Time once more to sort our album supernovas from our musical black holes. Whose star will burn bright eternally and who is merely a universal gaseous bubble? If only we had Patrick Moore to play the xylophone while we find out...
First up this week, we have Long Live The Angels by Scottish chanteuse Emeli Sandé. As I'm sure is the case with most people, I first came across Emeli Sandé upon the release of her 2011 single Heaven. Following hot on the heels of Chase And Status' Blind Faith earlier in the year, it appeared to herald in an era of throwback 90s dance tunes. Next came her collaboration with Professor Green on the track Read All About It which heightened my expectations. Then came her debut album Our Version Of Events which was mediocre at best. At that point, I wrote Emeli Sandé off as another Dido – a singer for hire who could add something to a record but fell flat when trying to carry a solo album.
Unfortunately, this album merely serves to add fuel to that fire. It starts well enough with second single Breathing Underwater which has an anthemic majesty to it. After that, every song feels like waking up to another rainy day. For a few seconds upon emerging from slumber, you have that sliver of hope that this one might be different until you hear the disheartening pitter patter on the window. Drab, lifeless songs that, although they must contain a personal resonance for Sandé, are presented almost in the form of an woeful lecture. Then, just as you are poised to commit the rest of your life to a coma, 12th track Tenderly kicks in. To pick up the weather analogy, this feels like the one day your solar wishes came true. You throw open the curtains and bask in the warmth. The neighbourhood children dust off scooters and space hoppers and pour into the streets. Beer gardens and fruity ciders become the done thing. Tenderly is the meteorological defibrillator that this album is crying out for and it rides the crest of the wave through the next three tracks... and then it finishes.
Why on Earth did Emeli Sandé need quite such a run up to achieve that level of energy and invention? Why not just flip the album around? I'm sure I would have felt more comfortable with the sentiment 'well, the first few tracks were good then it tailed off a bit' than 'I had to listen to that and this was here all along'. Thus, Sandé remains an enigma. I'm sure I'll listen to her next album. The only question is whether Emeli will bring sunglasses or an umbrella.
Also out this week, we have the latest release from the captivating Martha Wainwright. Her seventh album, entitled Goodnight City, maintains her title of the fourth most prolific member of the immediate Wainwright family behind Father Loudon, late Mother Kate and Brother Rufus. She does, however, re-establish the three album gap between herself and sister Lucy. This is all correct if you discount the back catalogue of Aunt Sloan who chipped in with seven studio albums of her own. It is hard not to imagine the Wainwrights spending their lives locked in a form of French farmhouse/writers retreat atop a hillside in some rural canton. Now and again, they rejoin the world to release a majestically sculpted piece of music before retiring to their bijou property of solitude where they enjoy musical showcases and artisanal cakes.
I first encountered Martha on 2008 album I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too and it instantly became one of my favourites. It touched upon themes of youthful love and heartbreak, of idealistic affairs and crushing betrayals. This album takes some of the same themes and juxtaposes them against themes of motherhood (Martha Wainwright has had two children since 2008) and growing old. This particularly comes to a head in Before The Children Came Along, a showcase of Martha's vast vocal range along with being an exploration of the moments that change a life and how it is possible to treasure what came before while relishing what is yet to come. Martha Wainwright is a true artist and Goodnight City feels like a series of photographs – emotional, powerful, unashamedly vulnerable and, above all, genuine.
We'll round off the week with a past master – Sting, who returns with his twelfth solo studio album and seventeenth overall. 57th and 9th has its moments. It's comforting to see Sting return to a more rock sound after such a long time dabbling. Lead single I Can't Stop Thinking About You is catchy enough and I enjoyed the bard-like simplicity of Heading South On The Great North Road. Aside from that, there was nothing that I didn't feel like I'd heard a few times before.
While track 50,000 is designed to be a tribute to musicians who are no longer with us, it feels more like Sting writing his own obituary. By placing himself in the song, he places himself in the same category as Bowie and Prince. As much as Sting is no slouch, Bowie was still making relevant music up until his death because he was able to adapt to the changing times. Sting, on the other hand, is still walking around looking like an 18 year old on a Thai gap year and it feels like he is making music for the sake of it. He is to British music what Ian Bell is to cricket. His albums will never be terrible but they also won't be stellar.
1993's Mercury Prize-nominated Ten Summoner's Tales is one of the albums that will always be filed away under 'parental overplaying' in my head and I think it was the time that Sting was at his absolute peak. Shape Of My Heart and Fields Of Gold are worth the cost by themselves. That was nearly 25 years ago and Sting has never quite lived up to that billing. Maybe if we all chip in, we can get him a new copy of the Canterbury Tales for Christmas in the hope that it might get his Chaucerian creative juices flowing once more.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Sandé morning rain
Martha's mothering memoir
No Sting in the tale
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