Pick Of The Pops – Our Issue 85 New Release Review Round-Up


Announced at relatively short notice in November, by their standards The Killers’ new Best Of is an oddly muted release.

The reason seems simple: despite recent singles Your Side Of Town and Spirit being The Killers’ finest pop moments since The Man (borrowing heavily from New Order and Underworld respectively), Brandon Flowers has said that he’s abandoned what was meant to be their accompanying album, because he no longer feels convincing as a pop singer. Instead, Flowers wants to focus on mining the more introspective, personally meaningful side he felt flourished on previous LP, Pressure Machine.

While Flowers is to be applauded for his honesty, it’s also frustrating for anyone who believes Pressure Machine was too in thrall to Bruce Springsteen and lacked the colour of The Killers’ pop side.

Arriving 20 years since Hot Fuss and a decade after previous singles compilation Direct Hits, Rebel Diamonds is a decent stopgap while Flowers and sole constant companion Ronnie Vannucci work out what they want The Killers to be next.

In fairness, a pop/Bruce inner turmoil has been present from the start, when Flowers thought the admittedly wonderful All These Things That I’ve Done would be their song to still hang around the charts 20 years later, rather than Mr Brightside. Sam’s Town’s hits When You Were Young and Read My Mind were more Meat Loaf than The Boss, but showed Flowers was never going to just mine his Pet Shop Boys and Blur leanings.

Roughly split between pop and depth since, the singles after Direct Hits still sounded like hits until the monochrome Quiet Town. If they don’t have the instant familiarity of Somebody Told Me, then Caution and Dying Breed show Flowers was still having fun being huge. Maybe pulling out of pop is just a midlife crisis. If this really is it for The Killers as grandiose showmen, at least it was fun while it lasted.



Since his 17th album Rain in 2008, Joe Jackson has released a Duke Ellington tribute record, a compilation of four EPs related to specific cities and an LP recorded in one day in Boise, Idaho, because that’s where his latest tour happened to end.

Jackson, then, is one of the few musicians for whom a covers album of an obscure turn-of-the-century music hall performer can be considered business as usual. Max Champion was wrongly assumed to be related to Harry Champion, the more successful music hall turn whose songs included Boiled Beef And Carrots and Any Old Iron – yet whose real surname was Crump. 

Max is sadly believed to have died during combat in World War I. His songs languished in obscurity ever since, until a dozen began circulating in 2014 on sheet music in Belgium – where Champion was stationed – and Malta, the subject of the riotous Monty Mundy.

An inherently curious cult performer like Jackson was bound to be intrigued by Champion’s story, and he fell in love with his prescient songs. “Sometimes, it’s almost as if Max is speaking from the London of the early 20th century directly to us in the early 21st,” commented Jackson, on staging an orchestral performance of Champion’s songs in 2019. 

He’s right: most obviously in Health And Safety but also in the PE-shunning The Sporting Life and in the karmic shrug of Worse Things Happen At Sea, Champion’s satire comfortably holds up.

Although he grew up in Hampshire, spent his most famous years in New York and now lives in Berlin, Jackson sounds a natural inhabiting a cheeky post-Victorian Cockney. He barrels along in the trouser-dropping whizz-bang farces of Why, Why, Why? and The Bishop And The Actress, sweeping up the listener with his garrulous charm, before easing into the more natural melancholia of Never So Nice  In The Morning.

It’s another niche concern for Jackson, but a racket that is acted out to perfection.



Right. Can everyone stop taking Shaun Ryder for granted and pay attention to him again, please? True, Ryder has been a reliably genial constant presence on reality TV ever since first appearing on I’m A Celebrity in 2010.

In among numerous other roles from ghost hunting to Gogglebox, Ryder released his proper debut solo album Visits From Future Technology in 2021: not perfect, but its single Mumbo Jumbo served notice that Shaun could still whip out loping funk from the Hallelujah school.

Now comes this wonderful collection, its widescreen dusty dub and vintage soul horns evidence that Ryder is up for learning new tricks. Orange Head is his first album since he was diagnosed with ADHD, and he’s been a surprisingly reflective authority on what the condition’s effects can be.

If Ryder is calmer in his outlook, it allows him to be more confident about when to dish out the chaos. Yes, Happy Mondays fans deserve a new album. But, since getting clean, Ryder     has always seemed happiest with Kermit in Black Grape. This is the culmination of their mischief: if it’s not quite as monumental as the first side of  It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah!, it’s actually more consistent.

They’re helped by producers Mike Buckley and Vince Chiarito. Previously members of soul cult singer Charles Bradley’s band, they bring authenticity to the horns and ferocious bass powering under Ryder at his most teasing and Kermit at his shamanic best.

The Stax vibe of the Pimp Wars single is matched by Self Harm and Quincy, the latter a glorious romp where Ryder’s enigmatic monologue is evidence why Tony Wilson called him our greatest modern-day poet. Ever wanted to hear Ryder take on tropicália? Head to Button Eyes. It’s magnificent.

Orange Head isn’t perfect: Panda is such a Fools Gold rip-off, it must be an in-joke. But, if Ryder had kept himself hidden since Uncle Dysfunktional and suddenly re-emerged with this, it would be awed rave reviews everywhere. Just because he likes to mess about, don’t stop Ryder and his most effective lieutenant from being justly feted.



Wondering if they were going to continue after 2021’s Path Of Wellness failed to chart, riot grrrl veterans Sleater-Kinney instead changed their record label and had nearly finished writing their fourth album since reforming in 2015 when Carrie Brownstein’s mother and stepfather were killed in a car crash.

The songs remained unchanged, but Brownstein wanted to focus on guitar in the tragedy’s aftermath, rather than alternate vocal/guitar duties with Corin Tucker. You can try to pick out signs of Brownstein’s grief if you must, but Little Rope is simply the duo at their concise best: all 10 songs last 2m 50s to 3m 50s, and the power chords on the closing Untidy Creature is as near as it gets to a ballad.

Aided by David Byrne/Sparks producer John Congleton, it’s tune-heavy punk at its most infectious. You’d call it punk-pop if Blink-182’s unlovely ilk hadn’t keelhauled the term. Needlessly Wild and Don’t Feel Right are especially irresistible, but everything here is urgent and ready to storm the barricades.

Crusader threatens to drop the pace, only to soon ramp up with propulsive drumming like The National’s rare rowdier moments, while the glam-tinged Say It Like You Mean It thrums with the glee of Congleton’s recent production clients, Blondie. Impassioned, uplifting and above all catchy as hell, Sleater-Kinney were right to keep on going.



Reforming for 2017’s middling Kicking Up The Dust LP, John Power now assesses that album as Cast kicking the tyres, working out if they could still connect in the studio. 

If they were to make more new music rather than take the easy route of nostalgia concerts, the quartet wanted it to properly matter. Produced by Youth, Power views Cast’s seventh album as returning him to the energy he had after leaving The La’s and before making his second band’s debut, All Change. It’s a bold ambition, but one Love Is The Call mostly lives up to.

The title track, I Have Been Waiting and Look Around at the start of Side Two are especially thrilling, Power sounding as boisterous as the Fine Time days fronting a band whose electric pace is more adroitly played than their early period. That experience gels on the closing Tomorrow Calls My Name: for a band who were regular touring partners of Oasis, they’ve belatedly crafted their own Champagne Supernova. 

Lyrically, Power’s concerns remain simple: a belief in humanity and unity, that love really could bring us together. It’s not complicated, but it’s hard to deny Power’s purity, especially sung with the conviction of Rain That Falls and Love You Like I Do. That purity was there in The La’s and, in going back to their spirit, it still shines 35 years on.



Perennial live favourites since first reforming in 2007, A Matter Of Time is only the Britpoppers’ second LP since. Produced again by Youth, who helmed 2017’s Instant Pleasures, the Sheds’ sixth album is exactly what they need: virtually all 12 songs sound like instant festival favourites.

Let’s Go and Talk Of The Town have the same raucous energy as She Left Me On Friday, while the mournful Let’s Go Dancing will have anyone who found something in their eye whenever Chasing Rainbows came on the radio belting along by the second chorus. Sure, these choruses are route-one, but that’s harder to pull off than tune-free prog excursions, with slow-building Tripping With You – featuring standout harmonies from Reverend And The Makers’ Laura McClure – showing the Sheds can get smart if they want.

If the daft drug boasting in F:K:H plays into their critics’ hands, Rick Witter is still convincing as a lost soul coping via hedonistic misadventure. After Alan Leach made a fortune designing pub quiz machines and retired, new drummer Rob Maxfield leads the charge on the more straight-up hard rock of Kissing California and Pete Doherty-featuring Throwaways’ grandiose finale.

As consistently strong as A Maximum High, Shed Seven remain an undervalued asset. Any doubters should try dislodging the chorus of Rowetta collaboration In Ecstasy after one listen.


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