Up until Nobody’s Daughter Hole had released a mere three albums and there’s ample evidence this is just another Courtney Love solo album masquerading under a less tarnished banner. That’s three albums in nearly 20 years, only one of which approaches essential status – 1994’s Live Through This. Hardly prolific, their status outweighs their reputation by a wide margin. Attention is the name of Courtney’s game. Maybe because it obscures her song writing skills, which on the evidence here are barren and outdated. Nobody’s Daughter is a throwaway throwback. Love’s throaty, cracked snarl was great in the angsty early ‘90s; nowadays it comes off like a petulant middle ager struggling to find a reason to bother, devoid of all swagger.
Sonically it’s the sounds of modern radio rock – no edges, no urgency, no meaning – and could easily pass as Celebrity Skin outtakes. Not a terminal problem until you realise it was released over a decade ago. It’s not Linda Perry’s (ex-4 Non Blondes, general gun for hire) fault, nor Billy Corgan’s – even though both contributed extensive co-writes. Samantha, one of Corgan’s efforts, is emblematic: a plodding major chord stomper, it struggles to convey any real sense of anguish and descends into a shouty, risible attention seeking chorus “People like you/Fuck people like me”. No wonder he sought an injunction against its release.
White Crosses, the fifth album from Florida’s favourite punk rockers, barely misses a beat in taking up where 2007’s major label debut New Wave left off. Purist Against Me! fans will describe this as a continuation of the group’s downward spiral into bland, commercial radio rock. Others – who don’t judge every AM album against the yardstick of their infamous debut Reinventing Axl Rose – will consider White Crosses a commendable strengthening of the group’s slowly maturing pop-glazed arena rock; initially less impressive than New Wave, but ultimately a necessary reconciliation of the group’s former strident punk ethos with their new direction.
As with New Wave, White Crosses was produced by Butch Vig. The resulting near-flawless production value showcases the group’s steadfast confidence in their new sound without hiding behind the street cred attributed to low-fi production as they have previously done. During the standout moments of the album this confidence suggests a group quickly approaching the musical terrain currently dominated by east coast Springsteen enthusiasts such as the Hold Steady and Gaslight Anthem. At its worst, it reveals a group who can be unimaginative, repetitive, and already resorting to a shtick for sentimental nostalgia. As with their previous two albums, White Crosses is a solid effort, but is ultimately better at creating anticipation for their future work rather than excitement for their current.
When I was in high school and looking for something that might provide a better understanding of this strange world, the sparkling pop tunes and melancholy soundscapes of The Cure arrived at just the right moment. I was having considerable trouble making it with girls, and it somehow helped a lot that Cure vocalist Robert Smith seemed to know all about such things. I would still like to know what the Goth subculture with its cultivated existential cool - and once having a noticeable presence on the Canberra alternative scene with The Cure as a guiding light - thought about the band’s meteoric rise to the top of the charts in the late 1980s. This occurred when ninth album Disintegration was originally released in 1989 which brought all that mascara, voluminous hair and overflowing angst to stadium performances, and can be heard on the third of this generous three disc set, although The Cure live never quite matched its fully formed studio creations. The second disc comprising studio outtakes is kinda interesting, but all it really does is offer a taster for the album itself, and this is where we get to the good stuff. Disintegration has been beautifully remastered, and the richly textured sound is something wonderful to behold. This album of 12 meticulously crafted tracks is a soul enriching, at times bleak, but nevertheless utterly rewarding listening experience that confirms its place among the greats.
“Hamnoo?” you might ask. Yes, Menomena is the name of that Muppets song, the tune you may also recognise from the Banana Boat sunscreen ad. Conceptually the band of the same name are just as fun but don’t sound quite as dicky. If you wanted to put them on a mixed CD (Nick and Norah style [minus the convoluted Belle and Sebastian references]) you also might include Wolf Parade and The National (whom they’ve toured with). Menomena have built their reputation gradually, initially establishing themselves with a lot less pop and a little more obscurity on their debut from 2003, I Am the Fun Blame Monster. In this way the band may be likened to one of last year’s favourites, Grizzly Bear, who didn’t really gain the deserved accolades until their third release.
Few experimental indie groups toy with saxophones and Menomena (on this, their third album) continue to blast it every so often just when you think the song might become too samey. Overall though, we’re talking an arrangement of beautiful pop melodies alongside angry prog rock. The whole thing is tempered by piano. More uniquely, there are also moments of gospel and lyricism which seem to mock religiosity and the stability of relationships. Mines pulls between harder yell-y songs with softly-softly crescendos and songs which boast beautiful vocal arrangements and experimental artifice that would have Yeasayer pissing themselves with sheer glee.
4 out of 5 Karen Elson, most noted for being a stunning model and married to Jack White, has released her first album - and it’s damn good. Though not her first foray into music (she is a member of American cabaret group The Citizens Band, and has lent her vocals for various projects), The Ghost Who Walks proves itself to be no novelty project. Elson is in good company, having snagged members of The Dead Weather (including an obvious addition of Jack White, on drums of all things) and My Morning Jacket to be part of her collective.
Any scepticism is tossed away by Elson’s clear vocals, feminine and ethereal, that fit well with the music - beautifully composed, intricate yet lush, delving into country, folk and early ‘60s sounds. The Ghost Who Walks treads similar territory as Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s Murder Ballads, haunting tales. A few tracks take their cue a little too directly from Where The Wild Roses Grow, with the chorus of Stolen Roses almost a mimic of Cave’s. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Elson’s lyrics are still intriguing and vivid, and the quality of the music ultimately lifts the album.
Delicate country ballads such as Lunasa are reminiscent of Gillian Welch, and fit well in between bolder love songs. At only 12 songs, the album is a little short, but the tracks are impressive. A sophisticated album, hopefully not the last for Elson and her accomplices.
Finns Tarot never fail to deliver solid, classic old-school styled heavy metal; their downtuned guitars and occasional deathly vocal stylings have always been balanced with a fair helping of Jon Lord style keyboard noodling and – it has to be said – spectacular eighties pop metal choruses.
So, with all this good news as a given, we really need their albums to bring something extra special to top our high expectations. Does Gravity of Light do this? Well, yes and no. It isn’t as immediate as its studio predecessor, the largely immaculate Crows Fly Black, but when it hits the spot, as it does on the frankly elephantine I Walk Forever, such worries become redundant. The song, built on a sumptuous chorus is quite simply the best heavy metal song your reviewer has heard thus far this year, and would be just about strong enough to carry the rest of the album were it to be composited entirely of duff songs. It isn’t, of course, and if you give the likes of Magic and Technology and Pilot of All Dreams time to insinuate their way into the space between your lugs then you’ll find yourself having a fine old time. There seems to have been a deliberate move away from out-and-out HM – opener Satan is Dead is really the only hell bent for leather anthem here, but if you don’t mind a bit of restraint and taste in your music, this could be for you.
“Trapped. No shield. No sword. The unbeaten path got my soul so sore.” A summary of the entire record in the first instance of words. It’s one that could appear contrived in any other context, yet it is spoken with honesty. Urgency. Thematic piano strings ring out, trembling over sombre beats and under introspective verses – words merged together like searchlights that scythe through an uncertain sky. When the hook echoes on Walk Alone it’s profoundly evocative. By becoming decidedly introspective, The Roots conversely show that communication is everything on the fantastic How I Got Over, their ninth record. The songs astoundingly reach out rather than reach into themselves, which a superficial reading of the lyrics will lead to believe. Meanings become meaningless, and the feeling is strange, even evasive – but it’s there. The beats are quietly intense, favouring live instruments over the synthesizers of previous effort Rising Down. Black Thought, known for his politically conscious barbed-wire lines changes his tune on this record, spitting clever rhymes about the all-pervasive stress of the 21st Century: “Check the blue flame, lighter running out of butane.” Never have The Roots sounded so human.