Album reviews: Blackalicious, Slayer, Stereophonics and Duran Duran
Imani Vol 1
If the recent announcement that Blackalicious will be playing the Clockenflap festival this year didn't make you run out and immediately grab a ticket, then give Alpha and Omega, taken from Imani Vol 1, a quick spin and you'll realise that you are dumber than a sack full of hammers. If Blackalicious are good enough for Harry Potter (just Google Alphabet Aerobics), then they are not to be missed. It's been a full 10 years since the California-based rap duo released The Craft, and after a decade-long hiatus mesmerising vocalist Gift of Gab says this "feels kind of like a second wind". Blackalicious have always promoted a positive, socially and spiritually conscious message, and this first installment of the planned Imani trilogy basks in a warm mellow hue, as on the fabulous Ashes to Ashes, and the Lee "Scratch" Perry-sampling Blacka. Mixing propulsive funk with live instrumentation and typically dynamic production, Chief Xcel once again lays down an infectiously soulful groove as Gift of Gab spills a relentless torrent of tongue-twisting rhymes with seemingly effortless ease.
This is the 11th studio album from American thrash metal titans Slayer, and as bearded frontman Tom Araya recently stated, "When someone asks, 'How do you feel about the record?' I say, 'It's Slayer. Well, half of Slayer, but it still sounds like Slayer." Bassist and vocalist Araya was referring to turmoil arising from the death in 2013 of guitarist and founding member Jeff Hanneman, and the acrimonious split from drummer Dave Lombardo, which left him and original axeman Kerry King to carry on uncertainly. Sensibly, with the addition of Exodus guitarist Gary Holt and tub thumper Paul Bostaph (who pounded the drums for Slayer throughout the '90s), the speed metalists stick loyally to their bludgeoning formula. "What you get is what you see," barks Araya on the album's breakneck title track, a furious tribute to their fallen guitarist. With Hanneman's hardcore leanings absent, King's thrilling metal riffs have little to duel with and end up sounding a little lost. While there are a few welcome bursts of thrash, Repentless often plods along with a strange lack of atmosphere.
Keep the Village Alive
Following hot on the heels of their 2013 platinum-selling Graffiti on the Train, Welsh rockers Stereophonics return with their ninth album, the self-released Keep the Village Alive, and it's pretty much spirited business as usual. Opening with punky pub pop lead single C'est la Vie, it sets the tone of working-class camaraderie that harks back to the band's roots in a small Welsh mining village. It's a catchy, good-time racket centred around frontman Kelly Jones' gravelly voice and sums up perfectly the band's longevity. C'est la Vie (along with Fight or Flight and soon-to-be-on-a-car-ad I Wanna Get Lost With You) could have sat comfortably on the band's Brit-pop debut Word Gets Around, released more than 18 years ago. On Sing Little Sister the foursome channel the blues swagger of The Black Crowes, before the sweeping acoustic anthem Song For the Summer soars on radio-friendly orchestration. Unfortunately, the almost embarrassing soft rock balladry of White Lies would make even Jon Bon Jovi blush, but thankfully the muscular Mr and Mrs Smith closes the album on a powerful anthemic note.
With the cyclical trend of pop culture and the fascination with everything '80s in recent years, cheesy British pop kings Duran Duran sound almost as relevant now as they did 35 years ago. As with 2011's All You Need is Now, Paper Gods is produced by Mark Ronson, a man whose own career owes a considerable debt to '80s synth-pop dance music, this time aided with the added funk touch of Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. Keeping it fresh, once-upon-a-time heartthrobs Simon Le Bon, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor also invite along a few surprise guests to the party. Lindsay Lohan adds some spoken-word vocals to the disco belter Danceophobia, while Kanye West collaborator Mr Hudson creates a strangely creepy hip-hop vibe on You Kill Me With Silence. But if there's one thing Le Bon and his gang know, it's how to pen a soaring hook. Last Night in the City (featuring Kiesza), Sunset Garage and the Daft Punk futuristic pop of Pressure Off all possess the sort of catchy choruses that Maroon 5 would happily kill fluffy kittens for.