Baudelaire on steroids takes our singles crown for the week, but it’s the simplicity of an old Warren Zevon track which conquers all, muses Steve Harrison…
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Midnight Man – Single of the Week
There is a law of nature as immutable as Newton’s laws of motion – it is that Nick Cave is incapable of making a bad record.
Marrying the dark lyricism of Leonard Cohen with the barely supressed fury of Iggy Pop, Midnight Man (out on Mute) launches shards of demonic guitar against the Bad Seeds‘ trademark melodic percussion to accompany images of strange beauty such as the languorously drawled phrase: “You spread yourself like a penitent“.
This is classic Cave – aggressive, confrontational and pleading, like Baudelaire on steroids. Let’s have more of such wit, honesty and integrity.
Pendulum: The Other Side
Instead, we get Pendulum, whose fractured beats and hymnal keyboards on The Other Side (Warner) must be what passes as excitement for the Snow Patrol generation.
It is like listening to anaesthetised corporate noise.
Melee: Built to Last
It’s Melee … but not George (unfortunately). Their debut single Built to Last (Warner Bros) features solid, driving chords and power ballad vocals.
There’s nothing particularly bad about it, and if you enjoy predictably exciting changes, dramatic keyboard runs and soaring vocals, then Melee will delight.
If, on the other hand, you hanker after authenticity, danger and bagloads of attitude, then pass this by.
Noah and The Whale: Five Years Time
What a contrast, then, to come across Noah and the Whale’s Five Years Time (Mercury).
It’s strumming, jangling, upbeat sound is joyously naive, like a modern-day Mungo Jerry, and whose keywords are “sun, sun, sun”, “fun, fun, fun” and “love, love, love”.
“In my mind,” they sing, “I’m having a pretty good time with you” – but what will happen in five years time? Who cares, as long as we live in the moment. The lyrics are beautifully poised, complex in their simplicity, touching but not cloying.
Ultimately, the message may be nothing more profound than the triptych “sun/fun/love” – but hey, that’s not such a bad message and this isn’t such a bad record.
Redtrack: Wait Around
Southend favourites Redtrack‘s new EP Wait Around (Northernblue) is well-crafted and well-mannered indie pop. Featuring a workmanlike rhythm section and words rather than lyrics, it’s perfectly inoffensive if little to get worked up about.
The final track Can’t Be Arsed, while not carving out a sound vastly dissimilar to the title track, has the advantage of an amusing conceit. If only they didn’t try so hard, they might sound harder.
Biffy Clyro: Mountains
Biffy Clyro‘s Mountains (14th Floor) features a polished, monumental sound covering up a vaccuum at its heart. The bombastic egoism of lines such as “I am the mountain, I am the sea” is song-writing by rote.
There is no room here for doubt, no flaw in the monolithic production to give us a glimpse of the merey personal, the humbly human. The sheen is blinding but it is a soulless record.
Linkin Park: Leave Out All The Rest
You know that anything released under the Linkin Park brand will be a hit, and the chiming, charming Leave Out All The Rest (Warner Bros) is no exception. It does all the right things but it ultimately depressing in its formulaic straining for emotional intensity.
Pope Joan: Hot Water, Lines and Rickety Machines
There is a beautifully spiky intro to Pope Joan‘s mini-album Hot Water, Lines and Rickety Machines which conjures the spirit of the Gang of Four.
The fine ideals and impassioned vocals are enhanced by a production which sensibly eschews over-clarity in favour of tonal blends, sonic beeps and multi-tracked vocals – an exciting and heady mix.
The Vivians: A Human Angle
On the other hand, The Vivians debut single A Human Angle (Electric Toaster) is plodding, cliche-ridden music with indecipherable lyrics and OTT vocals. It’s just punk-by-numbers.
The Ryes: How Come Loretta
The debut single from The Ryes, How Come Loretta (14th Floor Records) grabs from the outset.
They’ve got a story to tell and tell it in an imaginative, distinctive manner, like the love child between Queen and Lily Allen. It’s a well-constructed, competently played record, if a little lacking in emotional depth.
B52’s: Juliet of the Spirits
Having remembered the B52’s in their pomp, I was fully prepared to dislike this new offering on principle. I wasn’t wrong. It is mid Atlantic, mid-tempo mediocrity.
Avenged Sevenfold: Dear God
The limpid intro and intimate vocals bode well, but Dear God (Warner Bros) soon descends into a dull, forumlaic offering. As one line puts it, “There’s nothing here for me“. Very true. An ill-advised cross between Elton John and Coldplay.
Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip: Letter from God to Man
A lecture set to a beat, the sardonic lyrics save this offering from didacticism – as God explains to Man: “Last time I sent down a message, you nailed it to the Cross“.
While I despise anything with “vs.” in the title, and particularly one which samples Radiohead, this is more than the sum of its parts and is a challenging mix of beats and Biblical polemic.
Gabriella Cilmi: Save The Lies
Save The Lies (Universal Island Records) is bouncy, breezy, meaningless pop. To some, this may be a recommendation. As far as I am concerned, the CD takes up around two cubic millimetres of space that could be more fruitfully occupied by cockroach droppings.
Magistrates: Make This Work
The tortured vocals and angular guitar of Make This Work (SWF Records) recall the hypnotic, layered sound of Scritti Politti. It is an energetic, bluesy offering but somehow fails to develop. It is a promising if under-delivering debut.
…You know, while you’re reviewing the singles, you sit there listening to this stuff, but not REALLY listening, because you’re concentrating for the review.
And suddenly you hear, without thinking, an old Warren Zevon track and it immediately puts everything you’ve just heard into context.
…”I fell through the door of the Rosarita Beach Cafe and got myself a table with a view of the breakers in the bar,” …
A deceptively straightforward lyric against plaintive acoustic guitar speaks louder than all the thrashing drums and overblown solos in its authoritative simplicity.
“They won’t let me leave until my tab is paid,” the old trouper sings. So few are aware that the debt exists, let alone think about what it means to pay it.