This review comes from PopMatters, written by Chris Gerard, Sept. 14, 2015…
Duran Duran’s Legacy Grows Stronger with Paper Gods
Every time a new Duran Duran album is released, there seems to be an almost irresistible compulsion for some writers to herald the “comeback” of the “‘80s pop heroes” or some such nonsense. Quite simply, anybody who says that hasn’t been paying attention—Duran Duran never left. They’ve been releasing albums, most of them quite excellent, on a regular basis since their self-titled debut hit shelves 34 years ago. And are they really an “‘80s band” when they released five albums in the ‘80s and nine albums from 1990 through today? Sure, their biggest commercial success by far came during the MTV era when videos like “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Save a Prayer” and “Union of the Snake” drove a manic hysteria that recalled Beatlemania. They did have a spike of popularity with their dual classics “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone” from 1993’s Wedding Album, but since then they haven’t made much headway in the Top 40.
But as we all should know, just because a band’s sales figures no longer measure up doesn’t mean they’ve stopped making great music. Limiting them to the old “‘80s band” label does them an injustice, and overlooks all the great music they’ve put out in the last 25 years. It’s time for a serious reassessment of Duran Duran and their place in music history. As they prove yet again with their latest triumph, Paper Gods, Duran Duran is one of the most consistently entertaining bands of our generation. Most of their peers from the gloriously decadent ‘80s are either long gone, or are riding the oldies nostalgia circuit, playing their old hits in small venues. Not so Duran Duran. They’ve remained fresh and inventive, never content to repeat themselves, always with new tricks up their stylish sleeves.
Although Duran Duran has endured some lineup shifts, as do most bands with over 30 years of history, the core of Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor and John Taylor has remained remarkably solid. Mark Ronson, one of the top producers in the business and the band’s collaborator on their fantastic 2010 album All You Need Is Now, is once again behind the controls. He’s joined by co-producers Mr. Hudson, Josh Blair, and one of pop music’s ultimate hitmakers, Nile Rodgers. Rodgers has a deep history with Duran Duran, having worked with them on some of their most memorable hits. His remix of “The Reflex” became their first ever #1 single in America. He also produced the smash “Wild Boys” and their fantastic 1986 album Notorious. When news hit that Duran Duran was working with both Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers on their new album, anticipation amongst fans understandably soared.
Happily, while the album is not quite on par with All You Need Is Now, the collaboration is as successful as anybody could have hoped. Paper Gods is more pop and dance oriented than its guitar-heavy predecessor, but by no means does it sound like a desperate attempt to appeal to a generation who makes fun of their parents for singing “Please please tell me now! Is there something I should know?” at the top of their lungs in the mini-van. Paper Gods is just a great pop album—mature, sophisticated, and intoxicating. Sure, there are nods to their ‘80s heyday in the music and in the sly visual allusions on the cover art. But even with those coy winks to the past, Paper Gods is firmly planted in the present and future. It’s a thrill hearing Simon LeBon’s voice, sounding as good as ever, over the sinuous, spacey electronica of the seven-minute title track which opens the album. It’s followed by “Last Night in the City,” an electrifying rocker featuring guest vocals by the talented Canadian singer Kiesza. It has one of the strongest melodic hooks on the album with its soaring chorus, and should be a serious contender for next single. The dramatic “You Kill Me with Silence” is a moody, wounded reflection on a fading relationship, with slinky synths and searing, distorted guitar near the end that bubbles to the surface like molten steel.
The album’s first single, “Pressure Off,” is a spirited slice of funk-pop featuring guest vocals by the versatile R&B sensation Janelle Monáe. It’s as tight a pop anthem as any in Duran Duran’s career, and stands tall alongside their legendary hits of the past. “Face for Today” is a stuttery new wave revival with an emphatic groove and booming bass. As with much of the album, flashes of retro synths jolt out from the sleek, modern pop vibe. “Danceophobia” is a hard-charging dancefloor epic with a pulsating rhythm and bright flares of shimmering keyboards. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the Timbaland-produced tracks on Duran Duran’s 2007 release Red Carpet Massacre. There’s even an appearance by Lindsay Lohan in a brief spoken-word section with her voice computerized (yeah, the idea sounds cringeworthy, but it actually works). If this track isn’t a single with multiple remixes, it will be a shock and a missed opportunity. “Danceophobia” should have club DJs salivating.
The gorgeous ballad “What Are the Chances?” swoons and sways majestically in the tradition of classics like “Save a Prayer,” “My Antarctica” and “Ordinary World.” The former Red Hot Chili Peppers’ virtuoso John Frusciante weaves his guitar through the melancholy grandeur like a hot razor slicing through the dreamy, cinematic waves of keyboard. Another standout is “Change the Skyline,” an edgy dance-rocker with kinetic synths bouncing over a fiery groove. It features Jonas Bjerre, vocalist for the outstanding Danish band Mew, whose beautifully airy vocals blend seamlessly with LeBon’s. Backing vocalist Anna Ross shines on “Butterfly Girl,” a soulful rocker with an absolutely blistering guitar solo by Frusciante.
The album closes with back-to-back six-minute epics. “Only in Dreams” boasts one of the more ambitious arrangements on the album, with graceful harmonies floating delicately over the wickedly tight and funky instrumentation. The slow-burning “The Universe Alone” ends the album with simmering drama. “I’ll see you in some other lifetime/on the other side of what we’ll never know/together we have walked a fine line / now we go to face the universe alone,” LeBon sings in perhaps his finest vocal performance on Paper Gods. Frusciante again adds an elastic guitar part that coils around and through the deft electronic beats and keyboards before the whole thing descends into apocalyptic static and distortion, with an angelic chorus rising at the very last moment as it fades to silence.
Paper Gods is a sonic marvel, beautifully produced by an ace team of collaborators. The sounds pop out of the speakers from every direction— it’s an exciting feast for the ears, with always something new, unexpected and alive. Listen to it in the car on full blast, but then try it on headphones to experience all the careful attention to detail and nifty sounds that emerge with repeated listens. Almost every track could be a single, and there was plenty of strong material left over judging by the excellent bonus tracks hiding on the album’s deluxe edition. Hearing Duran Duran sounding as good as they ever have with an exhilarating collection of expertly crafted pop is a pure joy.
For those fans who only know Duran Duran’s mega ‘80s hits, do yourself a favor and check out Paper Gods immediately. And while you’re at it, seek out some of the lesser-known gems in their catalog like Medazzaland and Pop Trash. Most definitely take the time to absorb their superb 2010 release All You Need Is Now. The ‘80s hits are great and it was an amazing era for them and many other artists, but it’s time for Duran Duran to be recognized for what they are: one of the most consistently innovative and electrifying pop/rock bands of the last 35 years. Nostalgia is all well and good, but Duran Duran is every bit as vital in 2015 as they were in 1983, and whether it’s reflected on the pop charts or not is wholly irrelevant. In a statement on the Duran Duran website marking the release of Paper Gods, Simon LeBon says, “Please spare us the 50 or so minutes that it takes and listen to Paper Gods from its opening note to its closing echo. I promise that you will not be disappointed.” The man knows what he’s talking about.
This review of Keef’s first new solo album in 23 years comes from Paste, written by Holly Gleason, Sept. 15, 2015…
As rock’s enduring pirate, Keith Richards embodies swagger, sangfroid and a certain delicious naughtiness. More than the Stones themselves, the guitarist exudes a dirt ’n’ salt earthiness that’s equal parts Rastafarian, broke-down cowboy and seen-it-all gypsy globetrotter.
On “Trouble,” the most post-modern Stones-evoking track on Crosseyed Heart, his voice is all worn rope and spark. The guitars tumble and swoop as co-producer/drummer Steve Jordan presses the beat with an urgency, Richards laughingly croaking “Maybe trouble is your middle name…”
For surface fans, the check is covered.
But the more eclectic material is where Richards’ wit and grit emerge. With the unfinished acoustic “Crosseyed Heart,” about loving two women, disintegrating into the frank admission, “That’s all I got,” Richards lets it all hang out.
There’s “Nothing on Me,” the low-slung blues shuffle of getting busted and getting out of it; a horn-flecked reggae undulation, “Love Overdue”; and the “Wild Horses”-evoking “Robbed Blind” basted in steel guitar—a tale of misadventure, a dusty half-spoken vocal, a plucked gut string guitar and an evocation of Gram Parsons’ finest hardcore country.
After random spoken riffing, “Amnesia” finds Richards sinking into the pulsing groove of the corner-of-mouth muttered mid-tempo. Fallout from being conked on the head (coconut tree, anyone?), its snarl suggests far darker pursuits. That misdirection to danger fuels his song and feeds his hungers.
“She’s a vegetarian, and me, I like my meat,” Richards enthuses in the “opposites attract” rocker d’amour “Heartstopper.” Waddy Wachtel’s electric guitar sweeps down, strangles the frenzy and drives it higher—like the great late mid-career Stones moments—but Richards’ snaggle-toothed confession of lust-fueled magnetism brings it home.
If “Something for Nothing” seems expected, the halting “Just a Gift,” all midnight and gravelly offer, has that gentleman rogue tinge that’s made Richards the most alluring of all rock stars. The smoldering, world-weary knowledge and always tender soul beneath the leathery exterior beckon.
Followed by a drawn-out “Good Night Irene,” delivered like the dissolute’s “Amazing Grace,” Crosseyed Heart is a hymnal for rascals, reprobates and ne’er-do-wells with hearts of gold—or at least kindness. Honor among thieves, love amongst scoundrels… Keith Richards has carved an encompassing survey of his own spirit and set it to a vast set of influences for all to see.
The return of Difford & Tilbrook! A review of the first brand-new Squeeze album in 17 years. Written by Rob Mesure on the MusicOMH website, dated Sept. 29, 2015…
Danny Baker makes little apology for the lack of authentic grit and misery in Going to Sea in a Sieve, his memoir of growing up in 1970s Bermondsey: “What was our life like in the noisy, dangerous and polluted industrial pock mark [in] one of the capital’s toughest neighbourhoods?” asks the ever-affable broadcaster. “Utterly magnificent, and I’d give anything to climb inside it again.” Now that the book is being brought to vivid brown-and-orange life in the BBC series Cradle to Grave, who better to provide original songs for the soundtrack than Baker’s old schoolmate Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook?
Since their most recent reunion in 2007, Squeeze have released Spot the Difference – a 2010 album of classic songs re-recorded – and an EP of new songs, but Cradle to the Grave is the first full album of (mostly) new material to emerge in 17 years. Tilbrook initially contacted Baker after reading his book with a view to working on a musical; what has emerged instead is an album that complements a television series, but works just as well without it.
Difford and Tilbrook, both clearly back on something approaching the top of their respective games, write in a variety of styles here, echoing the grab-bag approach that worked so well on East Side Story. The excellent title track has vamping ukulele and piano and gospel backing vocals, while “Nirvana” is a middle-aged disco shuffle; “Top of the Form” tips a hat to former producer Elvis Costello and the stand-out “Sunny” – a re-write of “Tommy” from 2012’s Packet of Four EP – marries an “Eleanor Rigby” string arrangement to schools programming analogue synthesiser.
But above all, these sound like Squeeze songs: back together but still an octave apart, Difford’s gruff and conversational brogue is, as always, perfectly complemented by Tilbrook’s breezy and boyish tones, almost untarnished by the intervening years. A rather underrated guitarist – bands of their era not necessarily being looked to for technical chops – Tilbrook’s playing is also undimmed by the passage of time: his solo on “Happy Days” in particular is all jazzy chromatic runs and country twang, like the offspring of Larry Carlton and Carl Perkins.
Taking situations encountered by the young Baker and his family as starting points, Difford tackles these teenage reminiscences with characteristic wit and feeling. There’s awkward fumbling at a party in “Only 15” and the agony of schooldays in “Top of the Form” (“the teachers all loathed me”), while “Sunny” basks in the liberation that music seemed to offer; only “Haywire,” detailing the protagonist’s pubescent (ahem) ‘private time’ borders on too much information. Meanwhile, “Nirvana” is an affecting look at the parents left behind when the children leave the nest, unsure how to spend their new found freedom: “He quibbled with ambition, she fell into a rut.”
As implied by Baker’s fond recollection, this is mostly nostalgia without the ache, the madeleine dunked in a steaming mug of Bovril. While the penultimate “Everywhere” hints at dissatisfaction with where life has led (“The debris of my life will never let me sleep”), the closing “Snap, Crackle and Pop” is optimistic (“I’ve been giving my past away … Now I’m living with the best of me”). Warm, melodic and acutely observed, Cradle to the Grave is a convincing return from two of our very finest songwriters.
Taken from the Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2015 and written by Chris Barton… an article on jazz musician Kamasi Washington…
When jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington was contributing string arrangements to rapper Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, few could have predicted that both L.A. artists would end up dominating the conversation about hip-hop and jazz in 2015.
But Lamar’s album, released this spring, has earned widespread acclaim for expanding the boundaries of rap, a genre that’s easy to pigeonhole for those who follow only the mainstream.
Washington is earning similar raves for his explorations on The Epic, a bold, three-disc statement that features a 10-piece band, a 20-person choir and a 32-piece orchestra. The album is out this week.
Though the records appear to reside on different sides of the musical spectrum, they’re connected by a shared commitment to independent, artistic vision, forward-looking blends of sound and far-reaching narratives that push against genre constraints.
They’re also linked by a shared band of tightly knit L.A. artists who appear on both albums, including brothers Ronald and Stephen Bruner (the latter better known by his stage name Thundercat), Miles Mosley and Ryan Porter.
Together, the records point to a long-gestating high point for creative music coming out of Los Angeles, and the rest of the world is taking notice.
“In general in L.A., there’s a movement of sincere music that’s just people expressing who they are. That’s what I got from Kendrick when I went to hear his album,” said Washington, 34, speaking at his management’s lushly appointed offices in Culver City. “He wasn’t concerned with anything but doing music he thought would be great. That was the same outlook when I was making this record.
“I want to make the music that I hear in my head, it’s just purely what is in me.”
Some coverage of Washington’s rise to national attention has come with a faint air of surprise, as if it were impossible for a jazz artist to release such a fully formed opening statement without first being vetted by the music’s vaunted New York City gatekeepers. Washington is quick to cite L.A.’s long and storied jazz history, and he doesn’t mind having flown under the radar.
“In some way, that’s a bit of a blessing. I feel like that’s part of the reason it’s so organic, it’s so raw, it’s so pure,” Washington said of the music coming from him and his longtime friends, adding that the lack of outside pressure helped them remain free of anyone else’s expectations.
“In L.A., I don’t know if it’s because the sun’s always out, but we’re not paranoid about that,” Washington said. “We just do what we do.”
The son of saxophonist Rickey Washington, Kamasi grew up in Inglewood and has been playing with many of his bandmates since childhood. He studied under Locke High School educator Reggie Andrews in the L.A. Multi-School Jazz Band, a longtime incubator for South L.A. talent that has included members of the Pharcyde as well as Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancler.
Washington lived close enough to walk to Billy Higgins’ vaunted musical hub the World Stage in Leimart Park, and he would catch rides home from a young bandmate, Terrace Martin. A fellow saxophonist, Martin co-produced To Pimp a Butterfly and pulled him into the sessions after hearing early masters of The Epic.
“He played a couple of songs, and they had these amazing string arrangements, really cinematic, 3-D-sounding string arrangements,” Martin said. “I was confident he was the man for the job.”
Washington went on to study at UCLA, where he was mentored by revered bandleader Gerald Wilson, who asked him to join his band when he was just 19. “Kamasi’s in a world of his own,” said Wilson, who beamed while marking Washington as a talent to watch during a 2012 conversation. (Wilson died in 2014 at age 96.)
“It was like a first-hand experience through the history of music with Gerald. He really understood what was happening now in music as well,” Washington said, adding that he credits Wilson for encouragement to use a string section after an early show with his electric band, the Next Step. “He was definitely a powerful, powerful human being.”
While at UCLA, Washington was tapped to tour with Snoop Dogg through another connection with Martin. Though the rapper has long maintained a laidback public persona, Washington remembers him as an exacting bandleader for a tack-sharp group of young jazz players.
“He knew how good we were, so he’d just call stuff out in front of 60,000 people,” Washington remembered. “‘Let’s play this Rick James song that I was listening to in the dressing room 20 minutes ago’ — at the show.
“I learned a lot on that level, musically. The whole notion of jazz being the more intellectual music is not really true… These (hip-hop) dudes, they hear rhythm with a sense of detail that a lot of jazz musicians are not privy to.”
After years building a local following as a sideman and a leader, Washington entered the studio in 2011 with the same group of longtime friends. Their goal was to record as much music as possible over a month’s time. According to Washington, a staggering eight albums and 190 songs were recorded among the various ensembles, including 45 tracks of his own. From there the editing process for The Epic began.
“Trying to reduce it to an album took me awhile. I felt like all 17 of those songs, there was nothing I wanted to change about any of those,” he said. “And it was weird, I started having these dreams and the album was playing out through the dream. And I came to this conclusion — these were supposed to be together, this was it.”
The result is an ecstatic, urgent swirl of jazz, funk and cosmic gospel that balances individual fireworks from some of L.A.’s top jazz players with airtight interplay. Other than a soulful take on Ray Noble’s “Cherokee” as well as a song each by Terence Blanchard and Debussy, the album sets aside familiar covers for Washington’s original compositions.
“There’s a lot of pressure in jazz to express the lineage of the music, because it has such a rich lineage,” Washington said. “And I love it, I love ‘Trane, I love Bird, I love Gene Ammons, I love Wayne Shorter … But if I’m going to somehow display my mastery or knowledge of that vast group of musicians, how much room is there really left for me?”
Over 172 minutes, The Epic revels in an array of styles, at times capturing a meeting point between John Coltrane and Stevie Wonder, with each musical element on equal footing. Sometimes, such as on “Final Thought,” Washington’s flame-throwing saxophone takes the lead, while on “Re Run Home,” the focal point is an unstoppable Afrobeat groove. On “The Rhythm Changes,” it’s the soaring vocal of Patrice Quinn.
Anchored by a loose narrative about a warrior’s journey and a changing of the guard, the album’s penultimate track, “Malcolm’s Theme,” reveals a socially conscious center. Recasting Ossie Davis’ eulogy for Malcolm X through an ethereal vocal melody, the song gives way to a plea for understanding drawn from a speech by the civil rights leader from 1965.
“To me, it’s an album that’s needed right now. It’s a very intense, yet gentle album,” Martin said. “His record is right on time.”
Washington said of the sessions, “I was pushing (the band) — put more of yourself, go further, play something I’ve never heard you play before. I just really wanted it to feel free and open and just like an expression of who we were and what we are.
“It wasn’t to replace anything,” he added. “John Coltrane didn’t replace Coleman Hawkins. He just displayed who he was. The universe is a vast, vast place. There’s room for everything.”