Time once more to cross the bridge of new album releases. Which albums have the strength, majesty and time-defying capacity of the Clifton suspension? Which better resemble the rope bridge from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, slats tumbling into the crocodile-infested waters below? Let's step tentatively...
We will begin with Canadian rapper Drake and his first (DON'T CALL IT AN ALBUM!!) 'playlist' entitled More Life. As playlisting goes, Drake appears to have gone for a quite egocentric approach – selecting twenty two tracks that list himself as the main artist. I suppose when you have the most played single of 2016, that gives you some licence to be a little cavalier with both shuffle potential and social convention. I may have heard One Dance as the kind of song someone five minutes after taking a sleeping pill might warble whilst drooling but there are over a billion listens worth of people who think differently. Drake says playlist, I say album, let's not call the whole thing off and just go with album because that's what people not doused in pretension would do.
Although, as already mentioned, Drake does feature heavily on this album, it is in his guest appearances that I found the most pleasure. The elegantly haunting 4422 (a reference to international calling codes as opposed to a highly irregular and illegal football formation) features British artist Sampha, whose superb album Process we reviewed back in February. There's a nice bit of 90s throwback on Teenage Fever which samples Jennifer Lopez's hit If You Had My Love. Kanye West shows us that he might be on the way back to his best with a cameo on the simple but effective Glow.
More Life is the kind of buffet you would make for a group of people about whose culinary preferences you knew very little. A delectable smorgasbord of sounds and textures, I think it unlikely that there isn't at least one thing for every listener. Likewise though, I would also be surprised to find someone who enjoys everything. Kanye is the pork pies, Sampha is the quiche lorraine but there is still a great deal of frozen shrimp left on the table to be thrown away afterwards. This kind of scattergun approach to both music and food might work well for Drake if he was entertaining on Come Dine With Me but I won't be asking him to party plan my birthday any time soon.
Next up, let's dip into Spirit, the latest album from Depeche Mode. They are a band who, I must admit, have always existed on the fringes of my consciousness. I'm sure if I listened, I would know more songs than I think but I have never experienced a full album. Spirit is the band's fourteenth studio album and their first for four years.
Overture-like opening track Going Backwards sets the tone – this is an album that has something to say about the current political climate and the desensitised society that has resulted from technological advances. Lead single Where's The Revolution (a frightening lack of question mark – where's the punctuation?) picks up this theme and asks how a society that has been 'kept down' and 'pissed on' has not risen up against it. It is a message that feels like it should be powerful but there's something about that feels a little bit hollow and exploitative.
The rest of the album rediscovers the substance that Where's The Revolution lacks. Stripped back track The Worst Crime asks where the slide ends – to what lengths will societal fear drive people? The almost monotonous electronic pulse in Poorman echoes the perpetual fight of the masses, overshadowed by deep guitar riffs. The band once more revisit the revolution motif in closing track Fail. Apologies though if you were expecting a big finish – the track essentially advocates giving up because we are in a fight that we've already lost. Uplifting.
Spirit continues the trend of artists releasing overtly political albums though, for a band who adopted their moniker from a French fashion magazine, it's not a surprise they understand the market's undercurrent of rebellion. Whilst I do feel that the album is lacking a big song and I also feel that the middle third leaves a lot to be desired, I think overall this is a thought-provoking record which retains enough of Depeche Mode's classic sound to make it enjoyable.
We'll finish this week with Counterfeit, a band who are marginally less well-known than their frontman – Jamie Campbell Bower. In true Troy McClure style, you might know him from tiny 'acting' roles in Harry Potter 7a and Twilight 4a and 4b. If you believe the hype surrounding him, however, you might think he is a Thespian on par with Dame Judi Dench. Together We Are Stronger is Counterfeit's debut album, following on from the relative success of their three EP releases.
For your money, you are treated to a 30 minute thrill ride with a band that rarely let their energy levels drop. Thrashing guitars and fast drum beats accompany Bower as he draws from a well of inner angst and treats us to ditties that touch upon the intemperate joys and chasmic crashes of youthful exuberance; the intemperate joys and chasmic crashes of being romantically attached to a wild child and the intemperate joys and chasmic crashes of trying to make it in the music industry. Presumably, Dido wasn't using her variety vacuum that week and was able to loan it to Bower.
I really wanted to dislike this album purely based on the oversell that follows the lead singer around but I wasn't able to. I am yet to find an actor who has had the same impact in a band (sorry Keanu and Russell) as they do on screen. I think where Jamie Campbell Bower differs in this regard is that he isn't really an actor. Although the subject matter of Together We Are Stronger is a little self-important, there was something in the band's reckless abandon and unrelenting effervescence that reminded me of Pitchshifter, a band that I listened to many years ago. Just try and take some of the lyrical peacocking with the pinch of salt it deserves.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Counterfeit outshine Jamie
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