Album reviews: The Force Awakens Soundtrack, Cass McCombs, Rick Ross, Cage the Elephant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Unless you’ve been buried under a landslide of tinsel and presents for the past few weeks, you will have likely been caught up in the hype surrounding a certain cinematic event happening this festive season. From the large-scale model exhibition in Times Square, to the endless nerd chat dominating social media, the arrival of the seventh instalment in the Star Wars movie franchise was greeted with more fevered excitement than a jolly fat man coming down the chimney. Just as it wouldn’t be Star Wars without lightsabres and the Millennium Falcon, the galactic battle of good versus evil is instantly recognisable by its iconic theme tune, which rightly opens the soundtrack to The Force Awakens, before morphing into The Attack on the Jakku Village. The stirring strings and blaring brass section of course come from the hand of storied Hollywood composer John Williams. Recorded with a freelance orchestra, Williams’ collaboration with famed composer William Ross and conductor Gustavo Dudamel invokes a warm feeling of nostalgia from the opening horn blast and superbly soundtracks the continuing space saga.
A Folk Set Apart
Following on from 2013’s lengthy Big Wheel and Others, and working as a stop gap between “proper” albums, A Folk Set Apart is Cass McCombs’ hefty collection of B-sides, rarities, and musical curios lost down the back of the sofa over the past decade or so. While the prolific Californian songwriter can certainly strum a half decent whimsical folk tune (Three Men Sitting on a Hollow Log), and despite its title, A Folk Set Apart shows off the alt-psych-country musician’s more punkier and poppy side. None more so than on the 1960s-tinged Traffic of Souls (a Catacombs outtake) and the catchy Evangeline, a perfect slice of power pop originally released as a split 7” single with punk rockers Meat Puppets. Night of the World is built around a hypnotising melancholic tempo, while An Other and Poets Day, both recorded with Deerhoof’s Chris Cohen, are scuzzy garage rock uts. With McCombs typically eccentric mix and match styles, the album struggles to maintain any flow, but the slow-burning Bradley Manning will win over even the most casual of fans.
The eighth studio album from former correctional officer and founder of record label Maybach Music Group Rick Ross, arrives amid the bearded rapper’s continuing beef with hip hopper 50 Cent. The feud, which supposedly began in 2009 when Ross thought Fiddy has looked at him the wrong way, escalated earlier last year with a legal battle over a sex tape, and recently intensified when the Queens emcee sued Ross for using his hit single In Da Club to promote Black Market. This ongoing beef unfortunately doesn’t hide the fact that the album, which Ross has labelled a classic, suffers from an underwhelming paint-by-numbers vibe. The self-proclaimed “global sex icon” ropes in a bunch of mainstream singers as he moves further away from his rap tales of fictional mafioso. John Legend (Free Enterprise), Mariah Carey (Can’t Say No), CeeLo Green (Smile Mama, Smile) and Mary J. Blige (Very Best), among others, all do their best to enliven Ross’ lavish rap ramblings, but the results fail to inspire and remain less than thrilling.
Cage the Elephant
Tell Me I’m Pretty
Produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Tell Me I’m Pretty is the fourth album from Kentucky quintet Cage the Elephant, and The Keys guitarist’s retro-soul influence is noticeable from the get-go. Upbeat opener Cry Baby and the hypnotic lead single Mess Around certainly swagger with The Black Keys’ blues fuzz, while album standout Sweetie Little Jean sees singer Matt Shultz’s falsetto ride gloriously atop a swinging Beach Boys melody. While there has always been an element of psychedelia to Cage the Elephant’s ’60s garage rock, Tell Me I’m Pretty is far removed from the alt-rock heaviness of the band’s second album, Thank You, Happy Birthday, but you have to wonder if this was a natural progression in their musical identity (Trouble still bears their Pixies influence), or whether this is Auerbach’s newest puppet show. Filled with bluesy guitar hooks, Punchin’ Bag and That’s Right could sit quite comfortably on The Keys’ El Camino, although Too Late to Say Goodbye is possibly the best torch song Adele never recorded.