She & Him
In lieu of a Christmas album, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, in their bonny collaboration as She & Him, have released a collection of old standards titled Classics. Some songs, such as Stars Fell on Alabama and Time After Time, will be familiar to most listeners, and others, including Maxine Brown’s fantastic Oh No, Not My Baby and This Girl’s in Love With You, may be new.
The duo’s first album, Volume One, was a surprisingly luscious and lovely collection of original and covered material. The combination of Deschanel and Ward is intrinsically prone to a darling, hipsterish pretension, but Volume One blended their talents in a way that avoided obnoxiousness.
The duo’s idea of classics runs a wide gamut – mostly songs from the 1930s, ’50s and ’60s with country, funk or blues undertones. Both their song choices and delivery have a time-worn familiarity.
Classics’ best ingredient is Deschanel’s milky chocolate voice, which is never showy or bombastic. It recalls a time when records crackled on the turntable like a winter fire. With She & Him, every day is Christmas.
Wu Tang Clan
A Better Tomorrow
It has been a tough year for mainstream hip hop. Nothing has met the high standard set by 2012 and 2013, by Frank Ocean, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. The few bright lights this year were women: Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks and Nicki Minaj. Pharrell was limp, Kid Cudi was vague, 50 Cent was boring and Common was depressed. At least Future was Honest.
Wu Tang Clan's new release hasn't sweetened the deal any. Twenty-one years after their groundbreaking debut, they are resting on their laurels. At times, it's ridiculous: "A live scene theme from a Godfather saga/ A Martin Scorsese classic and I'm the author" comes from Miracle, and then there's the odd frat anthem that begins 40th Street Black/ We Will Fight. I began wishing it was satire.
Already given to self-aggrandisement and mythologising, RZA pushes Wu Tang into new realms of ossification. The album is plodding and overwritten. America is as deeply mired in racism as it has ever been. Americans need a voice of protest and outrage. Despite the promise of a better tomorrow, Wu Tang are not that voice.
The sophisticated digital photograph gracing Take That's new album suggests something edgy and modern that's worlds away from this 1990s boy band, which was Robbie Williams' first vehicle. The image shows the distorted, metallic shadows of three men - it and the album's title are a reference to the three members left standing 25 years after the band's creation.
Now a man band, Take That have lost Williams and Jason Orange, but their new album isn't half bad. III combines the theatrical optimism of the 1990s with today's hi-octane euphoria. At times, the songs get a bit Coldplay-carpe-diem, but unlike Coldplay, Take That aren't navel gazing.
Album highlights include These Days, which pulses with crisp disco beats, and If You Want It, which shimmers with heartfelt optimism: "It's never going to happen if you're waiting for it!" At times, the 40-something rockers try a bit too hard. Let in the Sun and Lovelife both mimic EDM in an unfortunate way. Still, it's clear that Take That are listening closely and attempting to stay relevant. All in all, they succeed admirably on III.