August 29, 2008

New Releases

By Andy Gill

BRIAN WILSON That Lucky Old Sun Capitol ***

On his first coherent new project in years, Brian Wilson reverts to his default setting to offer a billet-doux to his beloved hometown of Los Angeles. Named after the old standard whose fond reverie bookends the album, and hoves periodically back into earshot throughout, That Lucky Old Sun is a concept album in which Wilson's balmy fantasies of LA's golden Sixties, and the darker memories of his mental illness - mostly channelled by his lyricist/bandmate Scott Bennett - are interspersed with kitsch narrative vignettes of Southern California life by Van Dyke Parks.

Commissioned for last year's re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall, the song cycle employs a familiar battery of classic Wilsonian musical motifs - the hot-rod burr of baritone sax, the wistful shimmer of vibes, and the sad quack of bass harmonica. He retraces some old paths, a touch too closely in some cases: the paean to first love, "Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl" is a more knowing, wilful attempt to capture the mood of "Surfer Girl"; but the naggingly memorable "Good Kind of Love" has a naive charm. Likewise, Parks's narrative tableaux perch precariously on the cusp of poesy and doggerel ("A carpeted star-spangled city sleeps/Like so many dancin' diamonds with a beat"; "There's an old smudge of a beatnik by the bay/Lookin' like a dog who's had his day", etc), in a manner that's less easily forgiven on disc than in concert.

The city of angels is still clearly a troubling locale for Wilson, as he acknowledges in several songs. "I cried a million tears, I wasted a lot of years," he admits in "Oxygen to the Brain", a chipper, up-tempo number celebrating his subsequent decision to "skip the vices" and focus on creativity again. And in "Going Home", he confronts again the burnt-out, brain-addled recluse he had become by his late twenties: "At 25, I turned out the light/Cuz I couldn't handle the glare in my tired eyes/But now I'm back, drawing shades of kind blue skies".

It's by no means an unqualified success: too often, Wilson lets his cornball sensibility get the better of him, most glaringly on "Mexican Girl", whose descent to a tasteless farrago of mariachi horns and Chicano cliches ("Hey bonita muchacha/Don't you know that I wantcha?") is the album's least rewarding aspect. But overall, it's probably better than we could reasonably expect from this most tragically flawed of pop geniuses.


'Good Kind of Love', 'Going Home', 'Oxygen to the Brain'


Slime & Reason

Big Dada ****

"Do for self, move for self, try to stay true to self," toasts Roots Manuva on his new album; and once again, it's that determination to stand out from the crowd that makes Slime & Reason such a success. That, and the engagingly lopsided grooves he created with such beat technicians as Toddla T and Metronomy, which tug Roots's raps in new and intriguing directions. Oddly, given their diverse input, this may be Manuva's most homogeneous album yet - a smoothly-sequenced set slipping easily between the "revolutionary inklings" of tracks like "C.R.U.F.F." ("We don't want no war things/ Let's explore things/ With peace and reasoning/We could get more things"), the infectious party vibes of "Again and Again" and "Let the Spirit", the reflections upon responsibility in "The Show Must Go On" ("When there's no one to turn to, reality burns you/You got to learn to be careful with your sperm, dude") and the anxieties about his place in hip-hop culture tackled in "2 Much 2 Soon" and "Well Alright".


'Let the Spirit', 'Do Nah Bodda Mi', 'Again & Again', 'Buff Nuff', 'It's Me Oh Lord'



BA Songs *

Brett Anderson's career has not been well served by his poor timing. With Suede, he arrived too far ahead of the imminent Britpop wave - and unlike Bernard Butler, he didn't have the instinct to jump ship before it sank. In 2005 he misjudged the demand for an Anderson/ Butler reunion. Last year, having managed to further winnow away his shrinking appeal with his solo debut, he released three live double-albums in six months, the kind of output that would stretch the most ardent loyalties to snapping-point. Less than a year on, this slim suite of melancholy reveries should polish off what remains of Anderson's fanbase, with its parade of bathetic metaphors ("She is strange and solemn/She is like cherry blossom") couched in none-more-glum arrangements of self-pitying piano, guitar and cello. Even the impact of the one half-decent song, "Back to You", has been diminished by its appearance on all last year's live albums, an appropriately thorough act of prematurity on which to conclude his over-extended career.


'Back to You'


The Golden Mile

Strangetown **

Save for a brief snippet depicting a man apparently playing the spoons with a tin on his head, The Peth's YouTube clips all show a band seemingly born out of a Julian Cope wet-dream of stoner-rock excess, all elements of their sound overloaded in a whirlpool of psychedelic rock riffage. Such is the case on this debut album, which finds Super Furry Animals' former singer-turned-film star Rhys Ifans reunited with Furries' drummer Dafydd Ieuan and a phalanx of rockers. Whether celebrating hedonism in "Let's Go Fucking Mental", or wallowing in the self-pity of "Stonefinger", the formula is the same: a barrage of psychedelic guitars swathed in shimmers of mellotron and electronic noise, through which Ifans' vocals can be dimly discerned. With Sixties echoes in songs such as "Shoot On Sight" (Quo, Hendrix) and the charming "Sunset Veranda" (Kinks, Small Faces), it's more than your typical film-star vanity project; though in places, rather less than a man playing the spoons with a tin on his head.


'Let's Go Fucking Mental', 'Sunset Veranda', 'Shoot On Sight'



Full Time Hobby ****

Now anchored by a rhythm section, Fujiya & Miyagi extend the vector of 2006's addictive Transparent Things into this follow-up, with another set of infectious pieces informed by the more methodical end of Krautrock. "Knickerbocker" is an irresistible Neu!- style motorik groove over which David Best works a series of nonsensical jokes in his trademark deadpan murmur: "Vanilla, strawberry, knickerbocker glory/I saw the ghost of Lena Zavaroni". It's followed by the Tom Tom Club-esque "Uh", with Best's account of two characters "as prickly as porcupines" regularly returning to the pause signified by the title. The album continues with a series of hypnotic rhythms illuminated by striking instrumental details, overlaid with Best's manipulation of polysyllabic tongue-twisters such as "Underneath the skylight I watch constellations of sequinned mannequins in synchronisation". Rarely have such mesmeric grooves been so furtively, and effectively, colonised by non-sequiturs.


'Knickerbocker', 'Uh', 'Sore Thumb', 'Lightbulbs', 'Hundreds & Thousands'



Wichita *

In the new digital-download world of pop, things arrive more suddenly, but they also depart with alarming speed, too. "Mercury", the first single from Bloc Party's third album, was heralded by a three-day countdown on the band's website which underwhelmingly led to a radio broadcast, rather than a download; it subsequently scraped into the Top 20, and only after becoming physically available. Intimacy has now been issued as a download, with a CD version available in two months, when the last ripples of marketing momentum will surely have disappeared. What exactly do they expect to happen? Is this some form of indie-cred commercial suicide, or just an ego-fuelled misjudgement of their own drawing power? Either way, it's a fitting fate for a turgid album jerry-built from standard indie guitar-rock angst and a half-hearted appropriation of hip-hop and dance modes, assembled with scant musical logic and little focus. The best bit is the great big-beat drum-track to "Ares"; but it was great when the Chemical Brothers used it on "Setting Sun".


'Ares', 'Signs'

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