Happy Halloween! I’ve not prepared any special horror posts as in previous years. I have a good excuse, since I’ve just moved house and have been arranging furniture, sorting, hanging light bulbs up etc. I ‘m satisfied with the place so far, although noise from the roads can be heard early in the morning (depending on the wind direction) so I’m adjusting to a new sleeping pattern. I chose a property in which the living room and bedroom face towards the south so the sun will shine there during the day. The kitchen is to the north and is nice and cool. I can close the kitchen door so the food smell doesn’t drift into the other rooms. The neighbors seem to be fairly calm which is a relief and there are some good walking/cycling areas nearby. I can play music or watch TV (at a reasonable level) without bothering anyone. I’m in awe of those people who move often, I just couldn’t do that with the stress levels involved. Thankfully I’m feeling more relaxed now.
This month, I tried to catch up up with a few recent albums and also revisited Massive Attacks first two releases.
Blue Lines by Massive Attack (1991)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*.
A debut LP that was an important part of the evolution of music in the early 90s. Considered the first Trip Hop album with its fusion of hip hop, downtempo, electronica, soul, sampling, and guest vocalists. I love the haunting opener Safe From Harm while the soaring Unfinished Sympathy is a 90s classic. Daydreaming is more streetwise and reflective of modern urban life. All three feature Shara Nelson and her soulful singing is why you should listen to the album. You could argue the singles are “trip-pop”. Five Man Army is beautifully produced and the best non-single. Be Thankful for What You’ve Got is a cover of William DeVaughn’s 1972 soul classic. I’m less enthused by the repetitiveness of One Love and the wordy title track which are lacking something. There are many writing credits, and while it does lack a singular vision, it doesn’t seem to matter, as the lyrics exude a timelessness.
Protection by Massive Attack (1994)
*1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die*
Goes for a mellower, chill out sound compared to the debut. Tracey Thorn fills the shoes of Shara Nelson on the single Protection and also Better Things. Not quite as memorable vocally, though the second album is still better than average for the atmosphere and production, and there’s lots of replay value.
The second half is slightly weaker with the stand out being the orchestral lead single Sly with its intense vocal contribution by Nicolette Suwoton, a Scottish singer-songwriter of Nigerian parentage. Nicolette also features on Three. The wordy track Eurochild is a bit dull and the closing Light My Fire cover doesn’t work so well with the rest of the set. The instrumental Heat Miser is reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. I prefer the smooth instrumental Weather Storm from the first half. As good as this album is, I would probably replace it with Mezzanine in the 1001 albums book.
Elite Hotel by Emmylou Harris (1975)
3.69 on RYM. Really? Not her best album. The vocal is nice and earned Harris the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. Unfortunately the melodies are quite boring and forgettable. Tolerable thanks to the single Together Again and The Beatles cover Here There and Everywhere. I prefer her slower songs, the emphasis on Elite Hotel is for the faster tunes. Of her two albums from 1975, I far prefer Pieces of the Sky.
Wanderer by Cat Power (2018)
Decent but not best of the year. A low-key effort which suits the singer/songwriters vocal. The piano sections on In Your Face and Horizon are simple yet haunting. The first half is the most melodic. The second half is pretty dull and sleep inducing. You are better off listening to Cat Power at her peak, 1998’s Moon Pix or 2003’s You Are Free.
C’est la vie by Phosphorescent (2018)
I quite liked his last album Muchacho (2013), especially the single Song for Zula. A few good moments on C’est la vie. My Beautiful Boy is presumably about his son, there’s a lot of parental affection as well as nice musicianship. I also enjoyed There from Here for the production.
Sometimes the tracks go on too long or are too repetitive (These Rocks, Around the Horn). The latter to my ears samples the Crocodile Dundee theme song.
Didn’t care for the autotuned Christmas Down Under. I prefer the other single New Birth in New England which is the most upbeat here and also suggests the joy of child birth.
The opening and closing semi-instrumentals are pleasant but not exceptional.
Despite some average songs, an Americana album with enough spirit so that I could return for more.
Honey by Robyn (2018)
Consistently good pop songs throughout and one of the better albums of 2018. There isn’t a big anthem such as Dancing on My Own or Show Me Love but the standard is still pretty high. Missing U is a catchy single, with lyrics about a break-up from her boyfriend Max Vitali and sadness over the death of her long-time producer Christian Falk. The infectious Because It’s in the Music has a beautiful use of the harp. Baby Forgive Me is also hypnotic. I was less into the second single Honey with its thumping beat. Beach 2K20 has a seductive, danceable hook and a plea to go out and party, while I like the bass playing on closer Ever Again, a song about not wanting to get hurt.
The lyrics have an emotional weight which is not always the case with Electropop/Dance-Pop. Robyn appears to be in a post-break-up head space.
Broken Politics by Neneh Cherry (2018)
The singer wants to address important issues on her latest Broken Politics but maybe she should have opted to write some articles instead, as the new music is dull and boring to listen to. She obviously cares about what she is singing yet there’s little emotion or passion in the vocal. It’s all very quiet and minimalist and somewhat of a chore to even finish. My favorite is the single Kong because it sounds like an outtake from Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Her 2014 album Blank Project has stronger melodies.
Look Now by Elvis Costello & The Imposters (2018)
Under Lime is one of the best songs of 2018 with an inspired, hummable melody. Unwanted Number is very catchy, a reworking of a song he originally wrote and was recorded by For Real in the mid 90s. Another stand out is Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter which has a lush production and was co-written by Carole King. I Let the Sun Go Down is nicely arranged as well.
The album’s weakness is Costello’s trembling vocal delivery which is too similar from track to track. His voice has seen better days. He has been dealing with a cancer scare so we shouldn’t be too hard on him. I was pretty uninterested in the second half (tracks 7-12) and struggled to care about the lyrical content. Then again, I’m not his biggest fan and tend to gravitate mostly towards Costello’s hits, so I’m probably not a good judge of the merits of the album.
Love Is Magic by John Grant (2018)
Very eccentric material. I heard it yesterday and haven’t settled on a score yet. So far, I’m really liking what I hear and has top 10 of the year potential. Singer-songwriter John Grant’s fourth album, he is known for dark, humorous writing, although quite self-indulgent and silly on this occasion. Reading the lyric annotations on genius.com is helpful in decoding the music, or you can just be along for the ride and soak up the craziness. Again, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. The synthpop production is above average and a continuation of what he was going for on his 2013 and 2015 LPs.
Metamorphosis is possibly the oddest with its depiction of his lack of tears following the death of his mother while providing many other mischievous wordplays. Love Is Magic could be the most accessible and sounds like a lost hit from decades ago. Tempest dives into Grant’s nostalgia for 80s arcade games and even includes samples from said games.
I enjoyed Preppy for the synths more than the lyrics. Boy Smug Cunt attacks Donald Trump in a humorous manner. He’s Got His Mother’s Hips has a really trippy music video and is about a daft attempt at seduction. The contemptuous attitude towards his lover on Diet Gum is not very flattering yet it may not be himself who is the protagonist. John Grant is openly gay and Is He Strange explores a relationship he had to an Icelandic. The last two tracks are slightly weaker than the rest. The Common Snipe evokes images from nature with a message according to the singer about “truly seeing another human being and not projecting onto them what you want them to be”. The tenth and final track Touch and Go deals with Chelsea Manning, the former US soldier turned WikiLeaks activist who transitioned to a woman while in prison.
To sum up, a retro 80s synthpop sound and witty lyrics, an album that is not for everyone, but a lot of fun if you like that combination.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome