Thought I might start posting up my reviews after they’ve long since been digested in print. This is partly for vanity and partly for the purpose of sharing what I (largely) believe to be some decent writing. I’ll begin with this post containing my shorter reviews from the January and February issues of Clash. I’ve already posted up my Tindersticks piece which originally appeared in the January issue. The rest are all below for your perusal. Thought for a second I was having another Green Day ‘American Idiot’ moment with the Marina and the Diamonds album, but a few reviews have appeared recently with a similar view to mine, so I’m not looking too renegade anymore for simply pointing out that it’s over-produced and too polished. It is, by the way. One last thing, the rating system is their requirement not mine and, occasionally, what appears hear may not match what appeared in print. I’ve had a few scores subbed down a point in the past and I’m sure it’ll happen again in the future.
Let’s get on with it then, shall we?
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS – ‘Realism’ (NONESUCH)
After a brief foray into self-sabotage with 2008’s intentionally noisy ‘Distortion’, Stephin Merritt has returned to the sound that made us love him in the first place. ‘Realism’ is a charming burst of cascading piano, shimmering cello and lyrics about trying to “shove you off the nearest bridge.”
Album standout, ‘Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree’ jangles along merrily despite containing the instruction, “if they don’t like you, screw them,” and a ludicrously silly but utterly wonderful chorus sung in German. Eccentric, endearingly arch and with an acute pop sensibility, this is the most accessible Magnetic Fields record to date. 8/10
God, I wish I’d had more words to write about this one. How do you capture the latest work by one of the most arch and intriguing lyricists around in a little over 100 words?
VARIOUS ARTISTS – ‘Keb Darge and Paul Weller Present Lost & Found – Real R’n’B and Soul’ (BBE)
Punch the air Northern Soul, gritty and passionate funk and heartbroken r’n’b compiled by two fanatical music lovers – it’s exactly the resounding triumph you might expect it to be. ‘Stronger That Her Love’ by The Flirtations sounds like Motown girl group classic you’ve somehow never heard, while the doo-wop with attitude feel of The Intruders’ ‘Hang On In There’ makes a welcome appearance.
Weller’s half of the compilation just edges it, partly because it contains the absolutely essential ‘Call Me’ by Emmitt Long. A mid-paced, horn-infused organ-driven charmer that Al Green in his pomp wouldn’t have sniffed at, it’s one of a number of absolute gems here. 8/10
Get the limited vinyl pressing of this one. It’s a cracking set of songs and it sounds ludicrously good at a high volume.
KATHRYN WILLIAMS – ‘The Quickening’ (ONE LITTLE INDIAN)
Eleven years into a recording career that has garnered a small but loyal following, Kathryn Williams may well be casting the net wider with this first release for her new label. A witty, warm and intelligent songwriter, Williams has always had a way with words and, when she sings “watch you in my mind, all through my lunchtime” in ‘Wanting And Waiting’, she perfectly captures that lovesick feeling of wishing the day away so you can be back with that special someone. ‘The Quickening’ may be her finest release to date, with folk, jazz and pop influences all merging into a rather special whole. 8/10
Having lived with this for another couple of months, I would stand by the suggestion that this could well be her best to date. It’s a very accomplished record with some truly beautiful singing on it.
THE LOUNGS – ‘Big Wow’ (FRESH HAIR RECORDS)
The musical landscape is a poorer place for the absence of The Beta Band, who disbanded back in 2004. For those still pining for unusual sounding indie music with a wry sense of humour and laced with killer melodies, meet The Loungs. Their debut, ‘We Are The Champ’, sounded like the Super Furries after too many E numbers, while this second outing is a cross between the aforementioned Beta Band and the unashamed retro of The Bees. Beware ‘Jack Sarfatti’, however, which sounds dangerously like the Kaiser Chiefs. There really is no need for that. Oh, and as I suspect you’re still wondering, it’s pronounced ‘Lungs’. 7/10
Their first album was a big favourite of mine and this one doesn’t disappoint. They’re funding it all themselves this time round so please don’t go off trying to Google an illegal download of this one. Buy it.
MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS – ‘The Family Jewels’ (679/ATLANTIC)
Marina Diamandis was responsible for one of 2009’s best singles, ‘I Am Not A Robot’, an infectious pop track featuring a unique vocal with more fluctuations than Florence sat on a washing machine. Sadly, its parent album doesn’t always maintain such standards. While ‘Numb’ and ‘Are You Satisfied?’ are similarly excellent, things sometimes feel a little forced, such as on the hideously titled ‘Hermit The Frog’ and ‘Shampain’. Marina describes the album as “intricately produced” and that’s where the problem lies. Such attention to detail leaves some of the songs feeling pretty sterile and, as a result, it’s a frustrating listen. Cherry pick wisely. 6/10
I really wanted this album to be brilliant. I remember being absolutely thrilled when I got asked to review it a couple of days before Christmas, but when I actually played it I found the experience fatiguing. I like to think that this brief review conveyed that fact, but Alexis Petridis’ review in The Guardian explored this line of thinking in far more effective fashion here.