2007 – July

SMASHING PUMPKINS – Zeitgeist

Nothing much has changed in the seven years since The Smashing Pumpkins broke up. Billy Corgan still cannot transfer a good song idea from live performance to studio to save his life. The terrible production that plagued Machina returns, but in a different form. While the guitars on that album were processed to death, Zeitgeist suffers from carelessly mixed vocals and drums. Instead of employing backup singers, Corgan overdubs his voice dramatically, leading to arrangements that overpower any worth the songs on Zeitgeist have in concert. Still, there are moments of hope and even enjoyment on this comeback album. The first half of the album contains uniformly pleasant songs that are marred by terrible production, but “Bleeding the Orchid” and “United States” manage to shine through as examples of Corgan’s craft. The latter contains a drum and guitar breakdown that will leave you breathless. The second half of the album contains some cringeworthy songs, most notably the terrible “Pomp and Cirumstances”. This album held promise in my heart since I heard the bootleg of their first show back in seven years, but until The Smashing Pumpkins get a producer in the vein of Butch Vig or Flood to produce an album in full, fans will be restricted to catching glimpses of light through Corgan’s visionary muck. I’m off to play Melancholy again to remind me of how they used to sound …

CHEMICAL BROTHERS – We Are The Night

Big-beat supremos The Chemical Brothers are back with their first album in nearly three years. On 2005’s surprisingly still top-notch Push the Button, they demonstrated that their ability to rock a block didn’t die with electronica’s 20th-century mainstream aspirations. Here, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons continue to smear psychedelic synth-cheese and stereophonic airplane noises over chewy grooves that veer closer and closer to straight disco. Nü-rave hopefuls Klaxons give “All Rights Reversed” a trippy black-light menace, while “The Salmon Dance,” with rhyming by the Pharcyde’s Fatlip, could be the Neptunes on Neptune. Have they ever produced a duffer? I don’t think so and that’s not something you can say with many other dance acts. Highly recommended.

JOSH ROUSE – Country Mouse, City House

Country Mouse, City House is Josh Rouse’s seventh proper full-length album. According to his press release it was recorded over a six day session in Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain with overdubs done later in Nashville. Speaking of Nashville, that’s the title of the first Rouse album I accquired, and after enjoying it immensley, I have since obtained 4 others including his last full-length, Subtitulo, which was one of my favorite albums of last year. Country Mouse, City House is a 9 track release clocking in at around 38 minutes and overall has a subtle dreamy feel. Horns, keys and tasteful percussion abound and Rouse refers to it as a ”winter album,” opposed to Subtitulo’s “summery” feel. But don’t think that means everything’s slow and dark here. “Hollywood Bass Player,” is a danceable fun tune that could have easily been part of Billy Joel’s canon, with “Nice To Fit In” having the same feel. In contrast there’s “God, Please Let Me Go Back” which features a playful walking bass line and has the lyrics: “In my life/I only wanted things to go right/Oh my God/I can’t believe the mess I caused/I want to go back again/Please let me go back again.” Can you dig? Yeah, me too.

The thing that Rouse seems to do well is to convey feeling to the listener. All of the songs seem sincere, not calculated like many of the singer/songwriters that top the charts these days. I’ve only had the album for about 2 weeks now and somehow it seems to be one of those that grows on you the more you listen. So, excuse me while I fetch another glass of wine and hit the repeat button.

GARBAGE – Absolute Garbage

After almost a two-year break, the original female-fronted grunge/indie outfit Garbage are back with their first best-of collection, Absolute Garbage. The 17 tracks featured span from the band’s 1994 inception to their most recent release, 2005’s Bleed Like Me. Complete with a DVD of music videos, tour footage and interviews, as well as a bonus disc of remixes from Felix Da Housecat, the Crystal Method and U.N.K.L.E., Absolute Garbage additionally hosts “Tell Me Where It Hurts,” the newest song in the Garbage catalogue. I’ve got everything they ever did, but will still buy this to play in the car.

RICHARD HAWLEY – Lady’s Bridge

Lauded singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, a former touring guitarist for Pulp, made his commercial breakthrough on 2005’s remarkable, Mercury-Prize-nominated Coles Corner – his fourth solo album and one that oozed nostalgic balladry, old fashioned lyrical sentiment and cinematic soundtracks in equal measure. Lady’s Bridge the name is yet another ode to his native Sheffieldmines the same seam as Coles Corner, with eleven eloquent and charming songs that switch between the romantic strains of opener “Valentine” and “Roll River Roll” and more uppity numbers such as the rhythm & blues infused “Serious” and the countrified twang of tracks like “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” and the Johnny Cash inspired “Dark Road”. Hawleys lyricism retains its coruscating, retro feel, his vibrant baritone again matched to rousing orchestral strings, climbing chord sequences and background harmonising, creating atmospheres of dreamy fireside warmth and heartfelt melancholy (see “Lady Solitude”). Its as hopelessly alluring as it sounds : when songs are this timeless, you really could listen to them for the rest of your life. And he always reminds me of Roy Orbison, which is no bad thing in my book.

CHERRY GHOST – Thirst For Romance

This is an album that has largely split opinion so far : my other half loves it, and she’s a pretty good judge, while the critics have generally panned it.The problem is that it’s tuneful and melodic and will probably go down well with music buyers, but its also a bit insubstantial. One of those where you cant say you love it but you dont feel able to pan it, either.
Cherry Ghost are kind of like England’s answer to the Steve Miller Band, chiefly because the vocalist sounds a bit like him in places but also because they produce timeless tunes that veer between folk-influenced pop and rock, rather like the great Mr Miller.
The downside is that they sound like The Coral rather than an American band, because of their Merseyside roots.
No songs leap out as standouts, but they’re all of a certain quality. A lot of the appeal is vocalist Simon Aldred’s vocals, which are rough and soothing at the same time, with a bluesy feel in places. Overall, the nice thing about the album is the downbeat and melancholy feel to some of the tracks. Cherry Ghost have almost produced a nice, emotional album that could tug the heartstrings at every tune, but its slightly too lightweight to be a classic. Opening track “Thirst for romance” is typical: a loose tune with a catchy chorus and some nice piano. Other stand-outs include the excellent single “People help the people”, the ballady and evocative single that highlights Aldred’s vocal strengths, and “Mathematics”, which has Dove’s Jimi Goodwin on drums. Thoughtful pop that’s catchy and worth a listen but maybe a bit thin for some people.

NICK DRAKE – Family Tree

If Jeff Buckley’s mother, Mary Guibert, needed an object lesson in how to manage her son’s legacy, she could do a lot worse than copy those who run the estate of deceased singer-songwriter Nick Drake. Rather than flooding the market with overstuffed “legacy editions” and live collections, Drake’s sister Gabrielle (yes, the actress in the purple wig in Gerry Anderson’s UFO) has wisely put out only the best of his work. This is probably the best rarities collection yet – finally remastering the so-called “Tamworth-in-Arden demos” which have been circulating in inferior sound quality on the net for years. Family Tree gives you a mixture of Drake’s pre-fame home demos, comprising covers of blues classics and prototypes of songs which were later to appear on his debut album Five Leaves Left. The blues covers offer a surprising amount of insight into how Drake’s own songwriting was to develop, the wistful sadness with which he imbues them contrasting with the summery sweetness of his very English voice. The brilliance of his fingerpicking style on guitar is also highlighted here, with his work on Robin Frederick’s “Been Smokin’ Too Long” a special delight. Not widely circulated in bootleg form are a couple of bittersweet, Ivor Novello-ish songs from Nick’s mother Molly, a duet with his sister and a version of Mozart’s Kegelstatt trio played by a collection of family members, with Nick himself on clarinet – a reminder of how close-knit and creative this middle-class rural family was. Drake’s youthful experience was as far from the bluesmen whose songs he explores here as it’s possible to get – yet his disappointment and depression was every bit as real.
Yes, Family Tree is for completists – for an introduction to Nick Drake, choose the “greatest hits” compilation Way To Blue or just pitch in and sample the genius of his final work, the bleak and beautiful Pink Moon. But for those already familiar with his work, these recordings offer a fascinating glimpse into a genius just beginning to flower.

 Originally published in 2007

 

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