CD reviews: One Direction; Andy Stott; Various Artists
A confession: before the release of Four, I could not have named a single One Direction song. It’s one cultural phenomenon that simply passed me by (Simon Cowell created them? Harry Styles is one?). So I’m not in a great position to comment on One Direction’s emotional and musical maturation over the course of their career.
However, I can assess Four on the basis of its own merits. Basically, One Direction sound like a cute bunch of enthusiastic teenagers (they’re actually all 20 to 22). Four opens jubilant, like a Journey track. “I got it all, cause she is the one/Her mum calls me love, her dad calls me son.” It’s infectious, toe-tapping pop, perfectly calibrated to win the hearts of 14-year-old girls worldwide. The music oscillates between retro 1980s big rock ballads
(Steal My Girl, Where Do Broken Hearts Go) and country-inflected 1970s pop rock (Girl Almighty, Fireproof). No one song really stands out though. Just like the band members, modestly collaborating in tandem, the music shies away from any memorable audacity.
Four is just too loveable, too nice, too forgettable.
Faith in Strangers
Andy Stott's Faith in Strangers sounds like the dawning of the end of time. Or, more modestly, like music for a sophisticated production of The Tempest. His electronic music has a spectral, ponderous quality to it that's both classical and experimental. Cerebral mood music at its most effective.
The album begins on Time Away with painterly, minimalist arcs of sound that recall the round scales of whale music and the meticulous elegance of Erik Satie. Violence slithers and jabs; when the song drops, now nine minutes into the album, into a deep and dirty bass beat, it's jarring. Science & Industry whirrs and clanks with a creepy, assembly-line efficiency. No Surrender twirls with a tribalistic dubstep abandon. Every song is, in fact, perfectly titled. No two songs are alike. Alison Skidmore's glassy vocals add another haunting layer to the music. She's like a wisp of sound escaped from another universe.
Faith in Strangers beautifully dances along a tightrope between pop electronic and sound art. More modern music should be so delectably audacious and carefully considered.
Bizarrely enough, 32 years have passed since the release of the last Annie movie. Time for a reboot! So the franchise is repackaged for a savvy new audience. Much happy hullabaloo has already attended the casting of indie darling Quvenzhané Wallis as little orphan Annie, exchanging the iconic red curls for an adorable Afro. We've also traded Daddy Warbucks for New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) and old Miss Hannigan for, well, Cameron Diaz.
What about the music? Well, the overture opens with urban panache - jackhammers and the New York subway's "Stand clear of the closing door, please!" Wallis is an able singer, never showy. The arrangements of the songs feel modern and tasteful, reliant on simple guitar and piano lines. Maybe is suitably moving, and Tomorrow is still pretty saccharine.
You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile is transferred from Daddy Warbucks to Sia. The best number is Sia's brand new Opportunity, sung by Wallis.
There's no room for grumbling and grinching. Christmas belongs to Annie this year.