BEST OF 2014: 13. La Roux – Trouble In Paradise

File under: how the hell was this not huge? Whether you blame the massive gap between releases, the lack of radio play or the now traditional approach of a label from the Universal Records stable over-pricing the vinyl, ‘Trouble In Paradise’ absolutely bombed. Let’s take those in reverse order. Firstly, it wasn’t the vinyl pricing. As incredibly annoying as it continues to be that the ‘vinyl revival’ is prompting price hikes for a format that’s being produced with the same amount of care taken by The Guardian’s sub-editors, it accounts for such a minimal percentage of sales still that its impact remains negligible. While we’re on the subject, I now hate those think-pieces almost as much as the CD-evangelists who, increasingly legitimately, get all pissy when vinyl is being proclaimed as some sort of master race of music formats. Yep, sales have gone from being 1% of record industry revenue to somewhere close to 2%. Big bloody boo-hoo. CDs were still two-thirds of the market in 2013. Stick that in your mass-producing-my-beloved-format-and-screwing-it-up-for-everyone pipe and smoke it. Where were we? Ah yes, lack of radio play. Apparently, not making the Radio 1 playlist was a big deal and it’s kind of heartening that it still has some sort of impact in this day and age. Once Gilles Peterson had moved over to 6 Music, my days with the nation’s youth station were finally over but it’s pretty clear that their influence remains strong, even if the deluded middle-class, middle-aged, painfully white management do seem to think that it’s all about sodding YouTube subscribers these days. Lack of exposure clearly had its part to play in this one sinking, which links neatly with the five year gap between albums. Breaking up the collaborative partnership behind the self-titled debut album certainly provided pause for thought, but the sheer euphoria of Elly Jackson‘s plunge into early Eighties disco appeared to be, ahem, bulletproof.

13 La Roux

And yet, it would seem the Chic new sound was not for the masses. I’ve yet to encounter anyone who has spent time with the record and not come to love it. There is some really special songwriting across ‘Trouble In Paradise’, not least the stringent funk of opener ‘Uptight Downtown’, which sets the bar high. There’s reverb-drenched grand piano on ‘Paradise Is You’ which gives way to a full on synth wash and a cascading reprise of the chorus. ‘Sexotheque’ is glorious pop smash, only marred by the fact that the pronunciation of its title sounds disturbingly like “Sex Attack.” It’s got a gloriously BIG chorus, a springy rhythm and some neat little Eighties guitar licks. Be sniffy about its inspiration if you like, but if it’s alright by you, I’ll be over there waving my arms around and grinning like a tit.

I was on holiday when the album was released and, having not had any advance access beyond the couple of teaser tracks, I found myself using cafe wi-fi and my wife’s smartphone to access it through Spotify. The critical reaction had already been very positive and I was especially keen to see why. I’d liked bits of the debut but this represented a massive leap. Looking back, my genuinely keen desire to hear this material put me in the majority. Whether its association with my summer break did it any favours, I’ve no idea, but I’ve kept coming back to ‘Trouble In Paradise’ regularly, frequently deploying tracks on compilations and finding the whole set consistently uplifting. Whatever the commercial post-mortem might reveal, ‘Trouble In Paradise’ deserves to be remembered primarily as a magnificent record.

The Mercury’s in retrograde

Bat for LashesTwo Suns

Florence & The MachineLungs

Friendly FiresFriendly Fires

KasabianWest Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

La RouxLa Roux

The HorrorsPrimary Colours

GlasvegasGlasvegas

Led BibSensible Shoes

Lisa HanniganSea Sew

Speech DebelleSpeech Therapy

Sweet Billy Pilgrim Twice Born Men

The InvisibleThe Invisible

Hmm. Nope, it’s not the answer to the question, “what’s just been added to HMV‘s never ending 2 for £10 offer then?” It is, though I’m struggling to quite grasp it, this year’s Mercury Music Prize nominations list. I know that the labels have to submit albums for it (and pay a small entrance fee) but surely things aren’t so screwed up in the music industry that most of the best albums of the last twelve months haven’t been put forward. In which case, how do we end up with the above list? Fuck knows. The Kasabian album has its moments, but I’m not finding myself playing it all that regularly. The Friendly Fires record sounds like Cut Copy and Passion Pit falling down the stairs, out of time with each other. Glasvegas have been confirmed as one-trick ponies with their recent swathes of shite cover versions, all of them based on the premise that a droning guitar noise and a halved BPM equals genius. Rather than just a shite Glasvegas cover version. Did you catch their version of ‘Be My Baby’ from T In The Park? No? Lucky bastard!

La Roux have come up with a couple of decent tunes, including one truly great one, but the album itself is nothing to write home about. I didn’t think anyone still took The Horrors seriously, particularly after listening to their seemingly music-less remix of a track off the new Manics album. The Florence & The Machine bubble will be long burst by the time the winner is announced and we’ll have moved on to another slightly out of tune, kooky young thing. File under Ida Maria. Lisa Hannigan’s music is nice. And that’s the problem, I suppose. Who ever gets remembered for sounding nice? Speech Debelle I’m curious about, but I don’t get the impression that she’s achieved greatness just yet. I do like the Bat For Lashes album, and I suspect it will grow on me more over the year and it might even make the longish end of the year list. So, I suppose I’ll grant them that one. But just that one. I’ve only recently flogged a previous Sweet Billy Pilgrim album on Amazon Marketplace that didn’t do much for me. To be fair, when it comes to the new one, the music does, at least, sound quite interesting and I’ll cautiously reserve judgement, because it’s the kind of music I do sometimes just ‘click’ with, but for now it’s nothing much more than ‘interesting’.

Have you got your jazz token? Here it is, in the shape of Led Bib’s latest record. Meh. And finally, one of the few I’d not previously heard, but which I’m now considering getting as a result of the iTunes samples, ‘The Invisible’ by The Invisible. Slightly squelch electronic music with bits of shoegaze. It’s not an original mix, but it works quite nicely. I’ve read TV On The Radio comparisons whilst doing my research, which have some truth in them. The vocals don’t do much for me, but there’s something interesting going on musically.

I should say that I do applaud the appearance on the list of a couple of pretty new and unhyped acts that do deserve some recognition, but taken as a whole, it’s a list the doesn’t really inspire. Now, I’ve bunged together suggestions for an alternative list and, while I can’t claim any points for obscurist choices, I do think it’s not a bad selection of records. I did only spend a few minutes putting it together and I’m sure I’ve missed off some really obvious, really brilliant records but for now, those twelve songs represent twelve albums that I reckon are pretty bloody good. That list – in a sample it for free form – is available here.

Not quite just played, but recently

It’s been a while since I did a rambling ‘things-I’ve-been-listening-to-and-quite-like’ type post, so this be one of them.  While plenty of new stuff has crept in, this week has involved a lot of Manics. I’ve been suckered in by the Mini-LP, 2CD Japanese reissues of their studio albums prior to ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, despite owning all of them and most of the accompanying b-sides. They are utterly lovely though and it has resulted in me realising a couple of things. Firstly, I know the b-sides from the ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth’ like they are unofficial national anthems, something that’s not replicated with the more recent albums, suggesting that as I’ve got older, I’ve spent less time with b-sides, despite rabidly gathering them all up. Secondly, as a direct consequence of the last point, the bonus tracks on ‘Lifeblood’, in particular, took me aback. They’re really very, very good and the consistency was still there, even if my attention wasn’t. Oh, and it was another excuse to listen to their gloriously bombastic version of ‘Umbrella’. I love the idea of bonus disc reissues and the notion of an alternative history being offered up by those lesser-known songs. Sadly, very few reissues offer much of any real merit, but these are wonderful collections and this allows me to now say that I didn’t just buy them because they’re shiny and nice. I also bought them to reevaluate a musical legacy. Albeit one in shiny packaging.

I bought The Low Anthem album, ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, whilst down in London for a bit of real life, over the counter, music you can touch, record shopping back in April. Back then, it was proudly described as a ‘Rough Trade Exclusive’ and it came in a blue card, hand stamped sleeve. It struck me as a marvellous but curious little record and certain tracks got pretty regular plays. I now find it quite surprising to see it receiving a sizeable media focus; it seemed such a tiny, niche release only a few months back. Anyway, because I’m a sad obsessive, I ended up purchasing the vinyl pressing of the new Bella Union release of this wonderful album this week and it sounds absolutely magnificent. It turns out that I haven’t actually bought exactly the same thing twice. Apparently, the album’s been remastered in the interim and resequenced for some reason. I can’t say I really noticed all the much in the way of sonic difference, but then people say that their debut album, ‘What The Crow Brings’, is poorly recorded and I think that sounds rather lovely too. What I can recommend is the pressing quality of this vinyl edition and also that aforementioned debut album which you can buy from their site as a CD preorder (they’re making some more copies – hand stamped and all that malarky) along with a free, instant download to be getting on with. It’s worth also noting that this is yet another solid gold release by Bella Union, a label seemingly unable to do any wrong. Peruse their site, click buy next to pretty much anything and you’ll not be disappointed.

The latest Ohbijou record, ‘Beacons’, is getting played rather a lot round these parts. Ethereal is probably the best word for it and, frankly, it’s more eloquent than sodding marvellous which is the only other way I’ve got for describing it. Pick any track at random, have a listen and I defy you to not fall in love with it. Seriously. Did I mention that it’s on Bella Union?

The new album by The Rumble Strips arrived this week and my first impressions were not great. Apparently, it’s a big step on from the last album, it’s less like Dexy’s and it had added Mark Ronson. Hmm. It’s not a huge success. Firstly, they still sound very like Dexy’s at times, just not as well as they did on the first album and thus it is less enjoyable. Secondly, the sense of fun that made me really rather warm to their debut (‘Girls And Boys In Love’, in particular) doesn’t seem to be there. Now, this is fine in itself, but not when it hasn’t really been replaced with anything else. I’ll give it time, but I think the attempted reinvention may not have been necessary after all.

Plenty of time has been spent picking over all of the b-sides and remixes offered up by the luxurious and really rather shiny (spot the pattern?) Girls Aloud singles collection box set. It’s not hugely revelatory – I knew they were great beforehand, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable stuff for dipping in and out of. The musical equivalent of a ‘toilet book’, I suppose. For example, the weird vocoder effects used on the single mix of ‘Untouchable’ didn’t warrant an additional purchase after buying the album, but it makes for an enjoyable listen when offered up as part of as massive collection of top-notch pop.

I continue to delight in the majesty of the self-titled album by The Duckworth Lewis Method, such is its summery splendour. They recently performed ‘Test Match Special’ on Test Match Special. Arf, arf! What larks. Still, a suitable way to celebrate a decent performance by England this weekend. Alternatively, celebrate shite boats and being pissed by downloading the bonus track, ‘Pedalo’, from iTunes. It was one of the first albums I reviewed for my new glossy-paged home and this leads me nicely to talking about one of the other records from that first batch: Magnolia Electric Co‘s ‘Josephine’, which is Jason Molina‘s finest record in absolutely yonks. And that’s taking as given that the last few have been of a high quality nevertheless. In entirely predictable fashion, I bought the vinyl to accompany my promo CD and it is a fantastic pressing. This is all the more impressive as I’ve found Secretly Canadian vinyl to be of a varying standard in the past and this record truly deserved a decent outing on wax. And so it is. It’s soulful, it’s warm and yet still oddly bleak. Such is Molina’s way with a guitar. If neither Magnolia Electric Co nor his earlier outings as Songs : Ohia aren’t in your record collection you really should set about correcting that criminal oversight.

The quite simply bloody lovely new record by Wilco arrived from the delightfully mispriced (£8.98, free delivery!) Amazon this week and it does not disappoint. Although it seems to be getting some revisionist slagging, I loved ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and so already had high hopes for the appallingly titled, ‘Wilco (The Album)’. The vinyl pressing (What do you expect? It matters!!) is exceptional and the music’s not far behind. At times gently chugging, at times more upbeat and almost poppy than Wilco have been for some time, it’s a concise, summery record that you need to get now so it can soundtrack any remaining nice weather before the end of August. Or you could just wait until the inevitable reissue with a bonus disc that seems to have been the norm for the last few records. Tracks like ‘The Thanks I Get’ were simply tossed out as ‘bonus material’, despite being of album-worthy standard. Here’s hoping for more suitably spiffing bonus stuff this time out.

Having mentioned during the Glastonbury weekend blog overload that I was rather taken with The Hot 8 Brass Band, I’ve been giving their album a few listens of late and, while it’s not one I’ll play from start to finish all that often, it’s does have some truly inspired moments. The take on ‘What’s My Name’ by Snoop Doggy Dogg is reason enough to buy the record, before you even get to the charming interpretation of ‘Sexual Healing’. Suitably bargainous price and copies in stock here.

I’ll conclude with my current favourite pop nuggets. I recently mentioned that I’ve come round to the idea that La Roux, despite looking like an aggressive baby, has released one of the songs of the year with ‘Bulletproof’ and I can’t really see what might actually better it right now. I’m quite taken with the Freemasons single with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, even if she does sing “Heartbreak, make me a darn-ser.” It niggles away at your head that one and it’s hard to shake off. ‘New In Town’ by Little Boots is rather charming but I don’t imagine it has much staying power. The whole of the latest Pet Shop Boys album is still satisfying the vast majority of my pop needs. Feel free to recommend me any great new pop you can think of below.

Right then, suitably rambling as always but with a twist this time. The good folks at both teatunes and Jo-Whiley-hating* The Word magazine regularly share Spotify playlists relating to what they’re banging on about. So, I thought I’d shamelessly steal the idea and try it myself. It doesn’t cover everything listed here – Magnolia Electric Co’s new album’s not on there yet, neither are the Wilco album or La Roux – but it’ll give you a nice idea. Try it by clicking here.

 

*T’was them that made us have Fearne Cotton on daytimes. They killed her.

Shameless Nudity

It would seem that at least one person has visited this blog in the last week in the hope of seeing pictorial evidence of Lady GaGa‘s lady parts, judging by the search engine referrers list. How quaint. Not that kind of site, I’m afraid. I’m really resisting some weak pun linking this information and the new Bloc Party single. Oh, just do it yourself, you know you want to.

Anyway, I’m still suffering a bit of Glasto withdrawal. What am I supposed to watch on the telly now? I know, it’s hardly the same as those people who actually depressed at no longer physically being in Pilton, but I so love the five-screen red button pleasure. Maybe it is that kind of site after all? Blur was everything I’d hoped they’d be and they genuinely seemed to be bombarded with love by the enormous crowd. Admittedly, watching Jo Whiley nearly crying and Zane Lowe over-analysing some songs, played by a band, on a stage, was pretty disturbing but I still went to bed happy, despite their best efforts. I particularly enjoyed viewing the rest of the night’s footage the following evening via Sky+ and finding a really-quite-pissed Mark Radcliffe confusing the hell out of lovely Lauren Laverne. She genuinely seemed surprised by how ridiculous Radcliffe was being. Brilliant, but ridiculous. The best TV presenting I’ve ever seen him do. In fact, I loved it so much I went out and bought his recently published memoirs. I also picked up new musical writing magazine/glossy-book-thing Loops – a joint venture by Domino Records and Faber & Faber. I’ll report back on what could be an exciting new development in due course, but I think Norman Records summed it up quite nicely in their review: “It’s an attractive little thing, all glossy and professional-looking with words in it from such legendary titans as Nick Cave (who seems to be writing largely about Avril Lavigne‘s vagina), Nick Kent, David Shrigley, Jon Savage, Simon Reynolds… Erm. It smells really nice too. You should probably buy one!” Hmm. I sense the Lady GaGa fans returning via Google again, anytime soon.

I think I’m coming round to the idea that La Roux‘s ‘Bulletproof’ is one of the singles of the year. It’s crept up on me and now I really, really like it. She does need to smile a bit though. She still has that look of the aggressively curious baby. You know the type. Friend shows you baby, you’re supposed to say ‘awww, how sweet’, but, on this occasion, you nearly soil yourself at the sight of ugly baby glaring at you angrily. That’s what she looks like in the video. Ten times more disturbing than any banned Manics album art. Still, the song is brilliant.

The Duckworth Lewis Method‘s album is now actually available for purchase and, as my review has appeared in print, I guess I can gush about it on here now. It’s a wonderful new set by Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh (of Pugwash fame-ish) that is a delight from the first second to the last. Joyous and unashamedly pop, it rips off the embarrassing side of 70s pop/rock, wafts off into classic Divine Comedy balladry and takes a brief detour into Noel Coward country. (For all Googlers, that was count-ry, ok?) There are some iTunes bonus tracks that they’re currently allowing you to buy individually to go with your proper shop-bought copy of the album (which is in a lovely digipak) but I’m not sure that that will always be the case. HMV in Leicester had a whole chunk of the Artists Alphabetical section set aside for this album’s physical release tomorrow. Bodes well for sales.

Other music I’m thoroughly enjoying but not especially willing to write a lot about right now: Ohbijou, My Latest Novel and Banjo Or Freakout – all brilliant, all on Bella Union (do they ever get it wrong?) The Hot 8 Brass Band and some classic Tony Christie. You know you want to.