Posted by: Nick Walters | October 3, 2009

Album Review catch-up

Some albums I’ve had for some time but not got round to reviewing – until now:

PJ Harvey & John Parish: A Woman A Man Walked By

Peej
After the stark intensity of White Chalk this comes as light relief – relatively speaking. This is PJ Harvey, of course, and the words ‘light relief’ mean that this time round she’s not singing about abortion, death, loss, grief, suicide and damnation. Well, not much, anyway. Collaborating with John Parish seems to have brought out her lighter side – this album is more playful musically and less dark lyrically than White Chalk . It’s more what we expect from her than the plaintive piano ballads of that album; opener Black Hearted Love rocks as hard as anything she’s ever done, albeit in a sinister, loping, and incredibly well-produced manner. But the best bit of this album is when Peej barks like a dog, which is, for some reason, incredibly sexy.

Therapy?: Crooked Timber

T
This is an album about mental illness, sort of like Dark Side of the Moon, but bleaker, and with more brutal, kick-ass music. Andy Cairns has always written about madness, being fucked up, often in a hilarious OTT way (‘You can’t help my life – but you can hide – THE KNIVES’). The thin line between tragedy and comedy is one Therapy? tread well. This time, however, there is little humour. You would have thought that a song entitled I Told You I Was Ill would be at least blackly comic, taking its title from Spike Milligan’s gravestone. But it’s not. The lyrics are horribly frank and self-unforgiving. ‘The love I killed – I told you I was ill’ i.e. mentally ill. It’s my favourite track on the album. I wonder why. Overall the sound is clean, deep, heavy and satisfying with amazing bass and drums – a vast improvement on their last album One Cure Fits All. The lack of melody is more than made up for by the stunning arrangements. Is it their best album? No; the inclusion of a ten-minute instrumental track that sounds like Ozric Tentacles fighting with Sonic Youth is a strange choice; it’s brilliant and uplifting, a massive dose of musical Paroxetine; so perhaps that’s why it’s here, as a contrast to the bleakness.

Sonic Youth: The Eternal

SY
This is as comfy and familiar as a pair of old slippers, and about as radical. Sonic Youth have been rumbling on for decades now and there is nothing new here at all, in fact, some of the riffs are painfully familiar. On first listen, this is a massive disappointment; but it grows on you until it becomes a fine album. Not their best, but certainly better than the half-arsed Rather Ripped, although not as good as Sonic Nurse or Murray Street. A middling effort, then. There are three fantastic tracks here. Thurston Moore sings on the sublime Antenna, all wide-eyed 50s Americana, a song so dry and summery you can almost taste the dust. Malibu Gas Station is an incredibly catchy Kim Gordon number which shows how versatile SY are and how they don’t really need to rely on noise. And best of all is Lee Ranaldo’s Walkin’ Blue, with its genius riff and innocent melancholy. Fine stuff, but I’m off to listen to The Diamond Sea until the neighbours complain.

Bob Dylan: Together Through Life

Bob
This continues in the same ultra-trad, timeless vein as Modern Times, only it’s looser, bluesier and shorter. And he sounds even more like Davros gargling molten gravel. The critics have wanked themselves empty over it, as usual, but if this set of songs were to be released by an unknown they wouldn’t attract much attention. In fact, if you went to your local, and an old geezer on a bar stool played his way through the contents of Together Through Life, you’d have a pleasant evening; nothing special, nothing memorable, just… pleasant. And that’s the joy of the album – it doesn’t try to change your life, Dylan doesn’t come out with any portentous pronouncements, he’s just jamming with his mates. Best tracks are opener Beyond Here Lie’s Nothin’ and the wonderful If You Ever Go To Houston with its woozy laid-back harmonica riff.

Next up: the new old Prefab Sprout album and the bonkers Muse pop prog pomp rock effort The Resistance.

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