Album Reviews: April 2004

 

Polly Paulusma – Scissors In My Pocket (One Little Indian)

Polly Paulusma reminds me of three women rolled into one (musically that is, not physically) – Harriet Wheeler (of the Sundays), Aimee Mann and Janis Joplin (oh ok, Joni Mitchell too). All this would point to the fact she is a very talented woman indeed, and appears to have swallowed a golden thesaurus at some time or another, such is the precision of her perfectly chosen phrases and the fact that she doesn’t stick with a basic 4/4 time signature throughout the album is another major plus.

In fact, it is those that veer from the well trodden path that appeal the most here, such as “Carry Me Home” – an unconventionally jolty tune with wondrously morose lyrics (‘so blow winds and come rainclouds, gather over my head’). The track that follows it, “Mea Culpa” is a placid number that would be the perfect soundtrack while you’re sitting calmly and looking out over a particularly tranquil ocean.

I’d be very surprised if we weren’t about to hear the name of Ms. Paulusma rather a lot in the near future, given the promise of this, her debut album. Fingers crossed that I’m right. 8/10

Tone E

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Chumbawamba – Un (Mutt Records)

They never cease to amaze me, Chumbawamba. Just when you think you’ve got them all figured out, they surprise you yet again. I mean, going on past form, when they’ve covered music from punk to dance to folk (as well as several more surprising diversions inbetween), you could have been forgiven for half expecting them to release an album full of Chinese mobile phone ringtones next, but no, what have they gone and done? They’ve gone and put out the most commercially accessible record they’ve ever made, that’s what! Not only that, but might I add, it’s the best thing they’ve done in their lengthy career.

Always satirical, enormously entertaining and often hilarious, “Un” contains an over abundance of great pop tunes set to a backdrop of Latin American melodies, and loaded with astute observations on current affairs, and on a Western world increasingly concerned only with itself.

For example, standout track (on an album positively littered with them) is probably “On ebay”, which is Chumbawamba’s reply to George W. Bush’s assertion that “everything can be bought and sold and nothing has real value” and “We Don’t Want To Sing Along” is an attack on the psychologically brutal society in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were brought up before going on to commit the tragic massacre at Columbine High Shool.

Complete with lyric book and sleeve notes detailing the train of thought behind each (single worthy) track, “Un” truly is an astonishing achievement. 10/10

Tone E

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The Alarm – In the Poppyfields (Snapper Music)

Fresh from their amusingly successful exploits humiliating and exposing the prejudicial arrogance of the high and mighty music press with their recent Top 30 single posing as the Poppyfields, The Alarm return with a new album that seems to owe more than a little influentially to U2.

I’m proud to say that we weren’t fooled by the band’s recent spoof outing. In fact, take a look back in our archives, and you’ll see that we even said in the first paragraph something along the lines of “This sounds like The Alarm”!
I’m even more gratified to say that we showed little pomposity over this fact, and opted to give the single 9/10.
Anyway this is quite a “stadium filler” of an album, such is the grandeur of many of the tracks upon it. If you can get past the fact that the album’s opener, “Coming Home” features some guitar work that vaguely resembles Genesis’ “Invisible Touch”, you will be richly rewarded by some ultra fine melodies such as the fantastically dirty sounding “Trafficking”, the warmth of “Close”, the unashamedly ballsy single you already know “45RPM” and the standout tune – the record’s finale and title track “In the Poppyfields”, full of histrionic radiance.

The Alarm are back with a bang, and you’d be foolish to ignore them this time around. 8/10

Tone E

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Yellowcard - Ocean Avenue (Parlophone)

When I say that I was surprised when I warmed to this band, I really mean it. 5 guys hailing from Florida, USA, pumping out what is termed 'punk-rock', but this is not as I understand 'punk-rock' to be, I'd use the term of 'emo' with the added twist of a celtic strain, this later comparison made because of the inclusion of classically trained violinist, Sean Mackin, within their ranks. It may seem strange to have this used as a rhythm section within a group of this nature, but believe me when I tell you that this subtlety really works, alongside the tried and tested ascorbic guitars, thundering bass lines and fast paced drums that become the groups main backdrop.

Their first release on a major label, but not their debut album, this privilege having gone to 2001's 'One For The Kids', released on the independent 'Lobster Records'. But this current fame hasn't come easily you won't be surprised to learn, with several labels under their belts, numerous line-up tweaks and over 200 nights a year spent playing in venues of all types, from the usual 'rock-dives', 'school events', 'back yards', 'living rooms', to probably the pinnacle of this performance education coming in the form of 2002's placing on the West Coast leg of the 'Warped Tour', something that wasn't just a one off either.

But this group's use of lead singer Ryan Key's intelligently penned lyrics are a dream, those that are not just full of stories of 'boy meets girl, girl drops boy' subject matter, but draws on his own life journey till his tender years (mid-twenties), culminating in the realising of his dream to become a songwriter. Topping this stable platform is the music that makes the heart sing, quite honestly, and when it's all over you will realise that you have listened to a truly remarkable album, one that's not just for those fueled times spent pogo'ing at the gig or in the club, but also at a time where you can really appreciate its contents. 9/10

Nick James

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Lou Reed - Animal Serenade (Reprise)

A double album, that sports some rather obscure images in keeping with this rock-stars' wild persona and a history that is even harder to comprehend. Well this album is nothing new, well in respect of the material his playing, but as a live album, this performance taken from his show in 2003 at 'The Wiltern' in Los Angeles, it really does capture the electricity Lou manages to convey.

On listening to this performance, it's easy to understand just how Lou has managed to travel through the passages of time arriving at this point in the 21st Century, unscathed and still appearing fresh to generations of fans. Like Bowie, Reed is still retains that element of 'cool', not becoming a parody of himself and still managing to squeeze every ounce out of each of the songs on offer here, from those that became 'beat nick' standards of the sixties, to those more recent compositions taken from 2003's acclaimed album, 'The Raven'.

Produced by Nick Launay, familiar for his work with Nick Cave, Talking Heads, Silverchair and I believe INXS, this performance does not only contain instruments familiar to the 'rock palette', but also brings those more associated to a classical stage and this is where the performance and production really sings, in that every inch of this performance is coming to you from your speakers. Alright Lou Reed is someone that is not exactly unfamiliar with the format of 'the live album', but with such a career in music this does mean that when it comes to finding material with which to perform, his choices are wide and varied. Unsurprisingly The Velvet Underground do feature here, even though it may be considered in a token supply, 'Venus In Furs', 'All Tomorrows Parties' and the track 'Heroin' used as a close to the performance here. But whereas The Velvets titles will be no strangers to the live album, there are those solo Reed tracks that have never before been released on any of his previous 'Live' offerings.

As an introduction to Lou Reed, if one were needed, this is a great starting point, and as a live album, this shows how it should be done. 9/10

Nick James

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Nitin Sawhney - Fabriclive 15 (Fabric)

I think it's relevant to tell you a bit of the background behind this release that I was interested to learn on first encountering it. Rotating monthy between fabric and FABRICLIVE DJ's, this set of compilations now in their 3rd season, that has seen 30 releases showcasing both established and emerging talent. Costing a mere £6 (+ p&p), if you are a hard-core 'fabrichead' and have subscribed to the discs, these are sent directly to your home some weeks before they find themselves on any record store shelf and a fair few quid cheaper too!

This, the latest, comes to you from the dextrous fingers of Mr. Nitin Sawhney, whose many claims to fame include that of having joined Acid Jazz outfit 'The James Taylor Quartet' whilst still at college, and having written comedy with Sanjeev Bhaskar, being one half of the 'Secret Asians'. With this only a minute portion of Nitin's talent he continues to turn what is perceived 'the norm' on its head, as by his involvement on this, the 15th FabricLive we hear musical genres being pulled from near and far'er to create an exotic mix of both sounds and vocal to weave this tapestry.

Kicking off with the deep jazz influence of Nitin's own edit of Koop's 'Relaxin'...', we follow by sinking with ease into a series of 3 Nitin Sawhney compositions, eastern references present along the way in 'Eastern Eyes' and two visions of 'Homelands'. We stay in relaxed mood as we are offered Tosca, Marcos Vale, finally to be presented with a slightly more euphoric, Kabuki. Deep Jazz continues through the next two numbers, until we reach the Drum and Bass influenced presentations from the 'Hospital' label. We follow this heady brew, with an even more exotic mix of eastern influnces kicked off from the 'Visionary Underground'. Before we end this visit however, Nitin once again appears with his own cinematic vision of holocaust proportions, before we are finally laid to rest with Craig Armstrong's 'Hymn 2', featuring the cutting edge production of 'Photec'.

A massive journey, lasting only just 70 minutes, seems over barely before it has even begun, but takes us almost to all four corners of the globe. Sheer brilliance, tapered only by the fact this is a tiny silver disc. 9/10

Nick James

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Ryko - Twentieth Anniversary (Ryko)

If you're looking for a massive collection that speaks of all that is 'best' about music, then you couldn't do much better than doing so within the passages of 'Rykodisc'. Their's is a history that has brushed along the way a great number of luminaries, from Bowie, E-Street member Nils Lofgren, Nick Drake, blues-man Robert Cray, the late lamented Bill Hicks (ok so Bill's not exactly music, but it has been said that comedy is the 'new Rock'n'Roll'). Not just these, but what has been described as the definitive 'Ryko moment', that of when in 1985 a not so chance meeting, ended up with their working with the mighty Frank Zappa, who of course is contributed here in that of the track 'Joes Garage', oh and many more artists besides, well with a double album that greets over 30 artists, this is one hell of a roster.

Like any compilation this is not always going to run exactly as you, the listener is going to wish (well many of us I'm sure have car tapes we consider the b's and e's), but that said as an education this does stand proud. Being able to discover an artist, personally for the first time is a terrific thing and I'm sure that listeners will be able do the same here.

Ryko, originally founded 20 years ago, to develop music in the 'new media' of compact disc (ha!), which at the time was almost solely reserved for the Classical medium, whereas 'rock', not being considered worthy enough of this esoteric of mediums, was still bannished, on the whole to black plastic and brownish tape. But being concerned with not just the software of music delivery, Ryko's Don Rose explains in the hefty bumf that accompanies this release, that their main concern was of the music itself.

This is blatently the case as the music comes at you from 20 years that has not just seen Ryko encountering financial difficulty among'st the glorious moments, but also that, that has led to the compilation and releasing of this 24-carat experience, reinfored by those moments that continue to hit me from artists known, to those making my ears' aquantance for the first time - thank you Ryko (a label I always thought was reserved to that of my father's generation).

So you've read this far, why not take a chance and enter yourself into the draw that might see you walk away with your very own copy of this collection, just visit the link noted below. 8/10

Nick James

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Various Artists - 46664 (WEA)

This mamouth set, comprising 3 single, separately marketed CD's, were "inspired by the vision and leadership of Nelson Mandela" and is part of the '46664' campaign, named after the man's prison number when he was incarcerated on Robin Island. It's ultimate aim to raise awareness of the 'HIV/Aids' pandemic, with funds raised going to the 'Nelson Mandela Foundation', this initiative being the largest call for action for HIV/Aids in history.

A worthy call for this form of action, but what of the albums'? Well a set that features artists from across the globe, taking in the entire evening's musical entertainment as performed in Cape Town on the 29th November, 2003. Aside of the albums worthy cause and featuring many unique and exclusive artist collaborations, as well as performances of songs written especially for the show, this is not just a compilation. Live albums come to the listener somewhat sanitised and void of the true passion of the show which it claims to depict, at the end of the day becoming just that, 'a compilation' of the featured artists 'abridged' work. But what becomes evident here is that you're listening to the entire show, this is not your average 'compilation', if at all and is more a cross section of time. A little like watching 'Live Aid' on television in 1984, whilst you were not present at the event you could still participate, the attraction here being an exclusive web-site set-up to support the campaign. So if you're 'into causes' and support what this stands for, then this is almost a must have collection of albums.

Well that's one demographic taken care of, but what of the rest, the average 'record buyer', how is this going to bode with these taken into account? Well if I were to say that each of these volumes speaks to the listener, I don't think I would be stretching the point. On the first of the three volumes the master of the charity concert, Bob Geldof not only contributes a speech, the first of two across the discs on the point of the whole event and his own contribution, this following Beyonce's opening number, but also his version of Bob Marley's 'Redemtion Song' - another reactionary and social leader. Ok so we crack off in good form, can we follow this? From Queen - or at least a version of

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Adem – Homesongs (Domino)

You’d be hard pressed to find many more delicate and warm records than ex-Fridge member Adem’s lovingly crafted debut solo album. References abound aplenty throughout, from the pessimism of a darker Leonard Cohen or Nick Drake track, to the lilting splendour of Radiohead at the pinnacle of their lassitude.
In between, we are able to envisage a nonchalant Neil Hannon, and somehow “Long Drive Home” sounds unusually like a slowed down, de-grunged version of a Nirvana song.

It’s all “sehr schon” but it’s unlikely that you’ll decide to play this record unless you’re already in a comatose like state of inertia. Then again, that describes me to a tee most of the time, so I won’t be complaining!

Anyway, the tender and refreshingly understated melodies, combined with Adem’s downcast vocal style, makes this more than an intriguing album.
Sad, but at the same time uplifting. 8/10

Tone E

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Kinky – Atlas (Sonic360)

“You paint everything in colours instead of black and white” opines the Mexican quintet on the opening track of this, their second album. No, not a criticism of the bass player’s girlfriend’s choice of bedroom decoration, but apparently a jibe at the country’s ineffectual fence sitting politicians. Hey, that’s one way to win me over immediately guys! I love a bit of social denigration in my lyrics!

I guess you have to be in the right frame of mind for this band though – the first time I heard this album I loved its Latin rhythms and impressive blend of trance, electronica and worldbeat music (and dare I say, the vaguest glimpse of techno), but the second time I played it I was largely unmoved.

Lucky for them then that I’m back in a “loving it” kind of mood, and standout track “Snapshot” is rather reminiscent of a better Santana composition.

There ARE weak points to the album though – mainly because the libretto use words of pigeon English (albeit a very well read pigeon), and this is the band’s only real downfall.
However, it’s the MUSIC that stands out a mile here, and this brand of “funk-pop”, under the production skills of Chris Allison (Coldplay, The Beta Band) is rather infectious to say the least. 7/10

Tone E

 
 

 

Nic Armstrong - The Greatest White Liar (One Little Indian)

Misplaced Geordie Nic Armstrong now lives in Nottingham after a series of dead end bands, crappy jobs and missed opportunities left him lost and disillusioned with his lot. Success in a competition by style magazine Dazed and Confused gave him one last chance to make amends.

T: There's not really any secrets where the main stream of Armstrong's influences come from. Listening to Armstrong's debut long player, you realise that ALL of these tracks could have easily been FROM the sixties, with obvious influences from the likes of Dylan, the Stones, The Who, The Animals, Stooges, and Love to the extent that he steals various riffs from classic '60s tunes and craftily works them to sound like his own! Still, it works, and if you are an afficionado of the decade, this is probably the closest to that sound you will get since the seventies began.

N: I heard his debut single and was far more taken aback by the presentation, but as the album goes however, I tend to feel that this could just as easily be the third Rutles' album. 7/10

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The Get Up Kids - Guilt Show (Vagrant)

Although this is the band's fourth studio album, this is our first taste of the Kansas City quintet. They've garnered something of a cult status since touring with the likes of Weezer and Green Day and were recently touted as "the most popular band America has never heard of".

T: I have to admit, this all sounds a bit samey to me. They remind me of Sum 41, A, Busted and Good Charlotte having a jam session in Bowling For Soup's bedroom. I'd love to pretend I liked this. Sadly, I don't.

N: Mmm, I can't believe you haven't seen it. Utterly horrible at the onset, although this band have written melodies that you will find it difficult to turn away from. I think I may have ascertained why - compositions that are very akin to a multitude of those crafted for consumption by the Difford/Tilbrook writing team, although that said, with a harder edge. The vocalist certainly wnt to the Glenn Tilbrook school of vocal harmony. Not "horrible", just less than inspiring. 4/10

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Delays - Faded Seaside Glamour (Rough Trade)

T: Debut album from a band that I would describe as The La's wimpier cousins, singing songs or heartbreak, hope and misguided optimism. A pleasant boat ride on an empty lake. Not a bad record but one that left me feeling ultimately empty.

N: Touche. Exactly where this is at. I get the feeling that it's one of those growers, and with no doubt are a band you won't be able to escape in the coming months. Radio friendly summer tunes that, if we experience as good a season as we did last year, will sell this album in droves. Open top listening for those of us who only aspire to such audacity. 6/10

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Drew - Songs From the Devil's Chimney (Source)

T: Very much a hark back to the late sixties and early seventies, this reminds me of the old school hippy feel of bands like McGuinness Flint and the Byrds.

N: Hard to say more really, other than a well crafted album from an artist whose label has got the vision to release this. Just great to hear. 7/10

 
 

Oops: Ones that we missed

 

Janet - Damita Jo (Virgin)

"I'm sorry Ms. Jackson, this is for real".

T: I read a recent review in which the headline was "Janet Jackson returns to form". Excuse me? RETURN to form? Surely some mistake officer...after all, I don't recall ever hearing a Janet Jackson song that I actually LIKED. I mean, there were one or two that were at best tolerable, but that's about as glowing as I get! How about you?

N: One 'tit' does not an album make, but mighty good PR in the lead up to the release of your new product. Thank you Mr.Timberlake. What would be expected from a release by this artist? It would be a mainstream with a capital "M" or "J", however you choose to spell it really, pop funk album. But it's hard to see around the fact that it is the singer with a press hungry brother. Any more?

T: NO! Please no more! 3/10

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