In 2000 I worked my day shift at The Bull pub in London and set out on my own for a Saturday night. I had a ticket to see Isobel Campbell perform as The Gentle Waves. It was a really small venue that I had never been to before. That night’s special was a shot of Bailey’s of which I had several. The quietness coming from the stage was occasionally drowned out by the bartender making a drink. It was a wonderful night, one of my favourites while living in the great city.
Isobel returns with her first solo album in 14 years. Like that night in London, her vocals are barely above a whisper but emanate quiet power on tracks such as “The Heart of It All” and “Hey World”. What really elevates There Is No Other are the little touches that separate the tracks. “Rainbow” evokes 1960s Californian tiki bars and there is a one person call and response on late album highlight “Counting Fireflies”.
The center of There Is No Other is her cover of Tom Petty’s “Runnin Down a Dream”. A drum machine holds down the low end, a synth creates tension while Campbell’s hushed vocal sounds like a lullaby. “The National Bird of India” says “don’t ask questions, he just is”. This is a good metaphor for Isobel Campbell, she just is and continues to create soft songs that that glow with a bright heart.
Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, described her new album Miss Anthropocene as “a concept album about the anthropomorphic Goddess of climate Change.. Each song will be a different embodiment of human extinction as depicted through a Pop star Demonology.” No idea what any of it means or how it all ties into climate change. However, a new Grimes album is certainly enough to pique the interest of many music fans.
First track, “So Heavy I fell Through The Earth (Art Mix)” has lyrics based on a dream and the decision to have a baby with boyfriend Elon Musk. The music floats along while synths keep pulling it back to the ground. At six minutes it feels like it could keep rolling along for much longer. “4ÆM” is inspired by a Bollywood film and also floats along before the club banging chorus cuts in. “Delete Forever” and “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around” are the most straightforward songs here, and the best, with the acoustic guitar on the former sounding not unlike Oasis’ “Wonderall” and written the night Lil Peep died. At seven minutes long, the lighter pop sounding “IDORU (Art Mix)” lets the light in after some fairly dark moments on the record.
Much of the album sounds cinematic with “New Gods” being the best example, a slower piano driven track. Third single “My Name Is Dark (Art Mix)” was inspired by NIN but never truly takes off. Grimes’ music hits so many pleasure points that even the lesser tracks glide by effortlessly before something catches the listeners ear. As Claire Boucher continues to change and mutate, the music that she makes as Grimes continues to do the same.
When preparing to review The Slow Rush, the latest album from Tame Impala, I was surprised to discover that this is their fourth album and I own all of them! Listening habits indicate that I’ve liked them all but rarely go back to listen. Thus The Slow Rush is the first album from Australian Kevin Parker that I’ve ever done a true deep dive into.
With it’s altered vocals and dance beat, lead track “One More Year” could be Daft Punk before “Instant Destiny” tells of Parker proposing to his wife while riding a solid groove. “It Might Be Time” features 70s pianos/synths with a menacing siren suddenly appearing, it’s Supertramp meets The Bomb Squad. While the lyrics on a few tracks are too on the nose, such as third single “Posthumous Forgiveness”, others like the Zero 7 sounding “Tomorrow’s Dust” have a self-improvement bent.
The cover of The Slow Rush features sand in a house, like the sands of time on “Lost in Yesterday”. It’s all very smooth and meticulous. Along with the uplifting lyrics, this is sugar to a lot of an audience raised on EDM. The hooks come from everywhere like on the repeated “I can” line on “Breathe Deeper”. Tame Impala crosses several different genres and do it very well. For most of The Slow Rush, it’s hard not to ride the many grooves right to the end.
Last October, The Kinks continued their 50th anniversary reissues with 1969’s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Forgoing the 4-disc super deluxe edition, we plunked our money down for the 2CD edition that features a remastered stereo version of the album, various extras, and a second disc of what could have been a Dave Davies solo album. Unlike 1968’s Village Green album, Arthur actually got The Kinks back into the US album charts, peaking at #105! The concept album was inspired by Ray and Dave Davies’ brother in law, Arthur as him and sister Rose decided to move away to Australia. The album theme was intended to also be a Granada television play that was never made.
The third single, the upbeat “Victoria” about England in the 19th century peaked at #62 on the US singles chart, their highest charting single in years. Well-deserved as “Victoria” is a great 60s rock track and the only song from Arthur to appear on The Essential Kinks disc. “Drivin’” was released as a single in the UK and speaks to life at home while wars are waged in lands far away. “Some Mother’s Son” is a stunning track on the realities of war when it touches closer to home where, “back home they put his picture in a frame but all dead soldiers look the same”. “Mr. Churchill” is Arthur’s understanding that when politicians call citizens to war, that call must be answered with no questions asked.
“Brainwashed” is a more typical 60s rock number before “Australia” plays like an advertisement for moving to Oz and enjoy the surfing like they do in the USA. After a couple OK songs, the title track summarizes Arthur’s life to a great bit of a guitar playing. Closing out the disc, mono versions of “Drivin’” and quiet to loud single “Shangri-La” appear. Failed single “Plastic Man” appears alongside it’s harder edged B-side “King Kong” with several other B-sides included as well.
The second disc turns the singing over to brother Dave for several power pop tracks. Two of the best appear right away in “This Man He Weeps Tonight”, originally a B-side to “Shangri-La” and another great guitar lead in “Mindless Child of Motherhood”. Several of the Dave songs take on a more folky feeling with the best being “Hold My Hand”. A few songs are repeats from the 2004 bonus version of Something Else by The Kinks including one of their best singles in “Lincoln County” where the man has “been doing wrong but now I’m going home”. A similar story appears in “Mr. Shoemaker’s Daughter” that has a nice swing in the chorus and adds a few horns. “There Is No Life Without Love” is similar in style to The Beatles “Her Majesty” and clocks in at two minutes.
The first half of Arthur is a quirky master work with an almost as good second half. Hard to follow up the transcendent Village Green but Arthur forges ahead with several creative peaks in addition to the wonderful singles and B-sides included at the end of each disc. This anniversary series will hopefully continue later this year with 1970’s Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround Pt 1.
Arthur – 9/10
Dave Davies Lost Album – 8/10
Over the past couple of years, Pet Shop Boys have re-released all their albums up to 2013’s Electric. This website has been going back and reviewing all these releases with the last being 1990’s Behaviour last December. In the midst of this, the new Hotspot album appeared online so we jumped in for a listen.
Several of the tracks have a harder hitting dance sound like first song “Will-o-the-wisp” that could have been released in the 90s or “I don’t wanna”, a dance track about not wanting to dance before the protagonist finally relents. Second single “Burning the heather” features Bernard Butler on acoustic guitar is a wistful track where Neil Tennant sings “the seasons are changing, time’s moving along” which is in stark contrast to the house-y dumb fun of third single “Monkey business” about 50 year olds out for a night on the town.
The best tracks here are the slower more atmospheric sounds that Chris Lowe creates on “Only the dark” where “only the dark can show you the stars” and second song “You Are The One”. The album closes with another highlight that was a gift for friends many years ago about their “Wedding in Berlin” that uses parts of “The Wedding March”. Pet Shop Boys have said that this is the last of a trilogy with Stuart Price producing. It’s dance music for 50 and 60-year olds that shows that there is still plenty of life left in the duo.