Electro-pop veterans get back to 'Violator' mode on 14th LP.
For nearly four decades, Depeche Mode have majored in gloomy meditations on their own personal shortcomings. But their 14th LP offers a bitter, sorrowful elegy for the outside world. Nearly every song on Spirit laments the death of human decency, often in disarmingly beautiful ways (see the fuzzy ballad "Fail," the forlornly crooned "Poison Heart"). They sometimes drift into heavy-handed polemics ("Where’s the Revolution"). But with a smart mix of techno-leaning keyboards and bluesy guitar, à la their 1990 high-water mark, Violator, it’s easy to get swept away in their gospel.
Topics: Depeche Mode
Revisiting the work of Afrobeat's progenitor – and a fearless Pan-Africanist firebrand.
Curated by Erykah Badu, this latest Kuti retrospective encompasses a slew of the visionary Nigerian bandleader's most fervidly political recordings, many with the game-changing Africa '70. Even at 40 years' remove, their prickling electricity is palpable.
The anthology's 12 tracks occupy 223+ minutes of timeless genius: a mesmeric potion of jazz virtuosity, highlife hedonism, and unshakable Yoruba ceremonial rhythms and call-and-responses. Pestling shekere, congas and palm-muted guitars form a seamless river of interlocking grooves, couching keys and wildly expressive saxophone parts of the kind piloted by Sun Ra Arkestra — see especially "No Agreement" (1977), with its urgent funk backbeat and expressive guitar vocalisation.
The collection takes in some of the darkest passages of Kuti's personal and public life, including the Nigerian military's 1978 raid on his Lagos commune, Kalakuta Republic, which claimed the life of Kuti's mother. The outrage prompted Kuti to deliver her coffin to Lagos' Dodan Barracks — a defiant gesture enshrined in searing, scathing indictment of corruption "Coffin for Head of State" (1980).
Africa '70's celebrated performance at the 1979 Berlin Jazz festival is captured in V.I.P (Vagabonds in Power), which — along with later entries Army Arrangement (1985) and Underground System (1992) — carries forward the fire of Kuti's mid-Seventies ascendency.
A giant of 20th Century popular song, Kuti continues to excite at his every entrancing, wildly inventive turn.
Beloved Melbourne post-punks change things up, again.
Total Control return from two years of elusiveness with a surprise EP that elaborates and evolves beyond any expectation set by 2014's Typical System, with the apocalyptic thump dialled back for an almost playful, energetic mixture of art-pop, buoyed by clattering drum machines and wryly melancholic lyricism. Laughing at the System makes it apparent that a sonic torch was carried by fellow Melbourne art-punks Terry — two members of which also exist within Total Control's shifting bounds — "Future Crème" and "Luxury Vacuum" evoking similar tones to this year's Remember Terry. Total Control's penchant for disorienting outsiders and fans alike is maintained regardless, perhaps the only wholesale constant from their past work.
My Morning Jacket's reverb-loving singer reworks Brian Wilson, Sonny and Cher on second covers set.
From My Morning Jacket's early days, frontman Jim James had a thing for vocal reverb. On his second solo covers set, it persists, and serves the project well – these classic songs feel like live broadcasts from distant memory, clouds in heaven, or an empty theater after everyone's gone home. Of course, James' gorgeous tenor lies at the heart of it. Brian Wilson's "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" is handsomely ghostly; ditto the Orioles' doo-wop gem "Crying In The Chapel," distilled to a single lonely voice. The curveball is "Baby Don't Go," the singer multi-tracking himself on Sonny and Cher's 1965 hit, harmonizing yin and yang quite literally, and refreshing a pop classic for a new, gender-fluid generation.
Memphis R&B singer continues her upward trajectory.
Album number four for K.Michelle shows the R&B artist in a more confident creative space. Thematically, the LP doesn't reinvent the wheel. Songs about relationships, sex, drugs and the high life K.Michelle flaunts via reality TV are bolstered by gripping R&B and hip-hop beats, yet the singer pulls herself away from the comfort zone of standard rhythm progressions and trap beats, instead opting to let her voice take centre stage. "Either Way" with Chris Brown is forgettable, though "Crazy Like You" and "Birthday" mark two solid examples of K.Michelle's versatility.
Scrappy sixties radio recordings highlight band's early roughneck greatness.
There's been a bounty of archival Stones releases this year – notably Ladies & Gentleman: The Rolling Stones, the fierce 1972 Fort Worth, Texas, show documented in the film of the same name, Keith Richards' and Mick Taylor's guns blazing. But this set takes the prize for ear-cocking: 32 tracks, recorded by BBC radio between 1963 and 1965, that show a scrappy blues and R&B covers band evolving into a rock & roll juggernaut.
It's long on Chuck Berry, songs, naturally – including "Come On" (the Stones' debut single), "Carol," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Memphis, Tennessee," the latter sung in the provocative voice of a fey British schoolboy still feeling out a style. The recordings were cut "live" in studios, and occasionally there were audiences, which give a sense of the Beatlemaniacal hysteria the band was already generating: check the shrieking on Tommy Tucker's "Hi Heeled Sneakers," Mick Jagger impressively deep-throating his consonants, and the Willie Dixon-penned Muddy Waters signature "I Just Wanna Make Love To You," Charlie Watts pounding down the door while Brian Jones freaks out on harmonica. You also hear the Stones as part of a scene – covering Berry's "Beautiful Delilah" in '64, the same year the Kinks released it as the opener of their debut LP, and "I Wanna Be Your Man," the Lennon/McCartney composition they gifted to the Stones, who rough it up nicely. By the time they're recording their originals, however, they're building a world of their own. On a version of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" recorded in fall of 1965, just months after the single was issued, Jagger uses only a single clipped "hey" on the first chorus, landing less like a pop chant than the bark of a hooligan stalking prey. And on "The Last Time," with its lyrical nod to the Staples Singers and harmonies like a roughneck English Everly Brothers, you hear the sound of songwriters flush with discovery, a dazzling glimmer of what lay ahead.
The ambient master reacts to improvised piano.
English improvisational pianist Tom Rogerson has scored a dream collaborator in Brian Eno, whose contribution here is manipulating the spectral-sounding midi signals generated by an obscure bit of piano-based gear. Spanning the soothing and discordant, the results hew closer to ambient and classical than to Rogerson's past ventures in jazz and post-rock. Some tracks hang back at a glacial pace, evoking Eno's other ambient-minded duo albums. Yet there's plenty of variety, including the John Carpenter-esque suspense of "Chain Home". Though slightly disjointed, this remains an illuminating experiment.
Roughshod protest from down on the farm.
Ever found yourself marching in the street for a good reason but chanting something that, well, kinda needs work? From Living With War to The Monsanto Years, such has been the awkward mix of righteous conviction and half-cooked presentation in Neil Young's recent political manifestos.
"I'm Canadian by the way, and I love the USA," goes the old warrior's opening couplet. "Already Great" is a rowdy rejoinder to the MAGA rhetoric, applied to Young's classic ragged grunt formula and woven with real protest chants ("Whose streets? Our streets!" etc). The ham-fisted single-take vibe and defiant chorus of agitation recur at the barricades of "Stand Tall" and the tub-thumping orchestral grandeur of "Children of Destiny", which comes across like the whole-town singalong at the end of a 1950s Western.
The more-or-less blatant anti-Trump sentiment sounds almost defeated in the blues-harp twanger "Almost Always". It's comical in the chain-gang interlude "When Bad Got Good", but most effective in "Change of Heart", which is delivered in the voice of a grizzled farmer who's seen enough to know better days are coming.
Only the truly hardcore will hazard the nine-minute south-of-the-border dramedy of "Carnival" more than once, but the lulling closing epic, "Forever", is like sitting quietly on the porch as the wise old timer mutters himself to sleep in his rocking chair.
One of the best-selling albums of all time enters middle age.
The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac owned the charts in 1977 with two of the best-selling records of all time. While Rumours endures, Hotel California is an iffier icon. Air guitarists the world over still make faces to the intertwined dual soloing at the end of the title track, while that stuttering riff on "Life In the Fast Lane" retains its simmer and sneer. But a couple of the heavily orchestrated ballads billow and bloat, aiding the arguments for punk's imminent rise. A bonus disc from a 1976 LA concert leans towards earlier country-rock songs, revealing a band that easily replicated those soaring, pristine harmonies on stage.
Irish quartet keep trying to recapture a moment that's passed.
While it continues a decade-long trend of missing genuine moments of brilliance, Songs of Experience never really falls flat on its face, even when Bono unconvincingly says "I believe my best days are ahead" in the only mildly swaggering "Lights Of Home", or when "The Showman (Little More Better)" clumsily gets "street" with its echoing chorus line of "little more better".
As with sister album Songs Of Innocence, this touches on elemental U2 (the Edge's guitar tone and strict measures of Larry Mullen; Bono's preaching yearning) and second wave U2 (suggestions of dance, some surprising Adam Clayton basslines, guest vocals to contemporise).
In its best moments there is a gentle ballad, in the closing "There Is a Light"; a punchy, lightly post-punk/pre-discovering America song to sing on a waterfront in "Red Flag Day"; a loosely funky nod to the remix-to-come in "The Blackout"; and the now obligatory glam stomper in "American Soul".
But Songs of Experience has too many generic songs which fill the gap rather than own the space. "You're the Best Thing About Me" goes nowhere politely in its mid-range rock; "Landlady" is a pleasant meander; and "Get Out Of Your Own Way" seems prepared to reach for the blue sky, but never really fires that bullet. It's unlikely many of these songs will force their way into U2's next set list.
Missing chapters enhance third visit with Carrie & Lowell.
Stevens' return to neo-folkie minimalism had us swooning with 2015's Carrie & Lowell. The live album that followed kept the intimacy intact, so it's slightly weird to find the grief parlour taking guests (Helado Negro, Doveman, 900X) on this remix-and-bits addendum. Their padded beats and choral ecstasies are muted though, and fingerpicked atmos remains the default, from the lulling echoes of "Drawn to the Blood" to an iPhone demo of "John My Beloved". But The Greatest Gift is mostly about the title track and bookends: four new songs that deepen the intrigue in images of feathered snakes, Indian graves, praise and prayers.
Classic third LP gets massive deluxe treatment.
While the Ramones' self-titled 1976 debut is one of punk's defining statements, it wasn't until 1977's Rocket to Russia that the Queens foursome hit their true peak. They'd stripped pop to its contingent parts, then stripped it down some more, and Rocket to Russia was the perfect intersection of their raw rock & roll and bubblegum-pop/surf influences... before their striving for hits became an all-encompassing strain.
Sounding crisper than ever, "Teenage Lobotomy", "Rockaway Beach", "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" remain classics, while 40 years has done nothing to dull the brilliant fun of "I Don't Care", "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow", "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Surfin' Bird".
This massive 77-track collection and its exhaustive extras cover how the sausage was made, with two fascinating alternate mixes and tracking/rough mixes (even an acoustic "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow"!), while the live set from the Apollo Centre in Glasgow, Scotland, is a revelation.
The Ramones would never release a better album, and this remains one of punk's early, riotous classics.
Art-pop experiments that play like promising sketches.
South Africa native Romy Xeno devotes her debut LP to quietly mutating art-pop, complete with spacious production. But for every standout track, there's a weak one that doesn't leave a lasting impression, like the cosmic-themed "Cyan Water" and a pair of inconsequential instrumentals. When Xeno's taffy-like malleability finds more focus, the results are better for it. Take "Chief of Tin", anchored by an insistent vocal mantra, or the whimsical and warmly melodic "Luna Man". Also on the stronger side, "She Ghosts" evokes Debut-era Björk and "Caramello" floats like anti-gravity bubblegum. Still, most of these colourful ideas could use a lot more fleshing out.
Aussie collective put Creedence catalogue on low simmer.
Cover bands love CCR – a fistful of chords, killer tunes, rock grunt and country twang. So it must have been a no-brainer for this conglomerate of Australian musos to bash out a tribute LP on the group's 50th anniversary. In a nice twist, lead vocals are not from some shouty bloke, but Katie Wighton (All Our Exes Live In Texas) and Ness Quinn (Hot Spoke). The problem is that the catalogue has been worn smooth with over-use, and the go-to musical setting for the group – featuring members of Boy & Bear and the Whitlams – is to slow almost everything down into a low-key Americana-laced simmer. Needs more salt. And vinegar.
Hot on the heels of his brother, Gallagher Snr. releases his third solo album.
There's both energy and nous in these songs, which may begin with a not wholly successful lumbering psych track ("Fort Knox") but find their way through punchy, brassy, white boy soul (the light-on but swinging "Keep On Reaching"); a surprisingly effective pair of instrumentals (the naff titled "Interlude (Wednesday Part 1)" and "End Credits (Wednesday Part 2)"); and a bonus track ("Dead In the Water") that takes a scrubbing brush to a standard Gallagher ballad and does its emotions on the natural rather than on the run.
And when he channels straight-out Oasis in "Black & White Sunshine", he's learnt, like a veteran cricketer, to add some angles and light touches instead of pushing hard at the ball. Though it's fair to note that this is also a song where his limited singing range feels the strain, and the extreme-Oasis title track is a straight out clumping bit of stodge.
There is a wonderful irony, or maybe that should be historical synchronicity, that the creeping blues of "Be Careful What You Wish For" sounds unashamedly like John Lennon's "Come Together". Not because Gallagher's nicked something from the Beatles – hardly news – but that he's nicked from a song that Lennon was accused of nicking from Chuck Berry.
History never repeats? Well, as was probably argued in 1969, it's a good song regardless.