Bono and Co. look inward for inspiration on "surprise" 13th studio album.
No other rock band does rebirth like U2. No other band – certainly of U2's duration, commercial success and creative achievement – believes it needs rebirth more and so often. But even by the standards of transformation on 1987's The Joshua Tree and 1991's Achtung! Baby, Songs of Innocence – U2's first studio album in five years – is a triumph of dynamic, focused renaissance: 11 tracks of straightforward rapture about the life-saving joys of music, drawing on U2's long palette of influences and investigations of post-punk rock, industrial electronics and contemporary dance music. "You and I are rock & roll," Bono shouts in "Volcano", a song about imminent eruption, through a propulsive delirium of throaty, striding bass, alien-choral effects and the Edge's rusted-treble jolts of Gang of Four-vintage guitar. Bono also sings this, earlier in a darker, more challenging tone: "Do you live here or is this a vacation?" For U2, rock & roll was always a life's work – and the work is never done.
Songs of Innocence is aptly named, after William Blake's 1789 collection of poems about man's perpetually great age of discovery – childhood. For the first time, after decades of looking abroad for inspiration – to American frontier spirituality, Euro-dance-party irony and historic figures of protest such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela – Bono, the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. have taken the long way 'round to metamorphosis: turning back and inward, for the first time on a whole record, to their lives and learning as boys on the way to uncertain manhood (and their band) in Dublin.
Bono's lyrics are striking in their specific, personal history. In "Cedarwood Road", named after a street where he lived, the singer remembers the fear and unrequited anger that drove him to music and to be heard – and which won't go away. "I'm still standing on that street/Still need an enemy," he admits against Clayton and Mullen's strident, brooding rhythm and the enraged stutter of the Edge's guitar. "Raised by Wolves" is a tension of metronome-like groove and real-life carnage ("There's a man in a pool of misery . . . a red sea covers the ground") based on a series of car bombs that bloodied Dublin one night in the Seventies.
In "Iris (Hold Me Close)", Bono sings to his mother, whos died when he was 14, through a tangle of fondness and still-desperate yearning, in outbreaks of dreamy neo-operatic ascension over a creamy sea of keyboards and Clayton's dignified-disco bass figure. "You took me by the hand/I thought I was leading you," Bono recalls in a kind of embarrassed bliss. "But it was you who made me your man/Machine," he adds – a playful shotgun reference to his youthful poetic conceit in Boy's "Twilight" ("In the shadows boy meets man") and his wife Ali. The teenage Bono once gave her Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine as a gift while they were dating.
For U2 – and Bono in particular – the first step on the road out of Dublin was the sound of a voice, and they name it in the opening track, "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)". U2 have always been open in their gratitude to New York punk and the Ramones in particular, and this homage to unlikely heroism – that kid you least expect to take on the world and win – is suitable honour: a great, chunky guitar riff and a beat like a T. Rex stomp, glazed with galactic-Ronettes vocal sugar. "I woke up," Bono sings, "at the moment when the miracle occurred/Heard a song that made some sense out of the world." U2 also pay due diligence to the Clash in "This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now", dedicated to Joe Strummer, and there is a strong hint of the Beach Boys' allure – their standing invitation to a utopia far from the Dublin grit and rain – in the Smile-style flair of the chanting harmonies in "California (There Is No End to Love)". "Blood orange sunset brings you to your knees," Bono croons in an awed register. "I've seen for myself."
These are the oldest stories in rock & roll – adolescent restlessness; traumatic loss; the revelation of rescue hiding in a great chorus or power chord. But Songs of Innocence is the first time U2 have told their own tales so directly, with the strengths and expression they have accumulated as songwriters and record-makers. This album was famous, long before release, for its broken deadlines and the indecision suggested by its multiple producers: Brian Burton a/k/a Danger Mouse, Paul Epworth of Adele fame and Ryan Tedder of the pop band One Republic. Those credits are misleading. Burton, Epworth and Tedder all co-produced "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" and contributed keyboards; that's Epworth on the additional slide guitar in "Cedarwood Road"; and Burton arranged the chorale in "Volcano". But the extra hands and textures are thoroughly embedded in the memoir. There is no time when the telling sounds like it was more than the work of the four who lived it.
And it is a salvation, U2 believe, that keeps on giving. "Every breaking wave on the shore/Tells the next one that there will be one more," Bono promises in the tidal sun-kissed electronica of "Every Breaking Wave". And "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" comes with a pledge to every stranded dreamer who now hears Rocket to Russia, Give 'Em Enough Rope or some U2 for the first time and is somehow, permanently, changed. "We can hear you," Bono swears. "Your voices will be heard."
Just find one of your own. Then shout as hard as you can.
Indie-dance luminaries return with a more mindful trip.
Cut Copy's fourth LP was called Free Your Mind, but some argued the band had lost theirs with the unashamed Summer Of Love throwback that offered little new. Haiku From Zero reverts to the broader palette of 2011's Zonoscope; from cowbell-helmed highlight "Standing In the Middle of the Field" to "Airborne", a mildly annoying jam until it lives up to its name around the four-minute mark. Characteristically pat lyrics are hitched to music sophisticated enough to impart profundity, from the E-rush of "Stars Last Me a Lifetime" to the polymorphic, David Byrne-indebted "Memories We Share". It's not vintage Cut Copy, but it's a return to form.
Melbourne grinders unleash pure insanity on third album.
Ugly by name, ugly by nature, King Parrot have truly upped their game in all levels of extremity while simultaneously lowering the bar in depravity. Album number three is a sordid, nasty grindfest of crazed riffing, inhuman time-keeping and ridiculous yob anthems about binge drinking, low standards and being a straight-up dickhead, delivered with a schizophrenic vocal roar/shriek that teeters on the brink of insanity. Smashing blazing hardcore into furious thrash metal with the impact of a high-speed collision, Ugly Produce is a visceral ball of fury wrapped in sarcasm and grime that's both terrifying and hilarious at the same time.
The Vampire Weekend auteur channels his worldly vision into an excellent debut LP.
After putting in work on Frank Ocean's Blonde ("Seigfried," "Ivy"), Solange Knowles' A Seat at the Table ("F.U.B.U.") and various collaborative projects, ex-Vampire Weekend MVP Rostam Batmanglij has finally gotten around to releasing a proper solo LP of his own. And, admirably, he's refused to choose between his former group's Ivy League-aesthete indie rock and modern vernacular electro-pop, opting instead to cherry-pick the best of both worlds.
The resulting 15 tracks are, fittingly, all over the place. "Bike Dream" is sexy voice-boxed art pop; "Thatch Snow" is chamber music with a multitracked choir; "Wood" is a widescreen Bollywood daydream, complete with layered hand drums and orchestral strings; "Hold You" is a hungry robo-soul slow-jam with ex-Dirty Projectors vocalist-bassist Angel Deradoorian as an earthy diva.
Batmanglij has a boyish, intimate tenor, charming when not overdoing the breathy, verge-of-a-giggle delivery. Ultimately, though, it's the gorgeously inventive tracks that steal the show. Maybe the most telling is "Don't Let It Get to You", built around a machine-gunning sample of the samba-drum battery from Paul Simon's curveball 1990 banger "The Obvious Child" – a modern equivalent to Patti Smith repurposing Velvet Underground tunes. Here's to the bright future of another New York whiz kid.
You watched it being recorded, now listen to the results.
Workshopped in front of an online audience every Friday for a month, recorded in a night (also streamed live over the net) and released a week later, Out of Silence has a back story worth noting, but not worth lingering over. More usefully, it's a solo album – Finn's first since 2014's Dizzy Heights – full of group sounds, from a full band and strings to massed backing vocals, and a duet with brother Tim. Which makes it even starker how lyrically and tonally it's an album of isolation, with characters lost on the edges of relationships even as they're cushioned by harmonies, and wondering if love can ever be known while carried on another typically attractive Finn melody.
Prog rockers get deep on expansive look at art.
The latest album from these Brisbane progressive prodigies is a sprawling, labyrinthine opus exploring the very nature of artistic endeavour. Using the thematic device of four unrelated but conceptually similar stories, the band veer from sweeping epics like "Graves" to spoken word rants, melodic rock, wistful acoustics and driving metal tracks with stunning alacrity, displaying a dynamic range and genuine emotion that other prog rock bands can lose in their quest for virtuosity. Following 2015's excellent Bloom might have seemed tough, but In Contact is a further example of the group's growing creative power, deep, multi-layered and idiosyncratically cerebral.
A spirited release from London based Mercury Prize nominee.
Nick Mulvey's sophomore release positions the songwriter at potentially his most comfortable; the lyrical use of metaphor highlights Mulvey's developed writing ability ("Myela"), while the sprawling nature of the soundscapes encapsulates the strength of the musicians Mulvey surrounded himself with. Mulvey's lyrical scope takes a look at the world currently turning off its axis; in a time of uncertainty, music can serve as an emotional anchor, an anchor Mulvey aims to deliver. His writing is evocative without preaching. Balancing rhythmic eccentricities with irrepressible groove and electronic production throughout, Wake Up Now serves its title well.
Sydney producer brings fun retro club vibes on party-ready debut.
Visions' gaudy neon cover art – featuring Michael 'Touch Sensitive' Di Francesco in a turtleneck, gold chain and manicured mo' – is the perfect distillation of his debut LP. "First Slice – Intro" (which samples his 2013 hit "Pizza Guy") sets the Eighties-cocaine-dealer-pulling-up-to-the-nightclub-in-a-Ferrarai vibe, kicking off an album of ebullient house ("Lay Down"), Nineties R'n'B ("Veronica") and Italo disco-influenced club bangers. Arriving in the spring, Visions plays like the perfect warm weather party soundtrack, whether you're drinking champagne spritzers on a yacht or hitting the local discotheque in your finest pair of slacks.
English band lacks vision on fifth album.
"Are we hologram? Are we vision?" sings Faris Badwan over roiling synths and an electro-clash beat. Perhaps he should be asking "Are we Gary Numan tribute act?", because that's what it sounds like. The Horrors have tried on a number of outfits over five albums, arriving as goth-clad garage rockers and transitioning through psych-rock and dream-pop before going for arena anthems with 2011's Skying. V finds them stranded somewhere between melodramatic Eighties synth-pop and contemporary Coldplay-esque stadium-fillers. In either mode they offer po-faced lyrics and a lack of adventure. To sum up, then: the answer to "Are we vision?" is no.
Las Vegas rockers hit targets with affecting, arena-built anthems.
Brandon Flowers has grown up a little. He's now big enough to poke fun at himself in "The Man", the fruitiest Killers track ever made, and willing to let his guard down lyrically and make some pretty vulnerable songs about his wife's childhood abandonment ("Wonderful Wonderful"); depression ("Rut"); and affairs of the heart ("Some Kind of Love"). Pairing with longterm producer Stuart Price and Jacknife Lee (U2, Taylor Swift) has paid dividends – soaring anthems like "Run for Cover" and "Tyson vs Douglas" are shamelessly emotive, yet undeniable. While they haven't eclipsed their earliest work, the Killers are ageing gracefully.
Seattle's golden boy of indie-folk delivers third studio LP.
With White Noise, Noah Gundersen continues his journey away from the rather anaemic acoustic balladry of old. This is a step up in songwriting, production and emotional heft that, with its touches of synth and Gundersen's occasional swooning falsetto, warrants favourable comparison with Perfume Genius's excellent recent albums. "After All" and especially "Sweet Talker" best exhibit this new ambition, though less successful are some banal attempts at sparse Josh Ritter-ish folk that sit awkwardly on an album that, thanks to Gundersen's sonic imagination and maturing sense of songcraft, otherwise succeeds.
Wolfe's sixth studio LP is her best and heaviest to date.
If Chelsea Wolfe's last album welcomed us into her abyss, Hiss Spun plunges headfirst into its apocalyptic epicentre, a bewitching brew of chaos and beautiful darkness. Where the California-born artist once lingered among eerie melodies and folk guitars, she holds nothing back on her heaviest, doomiest album yet. Thunderous drums ("Spun") and guitars, distorted to oblivion ("Welt"), offer catharsis through violence. Even its lightest moments ("Two Spirit") are far from frail or thin. It's this balance that makes Hiss Spun so arresting; cataclysmic walls of noise perfectly ballasted by Wolfe's rich, spellbinding vocals.
Guy from the Beatles wants to keep going. Is there a problem?
"Got up this mornin', packed my bags/Headed for the studio to finish this track." He's not complicated, our Ringo, but he's not calling stumps either. Would you? That's Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter and Steve Lukather stoking the rock & roll engine room of "We're On the Road Again". Peter Frampton pops up on "Speed of Sound", Dave Stewart helps him indulge his love for cornball country on "So Wrong For So Long", and he gets to pay a mawkish reggae tribute to Bob Marley in "King of the Kingdom". And say what you like about old guys with their home ProTools studios, but he's never sung more tunefully.
Wyclef Jean's narrative skill remains undimmed.
The third instalment in Wyclef Jean's 'Carnival' series proves the hip-hop icon hasn't lost his knack for bending and fusing genres. Stark contrasts are struck as Carnival III moves between sonic tone; the upbeat reggae-funk of "Fela Kuti" is sandwiched between the more introspective "Borrowed Time" and "Warrior". Collaborations with Emeli Sandé and Lunch Money Lewis are solid, and on his first album in eight years, Jean has made a sound that exists not simply as a new statement, but as the continuation of an approach to music that celebrates diversity and encourages musical discovery and emotional response.
Folk gems from former Old Crow Medicine Show singer.
Willie Watson's much-loved Folk Singer Vol.1 worked so well partly because he and producer David Rawlings allowed a certain unkemptness, a muddiness, to drive both performance and production on its renditions of songs from the American folk canon. Vol.2 is the same. The sparseness of these interpretations, along with Watson's winsome vocals, produces an overall sound startlingly similar to Dave Van Ronk. At the same time, some inspired instrumental choices from Rawlings bring gorgeous new dimensions to well-trodden ground. For song selection, sincerity and passion, Watson has nailed it again.