Monday, November 21, 2011

Album Review: Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto

So, the World's Biggest Band are back with their fifth studio album, Mylo Xyloto. Much has been made of the lurch in musical direction that Chris Martin and the boys have taken on this record, encompassing the current trend for synth driven R&B and underlined by the appearance of pop princess Rihanna on the track Princess of China.

So, what's the verdict?

Well. I'll be honest - it sounds to me much like just another Coldplay record. It's hardly as if they've eschewed Jonny Buckland's guitar riffs in favour of David Guetta-esque rave synths and the electronica they do use is there to support the band's existing sound, not to replace it. The last couple of minutes of single Paradise are a case in point - a Buckland guitar solo with Chris Martin singing 'para, para, paradise' in a falsetto voice is hardly a major musical deviation, is it?

All in all, Mylo Xyloto is another great Coldplay record. In many ways it is an album of two halves - the first half is full of the terrific, driving, high quality guitar pop for which the band have become synonymous, highlighted by the brilliant single Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall and the catchy Hurts Like Heaven.

It is an album that trails off a bit in the second half, though. I'm not sure that their Rihanna collaboration, Princess of China, really works whilst Up With The Birds ends the album on a whimper rather than on a bang. I do like the melancholy Up In Flames, though which channels Fix You throughout.

All in all, there's not that much bonkers musical madness going on here. It's clearly a new Coldplay record and whilst there may be the odd synthesizer in the mix, they haven't turned into JLS overnight. All the familiar ingredients are present which means that, if you like Coldplay (which I do), there's plenty to enjoy.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Album Review: Birdy - Birdy

Birdy - Birdy

Earlier this year, a gentle piano led cover of Bon Iver's Skinny Love crept into the UK top 40. Having been Fearne Cotton's Record oo the Week on Radio 1, the lovely, stripped-back version of the song spent a couple of months in the charts, peaking at number 17.

7 million YouTube hits later and 15 year old Jasmine Van den Bogaerde, better known as Birdy, releases her eponymously titled debut album. It includes the single Skinny Love alongside a series of cool indie cover versions and one original composition.

The official line is that the album is predominantly covers to allow the 15 year old time to study for her GCSE's, rather than writing and arranging her own music. What this means, however, is that it's effectively an X-Factor-esque album of karaoke cover versions and so I'm not 100% sure what the point of the album is.

Putting that to one side, however, it's a blooming great record. Birdy has been careful to choose very hip covers and so you'll find versions of songs by The XX, the Postal Service, the Fleet Foxes, Francis and the Lights and the Naked and Famous alongside a James Taylor cover and her own composition (the lovely Without a Word).

The highlight is probably her cover of Cherry Ghost's Ivor Novello award winning People Help The People, although it's a record that could be covered by almost anyone and still sound terrific.

In many ways, this album reminds me a little bit of kd lang's Hymns of the 49th Parallel. Not so much stylistically but more conceptually - Birdy is an album full of distinctive and very different interpretations of already beautiful songs. As I say, waiting for a combination of original material and covers may have been more credible but as it is this is a likeable and lovely album from a great young talent.

(And, if you're planning to buy/listen, go for the deluxe version of the marvellous 9 minute closing track Comforting Sounds.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Album Review: Kelly Clarkson - Stronger

Kelly Clarkson - Stronger

One of the leading proponents of high quality pop in world music, the 2002 American Idol winner is back with her fifth studio album, Stronger. I've long been a fan of Kelly Clarkson and the 29 year old has produced a string of brilliant pop singles over the years, including Since You've Been Gone, My Life Would Suck Without You, Because Of You, Breakaway and I Do Not Hook Up.

Stronger opens with another terrific single, the current UK top five hit Mr Know It All, a mid paced but insanely catchy pop record. From then on, we're treated to another fine collection of power pop from one of the world's best vocalists.

Title track What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger) and I Forgive You are top notch, typical Clarkson power pop anthems whilst Standing In Front Of You is Clarkson's 'soundtrack' song and, according to the singer, 'the most beautiful song I've ever recorded'.

Anyone who questions the worth of Simon Cowell based TV talent shows should be pointed in the direction of Kelly Clarkson who owes her success to such a show. It is possible for these talent competitions to uncover amazing talent and, in Clarkson, they found a genuine superstar. Stonger is yet another superb pop album from one of my favourite chart artists of the last ten years.