Album reviews: Rihanna, Turin Brakes, The Cult and Elton John
Rihanna shows off her chops with brooding new tracks and Turin Brakes reveal their undiminished flair for melody
Def Jam/Roc Nation
Having released seven albums over a mere 10 years, the enigma that is Rihanna is certainly not work-shy. Surprise-released on Jay Z’s Tidal service, the Barbadian songstress’ eighth album, Anti, is another curveball in a prolific pop career. Following a release of stand-alone singles last year (sadly none of which appear here), including the less-than-subtle B**** Better Have My Money, Anti doesn’t really contain a stand-out club banger. Desperado and the Drake-assisted lead single Work probably come the closest, but they’re certainly no We Found Love or Umbrella. Without an obvious chart-topping anthem, it only goes to highlight how solid this collection of brooding new tracks is. On the doo-wop ballad Love on the Brain, Rihanna’s voice has never sounded better, her soulful croon both warm and effortless, while a surprisingly faithful cover of Tame Impala’s New Person, Same Old Mistakes (renamed Same Ol’ Mistakes) is a trippy psych gem. Anti is striking, simply for the fact that Rihanna is obviously playing the game her own way.
The Optimist, the debut album from London folk duo Turin Brakes, was one of my favourite albums of 2001. Bluesy and intimate, it was an emotional and heartfelt record far beyond the years of its soulful young creators and one of the highlights of the new acoustic movement. Fifteen years on, and despite the odd beefier-sounding experiment, best pals Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian are still going strong with their tried-and-tested indie folk formula. Lost Property, on which they are joined once again by long-term collaborators Rob Allum and Eddie Myer, is their seventh long player and follow-up to 2013’s fan favourite We Were Here, and arrives with a little more mainstream focus. Punchy lead single 96 is one of the bands catchiest tracks in quite some time, while the infectious chorus of Keep Me Around is the album’s most radio-friendly stab at commercial success. With a knack of making the downbeat sound uplifting, both Save You and the excellent The Quiet Ones could have sat quite comfortably on their aforementioned debut.
Described as the final part of a trilogy that began with 2007’s Born Into This and continued with its follow-up Choice of Weapon five years later, Hidden City, the 10th album from Gothic hard rockers The Cult, kicks off in typical arena-friendly fashion, and marks the fifth time they’ve worked with producer Bob Rock. Fierce opener Dark Energy, with its driving guitars and a stomping drum beat, sets the polished tone for frontman Ian Astbury to spout his jumbled spiritual mysticism in his signature baritone. Backed by drummer John Tempesta and Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney, guitarist and co-songwriter Billy Duffy continues the solid retro riffing on the thunderous No Love Lost, one of the album’s rip-roaring highlights that harks back to the vintage Cult of the 1980s. Touching lightly on their post-punk roots, the rambling Birds of Paradise suffers from a lack of any real focus, much like the scrappy and disjointed Heathens, and while Astbury still belts it out on Hinterland and GOAT, he sounds strangely lost on the Bowie-esque glam of Dance the Night and the slow-burning Sound and Fury.
Wonderful Crazy Night
The release of David Bowie’s Blackstar mere days before the rock god’s sudden and untimely passing was a stark reminder that while we may consider certain pop titans to have passed their creative heydays, their music can still be relevant and hold plenty of excitement to old and new fans alike. But if you’re expecting Sir Elton Hercules John to churn out another Rocket Man or Bennie and the Jets in between dusting down the Warhols and popping the kids to Pizza Hut, you’re delusional. In contrast to John’s last album, 2013’s The Diving Board, which was his most sombre affair in a half-century of hits, his 32nd album Wonderful Crazy Night is a joyous and bombastic, good-time party album. Produced by T Bone Burnett and composed once again with his long-standing lyricist, Bernie Taupin, the album shows the British singer-songwriter is clearly having a blast, his magic fingers dancing all over the piano. When the energy drops the ballads become a tad maudlin, but for the most part it’s a rainbow-flavoured celebration of life. Who can knock that?