Monday, October 26, 2009

Album Review: The Go-Betweens - The Friends of Rachel Worth

This is the first of the Go-Betweens reunion albums. Released in 2000, it finds Robert Forster and Grant McLennan (RIP) backed by the band Sleater-Kinney, who I am not really familiar with.

The material is generally mellower than their 80s material but it does contain some trademark jangly guitars and some very wistful numbers. Grant was always the poppier songwriter, and so it follows here, the album opening with his Magic in Here. Anchored by a brittle yet beautifully constructed riff, it ambles along nicely before leading into Robert's wonderful Spirit. It has a simple but utterly addictive guitar figure powering this mellow, elder-statesman like song. The flamboyant Robert Forster persona of yore has been replaced by a world-weary, wistful storyteller, and it suits him well.

2 more uptempo tracks follow, where the guitars have been beefed up a little, particularly on German Farmhouse, which is a Lou Reed-like rocker talking of his years of seclusion(!).

Most of the rest of the material is mellower though in general more downbeat than their previous material. It still contains 'sunshine', though it's more like winter sun breaking over a frosty landscape.

It's a very pleasant listen which should appeal to fans of the band and any new listeners wondering if they should check them out. Yes you should.

Album Review: Soulsavers - Broken

Mark Lanegan has become the king of collaborators. This is his 2nd collaboration with electronica duo the Soulsavers (and their 3rd album). Their last was surprisingly successful, so this was a tough act to follow.

The album kicks off with a beautiful piano-led piece, The Seventh Proof, before crashing into the most uptempo track, Death Bells. This is a kind of standard-issue Lanegan rocker, searing along nicely with Lanegan singing like his life depended on it. Following this is the real meat of the album.

Unbalanced Pieces is a slow-burning, loping track which bops along nicely in the manner of Paper Money from their previous album but then kicks into a great melodic chorus, driven by female backing vocals. Following this is the desolate You'll Miss Me When I Burn, a cover of a Palace Brothers song. Lanegan delivers the performance of his life delivering lines like "when you have noone, noone can hurt you" over a sad piano backing.

Some Misunderstanding follows, a Guy Clark cover with again a wonderful vocal from Mark Lanegan. He sounds bruised and beaten, yet the overall effect is life-affirming and uplifting.

The next 4 songs are also Lanegan-sung and all the better for it. Each one of them would be a standout on a different album, and each one is heavy with emotive power. Shadows Fall, for example is a soaring string-led song with exquisite backing vocals which takes a sharp left towards the end of the track into another fantastic melody. The melodies on this album are in general stronger than those on their previous album, It's Not How Far You Fall, It's The Way You Land.

The album then introduces a female singer called Red Ghost, who covers Lanegan's own Praying Ground. She does this one and 2 other tracks reasonably well, though her tracks are not as strong as Lanegan's.

Also, there are a host of collaborators on other tracks (Gibby Haynes, Mike Patton, Richard Hawley and Jason Pierce) yet all of them suffer in comparison with Lanegan's dominant voice, rendering them barely audible.

Nevertheless, this album is in my book a strong contender for album of 2009. I'm lucky enough to have a ticket to see them support Depeche Mode in December.

Album Review: David Sylvian - Manafon

David Sylvian continues his retreat from the mainstream with his latest album. Entitled Manafon, which is a parish in Wales, the music within is unconventional to say the least. Almost all of the 9 songs take the same form, sparse instrumentation, made up of some brief snatches of classical music, occasional acoustic guitar and other random noises, with Sylvian's voice centre-stage on all but one of the tracks. Upon repeated listens, his voice becomes almost intrusive in parts. The music is compelling, in that it does not follow linear, 'song-like' forms, though it's a stretch to say it's thoroughly enjoyable.

The overall effect is that of Sylvian warbling over almost random music (all the backing tracks were improvised with a large cast of collaborators). It's possibly his most difficult album, you need to be in a certain frame of mind to listen to it. It's light years away from his solo work of the 80s and 90s. I can't honestly say it's a success as after about 5 weeks of listening I'm no further into it.