Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Album Review: Foster the People - Torches

Foster the People - Torches

Foster the People are a Californian five piece and Torches is their debut album release. Reminiscent of similar indie-pop bands - the Black Kids spring immediately to mind - it's chirpy, effervescent stuff without much of a backbone.

Single Pumped Up Kicks channels the whistling catchiness of Peter, Bjorn and John's Young Folks and is probably the highlight of the album. The rest of Torches is similar throwaway, uptempo pop with Don't Stop sounding like the annoying theme tune to a 90s American comedy show.

I'm a fan of chirpy pop music, but, ironically, I have to confess to being left pretty cold by Torches. Much of it is far too twee and it's one of those records that goes in one ear and out of the other without leaving any lasting impression whatsoever.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Album Review: The Streets - Computers and Blues

The Streets - Computers and Blues

Mike Skinner returns with his fifth and final album as The Streets ending a decade where he has been one of the most significant influences on British pop music. Whether you like the Brummie's band of rap or not - I have never been a huge fan - there is clearly evidence of his influence in everything from British hip hop to mainstream pop music of the likes of Plan B or Lily Allen.

Computers and Blues is more of the same tuneful commentary on modern life with children, Facebook and Call of Duty amongst the subject matter this time around. Whilst I can't say I'm a huge fan of Skinner's vocals, what I do like about the Streets is that much of their output is quite unashamedly simple pop music. There are some big choruses here and plenty of chirpy melodies which mean it's an entertaining and upbeat album - even if some of the subject matter isn't quite so uplifting.

Skinner's clearly come a log way since the frankly dreadful Original Pirate Material and ending The Streets now seems a pretty sound decision. Considering the last two or three records have been lots of the same, it maybe is time for a change and the 32 year old leaves behind five albums which have had a wide impact on the landscape of British pop. I don't necessarily get it all the time (although I enjoyed Computers and Blues more than I thought I would) but I do understand the importance of Skinner's contribution to the pop canon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Album Review: Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi - Rome

Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi - Rome

Having been handed this CD to listen to, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Deep in my brain I think I idly expected it so be some sort of laid back dance record, although the result couldn't be further from that assumption.

Rome has been five years in the making and is named after the city where the album was recorded. Sounding spectacularly like the soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist, Rome is evidently inspired by the work of the likes of Ennio Morricone - and I say that as no bad thing.

Part instrumental and part vocal - Jack White and Norah Jones are perfect choices, by the way - Rome is a curious beast. For example, whilst Black - featuring the strangely raspy vocals of Jones - is a great pop record, some of the instrumental tracks sound like incidental music for a wild west film.

Being a huge fan of John Barry (and film composers in general) the 60s-esque sounds on Morning Fog recall some of Barry's early work while the stunning track Roman Blue is a real highlight.

Perhaps more retro than one of the current in-demand producers of choice would like, Rome is still a great album. Quite what the point of the endeavour is (and whether it works) is open to question, although that doesn't diminish the fact that it's a melodic, engaging and well crafted record.

Monday, June 06, 2011

i never would have guessed i could miss someone so bad

Notes From The Departure Lounge

Andrew Gold, the American singer-songwriter died this week aged 59. For those of you who don't know Gold, it's almost certain you will have heard one of his hits or certainly heard an album to which he contributed.

My first recollection of Gold was after I fell in love with an (admittedly pretty ropey) cover version of his single Never Let Her Slip Away by the band Undercover back in 1992. I then sought out the Gold original which I adore to this day. For anyone who has fallen in love with someone who lives in another town or in another country, the lyrics of Never Let Her Slip Away probably resonate extremely strongly.

A few years later my mum (of all people) encouraged me to listen to a favourite song of hers, coincidentally also by Gold. Lonely Boy remains one of my favourite singles of all time, to the point where, in the days before downloading, I finally got to own a copy of the song by buying a double CD compilation album simply for that track. Is it based on his own life? The dates of the song all match, but Gold has always strenuously denied it is autobiographical. Either way, it's a great, great record.

And then, whilst researching my book 101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1980s I discovered quite by chance that Gold was also partly responsible for one of my favourite songs of the 1980s. 10cc's Graham Gouldman was the other half of the band Wax and Gouldman spoke warmly of Gold and his talents during our interview. Their single Bridge To Your Heart failed to make the top Ten in the UK, which is criminal considering it's one of the best pop records you'll ever hear.

During our chat, Gouldman shared an anecdote with me about the introduction to Bridge To Your Heart. Apparently, Gold miscounted during the intro to the song and had to correct himself. However, instead of re-recording that part, it was left in the final cut of the song. You can hear it clearly, and it's never failed to make me smile every time I've hard the song since....

Of course, Gold will also be known for working alongside greats such as Linda Ronstadt, Art Garfunkel, John Lennon, Brian Wilson, Joni Mitchell, Cher and Celine Dion. He was truly a jack of all trades - a multi instrumentalist, songwriter, performer, vocalist, producer and engineer.

Aged just 59, the world has lost a truly brilliant singer and songwriter. There aren't many people that can claim to have written three songs that feature in my top 100 favourite songs of all time, and so in that respect Gold was in a very select group of musicians.

Album Review: Journey - Eclipse

Journey - Eclipse

It would be fair to say that Journey have experienced something of a revival in recent years. Their number 62 hit from 1981, Don't Stop Believin' has been omnipresent over the last year or two thanks both to its reworking by the cast of Glee and its general radio airplay.

Considering Don't Stop Believin' was thirty years go, not much has changed for Journey based on the evidence of their brand new album, Eclipse. It's exactly as you imagine it might be, if not more overblown and air guitar-y then you might expect. It's a collection of soaring power ballads and American soft rock that sounds like any other Boston/Chicago/REO Speedwagon record ever made. I mean, you only have to look at the song titles to get an indication of the content: City of Hope, Edge of the Moment, Chain of Love - I could go on.

With screaming guitar solos at every turn and anthemic 'lighter in the air' choruses all you have to do is close your eyes to imagine a lank haired guitarist on his knees with his face contorted as he pulls off yet another riff. Sadly, however, Eclipse just isn't very good. If someone had told you that this album was recorded in 1978 you wouldn't have batted an eyelid (except, maybe for the fact that original vocalist Steve Perry is long gone).

It's music for a bygone era and whilst it's entertaining enough, it's just far too earnest (the wife thought it was Christian rock, for heaven's sake) to be taken terribly seriously.