Thursday, March 31, 2011

Album Review: The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

Listening to this album for the first time, the answer to the question posed by its title was 'not really sure'. Having only been formed last June, the Vaccines rise to fame is pretty stratospheric, finishing third in the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll earlier this year.

Bits of What Did You Expect...? are short, high energy punk, particularly the rousing opener Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra); 84 seconds of loud, guitar fuelled attitude. There are plenty of short, sharp and engaging tracks here with driving guitar and fierce drumming.

However, I actually like the Vaccines in more reflective mood. A Lack Of Understanding is a terrific record, and I absolutely love the single Post Break-Up Sex.

Whilst I'm not sure there is anything terribly original going on here, it's a record that is instantly accessible and very easy to like. Catchy, loud and punchy, the Vaccines appear to have hit on something of a winning formula.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Album Review: Panic! At The Disco - Vices and Virtues

Panic! At The Disco - Vices and Virtues

In 2005, Panic! At The Disco appeared as genuine challengers to Fall Out Boy's title as kings of emo. Debut album A Fever You Can't Sweat Out was chock full of emo cliches: from angsty lyrics to loud guitar and ludicrous song titles.

Then, the band disappeared. When they re-emerged, they had dropped the exclamation mark from the band name, releasing their second album Pretty. Odd. Sounding more like the Small Faces than My Chemical Romance, I really liked Pretty. Odd but, on the whole, their fans didn't.

Considering how different the two records sounded, it is no surprise that there has been a parting of Panic! At The Disco's ways. The pair that remain are vocalist Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith and third album Vices and Virtues lurches back towards the sound that made the band huge. Crucially, the exclamation mark is back, as is the emo attitude that characterised their debut release.

The result is another great Panic! At The Disco record. From the opening bars of the excellent single The Ballad Of Mona Lisa, this is a tuneful and engaging record. The Guardian criticised the absence of chief Panic! songwriter Ryan Ross, but I actually think that this is a pretty decent effort. It's loud, has some glossy production and will have you humming and singing along by the end.

If you liked A Fever That You Can't Sweat Out, then now may be the time to reconnect with Panic! At The Disco. Good record.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Album Review: Duran Duran - All You Need Is Now

Duran Duran - All You Need Is Now

For Duran Duran's 13th album, producer Mark Ronson decided that his intention was to make a follow-up to the band's 1982 record Rio - the point at which Ronson (rather cheekily) decided it all went wrong for the Brummie five piece.

The result is All You Need Is Now, a brilliant but puzzling record. On one hand, this album sounds exactly like the lost Rio sessions - pulsating, catchy Duran Duran at their 80s finest. However, at other times it is a very modern record, managing to work in 2011 without ever once letting you forget that it's a bunch of fifty-something popsters.

Bits of it are extraordinarily familiar - there are shades of Save a Prayer on Meditteranea and Leave A Light On - whilst the upbeat songs sound like they should be remixes of Is There Something I Should Know? Title track All You Need Is Now is classic Duran, and is cleverly reintroduced throughout the album in a manner reminiscent of John Barry's finest Bond soundtracks.

All You Need Is Now is a real surprise. Managing to be both brilliantly retro and entirely current, Ronson has pulled off a bit of a masterstroke here. Great stuff.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Album Review: Noah and the Whale - Last Night On Earth

Noah and the Whale - Last Night On Earth

It's been a strange journey for Noah and the Whale. First album Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down was a folky affair, destined to fall under most people's radar until Five Years Time became something of a surprise top Ten hit. I have to say that I found their debut all a little bit twee, and had consigned the band to the list of artists I wasn't interested in by the time their second record, The First Days of Spring came out.

And then one day - bored - I gave The First Days of Spring a listen. Since that day, it has become one of my favourite albums of the last few years. Written from a pretty dark place, it is achingly beautiful from start to finish.

Last Night On Earth nudges Noah and the Whale in another direction. It's certainly more commercially friendly than either of the previous releases, which quite suits them. From the excellent opening Life is Life to the driving guitar on Tonight's The Kind Of Night, there's plenty to like here. The band have retained their ear for a great melody but have also encompassed the lovely elements of The First Day of Spring without selling out completely.

Charlie Fink is obviously feeling more chipper this time. "It feels like his new life can start" is the refrain on the opening track, whilst the single L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N tells you all you need to know about his state of mind. If album one was far too upbeat and album two much too melancholy, Noah and the Whale may have reached a brilliantly happy medium on Last Night On Earth. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Album Review: Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!

Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!

In 2007, almost out of nowhere, came one of the most surprising overnight success' stories in British music. Elbow's fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid, scooped the prestigious Mercury prize and went on to sell over a million copies in the UK alone. The band from Bury were suddenly huge and tracks such as the majestic One Day Like This carried them firmly into the musical mainstream. And now comes Build A Rocket Boys!, only the fifth album from the band in over a decade.

I will be honest: it has taken me a long, long time to like Elbow. Over the years I have bought all but one of their albums (ironically, the missing one is Leaders Of The Free World, arguably my favourite of the lot) and have seen them live on several occasions. And yet, they are still not a band that I would ever say I loved in the way that I do a handful of other groups.

And, as with every other record that they have made, Build A Rocket Boys! is not something you can easily review on first listen. Elbow's beautiful knack of careful orchestration and Guy Garvey's terrific lyrics weedle into your brain on multiple listens, and each time you listen to it you hear something that you have never heard before. I'm half a dozen listens into Build A Rocket Boys! already, and it is still growing on me with every listen.

There's nothing quite as instantly commercial as Grounds for Divorce or One Day Like This here and so, in a way, it's much more like Elbow's earlier albums. Mind you, there's a bold and stunning singalong chorus on Open Arms, whilst the superb Lippy Kids is set to become an Elbow favourite. The highlight for me so far, however, is the amazingly beautiful The Night Will Always Win, a gentle ballad that's easy to overlook, nestled as it is in the middle of the album.

On first listen, I wasn't convinced by Build A Rocket Boys! By the fourth listen, I'd started to really like it. I now think it's absolutely great, which means by this time next month I'll probably consider it one of the greatest albums ever made. Great album, great band.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Album Review: Alexis Jordan - Alexis Jordan

Alexis Jordan - Alexis Jordan

Whilst only 18 years old, Alexis Jordan has spent over half a decade to make it big in the music industry. Eliminated in the 2006 semi-finals of America's Got Talent, Jordan and her family moved to Atlanta and stuck loads of videos on YouTube which got millions of views (remind you of the tactics of another teenage pop sensation?)

Signed to Jay-Z's label, Jordan's self-titled album is squarely aimed at the mainstream pop/R&B market. Singles Happiness and Good Girl both reached the UK Top Ten and are decent enough pop records. From there, the album doesn't live up to those standards but is an inoffensive enough listen.

Jordan is going to have to get better material to be the new Rihanna and reduce the influence of her producers (her voice is autotuned to within an inch of its uniqueness) to be the new Leona Lewis. However, whilst Alexis Jordan is pretty instantly forgettable, I could listen to it time after time without ever feeling the need to turn it off. That's half the battle won.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Album Review: Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding

Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding

Liam Gallagher's long awaited (by many, I am sure) return to the rock scene is here. His new venture, Beady Eye arrive with their debut album Different Gear, Still Speeding which, apparently, sold a mediocre 67,000 copies in its first week of release.

I'll be honest: I am surprised it was that many. I've never been a huge Oasis fan and even those moments of theirs that I have enjoyed have tended to be the Noel rather than the Liam moments. I suspect that even for die-hard Oasis fans, there is little that they will find on Different Gear, Still Speeding that touches anything as good as the Britpop legends recorded.

On the whole, this album is forgettable, sub-Oasis tosh. The Beat Goes On is a decent enough tune, but the rest of Different Gear, Still Speeding is naff pub-rock. It chugs along in the way that much of Oasis' later output did and, I'll be honest, I never want to hear it again.

Whether it's simply the fact that Gallagher's vocals will always make what he does sound like an Oasis record, or whether it's because he's chosen to make a record that sounds a lot like Oasis, he can't escape the comparison. And, I am afraid that this compares badly, even to Oasis' many low points.

To coin an Alan Partridge-ism for a minute, perhaps Beady Eye are the band that Oasis could have been?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Album Review: June Tabor - Ashore

June Tabor - Ashore

My 2011 plan of listening to lots of new albums - irrespective of genre or artist - has taken me to some interesting places. One thing I have discovered this year is plenty of folk music. I suppose it's always been there, but perhaps has slipped underneath my radar over the years.

I know nothing of June Tabor. She's one of the UK's finest folk singers, apparently, and Ashore is her half-zillionth album since the 1970s, or something. Still, I thought I would give it a whirl and I am glad I did as it is terrific.

From the opening notes of the haunting Finisterre I knew this was going to be a bewitching and enchanting record. Most of the album is very minimalist - some sparse piano accompaniment is often all that accompanies Tabor's lovely vocals - but this works brilliantly throughout.

There is a lovely mixture of traditional folk and contemporary recordings here. Traditional songs such as the a cappella The Bleacher Lassie of Kelvinhaugh and the French Le Petit Navire are lovely, whilst her spellbinding version of Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding is the highlight of the record.

I really enjoyed Ashore, actually. Gentle, melodic and beautifully sung, it is a real treat. Highly recommended.