Sunday, November 19, 2006

So this is Christmas! Five weeks and counting…

Welcome to Christmas and a music industry hiatus! It is seemingly inevitable - almost any artist who is worth anything avoids releases during the second half of November and all of December. It is the season to be jolly disappointed and it merely provides a parade of 'greatest hits' and truly dire 'seasonal compilations'.
Perhaps it is now time to drop hints about all those albums that you have wanted but never quite managed to acquire during the last year, or even just to listen properly to those you did get but then failed to pay enough attention to because of a lack of time; it cannot be said that 2006 has been remotely short of noteworthy albums.

The weekend papers are hotly debating the merits, or otherwise, of his very recent solo album (I haven't heard it so I can't comment) but he has without doubt been busy this year.
The former Pulp songwriter (and lead singer) Jarvis Cocker has joined forces with Neil Hannon (ditto and formerly of Northern Irish band The Divine Comedy) to write lyrics for music composed by French electro-traditionalist duo Air. It is true that Pulp, and even more so The Divine Comedy, were surprisingly popular bands in France, but would the album be any good and, importantly, who would do the vocals?

The answer to the first question is yes - the songs themselves are good, very good in fact - and 5:55 is also a surprising album: the lyrics are sung or sometimes barely more than spoken by Charlotte Gainsbourg but always perfectly match the accompaniment or more likely vice versa.

For far too long French 'pop music' has been something of a standing joke. While the above album is almost entirely sung in English, if you like it I suggest that you listen to 'Camille - Le Fil'. It is sung almost entirely in French and is another real highlight of 2006!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lithium - the third element.

Bring Me To Life was the first UK single released by Evanescence, a band from Little Rock AK, and it spent five weeks at the top of the UK singles chart in 2003. That was good work from a new goth-rock band from small-town America, especially given the timing in the UK, and even then all was not well within the band…
When they were in only a few months into touring their first album, Fallen, which went on to sell 15 million copies worldwide in just two years, co-founder Ben Moody (credited as the main songwriter) quit the band and went into rehab. He very soon reappeared however - but now writing for the likes of Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson.

If he thought that in so doing he had left Evanescence to founder under the stewardship of his former girlfriend, Amy Lee, that was to prove a serious misjudgment. It afforded her the chance to take full control and pick her own band; they then toured the album for another 18 months. On balance it seems to have worked out quite well because, while it is not in exactly the same style - and I'm inviting all kinds of adverse comments in this review - I think the second album The Open Door is actually as impressive as Fallen!
It has been criticised by several reviewers due to the fact that the songs here sound fairly similar to one another, and I can understand what this is about, but to me Fallen had one, albeit minor, flaw in that it sounded slightly disjointed: a product of two talents at war, who could never quite agree on exactly what they were trying to achieve.

To a degree that tension probably inspired Fallen and I must admit that The Open Door doesn't have anything quite like My Immortal, but it couldn't last. However, putting the 'goth' imagery aside for a moment, My Immortal is basically a very good piano ballad accompanied by very distinctive and inspired rock vocals and arrangements. There is no shortage of either on this album - both being Lee's home territory. With new songs written, and a band far tighter than ever, would such inspiration return on the second album?

Here is my current view:
Taken in general terms The Open Door is musically slightly less heavy than Fallen but it is also sometimes lyrically far darker. It does indeed reach the previous heights (or are they depths?), with a vengeance, on the track Lithium. It makes one wonder who this song is about but what it is about is fairly obvious. While it may be mere coincidence, like My Immortal, it is the fourth track on the album.
Lithium is however, despite what several reviewers have claimed, certainly not a cover of the Nirvana song of the same name although (were he still around to listen) Kurt Cobain might have approved of the sentiment if not the song!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Negative reviews are fine, but...

As the title says negative reviews are fine by me although, mainly out of necessity, I tend to only review my likes.
Why however, and it is very evident on , are reviewers who post a negative review of something almost always disinclined to suggest things we might like instead (and thus make a really positive contribution), while reviewers posting a positive review seem far more likely to suggest other things we might like as well?

Coming soon, reviews of:
Imogen Heap - Speak For Yourself
Thea Gilmore - Harpo's Ghost

and perhaps things you can't even imagine! If you don't like this idea then you should send me some suggestions...