Posted in Album Reviews

Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death (2020)

A Hero's Death

Released in 2019, Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. debut was one of the rock albums of the year.  Dogrel bristled with punk rock energy while the band toured the globe.  Their second album, A Hero’s Death, was written while out on the road.  Once again working with producer Dan Carey, this time around several of the tracks are more atmospheric and the sparks from the first album are more toned down with a weariness not previously seen.

Second single, “I Don’t Belong” uses singer Grian Chatten’s voice like an instrument as he changes his approach on several of the lyrics. Here, he sounds tired but ready to bite at any time. The pounding drums announces the beginning of “Love is the Main Thing”, the distorted guitars sound like a freight train coming down the tracks. “Televised Mind” sees Tom Coll’s drums and Conor Deegan’s bass lock in while Chatten sings “swipe your thoughts from Broadway/turn ideals to cabaret/water dreams of yesterday”.

On “Living in America” the band tap into their inner Joy Division with Chatten’s baritone growl doing a solid Ian Curtis impression whereas the guitars of Carlos O’Connell and Conor Curly at the beginning of “A Lucid Dream” recall early Interpol. “Oh Such a Spring” is a softer track, where the people “wish they could go back to spring again”.  In this day and age, many of us are looking back to simpler times of early spring before the COVID pandemic started.

The band work in nuances not hear on Dogrel like the background vocals on “Sunny”.  The title track was the first single with the band setting the tone with “oooooohhs” before Chatten tells the listener, “life ain’t always empty” and to “tell your mother that you love her/and go out of your way for others”. The “bap bap bap” vocals are sublime.  The sparks of the debut don’t burn as bright but A Hero’s Death sees the band successfully moving in different directions.  

8.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

The Cars – Candy-O (1979)

Candy-O

Released just one year after the self-titled debut, 1979’s Candy-O is another batch of new wave tracks written by Ric Ocasek. Like it’s predecessor, Candy-O is produced by Roy Thomas Baker but this one also features memorable art work by pin-up artist Alberto Vargas as suggested by drummer David Robinson.

The band’s first top 20 hit appears with the first track “Let’s Go”. Destined to be one of their classic singles, bassist Benjamin Orr sings about a teenage girl with a budding interest in the nightlife, the simple keyboard line is punctuated by handclaps and a shouted “Let’s Go!” in the chorus.  Second single “It’s All I Can Do” is an understated track that sounds similar to Tom Petty with a nice synth in the chorus. “Double Life” compares driving to life and relationships, it gets pumped up by the drums in the refrain.  The title track is harder driving with keyboard squiggles throughout.

For most bands, it would have been nearly impossible following up a debut where virtually every track is now considered a classic.  But here, The Cars do a fine job on an album that would peak at #3 on the Billboard albums chart. The singles are the more memorable tracks but songs such as “Since I Held You”, “Night Spots”, and “Lust for Kicks” are all solid.  Candy-O is another fine example of 70s power pop from the band that still endures.

9/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure (2020)

What's Your Pleasure?

In 2012, Jessie Ware was nominated for the Mercury Music Award for her debut album Devotion that featured the hit singles “110%” and “Wildest Moments”.  Her next two albums also reached the top 10 in the UK but with diminishing returns.  A disaster tour of the US left Ware needing a rethink.  After starting a popular podcast with her mom, Table Manners, Ware started work on her fourth album.  Co-written and produced with James Ford, so far a staggering six songs have been released as singles.

The beat and bassline on album opener “Spotlight” appear 40 seconds in.  A mature and sophisticated disco track, Ware sings that “It’s like you never even left”.  The slinky “Save a Kiss” sounds a bit like Robyn with a terrific chorus and on “Adore You”, Ware rides a laid back groove with a sound vocal performance and production from Joseph Mount.

What’s Your Pleasure is one of those rare albums that actually gets better as it goes on and saves three of it’s best tracks for the end.  Bananarama get a co-writing credit for “Mirage (Don’t Stop)” that uses parts of their hit “Cruel Summer”.  “Mirage” sounds like a dance track from a bygone era.  “The Kill” employs a darker synth before album closer “Remember Where You Are” turns the lights down with a good amount of soul.  When Jessie Ware decided to let music go, she turned in her best album since her debut.  

7.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

Van Halen (Remastered)

The rock world was saddened when it learned of the passing of guitar legend Eddie Van Halen on October 6, 2020.  Eddie formed the band Van Halen back in 1974 along with his drumming brother Alex, bassist Michael Anthony and blonde haired singer David Lee Roth.  Their self titled debut came out in early 1978 to mixed reviews but while the album only peaked at #19 in the US, it has kept selling over the years and has now topped over 10 million units sold in the US alone.

At any given time, any of the first four songs can be heard on FM rock radio.  “Runnin’ with the Devil” introduced listeners to Diamond Dave’s howl while he sang of a hard living life as a loner. “Eruption” is a nearly two minute guitar instrumental that had teenagers in awe of the heroics of Eddie. The track usually leads into their first single, a cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me”.  “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” has a harder edge sound, more metal with a shouted chorus before a quieter guitar part during the mid song breakdown.

The second half of the album turns in the single “Jamie’s Cryin’” whose intro would later be used by Tone Loc for his 80s rap classic “Wild Thing”.  At it’s core, “Jamie’s Cryin'” is a great pop track as is “Feel Your Love Tonight” where Roth turns in a fine vocal performance while singing about trying to get the girl. Two thirds of the way through “I’m the One” the band pauses for a little “shoobedowa” interlude.  The album starts to fade over the last three tracks including a cover of blues track “Ice Cream Man” and “On Fire” bringing the album to a decidedly mixed close.

Van Halen’s debut is now rightly considered a hard rock classic with several inescapable tracks.  The songs that were originally demoed with the help Gene Simmons’ money tips its hat to the past with a few covers while showing later bands like Motley Crue the way forward. What comes through is the band’s joy of playing with a mix of hard rock, pop and metal that is hard to deny.

9/10

Posted in Album Reviews

John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)

Plastic Ono Band

Upon the break-up of The Beatles in the spring of 1970, John Lennon and Yoko Ono decamped to the US to take part in Primal Therapy sessions. The rawness of those classes, lead Lennon to record this official debut released in December 1970.  Here, Lennon is backed by the Plastic Ono Band with him and Ono producing with assistance from Phil Spector.  Recording was quick, beginning on September 26th and ending a month later.

At times John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is spare and minimal as Lennon touches on family and the relationship with his parents, especially his Mother numerous times.  First single and album opener “Mother” is a devastating way to open an album.  “Mother, you had me but I never had you” cuts deep. The album closes with “My Mummy’s Dead”.  At a mere 52 seconds, the vocals sound like they were recorded onto a tape recorder.

“Working Class Hero” is an equally powerful track as the opener– “as soon as you’re born they make you feel small”  It’s another track that makes it’s intent known in the first line.  An understated song that is filled with quiet rage and reminds of Dylan’s 60’s work.  The intro to “Love” is long and takes awhile to come to the listener’s attention before Lennon sings “love is real, real is love”, “Isolation” sings of Lennon and Ono just being a boy and girl. To contrast the quieter sounds, “Well Well Well” has a White Stripes thump to begin, filled with distortion and a harder edge.  The foundation of “Remember” is a driving rock and roll beat before a gun shot brings it to a close.

On his debut, John Lennon with the help of Yoko Ono leaves the 60s behind.  “God” lists all the things that Lennon does not believe in including the bible, Buddha, and the Beatles before declaring that the “dream is over”.  What he does believe in is himself and Yoko.  Personal, direct and raw John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is regarded as one of Lennon’s finest with a bucolic cover that looks amazing on vinyl… even if we only have the CD.

10/10