Album reviews: Bowie, Prince, Hinds and Villagers
Blackstar, Where Have You Been All My Life, HITnRUN: Phase Two and
Leave Me Alone listened to this week
Embarking on my journey of musical discovery in the mid-1980s, I was rather late to join the David Bowie party. Beginning with the dubious pop flavours of Jacko and Sinitta, I only arrived at Bowie’s station a few years later, just as he was playing with Tin Machine (which I will still defend as vastly underrated). I had yet to meet Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke. Now of course, I recognise David Robert Jones as one of the most influential musicians to grace this planet, a master of reinvention and a true musical genius.
Released on his 69th birthday Blackstar, Bowie’s final studio album is exactly the unexpected you’d expect from him. In a career that has trodden so many experimental and magical paths, Blackstar may just be Bowie’s most intriguing step. With barely a loving glimpse towards his pop heyday, there are no obvious hits hiding among the dark and swirling futuristic jazz rock. Often beautiful but always bewildering, Bowie is once again waiting for us all to catch up, and then ... then ... the shocking news of his death hits us like a spaceship crashing to Earth. We have lost a hero.
Where Have You Been All My Life
Recorded in a single day at London’s RAK studio, the fourth album by Dubliner Conor O’Brien, aka Villagers, is an intimate “reimagining” of his previous recordings. Now back with his bandmates after last year’s largely solo album of stripped-down folk, these raw and heartfelt versions are far from simply another unplugged rehash. “The main thing that always spurred me on to make music, is the love of melody,” the Irish musician has said.
Bereft of any lush multilayered arrangements, Where Have You Been All My Life only serves to highlight the majestic songcraft behind O’Brien’s haunting compositions. The Waves is almost unrecognisable in its reworking of the original and it’s particularly evident on the album standout Courage. The acoustic opener from last year’s Darling Arithmetic simply shines in this gloriously skeletal version, O’Brien’s emotive vocals backed by a delicate pluck of harp. It certainly lacks the energy of an appreciative crowd, but these alternate, often bewitching versions of an already impressive back catalogue demonstrate that O’Brien is far more than a Damien Rice wannabe.
HITnRUN: Phase Two
Following quickly on the heels of last year’s rather disappointing HITnRUN: Phase One, Prince returns (again via the Jay Z-fronted music streaming platform Tidal) with the somewhat surprising release of its sequel Phase Two, the prolific Purple One’s 39th studio album and fourth in the past two years. While the sequel (only just) eclipses its patchy predecessor, the 12 tracks on offer are not totally new material. While never before released commercially, Revelation, Black Muse and When She Comes have all been performed live by the funky multi-instrumentalist, while Xtraloveable (on which Prince creepily enquires “Don’t you wanna take a bath with me?) was written way back in the early 1980s. Screwdriver, RockNRoll Love Affair and the political Baltimore have all previously appeared in various forms, as has Stare, complete with its in-joke Kiss guitar riff. The lyrical double entendres certainly rub a little rawer (“I’m your driver and you’re my screw”) now that Prince is strutting ever closer to his sixth decade, and HITnRUN: Phase Two will likely leave you longing for Sexy MF.
Leave Me Alone
Lucky Number Music Ltd
Following 2013’s scrappy lo-fi Demo, Spanish indie rockers Ana Perrote and Carlotta Cosials, formerly known as Deers, are now joined by bassist Ade Martin and drummer Amber Grimbergen, and along with the enforced name change this all-girl four-piece are ready to embrace a period of transition with the release of their full debut album Leave Me Alone. Building on the ragged charm of Demo, these 12 tracks of jangly garage-pop rock bristle with an infectious youthful exuberance coupled with an air of defiance.
Inspired by the scuzzy Black Lips and much like The Strokes’ iconic debut Is This It, there’s a wonderful melancholic lilt to the Hinds gang spirit, especially on raspy Castigada En El Granero. Catchy opener Garden rolls with a mellow groove whereas Chili Town casually ambles into 1960’s all-girl pop territory. On Fat Calmed Kiddos there is a jaunty swagger reminiscent of Courtney Barnett. Hinds’ fuzzy lo-fi sound is still very much full of imperfections, but there’s no faked shambolic rebelliousness (the bands motto is ‘Our s***, Our rules), it’s very simply we-don’t-give-a-f*** music.