New Releases & Reissues: 20 December
With Christmas literally five days from our doorstep, we’ve compiled a handy guide for the best new releases and reissues to take the hassle out of that last minute gift shopping…
Coldplay – Everyday Life
Though they remain one of the world’s biggest bands, it’s been easy to deride Coldplay since 2011’s laughable Mylo Xyloto. Their hearts are in the right place, naturally: they’ve campaigned for Oxfam, protested against the Iraq War, and donate 10% of their considerable income to charity. Otherwise, though, they’ve responded to the world’s evils with gargantuan choruses, fluorescent wristbands, and the false sense that to overcome injustice we need merely gather in a stadium singing musically conservative anthems with insufferably corny lyrics.
Everyday Life, however, represents a complete reinvention. Split into two halves, ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset’ – though hardly a double album – it’s their most considered collection in years, finding inspiration in unlikely sources including Afrobeat, gospel, folk and blues.
This was signposted by Arabesque, their brassy collaboration with Femi Kuti, its rolling rhythms sweeping Chris Martin from cornball lyrics about “two raindrops in the same sea” – via an extraordinary saxophone solo, samples of Kuti’s father Fela, and an ultimately explosive crescendo – to its howled final line, “We share the same fucking blood!”
Remarkably (for Martin), he curses again amid the – honest! – Tim Buckley-esque Guns’s frantic acoustic guitars, concluding caustically, “Fuck the other ones/ It’s the opinion of this board that/ We need more guns”. His band’s reticence, however, is most revelatory. From its understated instrumental overture to the subdued title track, there’s room for nuance almost throughout, with BrokEn’s gospel lacking the bombast of U2’s Rattle & Hum, Daddy a felted piano ballad sung, like Lily Allen’s Three, from a child’s perspective, and Old Friends a folksy paean delivered with Nick Drake’s hushed delicacy.
There are, inevitably, ‘Coldplay moments’: Orphans can’t resist a “Wooh wooh” chorus, but even this refuses to outstay its welcome, while Martin’s early description of “Rosaleem of the damascene”, her life devastated by “the missile monsoon”, is an arresting snapshot of wasted Syrian lives.
Elsewhere, Èkó could be Paul Simon, and Wonder Of The World is so intimate it was seemingly recorded on a phone, but Trouble In Town will haunt longest, with its Peter Gabriel In Our Eyes first half interrupted by samples of raging American servicemen, then topped by a spine-tingling, dramatic coda. That its fury is followed by BrokEn and the London Voices Choir is a perfect balm. This is the Coldplay we need.
Beck – Hyperspace
Around his previous album Colors two years ago, Beck revealed it was only severe back pain that had prevented him from wanting to make more funk records in the vein of Odelay and Midnite Vultures. Sure enough, Colors was his most uplifting work in years.
Released in April, the first taster of Beck’s 14th album seemed set to follow suit. Written and produced with Pharrell Williams, Saw Lightning was Beck at his hyperactive best, proving he remains a quicksilver visionary nearly 25 years on from Odelay. However, second single Uneventful Days is ultimately more typical of Hyperspace. Working with Pharrell again, it’s a curiously muted mid-paced shuffle, neither dazzlingly funky or as powerfully tender as the balladeering Beck from Sea Change and Morning Phase.
Its faults make Hyperspace Beck’s least substantial album since 2006’s The Information. Yet it’s still better than most artists because, when it fires, Hyperspace is spectacular. Made with long-time associate Cole MGN, Die Waiting stops trying to be contemporary, kicks back and is as relaxed a groove as Beck has ever provided. Equally gorgeous are the cartoon pop of Star and widescreen ballad Stratosphere, which apparently features backing vocals by Chris Martin, though you’d need a microscope to detect his presence.
The closing Everlasting Nothing is comfortably the best Beck/Pharrell slowie. An atypical growling cowboyvocal from Beck is perfect for a shapeshifting, sci-fi panorama which manages to draw the various threads of Hyperspace together. If it doesn’t give any clues as to where Beck will go next – nobody can predict that, probably including Beck – at least Everlasting Nothing is as good an example as any of showing what Beck is capable ofin just one song. If Hyperspace has too much filler to rival his peak years, that doesn’t mean it should be neglected. Cherrypick Hyperspace’s best songs and you’ll still believe Beck’s talents derive from another galaxy.
Graham Coxon – The End Of The F***ing World 2
Though only one of many elements making The End Of The F***ing World’s first season so engrossing, fans will no doubt be relieved by the news Graham Coxon’s also responsible for its second season’s score, which is again notable for its impressive breadth.
He’s at home making a nasty noise on Madder Than Me, a lo-fi, distorted guitar racket that sounds like it was recorded in a suburban basement, Coxon wailing over the end like Thurston Moore, and at ease on Why Are You Crying?, a gentle, slurred, Townes Van Zandt country ramble.
He also turns in a lovely duet, Bonjour, Monsieur, in the vein of Françoise Hardy’s early work, its naivety almost as appealing as Juno’s appropriation of The Moldy Peaches’ Anything Else But You, while Beautiful Bad is a noisy, psychedelic shamble like Love produced by Phil Spector.
What makes this so effective is Coxon understands the show’s based on a comic book, and his pastiche of different styles is similarly affectionate.
So no one could call the Morricone-esque Dining Room Standoff a parody, and the worst they’d say of She Knows is its clash of quiet pianos and ragged guitars sounds like Song 2-era Blur. Woohoo!
Madonna – Madonna/ Like A Virgin / True Blue / Who’s That Girl: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
You have to feel sorry for whoever it is in Madonna’s record company who has to try convincing her that a deluxe reissue campaign would be a good idea. The star has consistently managed to swerve the topic – whatever demos and additional songs are lurking in the vaults, we’ve yet to hear anything. There are rumours she’s finally going to relent next year with her first super-deluxe edition of a vintage album but, until then, Warner and Rhino have been tinkering around the edges: a white vinyl version of Erotica here, a stream with a couple of 12″ remixes tackedon there.
Rhino’s new clear vinyl versions of Madonna’s first four albums exemplify the current releases. You can find the original vinyl for a fiver from any second-hand record shop going, but at least this new collectors’ batch aren’t covered in fluff and detritus. It’s also currently as close as devotees will get to being reminded of just how brilliant a pop star Madonna was the second she finally got a record contract. It’s easy to take her for granted, of course, but alongside those perfect early singles many of the album tracks stand up decades on, too.
While extended versions of Holiday and Borderline on her debut take some getting used to, it’s thrilling to hear just how hungry the young Madonna sounded, lifting the otherwise disposable I Know It and Think Of Me into solid belters, while Physical Attraction is an early example of how Madonna wrapped empowerment around the spikiest disco. She was still experimenting on Like A Virgin, with the tender Shoo-Bee-Doo a rare early example of an unalloyed Madonna love song. The hyperactive Over And Over would surely be regarded as classic Madonna had it been released as a single.
By 1986’s True Blue, Madonna had pretty much perfected her LP formula, with the cheesy Jimmy Jimmy the only filler. Its five singles are immaculate. So, too, are the Holiday-style escapism of Where’s The Party and Love Makes The World Go Round, which is essentially Open Your Heart II. Only the soundtrack to Who’s That Girl falters. Out of Madonna’s four songs, The Look Of Love is a bland ballad, while there’s a reason additional artists Duncan Faure and Club Nouveau have long been forgotten. Only the Jimmy Somerville-style Hi-NRG ecstasy of Michael Davidson’s Turn It Up deserves rescuing from the bargain basement.
Many vinylist readers will obviously already have snapped up cheap Madonna offerings. If you haven’t, here’s a great default option before her London shows start in January.
8/10, 8/10, 9/10, 5/10
The Blue Nile – A Walk Across The Rooftops / Hats / Peace At Last
From A Walk Across The Rooftops’ unmistakable, glowing rumbles, ghostly brass and pizzicato strings to the slow-burning, redemptive climax of Hats’ closer, Saturday Night, the romance of The Blue Nile’s emotionally indefatigable, twilit portrait of Glasgow on their first two albums remains unsurpassed.
“There’s a red car in the fountain” on A Walk…’s inspiring Tinseltown In The Rain, and “Exit signs and subway trains” glimmer on Automobile Noise, while, on Hats’ highlight, The Downtown Lights, Paul Buchanan rode its bridge’s transformative rush, increasingly animated by “the neons and the cigarettes”, “chimney tops and trumpets”, before crumpling and confessing, “I’m tired of crying on the stairs”.
Both were distinguished by lush, shimmering synths and spare rhythms, with 1984’s Stay granting synthetic sounds a human sincerity, From Rags To Riches building romance upon unexpectedly industrial percussion, and exotic metallic ripples decorating Heatwave’s unhurried elegance. Hats opened in even more measured fashion, its dusky minimalism provoking “stars in your eyes”, and on The Downtown Lights it truly felt like “nobody loves you this way”. Let’s Go Out Tonight, additionally, offered an irresistible, fortifying invitation and Headlights On The Parade glistened with glee.
Dominated by acoustic guitar, its keyboards lacking their previous gleam, their third album inevitably failed to match such soulful invention. Body And Soul felt anything but athletic, War Is Love was gauche, God Bless You Kid’s enthusiasm felt overegged, and Holy Love fell short of the P-funk to which it aspired, despite Buchanan’s mumbled, Thom Yorke-like falsetto. Sentimental Man, meanwhile, added blue-eyed funk to the mawkishness, though it sounded like devotees Botany 5. Nonetheless, a gospel choir underlined Happiness’ spiritual dimension, piano and strings ballad Family Life was as touching as its title suggested, and Tomorrow Morning’s gasped “Sugar rain” was reminders enough of their immaculate earlier conceptions.
Remastered by Calum Malcolm, these vinyl reissues are absolutely indispensable.
9/10, 10/10, 8/10
Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen / Protest Songs / Andromeda Heights / Let’s Change The World
Following September’s release of half of Prefab Sprout’s catalogue, Sony have wasted little time in reissuing the remainder of their albums on vinyl. It leaves just EMI’s The Gunman And Other Stories and the collective’s most recent album Crimson/Red awaiting fresh availability.
Steve McQueen was only reissued four years ago and was easy to buy. If you don’t already own it, there’s really no excuse now: it’s one of the all-time great melancholic pop albums, When Love Breaks Down and all. Thank us later. Protest Songs was recorded immediately after Steve McQueen, but deemed too similar and wasn’t released until four years later, in 1989. Wafting ballad Diana is virtually a sketch show Prefab pastiche, but the sumptuous Talking Scarlet and angsty Wicked Things and Til The Cows Come Home are far from Sprout-by-numbers.
The other two albums make their debut on vinyl. 1997’s Andromeda Heights was their first LP in seven years, following the epic Jordan: The Comeback. It’s the most traditional-sounding record Paddy McAloon has made, harking back to a pre-rock’n’roll era, its brassy opulence offset by lyrical heartbreak. You won’t hear a more romantic paean to adultery than Anne Marie. Part-Dennis Potter, part-David Lynch, Andromeda Heights is the most undervalued Prefabs record.
From the title track’s burst of apocalyptic rap, Let’s Change The World With Music was even more radical than the preceding album I Trawl The Megahertz. A restless, usually brilliant sprawl, it’s as close as we’ll get to hearing the inside of McAloon’s head. And who wouldn’t want to visit there for 47 minutes? All the Prefab activity this year has been a wonderful sensory overload. Precious little music sounds good enough to cope afterwards.
10/10, 7/10, 9/10, 8/10
John Earls & Wyndham Wallace