“20TEN” Prince – music review

Prince 20TEN album cover

Prince albums tend to come in one variety, a self-indulgent concept that produces some stand-out singles, although the balance between self-indulgence (“Purple Rain”) and greatness (“Sign O the Times”) isn’t always achieved.  Lyrics were never his strong point but the quality of the music is.  Even a weak Prince track is still very listenable and comparable in quality to a lot of chart singles.

Like “Planet Earth” was previously, “20TEN” is released as a freebie with certain newspapers.  Prince has expressed a desire to find new ways of distributing his music and has banned You Tube and iTunes from using any of his tracks.  His explanation: “I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.” 

“20TEN” is back to basics sexy, soul funk.  On first listen “Sticky Like Glue” qualifies as single material but “Compassion”, “Future Soul Song” and “Lavaux” quickly grow on you.  In anyone else’s hands “Everybody Love Me” would have been very uncomfortable listening, but Prince is inclusive, “Tonight there’ something in the air/ music of celebration drowning out despair” and later, “ain’t nothing to it but to do it” and it’s a great ending anthem for a live show.

“Act of God” is the political song here and the point “Freedom isn’t free” underlines problems with bankers, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the problems with corporate America.  It’s a point he repeats in “Lavaux”, “The cost of freedom isn’t free.”

“20TEN” is classic Prince, but not a classic.

“the xx” The XX (Young Turk) – music review

The XX self-titled debut album

The XX take a traditional line-up, drums, bass, keyboard, guitars, vocals, throw in some avant garde bed-sit love songs  and produce something that sounds as fragile as a dew-covered spider’s web, but, like the silk that makes the web, is deceptively strong.  The lo-fi beats and synths background draws the melody to the fore and gives plenty of space for the male and female vocals in the 11 songs here.

“VCR” speaks of evenings of natural intimacy from a band whose singers, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft, “learned to speak together”.  The XX use the contrast between the stripped-back sound and closeness of the duets to fine effect.  “Islands” uses the lyrics, “See what I’ve done/ That bridge is on fire/ Going back to where I’ve been/ I’m froze by desire/ No need to leave// Where would I be/ if this were to go under/ It’s a risk I’d take/ I’m froze by desire/ As if a choice I’d make”.  That “froze” (rather than “frozen”) hinting at incompleteness and that this island of love might not be entirely a free choice.  “Shelter” probably sums up the band’s aims best, “It felt so crystal/ In the air/ I still want to drown/ Whenever you leave/ Please teach me gently/ How to breathe.”

The songs grow on you: managing that trick of seeming familiar yet drawing you in to notice layers you didn’t hear at first.  It’s that trick that will ensure their audience grows as their musical maturity does.

“Freedom is Work” Miserylab (Carbon Neutral Digital) – music review

Miserylab Freedom is Workmiserylab are back with a trade mark guitar tune weaving around mellow vocals and a catchy drum beat: pop with a parallel tension that brings you back for further listening as the deceptively simple sound conceals its complexity. 

The lyrics echo the complexity of sound. TV news is an easy target for satire and miserylab point out in television, “fear is the news here begins television makes it real television is how to feel who to hate what’s to blame”, that only bad news sells and TV has ceased to be a tool but become an end as if ‘being on TV’ is a talent in itself, which of course it isn’t.  The sleeve note points out that “there have been 153 deaths related to acts of terrorism in England since the term was introduced in 1798.  each year in England 350 deaths are related to hypothermia”, yet we fear the former because the latter don’t make the news.  Porl King’s love of ironic wordplay comes to the fore in making a bomb, the title deliberately ambiguous, particularly in the lyrical phrase “they fool the world they rule the world they are making a bomb… …they are making a killing they are making a bomb”.  Compassion shows in way things are “somewhere a child cups its hands weak from crying somewhere a child makes demands wants something buying…”

Vital, vibrant and great value.  Buy it.

“a death that we can cure” miserylab (Carbon Neutral Digital)

a-death-that-we-can-cure

The title of this fourteen track album is a quote from George W Bush, ‘so that we can see a reduction in death of young children that – a death that we can cure.’ Unsurprisingly it’s a political album, but not a partisan one.  Porl King’s politics are firmly and genuinely humanitarian.  Prescient too the title song mentions, “projects have crashed/ shares have all been cashed/ no need to watch our backs/ we’re protected by our class…”

everything falls apart is a modernised echo, perhaps unconscious, of W B Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming”, particularly ‘things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.’

we are happy the ‘are we happy’ refrain is like a nagging anxiety you suspect lies in the minds of those who wander malls in search of retail therapy and whether they blame themselves for not making themselves happy in the process.  Or they so disconnected they cannot longer sense happy?  Or is happy merely a goal that can be reached with a combination of Prozac and cognitive behavioural therapy if the aromatherapy and shopping don’t work?

Above all, Porl King understands music and knows when to apply drumbeats as a note of anxiety or to complement the melody.  His lyrics have always been rhythmically succinct and audible, a crucial point as their message needs to be heard.  Electronica usually conjures up 80s stalwarts such as OMD, Heaven 17, Bronski Beat or the Eurhythmics, but miserylab give it a very contemporary twist.  a death that we can cure is structured so it rewards re-listening; it’s definitely not disposable pop.  Its anti-consumerism is built to last.  It should be, but won’t be, played at every shopping mall.

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“Function Creep” by miserylab

“Dig Lazarus Dig” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

“The Black Parade is Dead” My Chemical Romance”

“The Black Parade is Dead” My Chemical Romance (Warners)

My Chemical Romance The Black Parade is Dead

My Chemical Romance The Black Parade is Dead

A live CD and DVD set confirming My Chemical Romance as simply a great live band. The CD features My Chemical Romance in Mexico City and the DVD reprises Mexico City and throws in the New Jersey show as a bonus. “The End”, ironically, is a perfect mood-setter, kicking off the Mexico City set. The mood is fast and furious through “Dead!”, “This is how I Disappear”, “The Sharpest Lives”, “The Black Parade” with its “just a man, not a hero” aphorism, “I Don’t Love You” and “House of Wolves”, until the piano-led “Interlude” gives everyone a breather. Refreshingly, this isn’t the band recorded through the sound desk with the crowd filtered out. My Chemical Romance encourage their audiences to sing along and that’s captured. “Cancer” (which is what “The Black Parade” is about, contrary to views elsewhere) ups the tempo again and My Chemical Romance maintain it through “Mama” and “Sleep”. “Teenagers” is a great singalong. Powered up, the band keep the pace through “Disenchanted”, “Famous Last Words” with it’s anthemic “I am not afraid to keep on living” refrain and ends on “Blood”. If you don’t come away sore throated and worn, then you’re an android.

The DVD starts with Mexico City. The New Jersey show largely features “The Black Parade” plus some crowd-pleasing favourites. “Thank You for the Venom” is superb live, Gerard Way’s vocals growl out the sarcasm and who can disagree when he comments, “still my favourite song to play live,” of “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison”. Good too to hear the sleazy guitars will come back from their “The Black Parade” hiatus. Gerard Way’s charisma shines and he uses his stage presence wisely, repeatedly thanking the audience and, at one point, asking them to move back when he realises the front row are in danger of getting crushed. The blistering version of “Helena” is almost worth the price alone.

Ultimately, the size of venue – stadium or bar back room – is irrelevant for My Chemical Romance. They bring along their own intimate atmosphere and the audience join in. The live DVD is the next best thing to My Chemical Romance playing in your living room. “The Black Parade is Dead”, but My Chemical Romance are alive, lively and on form.

“Function Creep” Miserylab (Carbon Neutral Digital)

Miserylab Porl King Carbon Neutral RecordingsMiserylab’s “Function Creep” is rhythmically precise, low key but emphatic and comes with a contemporary twist, “about the now” is an apt opening track. It’s eighties’ electronica, influenced by Joy Division, that looks forward instead of back. Porl King’s love of irony hasn’t gone away, “your idol is idle” (from “delusions”) or “self-esteem is a screen you have to use -/ so you can love yourself” (from “only human”).

“when you turn away” envisions a J G Ballard “Kingdom Come”-style nightmare of shopping malls and suburbs, where to be is to consume. “Function Creep” is a necessary soundtrack to a panorama of Edward Hopper-inspired crepuscular scenes, taking in the ‘what’s in it for me, am I famous yet?’ non culture. It deserves to spawn a bandwagon that inspires listeners to seek out the leader.

The ending “rise”, opening with “I sense the apathy in your silence/ I sense the contrivance in your kindness…”, is an outstanding anthem which fades into a chilling reverberation that lasts beyond the track.

“Dig Lazarus Dig” Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Mute)

Dig Lazarus Dig Nick CaveNick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ fourteeth studio album sees him ploughing that not unfamiliar furrow of biblical characters, garage rock and dark humour. “Lazarus” is dug up and moved to New York where he descends in dope, prison and back into the grave, naturally the song explores the ambiguity of the title’s “dig”.

But it’s not all swaggering rock, “Moonland” with the bittersweet, “…the snow provides silent cover// & I’m not your favourite lover/ I turn on the radio// & it must feel nice/ o very very nice to know// that somebody needs you…” is dreamy in tone with laid-back but rhythmic bass. A mood taken a notch swampier in “The Night of the Lotus Eaters”. “We Call Upon the Author” contrasts, with its more preacherly tone insisting that there’s “nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix.” No one does the post-party atmosphere of “Midnight Man” better than Nick Cave.

He’s confidently doing what he’s always done best and still makes it an interesting listen. If you remember “Tender Prey”, you’ll like this. If you’re looking for “Grinderman” part 2, this will be too slow and too blues-influenced.