CD reviews: Johnny Borrell & Zazou, Underworld, Plague Vendor and Jeff Buckley
Borrell’s sounding the most comfortable and authentic he has in years, Underworld and Plague Vendor will knock your socks off, and Jeff Buckley’s many fans will welcome an album of demos
Johnny Borrell & Zazou
The Atlantic Culture
Atlantic Culture Records
From self-styled skinny-jeaned rock god to laughably pretentious gypsy misfit, it’s been quite a ride for the former Razorlight frontman, Johnny Borrell. It all started out so promisingly for one of “The Dalston Set”, but the almost-Libertine hit rock bottom in 2013 when his weirdly colourful album Borrell 1, recorded with his new carnival roots band Zazou, sold less than 600 copies in its first week. Borrell’s star certainly burnt as fast as it did bright and the vultures gleefully stuck their beaks in. The Atlantic Culture is Borrell and Zazou’s second go-around and the follow-up to 2014’s The Artificial Night EP, whose four tracks all appear here. The album also includes a re-recorded version of We Cannot Overthrow and 60 Thompson, a track written about the 35-year-old’s ex, Kirsten Dunst, and taken from Razorlight’s arena-friendly Slipway Fires. Here though it’s given a blues jazz makeover and clearly demonstrates, along with opener Swim Like a Star, just how much Borrell has changed, the singer sounding the most comfortable and authentic he has in years.
Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future
Two years ago dance music pioneers Karl Hyde and Rick Smith celebrated the 20th anniversary of their classic breakthrough album Dubnobasswithmyheadman with a series of live shows that highlighted just how relevant that album and its seminal follow-up Second Toughest in the Infants still remain. Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future, the title taken from a line Hyde’s father said to his mother shortly before his passing, is Underworld’s first studio album in more than five years, following a success of solo projects and soundtracking London’s 2012 Olympics. While they may no longer be flavour-of-the-month within the banging EDM scene, the return of the fifty-something duo is the next best thing until James Murphy fires up his soundsystem. Long gone are the days of raging techno anthems when DJ Darren Emerson brought a certain menace to the beats per minute; now the rhythms are more relaxed mid-tempo canvases for Hyde’s stream-of-consciousness poetic collages. Underworld certainly haven’t lost their bite, as on the reverbed snarl of If Rah, they simply revel now in the shimmering slow burn.
“F*** your credentials, we’re presidential,” screams Brandon Blaine over a filthy thunderous riff with more honest conviction than any trumped-up American bigot with eyes on the big chair could ever hope for. The fabulous Credentials is just one of the 11 adrenaline shots of so-called “voodoo punk” taken from Bloodsweat, the much-anticipated follow-up to 2014’s abrasive and blistering debut Free to Eat from post-hardcore rockers Plague Vendor. While the Californian quartet may come from the land of sun and surf, this is music from the darkest depths of a sweaty and windowless garage. Mixed by Alan Moulder, who has worked on albums by Royal Blood, Nine Inch Nails and Foals, the songs were heavily road-tested prior to entering the studio; the recording process tried to capture their fierce live performances. The driving bass and searing guitars of lead single Jezebel certainly buzz with a controlled chaos, while on No Bounty there’s more than a little Jack White yowl to Blaine’s barbed rasp, the manic frontman’s delivery deranged enough to send chills down your spine.
You and I
While he may be a way off rivalling rapper Tupac Shakur for posthumous record sales, golden-toned singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley has been pretty prolific since his untimely death by drowning nearly 20 years ago. In the short time that he walked this planet, Buckley completed one sole album, 1994’s magnificent Grace, and since then his archives have been mined for a half-finished second album, compilations, live albums and now, with You and I, demos. Recorded in 1993 shortly after Buckley signed for Columbia, many of these “undiscovered” demos, consisting mainly of cover versions that were a staple of his early East Village gigs, have been available before, but it does serve to curate Buckley’s germination to Grace. From Dylan’s Just Like a Woman, to The Smiths’ I Know It’s Over, the raw intimacy of the performances only adds to Buckley’s heartbreaking legacy, but while his ardent fans will welcome anything previously unheard like a gift borne from heaven, we must surely be close to scraping the bottom of the Buckley barrel.