Posted in Album Reviews

Arcade Fire – WE (2022)

“It’s the age of doubt/and I doubt we’ll figure it out”.  So begins Arcade Fire’s sixth album WE.  First track “Age of Anxiety I” from which those lyrics are pulled starts with a piano and a light pulse in the background before the pulse gets turned up and a beat comes in. At nine minutes, “End of the Empire I-IV” has a wistful yet futuristic feel, turning a neat Bowie trick as Win Butler sings of the end of the American Empire. Even though it’s slower in tempo, “The Lightning I,II” feels anthemic as Butler sings “We can make it if you don’t quit on me”.

Sung for Butler and Regine Chassagne’s son, “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)” is a modern folk track that is an album highlight before the title track settles the record down with an acoustic guitar.  Produced by Nigel Godrich with Butler and Regine, it is the last album to feature multi-instrumentalist Will Butler. As on many AF releases, Regine’s vocals popping in on tracks is often a highlight and the drumming of Jeremy Gara is rock solid. With its use of synths and slower moods, WE can drift in and out of consciousness that often works well as background music, that can be left on repeat for hours.

7.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

The Cars – Panorama (1980)

Following up their classic debut was always going to be difficult but The Cars pulled that off extremely well with Candy-O.  A year after their sophomore album came Panorama. Even though the album hit the US top 5 and went platinum, none of the three singles made much of a dent in the charts.  Scraping into the top 40 was “Touch and Go”.  The track starts off with minimal synth/drums combo before a guitar adds in warmth, with a galloping rhythm that recalls songs from the 50s.

“Gimme Some Slack” also rides a galloping guitar on this upbeat track.  “Misfit Kid” has a plinky-plonky keyboard that then mellows out in the chorus.  Rick Okasec sings “I’m the American misfit kid/still wonderin’ what I did” on the should have been single. “Up and Down” hits a bit harder with a chiming guitar.

With Panorama, The Cars still show in several places that their new wave chops are still there. What lets it down is a few unmemorable songs and even worse, a few dreadful ones including the Benjamin Orr sung “Don’t Tell Me No” that is more whiney than forceful.  Many of the tracks sound like B-sides, more experimental than past releases but lacking better songs.

6.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Prince – 1999 (2CD Deluxe Edition) (2019)

Prince’s fifth album, 1999, was released in 1982 and was the first to have the band The Revolution play on it.  For many mainstream rock fans, this would be the first time they came across Prince and his brand of rock/funk/pop/soul.  A one-night stand is detailed on his first top ten hit, “Little Red Corvette”.  The sleek rocker has a great female vocal from Lisa Coleman whose brief vocal adds texture to the “ride it to the ground” lyric. While the original release of single “1999” stalled high in the charts, the ubiquitous new year’s eve track is one of Prince’s, and pop music’s, most popular songs. The infectious party anthem sees a shared vocal between Prince and other members of The Revolution who sing of bombs and destruction over the punchy drum track.

Upbeat third single “Delirious” has a squiggly keyboard line before the darker and harder beat of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” appears.  The original album was a double vinyl release which allowed Prince to stretch out on funk tracks such as “D.M.S.R.”, the crisp beat of “Automatic”, and rock guitar of “Lady Cab Driver”.  For fans of pop music, the album 1999 is front loaded with the hits coming fast and furious.  However, for those wanting to explore further, the funk workouts at the end of the disc all ride a fabulous groove that rarely outstay their welcome.

The second disc on this release features various promo mixes and  B-sides.  Your love of it will depend on how much you want to listen to several versions of the album tracks with only minor differences from the originals.  It is a bonus to have the 7” versions of “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” that immediately jump into the track vs. the album versions.  Of the three B-sides, the soulful “How Come U Don’t Love Me Anymore” from the “1999” single is the pick.    

1999 – 10/10

Second disc – 8/10

Posted in Album Reviews

David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1973)

The sixth studio album from David Bowie, Aladdin Sane, was released in the spring of 1973. The iconic lightning bolt album cover has been recreated countless times by fans and other artists, it also possibly more famous than a lot of the music contained within.  Having to follow-up two classic albums, Bowie wrote much of this album, a pun of “a lad insane”, in the US and has been referenced as “Ziggy (Stardust) goes to America”. A bit more rushed with a  glam rock stomp, the music of Aladdin Sane has a nostalgic yet futuristic feel, especially on second single and #3 UK single “Drive-In Saturday Night”.

The album can certainly rock – “Watch That Man” has horns and piano aplenty as Bowie recalls a night on the tiles in a stream of consciousness like lyrics.  Mick Woodsmansey’s drums add jungle beat behind Mick Ronson’s opening guitar lick on “Panic In Detroit”.  “Cracked Actor” is a violent, dangerous song of an actor meeting up with a  prostitute as Bowie sings, “crack, baby, crack/show me you’re real”.  Mike Garson’s piano adds a barroom feel to the cover of The Rolling Stone’s “Let’s Spend the Night Together” before the most famous song here, “The Jean Genie”, adds another flash of glam rock with a blinder of a chorus.

The harder hits can steal some of the thunder but it’s the slower tracks that really settle in.  The title track asks, “who will love Aladdin Sane?” on a song about bright young things being sent out to war. While the “The Jean Genie” is a belter, the closing track “Lady Grinning Soul” is a stunner. The atmospheric track may sound a bit like blur to 90s listeners.  It’s an incredible song once again built around Mike Garson’s piano that sounds classy and mysterious at the same time. Aladdin Sane would continue to see Bowie’s star rise with a set of songs that make it essential listening for fans of 70s rock and roll.

9/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Belle and Sebastian – A Bit of Previous (2022)

As with many attempted recordings in the last few years, the pandemic tripped up the artist’s original intentions. Belle and Sebastian had originally planned to record in Los Angeles but instead recorded in their hometown of Glasgow for the first time in 20 years. “Young and Stupid” compactly captures some of the classic B and S sound with a nostalgic sounding tune while “Come On Home” is jaunty with an added organ. Several tracks such as “Prophets on Hold” add synths with more of a dance beat and here, band leader Stuart Murdoch sings “…and I close my eyes, to see you again”.

Stevie Jackson takes over the vocals for the country ballad “Deathbed of my Dreams” and charmer Sarah Martin sings the synth driven “Reclaim the Night”. A number of tracks on A Bit of Previous get wrapped up in religion like “Working Boy in New York City” where “everybody gets an even shot at making heaven”. Where it lacks is the clever Belle and Sebastian turn of phrase and memorable characters of past classic songs.  While A Bit of Previous won’t reach essential status, Stuart Murdoch and mates are “heir(s) apparent to the scene” who can still knock out a fine record 25+ years on.

7.5/10