shouting things out during the most innapropriate moments, making me feel very uneasy. There was an idiot Irish guy, out of his face on poppers, singing his head off, shouting things out and jumping around like he was at a Slipnot gig right in front of us. What are the chances, eh? I'm finding myself a 'Twat magnet' at gigs recently. The audience sung along at some of the most intimate moments, completely ruining the atmosphere that could have been.
There were too many negative emotions building up inside of me to say I enjoyed the gig. I have to say, I didn't. And I hate the fact that I didn't enjoy something that could have been....something that should have been completely mesmerising.
I feel somewhat cheated.
I feel terrible for saying or even thinking such a thing, because Damien Rice is indeed, still a musical genius as far as I'm concerned, but that pretty much sums up how I feel.
I've read some message board posts to see how other people felt and probably more than half the people who went said they thought it was amazing. So maybe I just ruined it for myself.