PAUL WELLER: Saturns Pattern
I’ve not much liked Weller’s recent output. After the rather humdrum dadrock of Illumination and As Is Now, 2008’s sprawling, pastoral 22 Dreams was a refreshing change, but the following Wake Up The Nation was a brash, ugly mess, with no tunes. 2012’s Sonik Kicks was even worse, an unlistenable, clattering, embarrassing ‘experimental’ nightmare with only one decent tune buried within (Study in Blue). I wasn’t, therefore, expecting much from Saturns Pattern, and the apostrophe fail didn’t help, but I was pleasantly surprised. The first track White Sky is as brash and ugly as anything off Sonik Kicks, and the title track is similar, but after that the album settles down into a series of lengthy grooves that recall The Style Council at their best. (I always preferred them to The Jam). The production is warm and deep, a relief after the harshness of Sonik Kicks and its predecessor. There is still the odd experimental flourish, but it doesn’t overshadow the songwriting and actually enhances the ‘spacey’ mood of tracks like Phoenix. Lyrically, Weller is in contemplative mood, and at 58 seems to have found inner peace, as he sings on I’m Where I Want To Be. Are You Going My Way is, hurrah! a pretty standard Weller love song the like of which hasn’t been seen round these parts for ages. In The Car is a bluesy groove in which Weller ridiculously but apparently seriously eulogises the M25 – you can imagine Alan Partridge driving and singing along to this. The album closes with the 8-minute These City Streets, a slow, bluesy, soulful groove, the equal of anything The Style Council put out. Lovely. So, despite the lack of apostrophe which will bug me every time I look at the album cover, this is easily Weller’s best album in some considerable time.
After 2007’s rather lacklustre Twilight of the Innocents, Ash said they were never making another album, declaring the format dead. They then went on to release 26 singles in 2009-2010, some of which were sublime (True Love 1980 and Joy Kicks Darkness in particular), some of which were not quite so sublime. Rather ironically, all these singles were collected on two albums released in 2010. Even more ironically, Ash have now released a proper new album, having presumably realised that the format is far from dead. It’s far better than Twilight, and – though not quite reaching the dizzy heights of 1977 or Free All Angels – it’s a fine, entertaining album of turbo-charged guitar pop that more than lives up to its title. (Oh God, I sound like a bad music journo!). There’s more to it than first meets the eye – there’s a an all-too-brief instrumental, Evel Knievel, and a couple of gorgeous ballads, e.g. Moondust, which recall the days of Goldfinger. The album ends, rather surprisingly, on a quiet note: the slow burning For Eternity and the woozy electropop of Bring Back The Summer – a song I know I will be playing in the autumn whilst gazing mournfully at the rain!
Muse’s last couple of albums have been rather hit and miss. This is better, but it is completely lacking in originality – there is not a note here we have not heard on previous Muse offerings, or in the music of other bands e.g. Queen. That said, it’s rather fun – an overblown concept album about the ‘dehumanisation of modern warfare’, it tells the story of one man’s indoctrination and eventual defection, with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledgehammer to the face. The music, purported to be ‘back to basics’, isn’t all that different to the usual Muse fare, only sharper and harder, with an 80s rock sheen. Opener Dead Inside is a chill slab of electropop that sounds like an amped-up Depeche Mode B-side. Second track Psycho (preceded by a vocal interlude that mimics a scene from Full Metal Jacket) is huge, dumb fun with one of the heaviest riffs Muse have ever laid down (man). Mercy is far too much like Starship from Black Holes and Revelations to deserve a place on the album. Reapers and The Handler, however, are absolutely stunning – two of the best songs Muse have ever recorded, they are the twin highlights of Drones. After that, the album loses its way somewhat with a brace of weaker tracks. As with most Muse albums, it ends with portentous, pretentious, preposterous epic – The Globalist, which rips off Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and segues into the title track, a strange, almost Christmassy choral piece. Muse fans will lap this up, others will remain to be convinced.
SARAH CRACKNELL: Red Kite
This is the Saint Etienne singer’s second album, coming almost twenty years after her first (Lipslide in 1997). It’s a collection of gentle, folky pop songs influenced by 60s psychedelia and folk. Now pushing 50, Cracknell’s voice is still as smooth as ever, perhaps a tad huskier and worn around the edges. There’s a dark undercurrent to her lyrics – Hearts Are For Breaking is a deliciously cruel song about a love triangle, set to a deceptively jaunty tune, and Favourite Chair seems to be about contemplating death. On Underneath The Stars Cracknell takes the mick out of all those pop songs that go on about ‘stars shining for you’ by drily observing that they actually don’t – but ends the song on a glimmer of hope by saying ‘but could they shine for you?’ after all. Perfect listening for the lovely summer weather we’re (not) having.