2008 – January

MICHAEL JACKSON – Thriller 25th Anniversary Edition

I don’t know about you, but I’ve bought Thriller twice over the years, once on vinyl and again more recently on CD. Surely, everyone in the known universe must own this album by now? It’s the biggest selling record of all time and with good reason, though I personally still prefer the less polished and more funky Off The Wall.
Chock full with hit singles, I don’t really need to tell you what’s on here, do I ?
The reason it’s being re-issued? Well, apart from the 25th anniversary aspect, is that Jacko is broke and could do with some pocket money. To this end, not only do you get the original album, but there’s also a couple of bonus tracks called Vincent Price and For All Time, which were excluded from the original though recorded in the same sessions. But wait … there’s more! Also included are FIVE (count ’em) remixes of the hits, presumably also slated for re-release throughout the next year or so, adding even more money to the Wacko coffers. Three of them are with Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am (Girl Is Mine 2008, PYT 2008 and Wanna Be Startin Somethin 2008) with Beat It 2008 featuring Fergie, while Billie Jean 2008 stars none other than the ubiquitous Kanye West.
The remixes are very poppy and will doubtless be played to death … but really, do you need all this? If you’ve got the original just dig it out, go and buy Off The Wall if you don’t have it already and then roll back the carpet and get on down.

MIKE OLDFIELD – Music of the Spheres

Bonkers prog-rocker Mike Oldfield is back with an album that dips heavily into both his own discography and the classical canon.
It would appear that our favourite tree-hugging loon has been doing nothing but meditating and watching The Lord Of The Rings trilogy over and over for the past few years, as this sounds just like his interpretation of what might have been the soundtrack to the movie series.
I’ve always found Tubular Bells to be an interesting listen, no matter how many times I’ve played it down the years, and I even enjoyed the two sequels with the guitar-heavy third in particular a favourite of mine. I absolutely adored the remake from a couple of years back, with John Cleese adding his vocal talents (” GLOCKENSPIEL!!!! “) while the rest of his back catalogue has largely left me cold. I know I shouldn’t even be talking about his masterpiece in a review of his latest offering, but you can’t help it. He references it himself constantly throughout his more recent albums, so much so that you wonder if he’s either being pressurised by the record company to do so or he himself believes he needs to keep touching base so as not to lose the fans.
I don’t know what to make of it all, really. Maybe he should just do what a lot of other proggers have done down the years and move to Hollywood and actually take a job writing a movie score instead?

GOLDFRAPP – Seventh Tree

Having had a huge hit with their last T-Rex-influenced disc, Goldfrapp release a much more chilled record this time round. Although it doesn’t totally chuck out the heavy disco stylings of their last couple of albums, there’s a greater emphasis on more trippy, dreamy pop in the same vein as both their first album and that of French contemporaries and cross-channel soulmates, Air. They’ve also been playing around with different sounds to break some new ground : “We did talk quite a lot about what kind of instruments would get that kind of warmth and that kind of sound we wanted,” Alison Goldfrapp says. “We’d never used acoustic guitars before. We wanted the sound to be delicate, but not weak.”
Famed for their extravagant stage shows, Goldfrapp are world leaders in bringing dance music to the live arena. In recent years, they’ve even made DVDs of the night’s performance available for purchase an hour after the encore, so seriously do they take that aspect of their work. Unusually for them, this time round they’ve even decided to strip down the next tour, incorporating more of an MTV Unplugged feel to the night.
I wonder what’s next? A collaboration with Massive Attack? An orchestral outing with Portishead? This is Goldfrapp, Jim … but not as we know it.

 

MORRISSEY – Greatest Hits

Can you smell a cash-in?
Quicker than Michael Jackson at the cash machine, Morrissey announces a “best of” compilation as a follow-up to last year’s flop, Ringleader of the Tormentors. With two new tracks produced by Jerry Finn, the man behind his solo high-point, You Are The Quarry, this release catalogues his post-Smiths career and does have it’s moments, though in truth I’d recommend everyone go out and buy both “Quarry” and The Best Of The Smiths, if you don’t have much of his stuff already.
With a new studio album in the pipeline already scheduled for the autumn, again produced by Finn, I’m tempted just to sit this one out, catch him live later in the year and dig out my old Smiths vinyl. Now there was a band …

ALISON MOORER – Mocking Bird

Though largely unknown in the UK, Alison Moorer is a well-respected country artist in her native USA, and now could be a good time for her to make an impact over here, especially given the success of Allison Krauss’ collaboration with Robert Plant.
The younger sister of Shelby Lynne, Moorer has a pure vocal talent which deserves wider acclaim and this is as good a place to start as any, given that it’s an album mostly made-up of cover versions of other female singer-songwriters, so you’ll already be familiar with a lot of the songs here. Highlights include Ring Of Fire (written by June Carter Cash), I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl (Nina Simone) and Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. The title track is self-penned and fits in nicely here, making up a great Sunday morning listen.
If you like your country gentle and twang-free, check this one out as soon as you can.

LIZZ WRIGHT – The Orchard

For her third release, up-and-coming jazz/gospel star Lizz Wright mines her own life experience to create an unmistakably personal musical statement. The warmth and resonance of Wright’s church-trained contralto is matched by the intimacy and authority of such original compositions as “Coming Home,” “My Heart,” “Another Angel” and “When I Fall.” Wright’s interpretive skills are equally impressive on revelatory readings of the Ike and Tina Turner classic “I Idolize You,” Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Hey Mann,” the Led Zeppelin ballad “Thank You” and Patsy Cline’s haunting “Strange.” I don’t know what it is about the first quarter of the year, but there’s a lot of sweet, sweet music around …

HAYSEED DIXIE – No Covers

They appear so regularly at The Brook that I find it hard to believe that this is the seventh album in the career of bluegrass rockers Hayseed Dixie, and for once this is ALL original material. Where do they get the time to go into the studio and lay down some tracks? Famed for their countryfied versions of AC/DC and the like, as much as their phenomenal tour schedule, Dixie have played nearly every festival both large and small all across Europe. You can tell that watching every other band employ drums and electric guitars, the Hayseed boys decided they wanted to put a bit of that instrumentation into their own music. Says singer Barley Scotch, “We really wanted to stick a finger in the face of all those people who once called Bob Dylan a Judas.” Thus, half of the songs are acoustic and half are fully electric. Rockgrass, the musical genre created by the band, has finally come full circle. And the lyrics may surprise people who have written the Dixie off on previous albums as merely a slapstick novelty act. For example, the first song ‘Bouncing Betty Boogie’ could be about chatting up a loose girl in a bar … or it could be about sarcastically yet sincerely daring a land mine to dance. I could say that this album heralds the ascendance of a major new songwriting voice, but by the time history makes that decision conclusively, all of us will be dead, so draw your own conclusions, dig out your dungarees and just have a good time, whether listening to this or seeing them live … again.

Originally published in 2007


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