A self-indulgent way to pass the time

Hello, dear readers. The end of the decade best of list is proving tougher to finalise than I thought it would be, so that’ll have to wait just a little longer. As part of this process, I’ve been revisiting some of the reviews I’ve written over the past six or so years and thought it might be interesting to post them here and see if I was on the money, wide of the mark or simply babbling incoherently. I should say before I start this, I’m not overly thrilled with all of these and they will be the original texts as I submitted them to the magazines, and so any bits that got subbed by my erstwhile reviews editors will still be here.

To kick off, a review of Supergrass’ best of, from 2004. I’m in the middle of doing a piece about their charming new extra-curricular project, The Hot Rats, so I thought I’d drop this one out there.

Supergrass_is_10 

SUPERGRASS SUPERGRASS IS 10

(Parlophone)

The grammatically correct but aesthetically depressing title aside, this particular retrospective is something of an unknown history. After their tumultuous arrival in the midst of Brtipop, Supergrass’ star has appeared, through no fault of their own, to have been on the blink. Seemingly rather keen to point out that it wasn’t all cavorting on bikes and bendy-legged Muppets videos, this set gamely attempts to represent both sides of the ‘Grass. .

The soul of Britpop hasn’t lost any of its vigour when it reappears on a fair wedge of tunes culled from the band’s debut, ‘I Should Coco’, a spirit that is reprised on tracks from their underrated and notably under-bought last album, ‘Life On Other Planets’. There is a slight feel, however, of being down the indie-disco and the dreaded fear that Shed Seven might pop up at any time is never far from your mind. Where this record really strikes gold is in highlighting the band’s knack for contemplative, melodic acoustic tunes such as ‘Late In The Day’ and the glorious ‘It’s Not Me’. The parent album of this pair, ‘In It For The Money’, remains their finest achievement and is as deserving of the moniker ‘The Best Of Supergrass’ as this particular compilation.

Hugely enjoyable current single, *Kiss Of Life* comes on like a cross between The Charlatans and T-Rex with added silly noises, while other obligatory new track, *Bullet* offers a heavier sound but manages to forget to add a melody. Where they go next is unknown, but what they’ve already done bears some repeating.

VERDICT: Enjoyable nostalgia, but all you need is their superlative second album.

KEY TRACKS: Grace, Going Out, It’s Not Me

Originally published in Word Magazine 2004

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I largely stand by this, five years on, although there’s a slightly snide reference to Shed Seven there that’s helping nobody.

The other one for today is simply proof that I’ve always known what I was talking about.

elbow

ELBOW

Leaders Of The Free World finds Elbow delivering a work of global majesty.

Beardy, Mancunian melancholia is an integral part of the modern music scene. Where previously local rivals such as Doves have stolen a march on them, Elbow have set about fulfilling the promise that was so clear on their first two albums. Initially purveyors of more muted, atmospheric efforts, this time out the band seem far more confident of their sizeable talents

Mostly set in the urban wilds of Manchester, the brief global view attempted in the title track proves to be a remarkably successful – now say this quietly – ‘political song.’ The beauty of lines such as, “passing the gun from father to feckless son,” in neither being too blatant nor too pious ensures that the ham-fisted, vacuous efforts of many before them are not repeated in this gem of a tune.

The album maintains its quality throughout, two of the latter songs amongst the best things I’ve heard all year. ‘The Everthere’ employs similarly muted percussion to that of Blur’s charming, ‘Out Of Time’ and is one of frontman Guy Garvey’s finest vocal performances on the record. This is only surpassed by ‘Great Expectations,’ which tells the tale of an imaginary wedding on the last bus home between our man and a hitherto unknown young lady, for which “a call-girl with yesterday eyes was our witness.”

Such endearingly well-imagined lyrics are typical of ‘Leaders Of The Free World’, an album that comes good on Elbow’s previous hints at greatness and which will surely rank amongst the finest releases of the year come December.

Leaders Of The Free World is on V2

Originally published in Word Magazine 2005

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What can I say? I was playing the vinyl of this the other night, having just listened to the deluxe edition of ‘Asleep In The Back’ and was reminded that they’ve always been great, it just took the public a while to pick up on that fact. The rather lovely Jude Rogers, who was my reviews editor at the time, was part of the judging team who gave the Mercury Music Prize to them for ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ and she later told me that after falling in love with their fourth album, she was reminded of me banging on about how great they were and that I was right all along. Quite so!

Dealing with all the Hoo Ha

Predictably enough, the new Supergrass album has split critical opinion. Every time they loom back into view the sheer quantity of fence-sitting causes creaks and splintering to be heard the length and breadth of this fair isle. As each critic finally decides which camp to settle in, the predictable dusting down of the phrases ‘return to form’ and ‘hardly essential’ ensures that anyone reading more than one reviews section will have no idea what album is actually like.

As it happens, this isn’t their finest work. Sorry, I should point out that I’m being serious at this point. It’s better than I thought when I first listened to it, but it’s just not up to their exacting standards. It’s not that it’s a bad album; it’s actually rather good. It’s just that it’s not a great Supergrass album. I adored ‘Road To Rouen‘ and, come to think of it, each of the four studio albums prior to it. Each one was different but you never got the sense that there was a pre-planned objective behind them, other than to make great music.

Diamond Hoo Ha‘, as the new album is rather unpleasantly titled, is comparable to The Divine Comedy‘s ‘Absent Friends‘. Now, bear with me on this, as it doesn’t seem an obvious comparison. ‘Absent Friends‘ was the album that followed the indie-kid, Godrich-influenced delights of ‘Regeneration‘. Now, ‘Regeneration‘ was supposed to be the big springboard to success via Parlophone’s wads. As history records, that wasn’t entirely the case and Neil Hannon fired the rest of the band and weirdly enough went back to wearing a suit and using orchestras. The resultant album was ‘Absent Friends‘. And so to the point. ‘Road To Rouen‘ was the departure, the sales were hardly phenomenal and so the quick dash back to familiar territory occured.

Diamond Hoo Ha’ is a balls-out, polished pop-rock album. It’s very seventies in its makeup and much of the album blends together into one satisfactory, but not particularly outstanding, chunk of music.

I really want to like this. I have adored this band for nearly thirteen years now, and the idea they could make something that’s only good is almost beyond comprehension. I’m persisting with it and, I should say, certain tracks are growing on me, but I can’t see where the all-important spark is suddenly going to leap out from. As is the case with all of their previous albums, the vinyl of this is the best way to hear the album, avoiding the slightly mashed sound of the CD, and it’s a decent pressing.

I’m not suggesting that you definitely shouldn’t buy it – if you’re a Supergrass fan, there’s enough here to like – but proceed with caution.

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It’s amusing to look back over the last posts on this blog before it entered into hibernation and see how my tips regarding Laura Marling and Adele have proved pretty much spot on. Sadly, Adele’s album turned out to be a still-born turd of the highest order. Sorry about that. If I had any influence in you purchasing that, I apologise unreservedly.

However, Laura Marling has produced an album that is truly adorable. Unassuming, subtle yet complex and hugely accomplished, ‘Alas I Cannot Swim‘ is better than I’d actually hoped for. Let’s get the one problem I have with it out of the way first. It doesn’t have ‘New Romantic’ on it, which is a wonderful little tune. Yup, that’s all that I have to moan about.

The Joni comparisons have already done the rounds, but I also heard elements of Beirut and early, song-based Tim Buckley in the beautifully constructed musical backdrop of these songs. I can’t really do her justice with mere words.

Here’s the aforementioned ‘New Romantic

And this is the most recent singles, ‘Ghosts

Finally, on the subject of Laura Marling, this is the latest Mystery Jets single, ‘Young Love‘, on which she provides guest vocals. Don’t bother with their album, mind. This song’s the highlight.

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I guess this is the point where I should point out other great music I’ve heard recently that you might wish to have a listen to. And why not? If the hype surrounding MGMT has passed you by, then you owe it to yourself to purchase a copy of the album ‘Oracular Spectacular‘ at the next opportunity. Even Sainsbury’s are selling it. The sound is, to use a technical term, fucking bonkers. They’re a bit like the Chemical Brothers remix of Mercury Rev that was knocking about a few years back, but with better vocals.

You can see high quality copy of the video, and thus hear the song by clicking here

Vampire Weekend‘s self-titled debut is well worth a punt. It’s indie with a world-music influence, or at least that’s what those really big papers you can’t read on a train are telling us. It’s a chaotic collection of three minute pop brilliance, done in a very different way to pretty much all the indie that’s out there at the moment.

Here’s recent single, ‘A-Punk’

Elbow‘s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid‘ has been mooted as a ‘career best’ in some circles, and I wish to associate myself with said circles. If it’s possible to associate yourself with a shape, that is. Anyway, one of the most under-rated bands in Britain have delivered an album with tremendous story-telling, phenomenal basslines and a musical landscape so intricate that after many, many listens I’m still discovering new things each time I play it. I adored the last record, ‘Leaders Of The Free World‘ and the two prior to it were almost as wonderful and yet Elbow are very much a C-list band who drift into the public conciousness every now and then, only to drift back out again pretty much immediately thereafter. Fuck knows why.

Current single, ‘Grounds For Divorce‘, is splendid, although not much of an indicator of what the rest of the album sounds like. Still, a line like ‘I’ve been working on a cocktail called grounds for divorce’ deserves some recognition.

The new Billy Bragg album has its moments, but is hardly a revelation. That said, lead single, ‘I Keep Faith‘ is one of the most beautiful things he’s ever done. I can only find a solo version via Ver Tube, but the one you need to hear is the band version. I can only imagine a world where you could click here and find an mp3 of it.

Other things of note to emerge recently include the latest Nick Cave album, ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!‘ which sits somewhere between the ‘Abattoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus‘ set and Grinderman. Splendid, although the limited edition isn’t worth the extra cash.

Lightspeed Champion‘s ‘Falling Off The Lavender Bridge‘ is a fine collection of folksy indie and the new album by The Charaltans, ‘You Cross My Path‘ is the best thing they’ve done in a while. You can download it for nowt via Xfm.co.uk

And finally…

Everyone’s already salivating over this, but it would seem rightly so. I knew that Alex Monkey and Miles Rascals had collaborated but beyond that knew nothing else. However, when Zane Lowe was being Chris Moyles on Easter Monday, the debut single was played and I fell in love immediately. The main reason for this is, I would imagine, the fact that the song uses the drum beat so loved by Scott Walker on his ‘Scotts 1-4’ series, that was plunded equally splendidly by The Divine Comedy on a regular basis. Anyhoo, they are The Last Shadow Puppets, and the sublime single is ‘The Age Of Understatement‘.