The Music Review is a weekly set of capsule reviews on the biggest releases of the previous week, all curated by myself. Each week has an Album of the Week and a Dud of the Week (although, let it be said that the Dud is rarely a particularly awful album, just the one that I deem the weakest of that week’s big releases). The format allows for more reviews to make their way into the website without laboriously long essays on each album getting published.
Welcome to the largest edition of The Music Review we’ve ever done! Recently, with a larger frequency than normal, several albums have gone through some discrepancies involving the precise release date of the album, several were missed out over the last few weeks and none of the albums originally slated for this week seemed appropriate to miss. This week, we’re looking back at Phoebe Bridgers, Mercury Prize winner Benjamin Clementine, and Torres, whilst also covering Kelela’s first studio album, Kele Okereke’s third solo album, Liam Gallagher’s solo debut, Marilyn Manson’s new record and The Darkness’ fifth studio album…
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Stranger in the Alps – Phoebe Bridgers
It feels like sadness has been done to death at this point. Nick Hornby put it best in High Fidelity that people worry about the exposure children get to violence or sex in cultural work, but nobody ever has concerns about kids listening to ‘thousands, literally thousands, of songs about pain, heartbreak, rejection and loss’. The central conceit of probably at least two-thirds of popular music comes down to a central theme of sadness.
What Phoebe Bridgers brings to that back-catalogue is partly so effective because it doesn’t linger. Instead of throwing platitudes at her listeners, Bridgers is frank with her words. On ‘Funeral’, she says matter-of-fact-ly, ‘Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time’, and on ‘Motion Sickness’, she states with a real heartbreakingly deadpan tone, ‘I hardly feel anything at all’. It’s pretty enough musically, with some standouts in that area, but Bridgers doesn’t mince words. When she says something, she means it.
Highlight: ‘Motion Sickness’
I Tell A Fly – Benjamin Clementine
Clementine continues his trademark skill of flummoxing the music commentariat. Outside of some flavoursome references to prog-rock drum sounds and interpolations of ‘Claire de Lune’, his art-pop sound is as left-field as ever. Amongst the more definable qualities are Clementine’s really rich piano textures; a spacious, muscular production; and his ear for a really confounding couplet. I defy any music critic who says their imagination wasn’t piqued by, ‘For the difference between love and hate/weighs the same difference between risotto and rice pudding’. The rest is completely unclassifiable, just as Clementine likes it.
Pinewood Smile – The Darkness
A predictably crass album that still misses the mythic nuances of its forebears. Amongst its redeeming features are the entertaining show-off tricks on ‘I Wish I Was In Heaven’ being translated into something interesting, and the comforting possibility that it’s all one big joke. If that’s true, they got the parody spot-on. If not, it’s just rubbish.
Highlight: ‘I Wish I Was in Heaven’
Fatherland – Kele Okereke
Despite ‘playing it safe’ not working on the measly Bloc Party record Hymns last year, Fatherland delivers a frequently engaging piece of work that perhaps sacrifices some of its sincerity for jaunty fun. The records best moments come when it’s the other way round. ‘Versions of Us’ and ‘You Keep On Whispering His Name’ are particularly probing, spare tracks that make simplicity sound alluring rather than dumb, and lay Kele’s relationship uncomfortably bare.
Highlight: ‘Versions of Us’
Take Me Apart – Kelela
Kelela works best when forward momentum propels her tracks out of that heady, humid space that clouds the more impactful moments. How she gets those moments is actually quite a mystery: some might argue that her harmonies (lifted wholesale from TLC and Destiny’s Child) are her secret weapon; others would say the synths, which are thick and sound suspiciously like analog equipment, separate the cloudy from the clear. It may even be that the fusion of 90s female sexual liberation in her lyrics and influences as diverse as Arca and Toto make her a figurehead for R&B in the current year. Whatever the case, Take Me Apart sounds as steamy as it is brainy and places Kelela near the front of the pack.
Heaven Upside Down – Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Manson sounds on this album as though he’s an atheist teenager who’s just started listening to Marilyn Manson and tried to start his own band. It’s cringe-y enough when people try to make alphanumerical spelling a thing again (‘SAY10’, ‘KILL4ME’), but when Manson does it, exhibiting less bravery than both his early work and his most recent, moodier, subtler record, it just sounds boring.
Highlight: ‘Blood Honey’
Three Futures – Torres
For the most part, a stable marriage of interesting sonic choices and bizarre, but nonetheless compelling, lyrics. When Torres brings in influences from ambient music, they somehow make her direction clearer, yet her more frenetic, clipped material feels far too chopped to warrant repeat listening. It’s the lyrics that offer a consistent, wacky through-line for the record. Whether it’s bleak imagery (‘I busted my guts on the Myrtle viaduct/And those guts are nobody’s now’) or a fizzy piece of wordplay (‘I am not a righteous woman/I’m more of an ass man’), it retains its unorthodoxy pretty consistently.
Highlight: ‘Marble Focus’
DUD OF THE WEEK: As You Were – Liam Gallagher
Liam Gallagher is like that popular school-kid that tells other kids their painting sucks then grows up and becomes a third-rate tattoo artist specialising in misspelling people’s names and shouting at the owner of the deli next door.
Perhaps that’s too specific, but I don’t care, I hate the guy and his music. If he can get away with running out of ideas, so can I.
Highlight: ‘I Get By’