For every masterstroke in Rick Rubin’s back catalogue - Run DMC’s cover of “Walk This Way”, Johnny Hurt’s output in his twilight years, Yeezus, Adele’s 21, every System Of A Down album - there are more than a few stinkers in there too. The man Dr Dre called “hands down, the dopest producer ever that anyone would ever want to be, ever” has been behind the production desk for some truly risible records from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Mick Jagger, Linkin Park, Jake Bugg and Lady Gaga in recent years, and unfortunately his request that Australian brother/sister folk duo-gone-solo Angus & Julia Stone reunite for another album will have to go down as red in Rubin’s ledger.
What the super-producer saw in the siblings’ music is beyond me. Maybe he felt he needed to the sonic equivalent of a bog-standard Instagram post to his resume. It’s pretty and bewitching in the way a lot of folksy indie-pop is, but it’s more sanitised and safe than a mysophobe’s bathroom. The languorous, soft-focus nature of much of the record is just too saccharine for my tastes; there’s no edge to anything here, and no hints of darkness or heartbreak or any real emotion past ennui. It’s a smooth, clean sound which would likely sell millions of units with the right exposure, but that exposure would have to be to middle-aged people who’re fed palatable new music through the soundtracks of adverts and commercials, or those very strange people who say they don’t like music (seriously, that genuinely doesn’t compute with my tiny reviewer’s brain).
It comes as no surprise that the siblings have previously worked with Fran Healy of Travis and supported the ultimate white dude with dreads Newton Faulkner, as this album falls squarely into both those acts’ wheelhouse of being pleasant and melodic, but little more. I guess we can thank Rubin for bringing the pair back together so we don’t have to suffer through two separate albums of such beige guff.
Posters: Interstellar: There’s still seven weeks to go until Christopher Nolan’s latest hits cinemas, but these superb posters aren’t helping with that relatively short wait. Fingers crossed this won’t be another Prometheus, and 2014: A Space McConaughey (as everyone should be calling it) will solidify Nolan as one of the greatest directors around.
Interstellar is set for release on November 7th and stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Bill Irwin, Mackenzie Foy and Michael Caine.
Fozzy started as a semi-serious metal cover band, replete with outlandish stage names and a fictional “band lost in time” gimmick. This, coupled with the fact that wrestling legend Chris Jericho serves as their lead singer, doesn’t exactly position Fozzy as a sincere act to be taken seriously at all in the wider musical world, and that their sixth album Do You Wanna Start A War? zips between almost every mainstream rock sound possible, rarely rising above pastiche, definitely does’t help their case.
To be fair, Fozzy are quite capable of crafting rather good rock and pop-metal, even if it is very derivative. Jericho’s voice regularly flickers between James Hetfield and Jon Bon Jovi, making him a perfect frontman for such an outfit (he already had the rock ’n’ roll character down thanks to his two decades in the squared circle in WWE, WCW and ECW). However, Jericho attempts at hardcore growling and screams border on laughable, as the style neither fits the tracks it’s used on (“Brides Of Fire”, “One Crazed Anarchist”), nor does it fit Jericho himself.
Technically the music is note-perfect, whether it aims for straight hard-rock, power pop or classic heavy metal. You can’t really fault the band for not sticking to genre rules and employing the tricks of the trade effectively, but in that, there’s no real personality to most of …Start A War, nothing to make it stick out or to hold onto beyond the initial hooks. The more pop-oriented tracks like “Lights Go Out” and “Unstoppable” feel like missteps, the production and electronic elements at odds to Fozzy’s traditional sound. The sole triumph of this more mainstream outlook is “Tonight”, which features Michael Starr of Steel Panther (a band pulling off Fozzy’s schtick with far more success), and is a genuine power-pop golden nugget.
Really, Fozzy are at their best when they embrace the slight silliness at their core. Take the unexpected cover of ABBA’s “SOS”; it’s ridiculous but probably the most fun track you’ll listen to on the entirety of the album. Sure, go chuck out MOR metal like “Witchery” or “Died With You” to keep your credibility with the joyless section of metal fans who hate fun, but when your silly side brings the dumb chugging fun of “Bad Tattoo” (home of daft lyrics like “I can’t get rid of you/You’re like a bad tattoo”) or the swaggering riffs of the title track, you should give into it more often than not.
I fucking love The Drums’ first album. They somehow managed to take New Order’s “Age Of Consent” and spin that sound out for a whole record, with a smear of surf-pop melody on top. It was genuinely great, and four years on from its release, I’m surprised it hasn’t had something of a renaissance or critical reevaluation already. The addition of a bucketload of synths and a downbeat outlook for followup Portamento wasn’t quite as successful, and by 2013, the band were down to two core members and essentially on a solo albums-mandated hiatus.
So we arrive in 2014 with an unexpected third album from this group with a tumultuous relationship with each other, who most had written off years ago as another flavour of the month, NME-cover-starring hype band. It may come as a surprise, considering the circumstances, that Encyclopedia is really bloody good. As a whole, it’s only a nominal deviation and expansion of The Drums’ typical sound; the simple guitar lines are still there, the lovelorn lyrics and Johnny Pierce’s half-nasally, half-angellic vocals remain, and the use of synthesisers seems here to stay, but everything seems less polished, more edgy, and most importantly, more confident. Pierce and Jacob Graham finally seem assured enough in their music and ability to let rip when they feel like, to steam ahead with punkish abandon. Whereas previously things may have been chopped and changed in order to fit the aesthetic of the band, tracks like “Magic Mountain” and “Face Of God” just rush along flipping the bird at naysayers. “I Can’t Pretend” even features distorted fuzzy guitars, something unthinkable when considering the band back in 2010. The choruses of “There Is Nothing Left” verges on something approaching shoegaze, whilst “Bell Laboratories” could convince as a Grimes cover and album closer “Wild Geese” has Wendy Carlos written all over it. For the most part the album is the duo’s familiar sound remoulded into something far more akin to post-punk and the slightly more abrasive indie guitar bands of the day (your Parquet Courts, et al)
There’s always been a delicate balance between the morose and the hopeful in The Drums’ sound - the melodies, the lyrical subject matter, the instrumentation are often polar opposites on the scale - but right now it’s at its most pronounced. The hook of “Deep In My Heart” manages to be both romantic and down-right creepy at the same time; listen to Pierce’s crooning of “I buried you deep in my heart” and tell me you don’t suspect the guy of just being in the backyard with a shovel. But alternatively, “Wild Geese” is relatively lollipops and rainbows; all light guitar plucking and ascending synth arpeggios as “onward and upward/through the clouds, away from the rain and the wind that holds us down” forms a slightly fey mantra against adversity. If their eponymous debut was a soundtrack to hypothetical sunny beach days and youthful summer adventures, then Encyclopedia is the music of a bizarro prom or a very muscially-discordant horror movie.
That first album is always likely to be The Drums’ standout album, the one which is most remembered and defines people’s opinions in a decade’s time, but I have a feeling Encyclopedia will be the connoisseur’s choice, and it’s most certainly deserving of that.
Nothing is more cringeworthy than middle aged people complaining about the prevalence of technology in the modern world. So naturally Damon Albarn - king of musical cringe - uses it as a core theme of his first solo album Everyday Robots. The record’s first line rings out “We are everyday robots on our phones/In the process of getting home/Looking like standing stones/Out there on our own”, and it doesn’t get a lot better from there on. As a multimillionaire and successful product of affluent suburbia, it feels almost petulant for Albarn to strike out against something as ubiquitous and minute as smartphone-focused commutes.
Dull, twinkling semi-folk populates most corners of Everyday Robots, almost like Think Tank stripped of its supposed “exoticism” and after a handful of sleeping pills. It’s disappointing that an innovator, experimenter, engineer like Albarn - a man responsible for some incredible forward-thinking pop in Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen - farted out something this boring, especially for such a milestone as a first solo record. Even when things get more layered and interesting than “acoustic lament”, such as the dub bass and subtle horns of “Lonely Press Play” or the ukulele funk of “Mr Tembo”, there’s as much edge as a ball. If you can’t make a song about an elephant (yes, that’s the subject matter of “Mr Tembo”) fun, then your well is clearly running dry.
Trudging through the monotony of the record, it makes you both yearn for the glimmer in the eye of the Albarn of ten or fifteen years ago and thankful that a proper Blur reunion with new material will likely never occur. I’m not one for fearing about legacies being ruined, but when Albarn is on this kinda of sullen, uninspired form, it’s a relief to have it far away from the band’s hypothetical future output. The only true bright spot of Everyday Robots comes in its final track, the Brian Eno-featuring “Heavy Seas Of Love”, a soulful, handclap-backed ode to optimism in a stark contrast to the most of the rest of the record in that it’s upbeat and enjoyable to listen to at times when not nursing a hangover. It’s also genuinely melodic, even if the main hook is clearly nabbed from The Monkees’ “Daydream Belivever” and Albarn can usually pick his nose and find a decent melody up there. This one track out of the twelve contained on Everyday Robots is the only worthy of being included with the rest of its writer’s classic canon; normally such a ratio would be gladly accepted, but when the gap in quality between the one and the rest is so disparate, it’s not a good sign.
Listen: Jessie Ware - Kind Of… Sometimes Maybe: It’s very good to have Jessie Ware back.
Trailer: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One: It’s hard to get too exctied over THG:M-P1 knowing it’s going to suffer from Deathly Hallows syndrome, being cleaved in half to maximise profits and hype, with little narrative satisfaction ‘til 2015’s Part Two. Still, this looks like a pretty solid blockbusting entry to the franchise, especially with the introduction of Julianne Moore’s President Coin, a return for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, a reunion for Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and a rather big heel turn from Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One flies into cinemas on November 21st