Time once more to open the toybox of new album releases. Which albums are the Cluedo set that's missing a Reverend Green and had to have the rope replaced by some strimmer wire? Which are an immaculately preserved Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, mint condition, still in its original box? Let's rummage...
We're going to start with Todd Rundgren, a mainstay of American music since his debut album, Runt, in 1970. New release White Knight is his 21st studio album as a solo artist, a number which increases by a further ten when you include his work with band Utopia.
For a man who this week warned Trump voters not to come to his shows lest they be offended, it is no surprise that this album takes a stance of dissent but it does so with a beautiful subtlety that concentrates not on giving more credence to a tyrant but, instead, on the societal obligations of the common people. That being said, his casting of Trump in the role of 'The Man In The Tin Foil Hat' is masterful. Anthemic opening track Come has a magnetic grace – from slow beginnings, an epic backdrop comes into view and words not dissimilar to Martin Niemöller's 'First They Came...' conjure up a power that is carried through the rest of the record. I Got Your Back exalts the symbiosis of human beings while That Could Have Been Me, a collaboration with 90s star Robyn, gives us a rare chance to see Rundgren in his lighter moments. Closing track This Is Not A Drill brings in magnificent guitarist Joe Satriani for a vibrant, pacey, gut punch of a track that serves as a stupendous sign off to a superb album.
In an era where 'throwback' is the done thing – countless individuals cherry-picking 80s fads and regurgitating them like some spandex-adorned cult – it is refreshing to hear an artist showing everyone else how to do it properly. Every note feels authentic – synthetic but synthetic in the right way. The sound quality is exceptional – deep, rich tones that reveal themselves slowly like the petals of a flower. White Knight feels less 'throwback' and more thrown forward – a message of hope from a bygone era hurled desperately through a closing wormhole to reassure us that equilibrium will return and until then we must all band together. It is infinitely less shallow and self-promoting than most of the 'politics' albums that I have encountered since that fateful day in November and I expected nothing less from an artist of Rundgren's integrity and credentials.
Speaking of bands taking some inspiration from the 80s, now let's take a look at Tennessee band Paramore who return after four years with their fifth studio album, After Laughter. This album also marks the band's first release since the return of drummer Zac Farro following his acrimonious departure in 2010, during which he claimed that Paramore were not actually a band as much as they were a vehicle to launch the star of lead singer Hayley Williams. In 2015, bassist Jeremy David left in similar cirumstances and, until very recently, was involved in an extended legal battle with the band. Seven years on, old wounds are healed and some new ones are still seeping. The music, however, is sounding better than ever.
The first thing to notice about this record is the departure from Paramore's established style of punchy, fast-paced, guitar-laden barrages – replaced instead by more funky, complex arrangements. Opening track Hard Times is an outpouring of all the difficulties the band have experienced since their start in the industry as teenagers juxtaposed against a contrasting upbeat melody. This technique is used again in second single Told You So, an ebullient track that laments Williams' treatment by the media. Pool is pure pop indulgence. Rose-Colored Boy is an interesting take on depression as perceived by the people who surround you. Contemplative last track Tell Me How fairly openly discusses Davis' departure, with vocal crescendos cleverly used to represent the ups and downs of losing a friend under such a cloud of animosity.
There is an extent to which I do feel Farro's criticisms from 2010 still don't seem to have completely vanished. The songs are still singing Hayley's troubles from Hayley's perspective and how hard she has found the band's ill fortune with little regard for the collateral damage by which she is encircled. While there does appear to be a greater stylistic synergy than their last album, it still feels like a group composed of 95% star and 5% wagon. Perhaps there is evidence to suggest that the band, much like latter day Oasis, are destined to remain on the road to inevitable implosion. For now though, I'm going to try and enjoy Paramore and their fresh new approach while it lasts.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Todd's message of hope
May stop Trump but won't quell the
Paramore time bomb
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