That’ll be more of me then…

Two more from my reviews archive today. Both of these I stand by, though the second is probably the most bile strewn review I’ve ever written. Firstly, though, the never-ending majesty of Doves.

Doves - Some Cities

DOVES

Put on the headphones, unleash the rain and treat yourself to a truckload of euphoric melancholia as Some Cities sucks you in.

Anyone who has ever witnessed Doves live will vouch that onstage they produce a joyful racket, on a good night transcending their recorded output and achieving something truly beguiling. Their stunning debut, ‘Lost Souls’, was followed by 2002’s ‘The Last Broadcast’, an album that was never less than good but which failed to capture the widescreen sound of which this band are capable. With ‘Some Cities’, Doves come good on their early promise. Lead single, ‘Black And White Town’ careers along with a momentum so ferocious that it drops us smack into the next track before anything can get too familiar.

Never ones to allow genre boundaries to get in the way of a good tune, at times ‘Some Cities’ sounds like Doves have ripped off any number of little ideas, and yet the sum of these parts is ultimately unlike anything I’ve heard in ages. ‘The Storm’ opens with an electronically tinkered vocal and develops into the kind of atmospheric beauty that could soundtrack a million late night drives. This nocturnal claustrophobia dominates much of the record, before collapsing in on itself for the ethereal, and oddly serene, closing track ‘Ambition’.

The lyrics tackle changing relationships, attitudes and places, in most cases not changes for the better. Fear, anguish and battling the worst have always been key lyrical concerns for Doves, but they do it with more conviction than most. When I heard ‘I tried to sleep alone, but I couldn’t do it’, on ‘The Cedar Room’ over five years ago, I believed every word. On this evidence, life hasn’t got much more carefree.

Some Cities is on Heavenly.

Originally published in Word Magazine, 2005

***

billycorgantfe

BILLY CORGAN

Now somewhat less smashing, Billy Corgan returns with The Future Embrace, an album dogged by the past.

It’s rare when a successful band crumbles for the lead singer to subsequently achieve similar success on their own. Going on this evidence, it seems unlikely that Billy Corgan will buck this trend. Where the scope of the Smashing Pumpkins’ music enthralled, the heavy, over-bearing production of this effort ensures that any half-decent songwriting is buried beneath turgid rhythms and distorted drums.

Tracks flow by with such scant regard for the listener’s enjoyment that the tedium begins to annoy. The Eighties sounds that are being so successfully plundered by the likes of The Killers and Goldfrapp are all over this record, and yet someone appears to have forgotten to add anything new to proceedings. It’s a shame that one of the album’s few highlights, ‘Strayz’, is the closing track, as I suspect most people will have got bored some time prior to its fragile melody gracing the speakers. Stripped of the dense noise that suffocates the majority of the album, ‘Strayz’ finds Corgan at his most refreshingly simple, his voice working with the music rather than against it.

The greatest disappointment of the whole affair is the much vaunted collaboration with Robert Smith. At least William Shatner has the good grace to admit he’s taking the piss when he does his covers; Corgan’s attempt at ‘To Love Somebody’ sounds like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang doing a Depeche Mode tune at the local karaoke night. You have been warned.

Originally published in Word Magazine, 2005

A Further Order Of Bad Lieutenant

Yesterday’s brief mention of the Bad Lieutenant album appears to have attracted the attention of the lovely people over at the New Order Online forums, who did a splendid job of pointing out all of the bloody irritating errors on the bonus discs of the New Order reissues that came out last year, resulting in the imminent appearance of corrected CDs. Ever the shameless publicity whore, it struck me that it might be worth going into a little more detail today. In terms of writing my review, I’ve got as far as my detailed notes for each track so I thought I might share some observations with those curious to know more.

bl

1. Sink Or Swim

The lead off single and the one that everyone’s already heard. It’s one of the best tracks on the album, containing as it does the trademark hunched acoustic Sumner strum, a typically smooth vocal performance and an easy to remember refrain in, “what you doing, with that stupid little girl?” That said, beginning a theme that lasts for much of the album, it’s about a minute too long with a brief middle eight that doesn’t add an awful lot and then plenty of repetition until somebody finally remembers that they have to end the song. A reasonably decent opener, nonetheless.

2. Twist Of Fate

For those wishing to play Barney’s Bullshit Bingo with his famously clichéd lyrics, things really get going from here on in. I’ll provide my favourites in bold at the end of each song comment. Musically, it’s all rather lolloping. The chorus doesn’t have much to recommend it, although the verses are a little more curious in nature and there are some nice harmonies peppered across the track. The pace is a little monotonous and nothing much seems to happen which, once again, leads me to question why it needs to go on for quite as long as it does.

“head in a spin” “blink of an eye”

3. Summer Days On Holiday

Ok, I’ll forgive the repetition of ‘day’ in the title, even though it is bloody annoying. A fairly lively beat, which upon closer inspection on headphones appears to distort in rather ungainly fashion at times, gets things underway, with Bernard’s voice given an effect that sounds a little bit like what might have been considered a ‘futuristic’ sound in 1993. Thankfully, it doesn’t detract from the stock Sumner sound. Where this track really gets going is the wailed refrain of “sunshine on me” in the chorus, provided by Jake Evans, and sounding not unlike the chorus refrain from ‘Rise’, a track on Doves‘ debut album, ‘Lost Souls’. In fact, the plucked guitar sounds that accompany that part of the track also nod to the early work of everybody’s favourite Mancunian band named after birds. Lots of guitar-wanking goes on in the last minute or so, along with a brief, stuttering computer noise breakdown that is ever so slightly embarrassing. Too long again! Still the Doves-y bit’s good.

“wind of change” “whiskey bar”

4. This Is Home

A slightly more awkward and angular introduction got my hopes up but then soon after the usual acoustic chug kicks in and all is much as it was. There’s a nice little retro drum sound and vocal duties are shared between Barney and Jake to reasonably decent effect. If the quirky sounds from the start had had a little more prominence in the rest of the song I’d have enjoyed it more but it’s pleasant enough none the less. Once again, Jake’s offerings have a bit of a bit like Doves feel to them, which is no bad thing in my book. It does chug away for almost five minutes though and it really could have put its feet up around the three minute mark.

“I’m gonna open your eyes” “build you a ladder to the clear blue air” “higher than a bird can fly”

5. Runaway

A gentle, floaty opening with plucked acoustic guitar and drifting electronic sounds, with a keyboard that sounds quite like a piano soon emerging also. It’s polished, it’s poppy and it’s very Radio 2. Get your lighters out for this one. Musically, it keeps on building and has a real sense of propulsion to it, without actually being all that fast. The drum sound is a little cheesy and it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to conjure the idea of this being sung by an ex-boyband member striving for success in the adult contemporary market, but that’s not to say it’s not a decent song. The piano sound takes prominence again towards the end and is all rather charming. One of the album’s highlights, ‘Runaway’, doesn’t really follow the chuggy acoustic, mid-paced drumbeat formula that seems to have been established by the initial four tracks and is all the better for it.

“I know it’s hard but you can’t run away”

6. Running Out Of Luck

This song uses the word ‘baby’ quite a lot. In my mind, that’s a very Bernard Sumner thing to do. Largely unremarkable, this track is another mid-paced plodder that doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s the odd nice ploddy piano sound, a couple of random bleepy bits and even what I’m fairly certain was a harpsichord. These bits are all lovely, but sadly not enough to save proceedings. Some abnormally raucous guitar kicks in around the three and a half minute mark but doesn’t really add anything. At just over five minutes, it’s the second longest track on the album but with no real justification for it. On my notes, I’ve written ‘feat of endurance’, which seems a little harsh now, but you get the idea.

“dreams have turned to dust” “shoot as straight as an arrow” “right there by your side” “like a shadow in your footsteps I would follow”

7. Dynamo

In which Bad Lieutenant listen to digital radio station Planet Rock for half an hour and then offer up a loving pastiche, largely based around The Who‘s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. Not only is there a fluttering, bleepy noise that loops around in the background that sounds so scarily similar to the aforementioned Who track that it must only just be on the legally deniable side of original songwriting, but there are even some faux-Moony drum fills. All of which makes it bloody enjoyable. I can’t really remember the Bad Lieutenant bits, but everyone loves ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, so what’s not to like? All of that said, despite having my tongue firmly in my cheek, the more lively drums actually work an awful lot better than the monotonous chug found elsewhere and suddenly you start to wonder what might have been. Not only is there a “yeah yeah yeah” refrain in this, but also a “doo doo doo doo doo” refrain. That takes some bollocks. Throwaway rock pastiche, particularly the ending, but good smiley fun.

“what you gonna do about it?” “this is your chance to shine”

8. Poisonous Intent

Synth bursts that wouldn’t have displeased the Pet Shop Boys in the middle of the eighties seem to be the order of the day here. Some very light, tinny computerised drums tinker away in the background and contribute to the very dated sound on this track. Opening line, “Hey bad man, what you gonna do when you can’t go back to the life you knew,” sets the tone and Barney sounds almost annoyed at this person, at one point even saying they’re “full of shit.” There’s something strange about hearing him swear. It’s like Huw Edwards opening the news with, “Evening, wankers!” Stil, even with the dated sound, this a pretty strong song, only let down by the toe curling lyrical brainfart that occurs two thirds of the way through the track and which can be found in bold below.

“so hit the road jack!” (Honestly! I wouldn’t lie to you.)

9. Shine Like The Sun

And then, completely without warning, the album turns into an Embrace record for the final two songs. This track, with Jake on vocals, sounds uncannily like the McNamara brothers’ ‘Out Of Nothing‘ era, at times reminding me of the mood of ‘Ashes‘. Now, I do have a soft spot for the odd Embrace tune, but as a business model in 2009, it’s probably not the safest move. It’s also a bloody weird to the album, Barney’s vocals simply disappearing after track 8. Don’t worry, the lyrics don’t improve in his vocal absence. The ending has a more classic rock feel and reminds me of something, I just can’t quite think what. It’s pleasant enough indie, but were this the summer of 1996, it would have gone straight into the chart at No.37 with a bullet, just next to The Supernaturals.

“we shine like the sun” “going where the wind blows”

10. Head Into Tomorrow

To continue the Doves comparison, the weird echoed voices off the start of ‘Words‘, from ‘The Last Broadcast‘, seem to put in an appearance during the slightly noodly but endearingly contemplative guitar strum at the start of this, before the vocal kicks in around the fifty second mark, again sounding quite like Danny from Embrace. With a ‘Strawberry Fields’ organ thrown in for good measure and a chorus that would be hard done by if not described as ‘anthemic’, this track is actually a rather charming way to wrap things up. This one is slowly growing on me and, dare I say it, Jake’s appearances are amongst the most enjoyable moments on this record. Barney may well be spot on when he says that Jake is “a gifted new singer.”

“watching rivers roll into the sea”

 

So, there you go. I’m not quite up the double-figures number of listens I do before writing a final review, but hopefully it gives those keen to know an idea of what the album sounds like. I know some people have noticed longer tracklistings on certain sites, but this is what’s on the promo. Apparently, there will be 12 and 14 track releases, but these tracks were added too late for the promos. Something to hang on in there for. No doubt many will disagree in the fullness of time with things I’ve written, but these are my thoughts and I stand by them. For now, at least! It’s a good but not great record. I wanted it to be better but I’m glad that it’s still not bad at all. It may yet charm me further.

I even went to Port Talbot for them

Last week, I attended my thirteenth Manics concert. Even I had started to wonder if I might actually get bored of them at some point and yet they proved once again why I adore them quite so much. The three of them truly love being in that band. They love being on stage with each other, they love playing those songs for these people and James seems to have really grown into the role of all-conquering showman. On this recent tour, they played the whole of the new album, ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, took a ten minute break and then belted out an hour of classics. It’s hard to pick fault with a second of it.

‘JFPL’ is a monstrously great rock album. It’s been called The Holy Bible’s second coming and, to be fair, there are some similarities but I’m still not sure that that’s the best way to approach this album. If anything, it’s the perfect blend of the Manics just prior to Richey’s disappearance and the Manics not long thereafter. The quite beautiful arrangements on ‘This Joke Sport Severed’ and ‘William’s Last Words’ are pure ‘late period Manics’, while the splendidly shouty chorus of ‘All Is Vanity’ and  the terrifying propulsion of ‘She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’ come straight from the military era of 1994. It’s a truly fabulous album and a likely contender for my album of the year. That said, if you’ve never liked the Manics, this isn’t going to change your mind.

The rapturous response to pretty much every song in the classics set further reinforced my belief that I will never tire of this band. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is one of the best songs of all time to witness live and the ferocity of this latest rendition was probably the best performance of it I’ve ever witnessed. Even early b-side, ‘Sorrow 16’ (great chorus, forgettable verse), prompted plenty of cheers and by the time we were all haplessly singing along to ‘A Design For Life’ the world had been put to rights and James, Nicky and Sean had triumphed once again. God, I love this band.

I spent much of last night gazing out of the window at perpetual drizzle whilst listening to a selection of Manics b-sides from across the years, although I seemed to alight on the ‘Everything Must Go’ era. (Yes, I am sad enough to have all of the b-sides categorised by album on the iPod.) Now, I know that my love of these tracks come from my fanboy-ish desire to hoover up every last note whenever possible and thus, with familiarity, so often a liking grows, but I genuinely believe that there is some outrageously good songwriting tucked away on numerous Manics b-sides. If I were to pick three, just from that era, for you to track down, I’d send you off to hear ‘No One Knows What It Feels Like To Be Me’, ‘Mr Carbohydrate‘ and ‘First Republic’. Go on, treat yourself. And if you can’t, there’s an email address in the previous post, get in touch and I’ll see if I can help you, er, find the songs.

***

As for albums of the year, if I had to pick my top 5 right now, it’d be these…

5. Super Furry AnimalsDark Days / Light Years

4. Trashcan SinatrasIn The Music

3. Graham CoxonThe Spinning Top

2. Manic Street PreachersJournal For Plague Lovers

1. DovesKingdom Of Rust

It’ll all change, of course, but there have been some truly wonderful albums already this year. Bubbling under for that list are Grizzly Bear, Lily Allen, Jarvis, Madness, Duckworth Lewis Method, Moz and the new Magnolia Electric Co album, ‘Josephine‘, which is the best thing Jason Molina’s ever done. I’ve not had it that long, so it’s not in the top 5 just yet, but I suspect it may get there.