Album review: Wendyz Zheng, Ellie Goulding, Tim McGraw and Bill Ryder-Jones
A new approach from HK’s Wendyz Zheng, Ellie Goulding’s bid to dethrone Taylor Swift, album 14 for Tim McGraw, Ryder Jones’ songwriting blossoms
Don’t Give A...
On her second solo album, Don’t Give A... , Hong Kong-based singer Wendyz Zheng takes a vastly different approach to her 2012 debut W. Where W was a collection of Cantonese tracks and theme songs that Zheng had written for TV and film, Don’t Give A... is a mini album of all-original English songs. Thankfully the Canadian-born artist has progressed greatly as a songwriter since her 2011 single Chicken Dance (an Arabian-tinged, Canto-rap mess, with a deep and meaningful chorus of “Do the chicken dance”) as she now attempts to break into the international market by staying “true to myself”. Opening track I Thought It Was Forever is certainly a great showcase for Zheng’s vocals. The soaring pop ballad, reminiscent of Mariah Carey without the pop diva’s oversinging warbling, could stand proud on any Disney movie soundtrack, and while the bubbly Katy Perry-esque title track (I just wanna say, I don’t give a s***) may not be taking home an Ivor Novello award any time soon, like all good earworms it’ll stick annoyingly in your head for more than a few days to come.
While it sounds like a natural progression from the indie folk pop of her 2010 chart-topping debut Lights, Delirium, the third album from Ellie Goulding, is a giant commercial pop album that makes a bid to knock Taylor Swift from her throne. “I made a conscious decision that I wanted it to be on another level,” says the British songwriter, and as an album of clubby pop anthems go, it certainly hits the mark. But that success is also Delirium’s failure. The fact that every one of these 16 tracks is totally interchangeable with a Swift, Jepsen or the next pretty pop star with a decent set of pipes is largely down to the production team of hit-making heavyweights, Max Martin, Greg Kurstin and Ryan Tedder. There’s no doubt that any one of these songs with the obligatory remix, especially On My Mind and Around U, would go down well in a hot sweaty club in the small hours of the morning, but as an Ellie Goulding album, it’s strangely bereft of any personality.
Damn Country Music
Who better to describe the highly anticipated 14th studio album from country music legend Tim McGraw than the singing legend himself? “It’s got some contemporary stuff, it’s got some country stuff, and it’s got everything in between, and Damn Country Music is sort of the bridge that ties it all together,” he has said. Following quickly on from last year’s Sundown Heaven Town, this is McGraw’s fourth album in four years. Damn Country Music opens with Here Tonight, a rousing country duet with his daughter, Gracie. “I was afraid to ask her because she’s way cooler than I am, and I was scared to death that she would say no.” California, which features country duo Big & Rich, is a melodic wind-in-your-hair soft rocker, as warm and breezy as the titular state. Of course no country album worth its salt would be without a good ol’ traditional cheatin’ song, Don’t Make Me Feel At Home is a heartfelt slow roller, and while not written by McGraw himself (as with all these album tracks) the country star certainly makes it his own.
West Kirby County Primary
Written and recorded, like his two previous albums, in his childhood bedroom at his mother’s house in West Kirby, it’s no surprise that the third solo album from Bill Ryder-Jones, the former guitarist of psychedelic folk rockers The Coral, continues along a similar personal and poignant path. Mixed by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford (who produced the Arctic Monkeys’ AM, which Ryder-Jones also played on), West Kirby County Primary is the follow-up to 2013’s haunting and introspective A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart, and was recorded with a full band for a more rockier sound. Which certainly rings true of the album’s standout track, Two to Birkinhead. “They say that desperate times call for desperate pleasures,” sings Ryder-Jones over a fuzz-driven Pavement-esque riff. It’s certainly the heaviest song of his solo career and possibly his greatest, but it’s also in the fragile hushed tones and sweet melodies where the guitarist’s introspective melancholy shines. The deeply intimate Daniel, and the wonderfully weary You Can’t Hide A Light With The Dark demonstrate just how much Ryder-Jones has blossomed as a songwriter.