Review Round-Up: New Releases & Reissues – Issue 52
George Benson – Walking To New Orleans
Long before George Benson enjoyed hits like 1983’s In Your Eyes, he’d earned a reputation as a jazz and soul maestro, and had worked alongside Stevie Wonder. Now, following an appearance on Gorillaz’ Humility last year, he’s back to plough a blues furrow in tribute to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry. Surprises, inevitably, are few, but these traditions are meant to be honoured, and he does so well on the upbeat Nadine (Is It You), the sweet How You’ve Changed, and a rollicking take on Berry’s Memphis, Tennessee.
Doomsquad – Let Yourself Be Seen
The first words Allie Blumas intones – archly, naturally – on the Toronto trio’s third album are “The mysteries of autism seem to occupy my mind”. Yep: we’re talking art-pop here, with the added twist all three members are siblings. LCD Soundsystem and Talking Heads are two key reference points, particularly on General Hum, a house-flavoured number reminiscent of the former’s early efforts, and Aimless, Blumas’ melody an especially close cousin of the latter’s Slippery People. But Emma’s a dreamier number, and Dorian’s Closet a restless nod to early 80s Afro-funk disco.
Alan Parsons – The Secret
Alan Parsons doesn’t worry about being hip. If he did, he sure as hell wouldn’t open with an orchestral prog rock arrangement of Paul Dukas’ 1897 composition, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, nor hire Foreigner’s Lou Gramm to heave over the maudlin Sometimes. He’s hip enough, though, to have Jason Mraz add consoling vocals to the Toto-like Miracle, while Requiem sounds like a lost Supertramp number. Elsewhere, solos – guitar, saxophone, even the Yaybahar, for all we know – reign, so rest assured One Note Symphony’s ELO dramatics offer anything but one note.
Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride
That parts of Ezra Koenig’s fourth album are indebted to Paul Simon will astonish no one. This time, they’re obvious in the muffled Rich Man’s harmonies or his occasionally vocodered melody on the more energetic Bambina. His country tendencies are more bewildering, but slide guitar suits Big Blue’s choral shades and the Lee Hazlewood-esque Married In A Gold Rush pairs him with Danielle Haim and a fairground reggae rhythm. The sweet Unbearably White and playful, pizzicato How Long meanwhile offer similar charms to Parekh & Singh’s Science City.
The Pearlfishers – Love & Other Helpless Things
Champions of classicist pop, especially when it’s Scottish, Hamburg’s Marina Records shut up shop with a typically well-crafted collection by Glasgow’s David Scott. Sentiment’s paramount, not least on touching duet Sometimes It Rains In Glasgow and, like Teenage Fanclub, Scott shares a love for Brian Wilson, who lies at the heart of You Can Take Me There. Burt Bacharach’s also present in spirit, especially on the lovely title track, while Crowded House are all over You’ll Miss Her When She’s Gone. The same’s true of Marina.
Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Summer Of Sorcery
Longing for the – albeit misunderstood – American-ness of Springsteen’s Born In The USA? Try E Street Band stalwart Steven Van Zandt’s latest: opener Communion will, if briefly, magic you back to 1984. Elsewhere, there’s soul on Love Again, a nod to Prince and The Wizard Of Oz on Gravity, hints of both Elvis Costello and doo-wop on A World Of Our Own, plus blues on Superfly Terraplane, funk on Education, and sensitivity on Suddenly You. Mainly, though, we’re here for the fun, and Party Mambo! is fit for purpose.
Stray Cats – 40
Put on your blue suede shoes and dance! The Stray Cats have returned, with all three co-founders re-aligned. They don’t, however, appear to have noticed they’ve been gone a quarter century: their rockabilly is still delivered with a punkish snarl, with Catfight (Over A Dog Like Me) taking little more than two minutes to hurtle to its end and the twanging Cry Danger provoking a rowdy singalong. That’s Messed Up throws in some blues, and if Calexico played Desperado no one would be surprised. Still feline good, then.
Lighthouse Family – Blue In Your Head
Tunde Baiyewu’s and Paul Tucker’s mildly passionate, polite pop always inspired as much derision as delight, but, after 18 years, perhaps they’re safe to return. Either way, little’s changed: Put My Heart On You’s title’s messier than the song’s Brylcreemed slickness; they still ask hackneyed questions, like Who’s Gonna Save Me Now?, to expensive string accompaniment; and they often outstay their welcome, as on Live Again, where they remind us repeatedly “It’s not the end”. Ultimately, though, they’re as harmless, if as cheesy, as Wensleydale.
Julian Cope – Autogeddon
In the early 1990s, Julian Cope was in the habit of releasing sprawling stream-of-consciousness albums like 1992’s stupendous Jehovahkill, but reined his excesses back for this 1994 offering, reissued now for its 25th anniversary in a 2CD or 3LP package. Every track on the album was a studio first-take: what they gained in spontaneity, they lost in occasional rough edges. Highlights include the stoned-Johnny Cash drawl of I Gotta Walk and the wilful eccentricity of Barry Manilow-referencing murder ballad Don’t Call Me Mark Chapman.
Saint Etienne – Tiger Bay
Given Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs’ meticulous obsession with the pop album as an aesthetic artefact, it’s no surprise that this 25th anniversary reissue of Saint Etienne’s 1994 third album is assembled with laudable tender loving care. It comes with a vinyl version of the LP in a gatefold sleeve cut at 45rpm over two discs, a 12-track vinyl album of rarities and demos, a 13-track CD album of stripped-back versions from original master tapes, a book and a poster. As ever, if you can handle Sarah Cracknell’s strained vocals the music is reliably lovely.
Ian Broudie – Tales Told
The second launch record on Pete Paphides’ Needle Mythology label is, like Stephen Duffy, an album of introspective singer-songwriter reflection. Recorded with members of The Coral and The Zutons, Ian Broudie’s 2004 solo debut album was markedly more intimate and personal than his work with the Lightning Seeds, as tracks such as Whenever I Do, Smoke Rings and the gorgeous Lipstick rolled the world into a question over a gentle semi-acoustic strum. This reissue comes with new artwork and a four-track 7” EP with three unreleased tracks.
David Byrne – Grown Backwards
Quirky intensity and offhand profundity have always been David Byrne’s strong suits and both are in evidence on this 2004 album now released on vinyl for the first time in a 2LP set. It’s typically lop-sided and intriguing, with Byrne intoning a bizarre romantic liturgy on Au Fond du Temple Saint, surfing choppy strings on The Other Side Of This Life and setting out his talents on Why: “I got skills and I got secrets/I can part my hair.” It has six bonus tracks and includes Lazy, his collaboration single with club duo X-Press 2 which reached No.2 in 2002.
Big Country – The Crossing
When Big Country emerged with their debut The Crossing in July 1981, anthems like the fervent In A Big Country and Fields Of Fire and more ruminative material such as Chance implied they could even be a U2-like game-changing new musical force. Yet other, lumpen tracks such as Close Action sounded worryingly like filler and diminishing returns set in as perspiration increasingly supplanted inspiration on the band’s subsequent albums. Reissued now on 2LP vinyl, with four bonus tracks, here is a poignant reminder of the band they could have been.
The Wannadies – Yeah
Swedish grunge rockers The Wannadies were a spiky presence in UK indie circles during the 1990s but never made the leap from weekly music press darlings to chart stars. At war with their label and even going on strike at the end of the decade, they picked up their guitars again in 1999 to record their fifth album, Yeah, reissued now on limited-edition pink vinyl. Its tentative move towards electronica was not enough to lift their fortunes, and it’s no surprise – aside from Smells Like Teen Spirit-like opener I Love Myself, it was a resolutely ordinary offering.
Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend
Originally part of the 1980s Athens, Georgia, music scene that spawned R.E.M., Matthew Sweet (no, not the Radio Three presenter) was equally in debt to The Byrds and Big Star. He released a couple of low-key albums and played in Lloyd Cole’s backing band before 1991’s Girlfriend, reissued now on limited-edition pink vinyl with a six-page insert, was as near as he ever got to a breakthrough. The Beatles-like arabesques of the title track plus Looking At The Sun and Winona were mildly charming but ultimately the world was never all that interested.
Stereolab – Transient Random-Noise Bursts/Mars Audiac Quintet
A very welcome Stereolab reissue campaign kicks off with their first two major-label albums from 1993 and 1994. Transient Random Noise-Bursts… saw them still honing their exquisite mix of hypnotic Krautrock drones and Lætitia Sadier’s honeyed Gallic vocals, while Mars Audiac Quintet majored in charmingly fragrant pop songs. The 3LP remastered vinyl versions of both albums come with download cards and a lottery-style scratch card with the chance to win a 12” EP.
Wyndham Wallace & Ian Gittins