Pink Floyd’s first new single in 20 years…
This review of Prince’s two (!) new albums, out today, comes from Greg Kot, writing for the Sun-Sentinel, Sept. 29th…
Prince Says Let’s Go Crazy in 2 Different Ways
In one of the most improbable reunions of the last few decades, Prince is back with the label that he claims done him so wrong in the ’90s that he was compelled to scrawl the word “slave” on his face. No one does drama like the multi-purpose entertainer from Minneapolis, though, and he’s back with two albums on the same day for nemesis-turned-benefactor Warner Brothers.
The two albums couldn’t be more opposite. PlectrumElectrum, with his new rock quartet 3rdEyeGirl, is basically an excuse for Prince to go nuts on his guitar. Art Official Age is an opportunity for the solo Prince to go nuts as a studio innovator playing with his toys and personas.
Hardcore Prince guitar-freaks—those who yearn for an entire album of six-string slash-and-burn in the mold of Jimi Hendrix, Ernie Isley, Eddie Hazel and Prince himself on “Purple Rain” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”—will find much to love on PlectrumElectrum.
Prince is an appreciator as much as an innovator, and he compresses about 50 years of guitar history into 12 tracks: the screaming punctuations on the feedback-saturated “Ain’tTurnin’Round” and “AnotherLove,” the Curtis Mayfield-style lyricism of “Whitecaps,” the punky urgency of “Marz.” But though the 3rdEyeGirl rhythm section of Donna Grantis, Hannah Ford Welton and Ida Nielsen provides a solid foundation, and shares some lead vocals, the songs feel slight, a touch predictable.
It’s not meant to be a particularly heavy album lyrically or conceptually, more of a blow-out. If there’s an underlying theme, it revolves around the 56-year-old elder statesman dispensing tips to the younger artists who have emerged in his wake, many of them in his debt: Frank Ocean, Miguel, Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, OutKast, Maxwell, Lianne de Havas (who sings backing vocals on Art Official Age). On “FixUrLifeUp,” he counsels, “Don’t worry about what the crowd does, just be good at what you love.” And what Prince loves on this album is clear: guitar, guitar and more guitar.
The emphasis shifts on Art Official Age, a more substantial and stranger album. After about a dozen listens, I still found myself discovering new twists and surprises in the dense, sometimes downright exotic arrangements (the same can’t be said for PlectrumElectrum).
It’s a concept album of sorts, a tour through the wilderness of Prince’s imagination, a maze of sound effects and funk set 45 years in the future after the groggy narrator emerges from a period of “suspended animation,” as a female narrator with a British accent informs him. Prince slides back into the Afro-futuristic tradition of Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic. Space is the place where humans can roam free of petty earthly preoccupations such as celebrity worship, social media and material possessions (presumably including swimming pools, trophy wives and one-sided record-company deals).
The freedom the narrator craves is evident in many of the arrangements. “FunkNRoll,” also the title of a track on PlectrumElectrum (where it’s a fairly conventional funk-rock track), opens with guitar fanfare, dives into the shadows beneath percussion that sounds like a dripping faucet, slows down and then speeds up behind gothic keyboards. “Art Official Cage” zigs and zooms across time, with its booming EDM-style rhythm track and funk rhythm guitar flowing across dance-music history as if to one-up the concept on Daft Punk’s Grammy-winning 2013 album, Random Access Memories. The distant percussion in “Way Back Home” sounds like sheet metal flapping in a strong wind amid a matrix of sci-fi effects, and there’s the illusion of clinking cutlery on “Time,” which closes with a voracious bass line. The guitar is more sparing on this album, certainly less of a focal point, but its presence is crucial, particularly in the deft fills on “This Could Be Us” and the finger-snapping seduction of “Breakfast Can Wait.”
It’s an erotic and weird album, heavy on ballads that twist in unexpected directions. In an era when innovative artists such as Frank Ocean and The Weeknd are redefining the form and feel of R&B seduction ballads, Prince sounds not just relevant, but renewed. As Prince declared on his 1982 classic “D.M.S.R., “I… try my best to never get bored.” He sounds like he’s staying true to his word.
This review of Tricky’s new album comes from The Line of Best Fit website, Sept. 1st, 2014…
Pioneering trip-hop maverick Tricky has had an indelible mark on British music, and, to be honest, electronic music as a whole by this point in 2014. Hailing from Knowle West (Bristol), Adrian Thaws – both his given name and the title of his upcoming tenth studio record – helped bring the ‘Bristol sound’ into the mainstream, alongside Portishead, Lamb, and former outfit, Massive Attack. These days, you can’t move for trip-hop inspired electro wizards or noir&B corsairs. Everything throbs with low-slung slugs of glowing bass, the scuttle of drum and sweatlodge haze vox.
However, Thaws isn’t content to linger on past glories. On his new album, we see the ardent, chronic experimentalist craft remarkably prescient sounds. Almost three decades into his career, he still retains his signature slow eerie-rap flow and penchant for the moodiest bass-led synth symphonies you’re likely to hear, but Adrian Thaws isn’t an LP that sits back, relaxes or waddles around in safe, tried ‘n’ tested territories. It hoists in guests from the fringes of ‘the norm’ and who are avid avante-garde artists themselves – names like Mykki Blanco, Nneka, Oh Land, Blue Daisy, Tirzah, Francesca Belmonte and Bella Gotti.
Thaws has described this as his “club/hip-hop” album. It’s easy to see what he means. “Nicotine Love,” for example, is a melange of entwined synth pythons and bass vipers, lunging and slithering amongst each other. The beat is firm, the hooks simple – this is designed for sweaty dives and sticky dancefloors. “Why Don’t You,” crammed with rave-tinted D’N’B aggression, is an enormous Lady Leshurr-type grime bombardment: “Why dontcha/why dontcha/why don’t you go and get fucked?” Thaws posits in the chorus, between acidic tirades from Bella Gotti. “Lonnie Listen,” featuring Belmonte and Blanco, slinks through handclaps, and jazzy hip-hop bass backing, and the odd buzzsaw lead. All in all, pretty explosive efforts on the club front.
His hip-hop assault is no less invigorating, if a little sparser. While rap feature heavily in general, there are few that are proper hip-hop cuts. “My Palestine Girl” is one, however. Featuring the ash-gulletted baritone sprechsegang of Blue Daisy, air-raid siren synths and half-time beats stutter behind a politically-charged and lascivious narrative: “She’s trapped in Babylon, I tell her that I won’t be long…” With old-school beats, dub wobs and acerbic dragonbreath, Bella Gotti takes the reins on “Gangster Chronicles.” Think an East End, on form Nicki Minaj, dragged into Madchester’s acid realms. It’s brutal.
Tricky’s struck gold once again with this. Last year’s False Idols was received well, and his critical streak continues with Adrian Thaws. It’s arguably his most ‘out there’ anthology in a while, seeing him properly get to grips with some fresh arenas, but it’s unmistakeably Tricky. He’s an unsung national treasure, still machete-ing a path through the musical jungles.
Another look at U2’s brand new album, which has finally come out (via a free download on iTunes). This review comes from Jon Parales in The New York Times, Sept. 10th…
With Songs of Innocence, U2 Recasts Its Youth
Memories are a blast on Songs of Innocence, the album that U2 released on Tuesday afternoon as a worldwide giveaway. With a title that echoes William Blake, the album is a blast of discoveries, hopes, losses, fears and newfound resolve in lyrics that are openly autobiographical. It’s also a blast of unapologetic arena rock and cathedral-scale production, equally gigantic and detailed, in the music that carries them.
The immediate news was that Songs of Innocence (Interscope) can be downloaded free until Oct. 13 by everyone with an iTunes Store account: half a billion people in 119 countries. (Physical and digital versions of the album go on sale Oct. 14.) The giveaway is a dream scenario for U2, a band that has always wanted everyone to feel its choruses and sing along. Apple has made distribution the easy part; the bigger challenge for U2 is to make people care about a new statement from a familiar band.
During its five years between albums, U2, which released its first recording in 1979, publicly pondered how to stay relevant. Its solution, on Songs of Innocence, is to reimagine its young, retrospectively innocent selves and recall what fired them up: family, neighbors, lovers, street action and of course, music. Liner notes by Bono, the band’s lead singer and main lyricist, fill in many of the back stories, describing the songs as “first journeys.”
There are tributes to Joey Ramone, whose example showed Bono how to sing melodically but feel punk, and to Joe Strummer of the Clash, whose social consciousness inspired U2. In other songs, traumas are as significant as joys. Songs of Innocence includes “Raised by Wolves,” about a terrorist car bombing in Dublin in 1974 and its aftermath; “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” a prettily sinister depiction of a pedophile priest; and a nostalgia-defying song about “Cedarwood Road,” the Dublin street where Bono grew up. In the song he calls it “a war zone in my teens.”
The music on Songs of Innocence doesn’t hark back to the open spaces of early U2; it exults in multitrack possibilities. But it connects emotionally to a time when, as Bono sings in “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” “I wanted to be the melody/Above the noise, above the hurt/I was young/Not dumb.”
As U2 worked on the album, producers came and went, including some now-vanished flirtations with dance-music hitmakers and the back-to-basics guru Rick Rubin. Of U2’s longtime production brain trust—Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite, Flood—only Flood has a few credits on Songs of Innocence. Instead, the album credits Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells) as overall producer, with frequent collaborations from Paul Epworth (Adele) and Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic). And U2 sticks decisively to rock.
Clearly determined to compete for radio play with the many younger rockers who studiously emulate U2, most of the album puts a higher gloss, and sometimes a heavier fuzz tone, on the band’s instantly recognizable sound. The music is still defined by Bono’s buttonholing vocals, the Edge’s echoing guitars, Adam Clayton’s brawny bass lines and the steadfast march beats of Larry Mullen Jr. on drums. But there’s a newly eruptive sense of dynamics in these tracks; when the band assembles a celestial vocal choir or a gorgeous swirl of guitars and keyboards, a pummel or a distorted roar is rarely far behind.
U2 also makes clear its sense of history. The first verse of the Joe Strummer tribute, “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now,” looks back to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” before switching to a Clash beat. An homage to the Beach Boys—a chorale of vocal harmonies and then a surf-tinged beat—runs through “California (There Is No End to Love),” a song about U2’s first visit to Los Angeles and broader thoughts. “There’s no end to grief,” Bono sings. “That’s how I know/And why I need to know there is no end to love.”
The songs ground philosophical musings and high-flown imagery in concrete reminiscences and events. “The star that gives us light has been gone a while/But it’s not an illusion,” Bono declares in “Iris (Hold Me Close),” which memorializes Bono’s mother, Iris Hewson, who died in 1974. It has the album’s most poignant chorus: “Hold me close,” he sings, “I’ve got your light inside of me.”
Conscious of mortality and tied to personal stories, most of U2’s new songs don’t sell themselves to teenagers like the generalized pop anthems of current U2 imitators (including Mr. Tedder’s OneRepublic) or, for that matter, the 1980s U2 that came up with songs like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Even the album’s two most direct songs about romance, with sturdy melodies and straightforward buildups—“Song for Someone,” about meeting a soul mate, and “Every Breaking Wave,” about a looming breakup—are tinged with misgivings and ambivalences. U2 can’t return to innocence, and knows it.
The album’s closing song, “The Troubles,” moves abruptly away from glimpses of volatile youthful aspirations to envision lingering adult disillusion. The arrangement moves U2 considerably closer to Danger Mouse’s songs with Broken Bells. Over minor chords backed by a string section, a guest vocal by the Swedish pop singer Lykke Li warns, “Somebody stepped inside your soul,” and Bono follows up: “You think it’s easier to put your finger on the trouble/When the trouble is you.” It’s a dark postscript, a reminder that growing up doesn’t resolve youth’s contradictions; it brings sorrows of its own.
A first look at U2’s new album, which was, surprisingly, sprung on an unsuspecting public (via a free download on iTunes) last night (physical release comes mid-October). This review comes from Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph, Sept. 9th…
U2 have announced the release of their 13th studio album, Songs of Innocence, available now and free to all iTunes customers. And, after several years’ gestation, five producers, ever-shifting release dates and Bono publicly fretting that the biggest band in the world was on the verge of irrelevance, fans will be relieved to hear that it sounds a lot like U2.
It is an album of big, colourful, attacking rock with fluid melodies, bright anthemic choruses and bold lyrical ideas. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that, despite apparently being created in a spirit of self-doubt, it sounds fresh and cohesive, bouncing out of the speakers with a youthful spring in its step.
On first impressions, Songs of Innocence is not an attempt to create a grand masterpiece that redefines the band, but rather, as the title suggests, to reconnect them with an elusive pop elixir of youthful energy and passion. Lyrically, it reflects on the past, on their origins as a band and as individuals, which is unusual territory for the usually forward-looking Bono and The Edge (who share lyrical duties). Lead single and opening track, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” sets the confident tone, with its “oh-way-oh” choral chant, glam rock stomping rhythm and surges of grungy guitar. Lyrically, it is a celebration of the transformative power of music, and in particular the effect on the young U2 of hearing The Ramones, and in that spirit it keeps things simple and direct. There are songs about growing up on the north side of Dublin (the fierce and strange “Raised by Wolves” and the dense, somewhat ungainly “Cedarwood Road”), memories of Bono’s late mother (the chiming disco driving “Iris [Hold Me Close]“) and appreciations of musical inspirations (the loose, groovy “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” is dedicated to Joe Strummer, and celebrates the Clash spirit of passion and purposefulness).
Each track seems very defined in itself, opening with a trio of songs aimed directly at American radio (“The Miracle,” “Every Breaking Wave” and “California [There Is No End to Love]“), packed with chiming guitars, synth hooks and epic choruses. It sounds like U2 taking on such young stadium rock pretenders as Snow Patrol and The Killers, intent on beating them at the game U2 themselves invented.
An immediate standout track is “Volcano,” a thrilling, thumping yet delightfully quirky celebration of the power of rock and roll that sounds a bit like Franz Ferdinand on steroids. The Ryan Tedder-produced ballad “Song for Someone” is probably the track that will have fans holding their phones aloft in stadiums, a mid-tempo ballad that builds from plucked acoustic intimacy to heart-bursting emotion. It is one of the songs that hints at ideas and feelings in the deeper currents of an album made up of dazzling surfaces.
It clearly hasn’t been an easy album to make. It is six years since No Line on the Horizon (itself widely deemed a flawed album) and three years since they completed their record breaking 360° tour. There were long sessions with cool American producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, who started working with the band in 2010. The album was first mooted for release at the beginning of 2014 (hence the release of a one-off single, “Invisible,” in February), but since then there have been sessions with Paul Epworth (British producer for Adele, Coldplay and Florence and the Machine) and Ryan Tedder (top songwriting collaborator with the likes of Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyonce), both highly commercial producers who bring some contemporary sheen. Long-time collaborator Mark Ellis, aka Flood, is also involved, although, in the end, it appears to have been U2’s engineer Declan Gaffney who has put in the long hours to tie it all together (leading to promotion to a full production credit).
With the album’s October release only confirmed at the very last moment (with the pressure of the Apple iPhone launch looming), I have the sense that it was plucked from the band’s grasp in the mastering suite, probably with The Edge protesting that he’s not finished yet and there’s one more echoing guitar note to be added.
For me, on first contact, it is the Danger Mouse tracks that hold the most interest, and perhaps hint at directions U2 might have rewardingly explored if they had stayed their original course and weren’t quite so intent on maintaining massive stadium-level success. Touching synth ballad “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and dreamy, sinister album closer “The Troubles” (with a perfectly pitched vocal chant from Swedish singer Lykke Li) are the kind of strange pop songs that can really get under your skin.
Lyrically, here and elsewhere, hints emerge that these reminiscences of the past are not quite as innocent as they first appear, and that this is an album laced with guilt, working towards self-forgiveness and redemption. “I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be,” Bono croons on “Song for Someone,” suggesting that there is perhaps more experience at work in this album than there is innocence.
It is, at heart, a highly personal set of songs. There are no flag waving anthems, no big social causes. If there is a moral, it appears in the coda of “Cedarwood Road”: “a heart that is broken is a heart that is open.”
As a long time U2 fan and supporter (in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I am thanked in the album credits, albeit with my name misspelled), I wouldn’t put it on a par with their greatest work – Boy, The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby or even the seamless songs of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. At times it does sound like it is trying a bit too hard to please. But it’s more pop than Pop ever was, and it certainly does the job it apparently sets out to do, delivering addictive pop rock with hooks, energy, substance and ideas that linger in the mind after you’ve heard them.