ME AGAINST THE MUSIC
Fall continues to bring an avalanche of musical releases, and I find myself hard pressed to keep up.
Starsailor’s second album, Silence is Easy, is a reasonable effort—which is damning with feint praise, yes. It’s a good record, but it lacks the inspired moments of Love is Here, which produced some great singles, and every track on it was a keeper. While the title track/lead single is quite good, there is a heavier nature to this album that sort of places it in the middle of the musical road. It lacks the hooks of previous efforts but doesn’t drift far enough into the emotional weight to make one of those great bedroom records that touches the soul. Production-wise, however—well, it’s weird to say it’s good to have Phil Spector back, given recent events (and a friend of mine’s personal connection to the victim), but geez, you can feel his hand on this. There are some great backdrops here, orchestral washes that play well against James Walsh’s voice. The highlight is definitely “Four to the Floor” when everything drops out for a few seconds except for a piano, tinkling out an awesome riff reminiscent of Happy Mondays’ “Step On.” Too bad Walsh doesn’t go for it with more gusto when everything else kicks back in.
The next Suede single, “Attitude,” has impressed me a lot. I know I am prone to love Suede, but I like the gutsy feel of the track. It’s got some of the electronic experimentation some folks despised on Head Music, but with a much more adventurous rhythm and structure. Brett Anderson sounds great, particularly on the falsetto chorus. I do find myself wondering, though, why this was chosen as a lead single for a greatest hits package. It doesn’t really play to the popular vote—which is ballsy, but not really the point. I can’t imagine it on the radio sandwiched between Linkin Park and Beyonce. B-side “Golden Gun,” from what I heard of the murky live MP3 I have, is much more traditional Suede, and might have been a better herald. Or the second new track on the compilation, “Love The Way You Love Me,” brings that Coming Up guitar sound back, while going with the more groove-oriented feel of “Attitude,” and probably would have been a stronger lead, as well.
Elbow is also returning for a second album with Cast of Thousands. I think they have a fantastic knack for quiet, soaring beauty (yes, that’s possible)—“Powder Blue” being the perfect example from Asleep At the Back. Cast of Thousands doesn’t disappoint in that category, and I think ends up improving on the Elbow model by taking a few chances. Certainly the background chorus on the album opener speaks to that. These guys are touring with Grandaddy next month, and if every Grandaddy fan doesn’t convert to an Elbow fan by the end of the show, then they have no souls. Having seen Elbow live before, it’s a grand experience, and I am looking forward to seeing Cast of Thousands road tested. A great late night record.
Also taking a quiet approach this time around is Elvis Costello. North finds Mr. Costello in a jazzy mode. It’s a collection of soft songs, of ballads, with, of course, that sense of longing and romance he is so good at. Haven’t been able to really spend quality time with it yet, to really absorb the lyrics, but I am happy that he is still shaking it up, never sticking to one gameplan. Like Bowie, he is in a good creative space and that’s only positive for my ears.
I caved in and got a hold of the Raveonettes album, Chain Gang of Love. And shit, am I glad I did. I love this record. Their Whip It On EP was a bit blah for me. It felt a little repetitive, and I just got the sense they could be better. Chain Gang is definitely better. It’s brief enough not to wear out its welcome, yet has a good amount of songs. It’s very derivative of The Jesus & Mary Chain and the early ‘90s shoegaze scene, but unlike other recent imitators, The Raveonettes recall that those bands had as much of a thing for The Beach Boys and the aforementioned Phil Spector as they did The Velvet Underground. There are several instances of that amazing Wall of Sound drum beat (the one that intro’d “Be My Baby”), and you can never go wrong there. (Rialto, anyone?)
Speaking of Jesus & Mary Chain, their classic “Just Like Honey” appears on the soundtrack to Lost In Translation. It’s a wonderful choice for the film, and thankfully, Sofia Coppola didn’t stop there when it came to the music. Somehow she roped My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields in to record several new songs (and contribute one from MBV), and the rest of the disc is populated with like-minded tracks by folks like Death in Vegas and Air (surprisingly good; I guess every band has one in them). The record is a lovely listening experience in itself, transporting you to an aural universe not our own, and if you’ve seen the movie, it’s even better, taking you back into the lovely story. Great package, too, with gorgeous stills from the film.
I loved A Perfect Circle’s debut Mer de Noms. It’s another disc that transports the listener to a place outside themselves—and this one not unlike the body of water suggested by the title. APC continue the trend in this column of sophomore efforts with Thirteenth Step. Many are suggesting it’s a heavier throwback to The Cure’s superb Disintegration, and they’re not half-wrong. It’s a bit more challenging, though, and less instantly accessible than Mer de Noms. It’s got a theme of recovery, of getting beyond the cliché of it (hence, one extra step of twelve). My favorite song is the moody, and achingly romantic—if wrongly so—“The Nurse Who Loved Me” (apparently a cover, but I don’t who did it originally). I keep finding myself drawn back to it, which leads me to believe this will be a real favorite. The songs themselves rarely work in a straight line. They have something in common with Suede’s “Attitude” in that they often break apart simple structures and work with mood and create something a bit more snake-like—undulating around your ear drums and threatening to bite.
Going solo is a tricky thing. After over a decade with The Charlatans, Tim Burgess has now released his own record, I Believe--and he proves how much the rest of the band brings to the table by how much is lacking when they’re away. The album should have been named after the track “Po Boy Soul,” because that’s what it is. For those of us who found the funk of The Charlies’ last album, Wonderland, to be a bit watered down…well, the ice cubes have melted and the water to funk ratio has tipped in aqua’s favor. And when he’s not trying to pretend he’s got r&b flavor, he’s aping another white man aping black men, trying to be a “Me & Julio”-era Paul Simon on songs like “Who The Cap Fit.” Burgess has also caught a little bit of that Englishman-in-California disease, either singing about the sunny nature of the state on the title track or adopting Spanish and Mexican culture on “Oh Mi Corazon.” (For other examples of this, consider Hollywood resident Morrissey’s unreleased and embarrassing political screed “Mexico” or his Latino gang epic “First of the Gang To Die.” At least Robbie Williams tends to make fun of being a Los Angeles transplant.) The only truly decent song on the record is the last one, “All I Ever Do,” which could be an arena ballad if Burgess wanted to take it a step further. As it is, it’s a nice, nearly redemptive tune.
I truly do love Alfie, but I am thinking that they need to ratchet it up a bit. Their third album Do You Imagine Things? is really very good and I will end up listening to it a lot—but at the same time, I can’t help but think we’ve been here twice before. They are like the musical equivalent of the breeze, and unless they start picking up force and moving things around soon (as they start to do on the song “Hey Mole” or the inventive “Stuntman”), I might stop noticing they are there. Sort of like if Belle & Sebastian had never made Fold Your Hands… and “Legal Man” and started to inject variety into their repertoire. They’d have repeated themselves into nothing.