Album reviews: Lana Del Rey, Chris Cornell, The Dead Weather and Keith Richards
Lana Del Rey
"Come to California/ Be a freak like me, too" sings smoky pop siren Lana Del Rey on the track Freak, one of the many highlights of her third album, Honeymoon. It's easy to forget that it's only been a mere four years since Elizabeth Woolridge Grant burst onto the pop scene with the sultry hit single Video Games, and a stage name evoking 1950s Hollywood. Following closely on the heels of her rockier 2014 album Ultraviolence, Honeymoon is a stripped-down and dark affair, Del Rey evoking such striking noirish images it's almost impossible not to call the songs cinematic. It may be one of the most highly anticipated pop albums of the year, but this is a long, long way away from your Swifts and Gagas. Exploring "the golden age of jazz", Del Rey's breathless voice is the star of the show. Full of despair, it drifts and swoops beautifully over gorgeous melancholy orchestration, bold enough to quote David Bowie on the fabulous Terrence Loves You, and do more than justice to a cover of Nina Simone's Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.
As frontman and chief songwriter of grunge rockers Soundgarden, Seattle native Chris Cornell always had the vocal chops to elevate himself above the sludgy Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain-wannabes. Following their split in 1997, Cornell released his first solo album, the Jeff Buckley-influenced Euphoria Morning, rocked the world with Audioslave and recorded a James Bond theme tune. Despite all the accolades, Cornell's career nearly came tumbling around him in 2009 when Scream, his ill-advised electric-pop collaboration with Timbaland, was critically panned. Thankfully on Higher Truth, his fifth solo outing, the 51-year-old has the sense to return to the stark acoustic arrangements and confessional poetry of his debut. Opening lead single Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart, driven by a mandolin riff and huge emotive chorus, quickly demonstrates that Cornell's distinctive golden yowl and four-octave range is still intact. Many of the 16 contemplative tracks, such as the finger-plucked Dead Wishes and the Soundgarden-esque Worried Moon, follow the stripped-back approach of Cornell's more recent Songbook album. It may be a one-trick pony, but Higher Truth thankfully wipes away any lingering memory of the disastrous Scream.
The Dead Weather
Dodge & Burn
Third Man Records
While its members may not see it as a side project, to most people The Dead Weather will always be thought of as a goth-blues supergroup (or Jack White's "other" "other" group), as the four rockers are better recognised for each of their respective day jobs. Their two previous albums, 2009's Horehound and 2010's Sea of Cowards, certainly contained inspired moments of scuzzy psych blues, but on Dodge & Burn, The Dead Weather really find their voodoo groove, and threaten to bury the tag of side project deep in the dirt forever. Opening with the Led Zeppelin-esque single I Feel Love (Every Million Miles), it's the most "classic rock" that guitarist Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age), bassist Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs) and howling frontwoman Alison Mosshart (The Kills) have sounded to date. Driving comfortably from the back seat, White's impressive drumming skills are almost enough to make you forget about his Stripey ex-wife/sister Meg. On the standout Three Dollar Hat, White preaches about "shooting everybody down with a 33", as Mosshart launches into another feral chorus, the quartet obviously relishing another wild and relentless Dead Weather storm.
There has been a meme circulating around social media recently stating "We need to start worrying about what kind of world we are going to leave for Keith Richards". It's simply amazing that Keef, the 71-year-old Rolling Stones guitarist and notorious connoisseur of narcotics, is still standing, let alone releasing Crosseyed Heart, his first solo album in nearly 25 years. No wonder the album cover features the legendary party animal with a wide vagabond grin plastered across his lived-in face. Less than two minutes into the opening dirty blues ditty and our Keef slurs "ahh that's all I got", before the drums of songwriting partner Steve Jordan pound a driving uptempo beat for Richard's to lay another smooth blues lick over the top on Heartbreaker. Growling about his girl "being a vegetarian, but me, I love my meat", Richards' brand of rock'n'roll, backed by the X-Pensive Winos, is infused with warm honesty, killer riffs ( Trouble, Something For Nothing) and on Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene, the true spirit of the blues.