Album reviews: Guy Garvey, Killing Joke, Carrie Underwood and The Twilight Sad
Garvey says Elbow fans needn't be worried by the appearance of a solo album, and Glasgow's Twilight Sad serve up a work of profound, stark beauty
Courting the Squall
You'd imagine the decision to make a solo record was not an easy one for Elbow's affable frontman, Guy Garvey. The 40-year-old may be the figurehead of the widely adored Bury band, but Garvey is the first to admit he is no more than one equal fifth of the people's champions of British indie music. Now with the time to stretch his creative wings as his bandmates tend to family duties, Garvey insists his first solo album, Courting the Squall, is not the beginning of the end for the band: "If anything, this is something I feel I can do now without rocking the boat. The lads know, love and trust me enough." Written and recorded in Elbow's Blueprint studio, this is Garvey in sole control, lending the simpler and more sparse songs a deeply personal and freer voice. Built around his warm poetic lyrics, like ripping pages straight out of Garvey's journals, Unwind broods with minimal funk, while pounding lead single Angela's Eyes bristles with a raw blues energy that invigorates Garvey's silky vocals.
To some, a lack of progressive musical change over more than three decades would be considered deplorable. But to devoted fans of influential industrial noisemakers Killing Joke, it's a testament to their eternal greatness. Pylon is the raging post-punkers' 15th album, and their third since the founding members' reunion in 2008, and it finds Jaz Coleman and co pounding familiar ground-shaking doom, albeit no less vitriolic. Autonomous Zone opens with typical urgency, drummer Paul Ferguson's punchy rhythms driving Geordie's electro-punk guitar stabs, the pace barely wavering over the following nine tracks. The thunderous head banging continues with Dawn of the Hive and lead single I Am the Virus, before New Cold War switches from industrial to New Wave rock. New Jerusalem is powered by a heavy funk beat, Ferguson and bassist Youth as tight as ever. Throughout, Coleman is on fine form, his vocals sharp and clear, often sounding metallic as they cut through the assault of distortion.
A decade on since winning American Idol, power balladeer Carrie Underwood returns with her fifth studio album, and it's evident from the very first moments of blazing opener Renegade Runaway that this generation's queen of country has plenty left in the tank. As the title suggests, these are tales of fiction and fantasy, the 32-year-old platinum-selling artist moving on from Jesus to the love and romance of cheating men and fiery women. Dirty Laundry tells of revenge on an unfaithful partner, Underwood belting out a typically impassioned chorus: "I'ma have to hang you out to dry, dry, dry/ Clothespin all your secrets to the line, line, line/ Leave 'em blowing in the wind to say goodbye, to you". While the lyrics are rather clichéd, Underwood's voice is bigger than ever and first single Smoke Break is another roaring uptempo blend of arena-pop and country. On Choctaw County Affair Underwood channels a rasping soul queen, but unfortunately the second half of the album suffers from a slower pace and the rather generic Like I'll Never Love You Again is a low point.
The Twilight Sad
Oran Mor Session
After releasing their fourth album Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave only last year, Glasgow's The Twilight Sad return with a collection of stripped-back versions of those fine album tracks and B-sides recorded in their hometown's Oran Mor auditorium. The starkness of these bare-bones renditions only serves to highlight the raw melancholic beauty of the Scottish indie trio's live performances. Without the songs' usual dense sonic layers, frontman James Graham's lush Scottish brogue sounds both powerful and tender, especially on the gorgeously heart-wrenching It Never Was the Same. The haunting piano on Leave the House, and on the too-good-to-be-a-B-side The Airport, sits nicely with guitarist Andy Macfarlane's acoustic rhythms. Closing with a cover of Arthur Russell's I Couldn't Say it to Your Face, this is an unplugged album that will likely only appeal to dedicated fans of the band, but its beauty really deserves a much wider audience.