Eels - The Deconstruction, a review


Eels are an institution now, active for nearly a quarter of a century, and here with their 12th album proper (not to mention countless compilations, live recordings and contributions to soundtracks and tribute albums etc…). Add the fact that a lot their subject matter is about death, lost love, suicide, mental illness, i.e., the institutionalised, and their place as songsmiths for the disaffected and lonely is easy to understand. And here on this album, it is frankly and thankfully, business as usual. Saying that makes it sound like I don’t wish E peace and happiness, of course I do, though its doubtful this art would exist as such a crucial happening.

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Opening with the delicate and ornate title song ‘The Deconstruction’,  we can tell we are listening in to an on the spot Eels album. Soothing chamber pop with shuffling beats, and Beatle-esque middle eight vocals, it’s a great track. No, there’s no new ground broken, but you don’t buy Eels records to hear them take on hip hop or something. It’s just a bonus if they do decide to do that. ‘Bone Dry’ is able to include couplets like ‘In my dream I see you there, your eyes fixed in a vacant state’ and a chorus of ‘Bone dry, you drank all the blood’ with ‘Sha la la’s’ and ‘Shooby dooby dooby do’s’. It’s what sinister unsettling pop should do, knock you about in all directions and still leave you feeling that you know exactly where you’ve been.


Some instrumental passages/numbers punctuate the album in short bursts, not an essential move but one that suits the mood. ‘Premonition’ shows the light/dark feel of Eels perfectly, a hymnal gentle guitar motif with choral like backing vocals under the hook ‘I had a premonition, it’s all gonna be fine, you can kill or be killed, but the sun’s gonna shine’. If you’ve not read any of main man Mark ‘E’ Everett’s musings on his life and the troubled family history he has come through, then you really should (’Things The Grandchildren Should Know’). A short, not physically taxing read that has a weight that makes a feel of a much larger book, his well-written prose is a perfect companion to virtually any Eels release.



The music throughout is both informed by the modern whilst pinioned by nostalgic tips of the hat. Strings are heavy, choral subtexts never far from the surface, without ever feeling saccharine or trite. And moods swing, the mellow, funereal ‘The Epiphany’ leaps straight into the pop blast of ‘Today is the Day’, handclaps, riffs and twee keyboards. This jaunty little number leads into ‘Sweet Scorched Earth’, ‘I love the way your hair falls on your eyes, and the way the sun hits them as it dies, there’s poison in the water and the sky’. This is Eels, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is all wrapped up in an orchestral chamber pop package that sounds like it’s being played by angels.
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But negatives are always counter balanced with hope and a positive. Birdsong interlude is followed by ‘Be Hurt’. ‘Come on be hurt, you know you can take it’ is finished with ‘and I’m not gonna let it destroy you’. E has really become the perfect singer for all this bitter sweetness. His delivery is always assured and concise. The following track declares ‘in your darkest night of the soul, you are the shining light’ over more handclaps and a Motown beat’. ‘There I said It’ is basically ‘I Love you, there I said it’ as a song, albeit a morose piano ballad song.


‘Archie’ is a lullaby for E’s son, born when his father was 54. At 55 now, E and Archie’s mother have divorced. The final filmic instrumental ‘The Unanswerable’ should have bled (instead there’s a pause) in to the closing ‘In Our Cathedral’, a battening down of the hatches manifesto. This is Eels first album in four years, quite a gap for a prolific artist/band. They’re on such great form here that I hope that either they don’t take four more to return, or if they do then that record is as considered and finely crafted as this one, a truly latter day classic Eels album.

9/10
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The Decemberists – ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ - a review.


The Decemberists from Portland, Oregon return with their eighth album. Wikipedia quotes them as an ‘indie pop/baroque pop’ band, I’ve always found them a bit folk rocky with emphasis on the indie rock side. This album sees more modern pop sounds take a leading role, mainly through synths being higher up in the mix. On lead single ‘Severed’ I felt this watered down their identity a bit, but the good news is that the album works with any new designs adding to the bands character. 

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The bands songs have always taken a story telling approach and their best songs have often had a darker edge (Listen to ‘The Rake’s Song’ from 2009’s ‘The Hazards Of Love’) and last year they released the magnificent ‘Ben Franklins Song’ as part of the ‘Hamildrops’ mixtape project linked to ‘Hamilton’ the Broadway musical. It was a magnificent snarly aggro pop gem, sweary and angsty and an instant classic. This new album deals in part with the feeling of despair, depression and absurdity of the US 2016 election result that many Americans felt in the aftermath.



Leading off with second single ‘For Once In My Life’ a pacey strummed acoustic guitar leads to a fairly familiar sounding Decemberists song, albeit underpinned by fairly Brit sounding synths and with a slightly simpler lyric than many a song by the group. ‘Cutting Stone’ lyrically is more traditional fare for the band, a fluid bass line underpinning a simple beat song again punctuated by balanced synth melodies. ‘Severed’ starts like an early OMD song and sounded quite alarming as the albums first single. Here on the album it compliments the mood of the record as an overall and whilst not falling into ‘classic’ status it certainly makes more sense than it did as a standalone track. The synthy feel on the songs so far evokes for me a feel of latter-day Arcade Fire too. 



‘Starwatcher’ is a military beat driven percussive monster with hint’s of Led Zep lyrically. ‘Tripping Along’ is a lusty and romantic near ballad, ‘Your Ghost’ a stalkerish psych out that for some reason reminds me of Terry Hall’s post Fun Boy Three group The Colourfield. ‘Everything Is Awful’ raises the bands baroque pop flag, whilst ‘Suckers Prayer’ is perhaps the most traditionally American rock the band have ever been, we’re almost treading in ‘The Band’ territory, the prayers refrain… ‘I want to love somebody, but I don’t know how…I want to throw my body in the river and drown’.


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On first hearing ‘We All Die Young’ I had to check that Suzi Quatro didn’t have a co-write credit as it’s almost a re-write of ‘Can The Can’ or something, and it’s magnificent. The most pop moment here, a trashy glam stomp that’s pretty out of character but all the more memorable for it. ‘Rasulka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes’ is a slow burner gradually climbing to a climax tale of compulsion and longing whilst blind to the  danger laying ahead. It’s two songs carefully melded into one and is a second album highlight in a row. Then the album closer and title track slopes in, like the opener the vocal over strummed guitar with some tweeness in its instrumental middle section.



Throughout the album songwriter Colin Meloy’s vocal entices and holds interest which is a constant through the Decemberists recorded catalogue. This might not be the bands best work, but it is a well balanced and consistent collection, if you miss classic REM or are searching for pop along the lines of the Divine Comedy and have not checked out the Decemberists before, then I heartily recommend that you give ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ a go.

8/10

Also, because, why not, here's  a classic Decemberists song.


Franz Ferdinand - 'Always Ascending', an independent review.


Having released their first four albums within 9 years, Franz Ferdinand return with their 5th album after an absence of 5 years (not counting 2015’s collaborative FFS/Franz Ferdinand Sparks) and also their first without founding member and guitarist Nick McCarthy. Not a band that has ever gone off the boil in their 16-year history, their last album was their lowest charting yet. McCarthy was also along with singer Alex Kapranos one of the bands mainstays in the song writing dept, so how will the band fare now as it ventures forward post McCarthy?


The pre-album ‘singles’ and TV appearances have been promising, the sound edging more towards New York new wave and post punk, more Talking Heads than XTC (imagine David Byrne singing pre-album single ‘Feel the Love Go’…). Less of a dancey sound than the previous album, vocals are clear in the mix, guitars perhaps slightly less prevalent than before though very much still essential, keyboards and percussion fleshing out the tunes to a much greater level. The production and mix (by Frenchman Philippe Zdar of production and Cassius fame) is very sympathetic towards the songs. The songs mix the simplistic to the interpretational in their lyrical approach, ‘Lazy Boy’ is virtually a nursery rhyme for lay-ins whilst ‘Always Ascending’ is possibly and ode to the departed McCarthy?



Like many bands though some of FF’s early identity seems lost, the essence of what attracted their fans in the first place, the sound is more mainstream than ever before. That’s not really a criticism, it’s a rare band or musician that can maintain their individuality, especially when the pressure’s on to deliver a hit. And ultimately the band do deliver here, the album might be a little singular in pace, but the sound is strong, the songs generally strong and hook laden. The quirkier moments for me stand out the most, ‘Finally’ with it’s shift in pace and odd hooks and ‘Huck and Jim’ has a guitar driven intro that turns out to be a soundtrack for the chorus, there’s shifts in gear, creepy lyrics and invention.



Elsewhere ‘The Academy Award’ is an odd little song about the clamour for approval that the world of social media creates amongst its users, the imagery is clever, but the track is an example of musically the band losing some of it’s individuality. Maybe that’s the point? ‘Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow’ is a creeping ballad of sorts, for me it invokes some of the last David Bowie photographs and has a Bowie-esque sheen in its guitar and keyboard arrangements. There is some filler (‘Lois Lane’); ‘Glimpse of Love’ is awash with keyboards but ends up being the most typically FF track.


 

Still, you have to say the album is better than you’d expect from a band who’ve taken 5 years to get there. It’s solid, occasionally inventive, though perhaps not as hit laden as previous FF albums. But I’m glad they’re back and I hope another one comes along in decidedly less than 5 years.

(A solid) 7/10.

David Bowie - Let's Dance (Demo) - Parlophone's 71st birthday Bowie treat

Today would have been David Bowie's 71st Birthday. Parlophone have made available a previously unreleased demo to celebrate this fact. A pointer toward a future Record Store Day release or even the next box set?

The demo was recorded in Switzerland with Nile Rodgers - “I woke up on my first morning in Montreux with David peering over me,” he said. “He had an acoustic guitar in his hands and exclaimed, ‘Nile, darling, I think this is a HIT! The time we spent mixing it just before Christmas was full of tears as it felt like David was in the room with us. Happy Birthday David, I love you and we all miss you!”



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Produced David Bowie and Nile Rodgers
Engineered by David Richards
Recorded at Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland 19th December, 1982
Mixed by Nile Rodgers & Russell Graham at Le Crib Studios November, 2017
Arranged by David Bowie and Nile Rodgers 
Vocals: David Bowie
Guitar: Nile Rodgers
Bass: Erdal Kızılçay

Peter Perrett – How The West Was Won – A Review

Believe the Hype? Peter Perrett has in the last 40 years released four albums, the last one in 1996. This album has been garnered with pretty much universal praise, and you’d expect it to do well in the music monthlies end of year polls on the back of these glowing write ups. More importantly the two tracks released pre-album are both, at worst, superb. It’s these two tracks that open the album.

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The title track is a drawling look at America rolling in on a George Harrison/Bob Dylan country style groove, Peters voice, half sung, half spoken springs from the speakers, up front in the mix and sounds magnificent. The lyrics cover everything from making suicide vests via internet instructions to a fascination with Kim Kardashians bum. It’s a great opening but for me it’s a warm up for the second single/track two. ‘An Epic Story’ is brilliant, it’s a romantic overture to Peters wife of nearly 50 years, Zena, who we hear has had to put up with a hell a lot over the years. ‘I’ll always be your man, No-one could love me the way you can, If I could live my whole life again, I’d choose you, every time’ are lines any man would be proud to write for their life’s muse. Honestly, track of the year, hands down. It’s a family affair too as Peters sons are in his wonderful band.



And then we’re on to the rest of the album, kept under wraps until the day of release. ‘Hard to Say No’ is a confessional rock track, well played, sung and lyrically guarded enough to get the listener engaged.  ‘Troika’ is tale of a complicated love affair involving three people, but at its heart Perrett is still devoted to his one true love, all backed by a wracked and faithful doowop backing. And Peter sounds great throughout, reviews have made much of the damage done to his voice through substance and general life abuse and how Peter has had to relearn to sing, and seriously, his vocal performance is top notch, recognisable, coherent and confident. Lyrically we’re not a million miles away from previous work, but there’s great focus and belief. The songs are about survival, re-emergence, defiance; but most of all devotion and true faith for Zena. This is an acerbic rock album that manages to be grateful, touching and sweet too. It’s no mean feat.

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There’s no let-up in quality either, no filler and no one song overstays it’s welcome, in fact the longer tracks seem shorter than they are, such are their hooks and the attention they demand. This is an old school album, 10 tracks, an A and a B side, and it’s relentless in a good way. And it’s an album that builds to a very strong finish too. ‘C Voyeurger’ is a creeping, tense ballad that a really displays a great craftmanship from a songwriter that (in terms of releases) does not have prolificacy to thank for helping hone his craft. ‘Something In My Brain’ tries to explain where Perrett is as far as state of mind is concerned in his current stage of life, ‘…I didn’t die, At least not yet, I’m still just about capable, Of one last defiant breath’. His life is pictured as an experiment on a rat, though at the end unlike the rat Peter has chosen life, defeating the obstacles placed in front of him and coming out in better shape with a new-found dedication to his life, love and art. And final track, ‘Take me Home’ brings together all the strings of Peters life and ties them together, ‘I couldn’t be what I wanted, You made me a better man’. And so ends a great, concise album, a triumph against the odds. A career best? Believe the hype, yes. And it leaves you wanting more, this could well be the last we see from Peter Perrett in terms of new music, but let’s hope not, it’s intriguing and natural to want to see where the man presented on this album is able to take himself in the future. But for now, Peter Perrett is home, a rock troubadour, revelling in the bosom of his family and looking forward in life.

10/10. Believe the Hype.

The 13th.5 – TDWS #21

The 13th.5 – TDWS #21 Podcast - This time round featuring, The The's new song (again), Beck sounding all oldie, a triple from the Trusted, a Lana Del Rey album preview, Radiohead's new old song, Norah Jones' tribute to Chris Cornell, BuckinghamMcVie, Martin Stephenson segued to Miley Cyrus, Arcade Fire, Muse, Liam Gallagher, Rufus Wainwright sings Stevie Wonder at the piano, a great new sweary one from Wolf Alice, a brand new Peter Perrett classic, Glen Campbell and the Cribs. 


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The 13th.4 – TDWS #20



The 13th.4 – TDWS #20 Podcast. 20 tracks and some natter. Public Service Broadcasting, Kendrick Lamar and U2, new album previews from Alison Moyet and Buckingham/McVie, The The, Peter Perrett, Beck and Granddaddy and Kevin Morby from Resistance Radio, Skids and Blondie, Miley Cyrus, Paul Weller and Stone Foundation, Marc Almond and Marlena Shaw.

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The 13th.3 - TDWS #19 Podcast

The 13th.3 - TDWS #19 Podcast - 20 tracks and some natter. A couple from The Trusted, Lana Del Rey, a pair from the Volstead Orchestra, Laura Marling, Lambchop sing Prince, Rosalie Cunningham sing The Beatles, At The Drive In, Brett Anderson, Steve Gunn sings The Smiths, JoBoxers, Madeline Peyroux and Rickie Lee Jones sing David Essex, two from Beck, Strand of Oaks sing Phish and The Stone Roses, The Everly Brothers and Radiohead. 


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