Wednesday, 30 July 2014

World Party Bang!

World Party Bang!

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Though drummer Chris Sharrock and guitarist Dave Catlin-Birch have signed on as official band members, World Party is still Karl Wallinger’s show, though co-producer Steve Lillywhite adds his customary big drum sound to songs such as “Give It All Away.” An avid psychedelic-era Beatles fan whose soulful synth pop sound is updated by Prince-ly affectations (particularly “What Is Love All About?” and “Rescue Me”), Wallinger remains a gifted melodist, and the album starts strongly with “Kingdom Come” and “Is It Like Today?,” both of which continue along the same lines as the mellow musings found on the excellent Goodbye Jumbo. “Kingdom Come” has pleasantly smooth synths, a brisk beat, and country guitars going for it along with varied vocal hooks (the galloping chorus and the airy “forever” sections), while “Is It Like Today?” is the kind of effortlessly melodic and singable ditty that gives singer-songwriters a good name. “What Is Love All About?” is another questioning, socially conscious winner, this one on the funky side, but after that promising start the middle of the album flounders somewhat, largely because of a reliance on overly busy arrangements and electronic effects, plus the fact that Wallinger’s voice doesn’t translate well to higher volumes. The silly interlude “And God Said...” is also a hindrance (preachy lyrics are again a problem), while “Hollywood” and “Radio Days” are overly repetitive, lazy efforts. Fortunately, the ship gets righted on “Rescue Me,” which among other funky Prince-like attributes features a soulful guitar solo. The next song, “Sunshine,” provides ample ammunition to detractors who lament the band’s obvious musical references, since the song starts by borrowing the melody of The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” before borrowing the melody of The Who’s “Getting In Tune.” It’s still a solid song, and "Sooner Or Later" and “All I Gave” are other singable synth pop pleasures, though “Give It All Away (Reprise)” repeats one of the album’s weaker songs, new ideas obviously being harder to come by this time around. Strangely enough, despite being an overly long and disappointingly patchy album, this was the band’s biggest commercial success, hitting #2 on the U.K. charts. Still, Bang! is certainly not the place to start with World Party, though there’s enough high quality stuff here that fans of the band’s previous work should be willing to give it a try.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The The Mind Bomb

The The Mind Bomb

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The The is a great band name that used to refer to one guy, Matt Johnson, who enlivened drum machines with his raw piano and gravelly vocals on the 1984 classic debut Soul Mining. But now the The is an all-star New Wave lineup featuring former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist James Eller and former ABC drummer Dave Palmer. And in many ways, Mind Bomb lives up to the just-jeans-and-a-T-shirt image that Johnson and company seem to be trying to project. Palmer's trap kit is so fresh, puncturing the Hammond organ on "The Violence… Read More of Truth" and laying down a "Ballroom Blitz"-like beat on "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)," that it sounds like he's in your living room. "The Beat(en) Generation" and "Kingdom of Rain" (a duet with Sinéad O'Connor) also have a homespun feel. But just as Tin Machine seems like a David Bowie album, Mind Bomb is still very much Matt Johnson's record. His mug hogs the album cover, his maniacal whisper is ubiquitous, and he wrote all of the songs except the best one, "Gravitate to Me," which he wrote with Marr. "Gravitate" is aggressive, not didactic, but left to himself, Johnson can get pretty preachy. Every good lyric ("If you think Jesus Christ is coming/You got another thing comin'") is nullified by a dumb one ("If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today/He'd be gunned down cold by the C.I.A."). Nevertheless, Mind Bomb is a step in the right direction. "Beyond Love" is Johnson's most beautiful song ever. It's just that forty-five minutes of God, love and war make this album's title just a bit too apt. 

Grant Lee Buffalo Fuzzy

Grant Lee Buffalo Fuzzy

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When Grant Lee Buffalo cut their debut album, 1993's Fuzzy, they had a distinct advantage over most bands making their first trip to the studio -- vocalist and guitarist Grant Lee Phillips, bassist Paul Kimble and drummer Joey Peters had already recorded two LPs together as members of the then-recently defunct Shiva Burlesque, and most of Fuzzy's 11 songs dated back to SB's latter days. This goes a long way towards explaining how Grant Lee Buffalo were able to make an album as confident and solidly crafted as Fuzzy, but it was even more significant that Phillips had a marvelous voice, wrote fine and evocative songs, and was fortunate enough to be working with sympathetic accompanists who had a good idea of how to tap into the mysterious melodic structures of his music. (Kimble was an especially valuable ally in the studio, helping to produce and engineer these recordings and giving this album its full, widescreen sound.) Fuzzy is Grant Lee Buffalo's most satisfying album; while the group would expand on their musical formula over their next three albums, this album's relative Simplicity and striking dynamics ultimately serve these songs better than the more elaborate recordings that would follow, and tunes like "Soft Wolf Tread," "Dixie Drug Store" and the title cut fuse the richly American imagery of the burgeoning alt country movement with a California gothic sensibility that was all their own. Fuzzy is deep and mysterious stuff, but also very beautiful and crafted with imagination and care, and it's no wonder Grant Lee Buffalo became critic's darlings shortly after this was released.

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