At his homecoming gig at Manchester Apollo it was apparent to all that Mr Marr had finally made it on his own terms, turning himself from guitarist of a generation to now a frontman with huge respect and great stage presence. The one and half hour marathon gig was a mix of his two solo albums, smiths songs and even a few covers.
The smiths songs he played were never performed as if to cash in on his success but as a celebration of his musical past, ‘Panic’ and ‘Still ill’ being personal favourites. His new album Playland got its 1st airing since its release with both the explosive ‘Dynamo’ and the catchy riffs of ‘Easy Money hitting the mark. The encore brought a magical cover of Iggy pop’s Lust for life which Marr played with aplomb. The set closer and Smiths classic ‘How soon is now’ led to rapturous applause for the Manchester lad done good, Johnny Marr unite and take over!
Damon Albarn ‘Everyday Robots‘
Who would believe that Damon Albarn has been with us in musical circles for 25 years and in so many various projects. Of course he’s known to many as the man who spearheaded the britpop movement in the 90s with Blur, as well as creating a cartoon alter ego with Gorillaz. His more recent works with African music and even a musical on the west end shows Albarn’s desire to create music in various forms, whilst always pushing himself to achieve more and more.
Everyday Robots is his 1st solo album which is a pretty amazing thing when you think of his career. This personal and revealing record takes small steps to reveal the real Mr Albarn and scans back through childhood and adolescent memories in a intriguing if not often sad portrayal. The title track highlights his great arrays of musical influences and styles. The piano runs along with elegance throughout, whilst there’s hints of synth and harmonium along with endless percussion loops. The most revealing track is ‘Hollow ponds’ a journey through time where albarn takes us back to the drought of 1976, his 1st day in school 1979 and seein modern life is rubbish graffiti in 1993 (the name of Blur’s 2nd record that year) All these poignant memories only illustrates the great craft Damon has in relating past memories and turning them into beautiful songs
Albarn is a avid collaborator on a lot of his previous projects but it is few and far between on this record, Brian Eno adds vocals on ‘Heavy Seas of Love’ and Bats for Lashes singer Natasha khan joins Damon on ‘The Selfish Giant’ both of which are perfect additions to the record. This lack of helpers does indicate that is a true solo record, somethin that has been a long time coming and how glad we all are that it is here.
‘Mr Tembo’ is the only example of cheery, up-beat tempos on the record and is based on a trip to Tanzania he made where he sang to a baby. It’s a ukekele-based sound with great gospel sections and evokes a similiar method he used with the fabulous ‘Tender’ a recent favourite on Blur’s recent comeback shows.
His 1st credited record as a solo performer, Damon Albarn has shown to us that his craft has a songwriter is getting better with age and let’s hope he will show us some more of his wonderful memories again sometime
********* (9 out of 10)
Parquet Courts ‘Sunbathing Animal’
New Yorkers Parquet Courts released their follow up to 2013 ‘Light Up Gold’ on June 3. ‘Sunbathing Animal’ was the end of result of songs that had been written shortly after their 2013 record, showing their great work ethic and their vision to evolve. The writing to the new record has been explained as having a greater freedom and creativity with a tense and tangled take on Punk rock that gets under your skin. The title track explodes like nothing on the previous record and ‘She’s Rollin’ is a diversion from their short, snappy style, mainly due to it’s 6 and half minute duration with long, frenetic harmonica and angry guitar solos.
Other highlights of the record include the head nodding and addictive ‘Ducking and Dodging’ with more examples of frantic guitar solos with a Andrew savage’s continuous and precise lyrical monologue. It’s the last two songs of the album that show Parquet Courts softer side (‘Raw Milk’ and ‘Into The Garden’) which displays their new found confidence given to them by the cult success of the previous record
Perhaps inevitably ‘Sunbathing Animal’ overall isn’t quite as striking as ‘Light Up Gold’ but they’re energy and invention does point to a step up towards bigger things and being in no rush to cease they’re punk racket and this fact is worth celebrating!
Essential tracks: ‘Sunbathing Animal’ ‘She’s Rollin’
* * * * * * * * * (8 out of 10 stars)
ROYAL BLOOD – ‘Royal Blood’
Hailing from Brighton this duo have come a long way in a short space of time, with their self-titled debut album (released august 25th) being the awesome end product. It was July 2013 and the drummer of the Arctic Monkeys, Matt Helders wears a Royal Blood t-shirt as they are headlining the pyramid stage at Glastonbury, this before RB had even released a single. Since then they’ve achieved rave reviews, heavy airplay on Radio 1 and became labelmates with Muse, Biffy clyro and Foals amongst others. Along with support slot with Arctic Monkeys they have been a must see at the summer festival circuit.
Now to the album, 33 minutes of marvellously hefty drum work (Ben Thatcher) and impressive riffs on bass and snarling vocals (Mike Kerr) this alone justifies they’re comparisons with Queens of the stone age, Muse and The white Stripes to name a few. Typically their 4 singles, Out of the Black, Little monster, Come on over and Figure it out, are stand out tracks on the record. My highlight is Little monster with its fine chorus and buzzing riffs which is very hard to shake out of your head. Out of the black was my 1st glimpse of RB so this will always be a top tune, the explosive end to their high energy gigs.
So what about their other album tracks, Ten tonne skeleton is a clever use of riffs and dynamic, stomping percussion and Blood hands an example of a break from their usual high gusto style which still fits the record very well. It is true to say that the impressive singles do eclipse the other tracks, not saying that the tracks Careless and Loose change for example work well but don’t quite hit the spot in the same way.
Overall the hype has been proven correct by this record and there’s much to admire in the direct punch the band deliver. I was lucky enough to see them live few months back on the NME tour and they were amazing, catch them at a venue near you soon!
* * * * * * * * * (9 out of 10 stars)
Essential tracks: ‘Little monster, ‘Out of the Black’