April Reviews

Below can be found the latest instalment of what has become a regular feature. These are the six reviews of April releases I wrote for Clash Magazine which can be found in the print edition that should have just about hit the shelves as you read this. Some very good records in amongst this lot, including a splendid Doves career retrospective and the increasingly marvellous sounding debut from ex-Czars man, John Grant.

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RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – ‘All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu’ (UNIVERSAL)

Never one to hide his emotions previously, Rufus Wainwright offers a sparse but staggeringly heartfelt collection of songs for voice and piano, influenced, at least in part, by the long-term illness and recent passing of his mother. After the suffocating arrangements that dogged parts of his last album, the relative simplicity is welcome. While three Shakespearean sonnets set to music are successful without being showy, Wainwright saves the very best till last. Lyrically, album closer ‘Zebulon’ is endearingly direct, “my mother’s in the hospital, my sister’s at the opera, I’m in love, but let’s not talk about it,” and home to his best vocal performance to date. 8/10

I think I’ve briefly mentioned this record here before, but it’s worth restating how much of a breath of fresh air this is after the overcooked swamp of a record that was ‘Release The Stars’. New converts will not be found, but those who’ve been in love before will be in love again.

DOVES – ‘The Places Between: The Best of Doves’ (HEAVENLY / VIRGIN)

Quietly labouring away for some twelve years, Doves have amassed an outstanding catalogue of work. As a result, the deluxe edition is an essential purchase, with a second disc of b-sides, rarities and the odd album track too good to leave off. Sequenced by the band, both discs are remarkably cohesive; ‘Black And White Town’ and ‘Pounding’ nestle alongside atmospheric monster ‘The Cedar Room’ and new single ‘Andalucia’. The finest of the three new songs, ‘Blue Water’, kicks off disc two in style, deploying the same hiccupping drum pattern that served early single ‘Here It Comes’ so well. ‘The Places Between’ is a beguiling celebration of truly excellent music. 9/10

The new tracks on this make it well worth seeking out as it is, but the second disc is a tour de force in showing what Doves are really capable of. Stitching together b-sides, album tracks, session recordings and a few unreleased moments, it is a quite staggering listen and proof if it be needed that they are one of our great bands of the last ten years or so. If you have one of their previous albums on CD, click here to get £2 off the special edition.

JOHN GRANT– ‘Queen Of Denmark’ (BELLA UNION)

There’s a chugging seventies soft-rock quality to this record, giving it a warmth that’s hard to resist. The entire album’s beautifully measured musical backdrop is especially noteworthy, provided as it is by Midlake and, yes, that makes it as good as you might expect. ‘Queen Of Denmark’ is a luxurious sounding collection but what sets it apart from so many decent sounding folk-rock albums is the rich drawl of Grant’s baritone voice. Sweeping, epic ballads are his forte, but there’s something ludicrously charming about the skulking ‘Chicken Bones’, which sounds like a Scissor Sisters track played at half-speed. Odd though it seems, that’s a good thing. 7/10

An example of an album continuing to grow on me after reviewing, this one. I’d already sussed that it’s a good ‘un, but I’ve kept coming back to this and would now be tempted to budge it up to at least an 8. Nagging melodies and beautiful musicianship make this an absolute must. Simon at Bella Union reckons the vinyl edition will be something pretty special too.

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SHE & HIM – ‘Volume Two (DOUBLE SIX)

Sometimes it’s nice to find music that doesn’t require five listens before a tune emerges, to hear songs that capture a rapturous love of music and to spend the entire duration of an album grinning like an arse. Ludicrously talented pairing Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have kept everything that made their debut great and added a little more jangle and some absolutely beautiful vocal effects for this second outing. While Ward is responsible for the arrangements and production, it’s Deschanel who can take all the credit for writing these timeless, sun-kissed pop hugs. ‘In The Sun’ is the masterpiece, but you’ll keep coming back to it all. 9/10

It’s albums like this that make you rue your absolutely miniscule word count. I could have happily rhapsodised about this one for several pages – and may still do at some point. Building on the greatness of the debut, this one is meticulously produced and perfectly suited to the six days of sunshine we’ll get between now and Christmas.


Marrying bittersweet lyrics with unashamed killer pop hooks is a tricky business. The Smiths were masters of the art form and, while they may not sound especially alike, Lucky Soul share a similar knack for musical alchemy. Singer Ali Howard possesses an absolutely adorable voice, knowing exactly when to go through the gears and when to rein herself in, and The Smiths comparison holds up with such lyrical delights as ‘some say I’m schizophrenic, but I walk in single file’. Part pop, part soul, part country and with a sprinkle of the classic girl-group sound, Lucky Soul make music to soundtrack the good times. 8/10

If you haven’t already figured out that I love this one, then you need to do some reading. Click here for the FUTUREMUSIC piece from earlier this year.


Brother of Fleet Fox and fully-fledged solo artist J. Tillman, Zach Tillman opted for a more atmospheric stage name before foisting his recordings upon the listening public. The moniker serves this record well, for it’s an often gravelly, proudly lo-fi collection of beat-up folk. There’s plenty here to suggest that a few albums down the line Tillman could be responsible for something genuinely special, but even this wilfully shambolic collection has its moments. ‘I Was A River’ is a beautiful meditation on love lost while ‘Golden Funeral’ is an opening track so hymnal and atmospheric that it makes it difficult for anything else to come close. 6/10

I suspect that this one could have long-term appeal. The sort of record that after living with it for six months, it all clicks into place. There are moments of beauty to be found, even on the first play, but it’s not as consistent as most records bearing that reliable Bella Union moniker. On that note, the new album by The Acorn, ‘No Ghost’, is bloody marvellous and due in June.

2010 on the record

Wittering Wednesdays: New music, old music and 6 Music

It’s been a while since my last stream-of-consciousness muso thought vomit, so I should probably put that right. Not like there isn’t plenty to talk about, eh? In the last hour or so, I got to hear the new material on the forthcoming Doves Best Of so as to enable a review I need to turn around fairly rapidly. Across the two CDs of the special edition can be found a number of previously unreleased bits and bobs, but it’s the songs that have never been released in any shape or form that will draw the most attention. Rest assured, the new tracks don’t stick out amongst the many highlights from the band’s first twelve years. ‘Blue Water’, a track that has been knocking around in the back waters of the internet for almost a decade, is a fine, fine way to kick off the second disc, the swaggering ‘Drifter’ then appears smack in the middle of the disc. The former shuffles along with that wonderful stuttering drum pattern so well deployed on ‘Here It Comes’ and ‘Drifter’ features overlooked talent Simon Aldred, of Cherry Ghost. While both new songs on disc two are fantastic, it’s worth pausing to note the quite brilliant sequencing of the songs, as undertaken by the band themselves. It actually hangs together like a proper record, with the same ups and downs in mood and pace that we’ve come to expect from a typical Doves studio outing. ‘The Last Son’ is saved from the icky obscurity of being an iTunes only bonus track while ‘Friday’s Dust’ appears in its ‘Capital Tower Session’ guise, sounding even more stark and raw than the not especially bells and whistles version from ‘The Last Broadcast’. The decision to include a small number of album tracks seems at first to be an odd one, but the choices have clearly been made carefully and I can’t really see any harm in a couple of these beauts slotting in across the disc when, without them, it would just have had less tracks on it. Don’t kid yourself that they got in the way of new songs and, similarly, it’s easy to cry about favourite b-sides not making the cut but the obvious time taken in getting this selection right and, even more precisely, in the right order means I have no complaints. The main disc, featuring a veritable cornucopia of melodic indie class, is augmented by forthcoming single ‘Andalucia’ which, loosely speaking, is one of their upbeat turbo-chuggers. It’s a good ‘un and, after several dozen listens, you’ll know it inside out but it’s no world-beater. My slightly subdued first impressions may have something to do with it sitting between ‘The Man Who Told Everything’ and ‘Caught By The River’, two songs which did more than a little to soften the tricky late-teen to shit-I’m-actually-an-adult transition period. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll be banging on about how great it is. You watch.

Oh, and just to completely contradict what I said earlier, ‘Brazil’ from the ‘Winter Hill’ 7” really did deserve another outing! To be fair, I can’t see how it would have fitted, so here it is for your delectation and delight. You’ll have to turn your speakers up a bit.

I’ve been listening to the new Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings record, ‘I Learned The Hard Way’ quite a lot recently and it’s one of those rare beasts – an album that sounds incredibly warm… on CD! Regular readers will know of my obsession with vinyl and my general preference for its sound. This is largely as a result of the maximised and just plain bloody loud nature of most newly released CDs so, when one comes along that actually sounds good even when you turn it up loud on some decent speakers, it’s cause for celebration. I loved the first three Sharon Jones albums and this one isn’t a radical departure so, unsurprisingly, I love this one too. I need to listen a little more closely to make any meaningful judgements, but if you’re waiting on this one, you’ll not be disappointed.

The news about 6 Music continues to disappoint and disturb. There are those who are arguing that this is part of some complex ploy to generate publicity for the station and that its future was never really in doubt. Unlikely, I would suggest, but if it does turn out to be true, it still seems a bit mean to put people Lauren Laverne through the on air experience she faced yesterday morning, starting her show just minutes after the station’s closure was confirmed. She dealt with it with the good grace, intelligence and passion which has seen her become a firm 6 Music favourite and delivered one of the finest shows to be heard in the morning slot since Gideon Coe was shunted off to nights. Not that that actually seems all that bad an idea now that I’m happily established in my routine of spending ludicrous amounts of cash on an almost nightly basis at the behest of the genial music enthusiast and waffler-without-compare. His current stint covering breakfast is making for surprisingly pleasant morning car journeys and his presence on the station is a prime example of how it perfectly communicates with its audience. Watching Paxman make Mark Thompson look like the school bully after he’s been caught bang to rights by the head, threatened with exclusion and had his parents dragged in (and, frankly, like he’d shat himself a few minutes before going on air and couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit) was an absolute delight. He looked out of touch, out of his depth and out of line with popular thought. Thankfully for him, they also had Kelvin MacKenzie on, so he still wasn’t the biggest twat in the room. Even better than this, was Adam Buxton offering Thompson out for a fight on Channel 4 News a few hours earlier. Cutting to him for a serious response, Jon Snow asked Buxton if he had anything to say to Mark Thompson. To which he replied, "Mark ‘Thommo’ Thompson, I’m inviting you for a fight. I could take you, I’ve been practising." I’d click that, if I were you. It’s worth watching how remarkably serious he remains whilst saying it. Thompson appears to have no idea what is going on. Presumably not a member of Black Squadron?

Currently waiting on a couple of sizeable jiffy bags, so I’ll endeavour to offer a round-up of new things that have come this way of late by the weekend at the latest. That should include new Matinee signings The Electric Pop Group, the dreadfully named but beautiful sounding Allo Darlin’ and the new album from Tracey Thorn. Good good. Feel free to say hello on twitter – @justplayed is, perhaps unsurprisingly, where I am or you could always email. Address on the ‘About Just Played’ page. Speak to you soon.

2009 – The Spiffing List

A little late, I know, but it would probably be more accurate if I waited until around March time, by which point I might have fully absorbed the 2009 albums I have. Can’t imagine there’d be much interest by then though, so here it is. As with last year, this is a Top 20 list of albums I’ve thoroughly enjoyed across 2009. I make no apologies for excluding certain albums that have appeared near the top of many media lists and am confident that you’ll simply look at the list as a curiosity that might make you explore one or two titles that you’ve either not heard or not spent long with. As with the 40 From The Noughties list, I fully expect many of you to heartily disagree with this list but all I’m saying is that these are my top 20 of the last year as things stand now. It may well change in time and, if you look at the 2009 albums in the aforementioned 40, you’ll see that some of them have already changed positions since I put that list together. Anyhoo, let’s get on with it, shall we?

20. Super Furry Animals – Dark Days / Light Years

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Not sure how it ended up falling so low in the end. Still a wonderful album, it just didn’t have quite the staying power I thought it might have had.

19. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – s/t

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Great fun, from start to finish. Reminds me of when the NME was published on tatty grey bog roll.

18. Atlas Sound – Logos

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I was bit late to the party on this one, but was glad I finally made it. Quirky washes of sound. A bit like Animal Collective with more tunes.

17. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

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They don’t make bad records. Every one of them is a gem. This was another quietly brilliant record.

16. Annie – Don’t Stop

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The power pop album of the year. Xenomania in full flow and, in the absence of new Girls Aloud, it does the job just fine.

15. M. Ward – Hold Time

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Coffee shops and Apple may love him, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. A wonderful sleeper of an album. His entire back catalogue is great and don’t forget to check out ‘Monsters Of Folk’ which just missed out on this list.

14. Magnolia Electric Co – Josephine

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One of the first albums I reviewed for Clash and it’s a good ‘un. Jason Molina with his finest album in some time. He also released ‘Molina and Johnson’ this year which is almost as good and would have been No.22 had this list gone beyond a top 20. Well worth listening to both. 

13. Pet Shop Boys – Yes

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Their best in some time. ‘Pandemonium’ is ridiculously over the top, but in that oh-so-forgivable PSB way. A delight from start to finish and there’s a decent track-by-track commentary on Spotify for free too.

12. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

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A great overall sound to this one. Hadn’t really bothered with them up until this, but quickly retraced my footsteps and put that right. ‘Two Weeks’ and ‘While You Wait For The Others’ were classic singles. Not on Spotify, but click the picture for the latter of those two singles on VerTube.

11. Sleeping States – In The Gardens Of The North

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The first of the Noughty 40 to feature in this list also. A great record, still worthy of plenty of your time. It needs a few listens, but if it clicks, it’ll stay with you. 

10. Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers

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The most fun you can have with a Manics album in some time. Great packaging, great songs, great performances. Check out the Saint Etienne re-tooling of ‘Jackie Collins’ too. In the aforementioned 40 also.

09. Graham Coxon – The Spinning Top

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Another Noughty 40 album and one that splits opinion. I think his voice sounds charming on this record and I would argue that it’s his best by some distance. Beautiful at times. 

08. Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter

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An album which I loved at the start, lost interest in for a bit but have since returned to at some great length and have realised just how spiffing it really is. Should have been in the big list and is probably his second best album to date.

07. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

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One of those albums that you pootle along listening to every so often without realising how much you’re enjoying it. When it came to thinking about this list, I returned to it and it all clicked into place. This one has staying power, methinks.

06. MapsTurning The Mind

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I think I may have said enough about this one already. It’s in the big 40, and my review described it as ‘bordering on genius’. Job done.   

05. Doves – Kingdom Of Rust

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Ok, so it’s no ‘Lost Souls’ but then what is? To be fair, they sound like two different bands. This is the New Order phase and it’s bloody good. CD sounds like shite though. Treat yourself to the deluxe vinyl edition. Made #20 in the 40.

04. Trashcan Sinatras  – In The Music

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Still not Spotify-able but bloody lovely nonetheless. Gentle, well-crafted and beautifully sung. Just like every other Trashcans record. A welcome return and a great album. Highly placed in the 40 too. 

03. The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

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There are those who’ll bang on about how this is a 2008 album because they self-released it at the end of that year, but the world only really heard it in 2009 and it was only released over here in 09, so I’m having it. A quirky cross between gentle harmonies and Tom Waits honking. Splendid stuff and a Noughties classic also. 

02. The xx – xx

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Even a couple of months ago, I had no idea how high up the list this one would finish. It crow barred its way in to the Noughty 40 at the last minute and continued to impress all through December, resulting in this placement. It’s hard to define, but I had a go here.

01. Lily AllenIt’s Not Me, It’s You

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Justifiably highly placed in the big list and the top of this one, ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ is the best pop album I’ve heard in years. The lyrics are brilliant and musically it gets every single call just right. I have never tired of it since the day I first played it. There’s a bargainous CD/DVD edition available right now for not all that much cash and I can’t recommend it enough. 

03. Doves – Lost Souls

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I bought ‘The Cedar Room’ just as a relationship fizzled out. Not the most sensible seven minute solution to feeling shit, it must be said. But what a fucking song! I’d first heard it in 1998 when the original 10″ version was released and Adam Walton played it a lot on his short lived but absolutely essential Radio Wales weekday evening show. For some reason, I never chased down a copy at the time so, when I heard it was to be re-released ahead of Doves’ debut album, I was pretty chuffed.

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We were both on the same sixth form trip and I, rather than skulking around the group attempting to look moody, opted to bugger off to Our Price instead of having lunch. I recall buying ‘Kill All Hippies’ at the same time – a glorious purchase on reflection – but it didn’t get played for days. ‘The Cedar Room’ went on a pretty much constant loop, just as its parent album would a few weeks later.

James, the unassuming muso who ran Dominion Records in Chepstow, had to order a copy of ‘Lost Souls’ in for me and it was due in on the Thursday after it was released. I can still remember dashing into town for it and then virtually jogging home, clutching the small carrier bag like it contained one of my vital organs. Despite all of this, it still managed to live up to expectations. With the possible exception of ‘Catch The Sun’, it is an album that creates a specific atmosphere, evokes a certain mood. All of the songs simply fit so well together. They’re not samey, just from the same place.

The album was a long time coming, appearing out of the traumatic end of the band’s previous incarnation as Sub Sub who were largely famous for ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’ the 1993 chart hit but who were also responsible for a curious dance/indie hybrid album, now as scarce as you’d imagine, entitled ‘The Delta Tapes’. This record featured Bernard Sumner and Tricky and compiled the various bits and bobs that might have formed their second album had the band’s relatively short lifespan not been brought to an abrupt halt by a fire which destroyed their studio in 1996.  Sensing that the omens weren’t great, a rethink was on the cards and 1998 marked the first, tentative steps as Doves, though the scars of recent years remained on this debut album.

The creeping uncertainty of ‘Firesuite’ is fully explored in ‘The Cedar Room’, the fragmented melancholy of ‘Break Me Gently’ has plenty in common with the never entirely comfortable ‘Rise’. When you think that Doves’ initial three releases, all put out essentially by themselves were the aforementioned seven minute masterstroke, plus ‘Sea Song’ and one of my all-time favourite songs, ‘Here It Comes’, it seems hard to believe that the band didn’t become huge. Those three songs alone are enough to get this record into the top twenty of this list but ‘Lost Souls’ needs to be heard in its entirety to really hit you. It might not seem all that striking at first, but if you spend some time with it soundtracking your life, its remarkable powers never leave you.

20. Doves – Kingdom Of Rust

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Why this band aren’t bloody huge, I’ll never know. In the last ten years they have released four astonishingly good albums and several spellbinding singles and yet nobody ever seems to make much of a fuss about them. The story of how I fell in love with the band will keep for another time, but this is the story of how I rekindled that love after allowing them to fade from focus and simply sit on the shelf for some time.

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Regular readers of this blog will have seen my review of Doves’ third album, ‘Some Cities’, posted recently as part of my self-indulgent revisiting of former glories, and will know that I rated that record pretty highly. Four years having passed since that album appeared, by the time I found out that the band were finally returning, they’d slipped down the pecking order rather and I needed convincing again. It didn’t take long. One listen to the album’s title track and I was sold. A strangely understated five minutes of music, it was a combination of everything I love about Doves: a shuffly drum beat, peculiar guitar noises winding in and out, a slight tease about when the chorus will actually kick in and then an actual chorus that doesn’t soar on its first couple of outings, but which gradually takes flight until the latter renditions are something you can belt out shamelessly in the privacy of your own home, car or local concert venue.

Their Nottingham Rock City gig earlier this year was the best show of theirs I’ve seen. They seemed to have gone from being a slow-paced indie band who did a few fast ones to an energy-packed, fast-paced indie band who do a couple of slow numbers. We even got ‘Spaceface’ out of them, which meant we all left grinning like absolute twats. Listening to ‘Jetstream’ and ‘Compulsion’ thumping out of enormous speakers as the band seemed more lost in the music than ever before, I was bordering on ecstatic. It was one of those concerts where you forget everything for the duration and leave wondering how you’ll ever top it, even though you know that it happens from time to time.

The New Order comparisons stand up to a certain extent, but I’m not sure Barney and Hooky ever quite managed such a heavy sound, and the almost anti-song approach of aforementioned album opener, ‘Jetstream’, which seems to build then lull, build then lull all over the place and, in an ideal world, would go on for pretty much all of eternity. It says a lot that the normally promo-only instrumental version of this record was released for purchase as a download recently, such is the strength of the actual music on this album. It is certainly their most accomplished record, but perhaps not quite their best.

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


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




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.


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.