By Tom Mughal on Tuesday, 25th September 2012 at 12:00 pm
Whenever anyone ever mentions Gwen Stefani i have to bring up my interesting fact; when she was younger, Stefani was neighbours with Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers and would often sit around with her friends and listen to them practice. Which is a coincidence really, because Gwen Stefani is stuck in the same time warp as lead singer of RHCP, Anthony Kiedis, where both vocalists have not changed a bit since the dawn of this millennium (excluding some questionable hairstyles from both).
But regardless of the fact the Gwen Stefani has been singing with ska/rock band No Doubt for over 20 years, they are back for another album! With their last effort being over a decade ago, it’s exciting to see the upcoming release of their sixth album ‘Push and Shove’. The band announced a hiatus back in 2003 so band members could spend more time with their families as well as the fact that Stefani was itching to become a platinum-selling solo artist. The direction her two albums went in were very different to No Doubt’s ska/rock roots, with ‘Love.Angel.Music.Baby’ and ‘The Sweet Escape’ developing J-pop/dance and hip-hop themes respectively, so after 11 years it would be naive to think that these styles wouldn’t creep back into No Doubt’s recordings. They definitely had an impact on the amount of pop songs on the album; the band shy away from the ska-heavy music of their roots for sure.
That’s not to say the horn section has been underused! Listening to the title track and next single to be released, ‘Push and Shove’, it is clear that they are still fresh out of the dancehall. Just happens to be a dancehall in 2012, where tempos drop and reggae beats run throughout. Produced by Diplo and described by No Doubt’s bassist Tony Kanal as the band’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, it is definitely the standout song on the album.
Cymbal-heavy ‘Sparkle’ is one for the old-school No Doubters who will be doubting the direction of the album, demonstrating Stefani’s unique vocal talents and the band’s incredible instrumentalists. As well as upbeat, percussive tracks, the band throw in a song like ‘Undone’. Much slower than what you’d expect from the band, but one that will become a classic for fans after a few listens.
Gwen Stefani may not have aged since the days of ‘Tragic Kingdom’, but it’s clear that the band has evolved. A 21st century take on one of the definitive bands of the 90s that will appease hardcore fans that have waited 11 years for a follow-up to ‘Rock Steady’ as well as a new generation of fans too young to witness their previous albums.
‘Push and Shove’, the first album from No Doubt since 2001, is out now on Polydor on two formats: regular and deluxe, the latter of which features a second CD with song ‘Stand and Deliver’, plus acoustic and remix versions of songs on the first CD. The music video for ‘Settle Down’, the first song to be revealed from the album, is below.
Save the live albums and posters, this box set is in places an ironic account of the ‘bollocks’ we’re being told to not to mind. Whatever mechanical process Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood managed to shove these four miscreants through back in 1977, the product remained wild, unpredictable and universally offensive – it was punk. Whether these ‘original master tapes’ – that conveniently appear for most bands around a major anniversary – are genuine or not, Sex Pistols are not a ‘remastered’ kind of band, they just don’t have the intricacies of, say, Led Zeppelin.
The first anti-anarchic sigh of this ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ comes as the (once characterful) warped start to ‘Holidays in the Sun’ appears straightened out. It’s the same with the half-baked synth on ‘Submission’, which now almost sounds as though it’s supposed to be there. Why not take all that horrific swearing out of the Bill Grundy interview while you’re at it? And, then there are the drums. The only instrument that is noticeably different is the least punk of the lot, and now sounds as though it’s being played 30 years after the rest. Thank punk ‘EMI’ is the last track. The irony of a remastered “Unlimited edition / with an unlimited supply”, makes you wonder whether – had the butter ads not come calling – it could have been another “reason / we all had to say goodbye”.
The selection of unheard tracks from ‘1977 Live’ and ‘1977 Studio Rarities & B-Sides’ are what this box set should have been sold on. Finally, an example of how modern recording techniques can uncover something that had really been lost, not just another goose strangled for its gold. ‘1977 Live’ is recorded across two dates in Stockholm’s Happy House and Trondheim’s Ssamfundet Club, when Sex Pistols were at their symbiotic best, giving and receiving from the audience in equal measure. A cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘No Fun’ in Rotten’s snotty drawl is a notable highlight, as is unreleased ‘I Wanna Be Me’ and the bombastic Happy House opener ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ The rough mixes of ‘1977 Studio Rarities & B-Sides’ are unlikely to replace the originals for most, but give a sneering insight in to a chaotic development process. It’s easy to see why the likes of ‘Satellite’ didn’t make the final cut, whilst a demo version of ‘Belsen was a Gas’ (previously thought unrecorded) was purportedly written by Sid Vicious for The Flowers of Romance to unsympathetically mock the wartime generation then in charge.
There’s a poster for their 1977 U.K. tour entitled ‘Never Mind the Bans’, which includes five or six letters from venues with the gumption to turn them down in their prime. It alludes to the alchemic cultivation of chaos; the ability to turn the worst publicity, in to the best. The others in the collection are all a welcome break from the standard ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ that adorns so many uni halls.
Apparently, there’s also a DVD – that Universal helpfully failed to include in the press release – that just could be the hidden gem. It’s meant to be a composition of footage from a surprise show in Penzance in 1977, remastered by director and long time friend Julien Temple, who described it as both “hypnotising” and “contagious”.
From the title of this box set, you would assume that it was aimed at the 15 to 20-year old demographic of young punks finding their forefathers. But, there’s no way a paper round would generate enough net profit to allow that to happen. Instead, the previously unheard tracks and rehashed videos make an ideal curio for an experienced Sex Pistols fan, who will now be put off by having to buy ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’, again. Like the Sex Pistols, there are flashes of brilliance against a backdrop of contradictions.
The Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ limited edition, super deluxe box set is out today on Universal Music.
By Mary Chang on Friday, 21st September 2012 at 12:00 pm
In an interview with Steve Lamacq on BBC 6music Wednesday night, Mumford and Sons were entirely humble about their worldwide popularity. Keyboardist Ben Lovett even asked out loud, “why us?” They still seem surprised by their success, admitting that many others have tried to do the same thing as them, yet they were the ones that rose to the top.
As we have all seen with the explosion of the folk rock genre immediately following the acclaim of the band’s debut album ‘Sigh No More’ in October 2009, many bands have challenged Mumford and Sons’ solid grip on the Kings of Folk sceptre, including bands we’ve featured here on TGTF Dry the River, Dog is Dead, Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men and Australia’s Husky. Only time will tell if any of these bands will surpass the popularity of the original, but what is of equal importance is if Mumford’s latest release is up to snuff.
We would be remiss not to discuss the album’s title. Talking to Rolling Stone, bassist Ted Dwane says of the heavy name, “I think it’s a great story, the story of Babel. I think anyone can direct it as an analogy for a lot of different situations…I think everyone can [relate to the story of Babel], yes. It’s such a human thing. As humans, we’re such a discontented species. We’re always trying to further ourselves, and you get all the way to the moon and then it’s just discontent. You want to go to Mars. You know, there’s so many stories in that story. There’s definitely, like, analogies for our strange behavior as a species that I consider interesting.” As I’m not a religious person at all, I had to go looking for what this Biblical story of the Tower of Babel was all about.
From what I gathered in my brief research, the story is designed to be an example of a deity’s decision to throw a group of people a curve ball, mostly to force them to stop their attempt to build a structure that would allow them to reach heaven, so they would have to regroup and reassess to face the new challenges put before them. As for the “strange behavior” Dwane mentions in the Rolling Stone interview, one such strange behaviour would be the overzealous fans of Mumford and Sons, those that have made the band into gods. It’s something that us writers here at TGTF have discussed at times, and judging from Lovett’s rhetorical question on Lammo’s programme Wednesday night, the band themselves are wondering, all the while amused, about this as well. ‘Below My Feet’, the second to last track of ‘Babel’, distills this humility in song, but in a more serious fashion. Lyrics “Let me learn where I have been / keep my eyes to serve and my hands to learn” can be the words of the departed or someone who is still here on earth, seeking to take what good that’s been given to him and make good with it. While you never would have expected Mumford and Sons to succumb to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, I think this song is a great pledge by the band to remain grounded. Below is video taken from Glasto of the band performing this very song.
My first observation upon listening to the whole album all the way through for the first time: there’s an awful lot of kneeling going on in here. And as might be expected from Dwane’s chat with Rolling Stone, many of the songs on ‘Babel’ are tinged with religious overtones. The title track attacks the story head on, with Marcus Mumford declaring, “you’ll build your walls, and I will play my bloody part / to tear, to tear… / but I’m gonna tear…tear them down!” as Winston Marshall’s banjo bangs gaily along. The words “I’m not a fraud / I’ve set out to serve the lord” feel a bit heavy-handed in ‘Whispers in the Dark’. ‘Broken Crown’ stands up with defiance, as if Jesus had a singing voice and bore down on Satan, rejecting the temptation of Christ. Not sure how God feels about the words “crawl on my belly til the sun goes down / I’ll never wear your broken crown / I’ll take the ropes and fuck it all the way / in this twilight, how dare you speak of grace” though….
‘I Will Wait’, the first single released from the album, was a safe choice: it’s got the feel good chord progressions melody and slap happy vibe of all of Mumford and Sons’ most popular songs from ‘Sigh No More’ (‘Roll Away Your Stone’, ‘Little Lion Man’). That said, it can become easily tiresome with its repetitiveness and lack of originality. While sounding nice, ‘Not with Haste’ just doesn’t push the right buttons for me, feeling like filler. ‘Hopeless Wanderers’ and ‘Lover of the Light’, the latter of which the band performed for the Austin City Limits tv programme, see the band trying too hard to write another ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ building to a hoedown number.
The songs that succeed better on ‘Babel’ are those that show the band wearing their hearts on their sleeve, ‘Lovers’ Eyes’ and ‘Reminder’. This would have served as a delicious one song after another in the middle of the album but unfortunately on ‘Lovers’ Eyes’, there is an unnecessary boom of sound when the chorus comes in, as if the band realised all of a sudden, “oh shoot, there isn’t loud enough”. ‘Ghosts That We Knew’ is like a ‘Winter Winds’ pt. 2, except this time the message isn’t filled with sorrow or regretful, but a positive one of moving forward from the darkest days: “but I will hold on as long as you like / just promise me that we’ll be all right”.
I can – and do – appreciate Mumford and Sons tackling some difficult subjects on ‘Babel’, and for sure, this is a nice-sounding set of songs that will get played over and over, night after night on the band’s future sold out tours. But with a band that’s gone on to sell millions of records, we expect more. It’s too heavy-handed if you’re in the mood for a ‘fun’ album, but chances are if you’ve picked up a Mumford album in the past, what you’re looking for are good harmonies and a banjo. You just won’t find anything amazing on here.
‘Babel’, Mumford and Sons’ second album, will be out on Monday (the 24th of September) on Gentlemen of the Road / Island Records.
Editor’s note: Ben and Luke both asked to review the new Dan Le Sac album so instead of assigning it to one, leaving the other empty-handed, I decided the best approach, given the close proximity of their humble abodes, was to lock them into a room together and hash out exactly what they thought about this album, examining each track one by one. Read on…
Two world-weary, casual music observers on a Tuesday night sojourn through the passage of irreverence into the clearing of inconclusiveness with just an album, a bottle of wine and an unplanned conversation…
Disclaimer: Expect facts to be few and far between.
‘Long Night of Life’ (feat. Merz) Ben: Well, the intro’s a bit like Stomp…but, would you say this crosses the border into pop music? Luke: He’s an electronic musician with vocals over the top. Ben: My point is, how does that differentiate from the majority of music in the charts at the minute? Luke: It’s basically something the Antlers would do, but the Antlers would do better. Ben: There’s a lot on the album that could be done better by someone else. Luke: He’s not going out there to set the world on fire. He’s gone one way and Scroobius Pip’s gone another. Dan Le Sac’s just thinks “Well, I should probably get something done too!” Ben: I suppose that’ll be the litmus test of this album. How he stands up without Scroobius Pip.
‘Play Along’ (feat. Sarah Williams White) Luke: It’s more jilted than ‘Development’. There’s a lot of skipping and heading back. But it’s more fluid than the stuff he was doing with Scroobius Pip. Ben: This track’s a lot techier. Luke: The singer’s kind of like Katy B. Ben: It’s that faux-cockney thing where they always turn out to be from public school. Luke: Exactly, like Jessie J did ‘Do it like a Dude’, and then it was like, ‘oh’. Ben: Who else is there? Kate Nash, Lily Allen. Luke: Who is now a riot girl? Lily Allen’s having babies. Ben: And, she’s’ retired’ from the music business… Luke: No one wants to buy pop off posh people anymore.
‘Memorial’ (feat. Emma-Lee Moss [Emmy the Great]) Luke: This is the one with Emmy the Great. She’s about on a par with how famous Dan is in these circles. Ben: It’s got a kind of Arabic feel to it, this one. Or, maybe a bit of James Bond; like a James Bond porno theme. The love gun aiming… You could dance to this though. Luke: You could sway to this; it’s bass heavy. Ben: But heavy enough? Luke: Not for me. It’s heavy for a pop track… If he didn’t have the vocal track, he could have been tempted to just put in a massive drop like everyone else. But, he’s kept it steady. Not like a lot of other artists who are just about the WOBWOBWOBWOB. Ben: Do you think a dubstep artist would have done it better? Luke: It reminds me of ‘Haunted’ by Digital Mystikz. Ben: How would you stack this against it? Luke: Probably Digital Mystikz. But, that’s because they’re dubstep artists. Ben: That’s exactly my point. Should he try it if he’s not qualified? Luke: It’s a different scene now. Dubstep’s more accessible to the public. When you’ve got the internet explorer advert with it on, then you know something’s changed. Ben: There’s a risk of being jack of all trades and master of none.
‘Reprisals’ Ben: Heavier start! A bit Pendulum-y. Luke: It sounds a lot like Thunder by the Prodigy. Ben: The Prodigy kind of picked up on the Pendulum thing when they came back. Luke: It’s ‘Insomnia’ but worse. You could see Rammstein walking on stage to this. Ben: You could see Rammstein walk off to this… heads down; going to cheer each other up in whatever way Rammstein do. Four on the floor… with Rammstein.
‘Tuning’ (feat. Joshua Idehen) Luke: I quite like it. Ben: It does have the odd profound moment, but you wonder if that’s accidental against the rest of it. “Often looking for my keys”? Luke: Well, aren’t you often looking for your keys? It’s relatable! Ben: … I have a place for my keys. I don’t spend much time looking, they’re always there. Luke: I think this would be better if it was done with Roots Manuva as the vocalist. Ben: I agree. So Roots Manuva could have done it better? Luke: Dan Le Sac didn’t write the lyrics. But it’s quite a decent beat to get involved with. Ben: … I’m certainly feeling involved. Luke: It’s got a pumping beat. Ben: But, where would you pump to it? Luke: An early ’90s rave hole. Ben: Maybe a 2012 interpretation video of a 90s rave hole. Luke: It reminds me of Clouds’ ‘Mighty Eyeball Rays’. Ben: The first bit had swagger. This is a bit stupid, a bit happy hardcore. Luke: This you hear glow sticks, before you heard grimy basement. Ben: And, I liked that basement, Luke. It wasn’t a Fritzl basement. It was more of a…. wine cellar.
‘Good Time Gang War’ (feat. B. Dolan) Luke: It reminds me of Digits but it’s not too dissimilar to ’05 dubstep. Ben: I think it’s more snare heavy, there’s no real beat to it. Luke: It could be darker, it would be better if he’d made it dirtier. Ben: It needs to go somewhere and so far it hasn’t. Luke: The songs with vocals are stronger than those without. There’s a lot of “that’s good but you know someone else could do it better.” This album was never going to be a 10/10. For me it’s currently 6/10, there’s definitely more positives than negatives. Ben: I think it’s a 5 so far, it’s nothing special. It’s more of a showcase than one thing done incredibly well. He had the opportunity to carve out a niche but he didn’t take advantage of his audience.
‘Hold Yourself Lightly’ Luke: There are a few songs I’ll listen to again, but it’s more of an album you’d stick on in the background than gather your mates round to, because there are not enough original hooks. Ben: I think Dan Le Sac’s fans listen to it on their own. Luke: Harsh.
‘Zephyr’ (feat. Merz) Ben: It reminds me of ‘Egyptic’ by L-Wiz. Luke: It reminds me of Gorillaz in a way. Not vocally but if there was more twinkle to it, it could easily have been on ‘Plastic Beach’. The vocals aren’t hooking me in, though.
‘Breathing Underwater’ (feat. Fraser Rowan) Ben: It’s not as good as Metric‘s song of the same name. Luke: A nice, hazy, chill-out tune. It reminds me of Renton in Trainspotting. Ben: It reminds you of an overdose? I’m not sure that’s a symbol of a good album. It’s bit like New Order and A Flock of Seagulls. But, it’s got that techy edge and if you remove the glitchy overtones it’s pretty much Kraftwerk.
‘Break of Dawn’ (feat. HowAboutBeth) Luke: It sounds like the intro to a slow ’90s pop track. Atomic Kitten will come out in a minute. Ben: It sounds like a Japanese car advert. Luke: I think it’s too interesting to be on an advert. Ben: I can see a Subaru cruising past in the rain to this; slow motion. Maybe we could send it in to Top Gear, it’ll get Clarkson’s juices going. Luke: I’m still sticking to my 6/10. Ben: You can imagine leaving a club to this. There’s too much ‘leaving’ on this album, either leaving a stage or leaving a club. Luke: This is when everyone has stopped dancing and they’re having a conversation but no-one wants to turn the music off. When you leave the dance floor to go to the bar, this is the song you’ll hear. Ben: Everyone else has got their coats on. It’s that sort of music. The barman is staring into an empty pint glass. Luke: The barman has called last orders and there’s a few people on the dance floor – that’s this song.
‘Caretaker’ (feat. B. Dolan) Luke: It’s an intergalactic funeral march. Ben: This track’s been better than the past few. This is people returning to the dance floor music. Luke: Maybe, the album is a journey? Ben: It’s a transitionary album! Luke: If you’re going to spend 51 minutes at a disco, this is the album you need to put on. It will guide you through. It’s an aural map to your night out. Ben: Split the album into two and have the first 25 minutes at the beginning of your evening and the second 25 minutes at the end. Luke: This song has counterbalanced the three before that weren’t very interesting. Not in a harsh way but it was needed to pick the album back up again. Ben: I feel like it’s a rush to the finish after the lull.
‘Beside’ Ben: It sounds like a David Firth cartoon. Luke: There’s a dead guy on the floor with no-one else around. Ben: And a cat is being used as an uzi. Luke: That’s when you know you’ve made it, when you’re the soundtrack to an internet cartoon. Ben: It’s sort of a shame the last song ended. The album has been a very mixed bag.
‘Cherubs’ (feat. Pete Hefferan) Ben: This last track has pretty much passed without incident.
Final verdict: Ben:Overall 5/10. Luke:I’ll go 6/10. There’s more good bits than bad bits. There are hooks there and the vocals on some tracks are great. Ben: He’s spread himself too thin. There are moments in it but it’s relatively forgettable. Luke: There’s a few tracks there that stick with me. Ben: The Wonga.com advert gets stuck in my head; that doesn’t mean it’s any good.
Dan Le Sac’s debut album ‘Space Between the Worlds’ is out now on Sunday Best (Rob da Bank’s label). You can stream it in its entirety below.
By Cheryl Demas on Wednesday, 12th September 2012 at 12:00 pm
Sophomore effort ‘Coexist’ from moody indie outfit the xx is full of the same great ambient, melancholic music of their Mercury 2010 award winning debut. Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith took their time crafting this album, just over 3 years. There is a lot expected from these three. Still extremely young, garnering such high praise and success so early in their careers, something often not found hand in hand, they had a lot to shoulder. It turns out we are in luck, this album is a triumph and worth the wait.
It manages to repeat the successes of the past without sounding stale, including just enough new to show growth but staying true to their signature sound. The differences from the first album are subtle, clearer vocals in the mix, a deeper but still wandering bass, and a flow between tracks that can’t be beat. Despite Smith claiming that “club music has definitely had an influence on the next record” a year before, I had a hard time seeing that. Perhaps it’s just a club I’ve not been to.
Combining the soulful intonation of Sim with Madley-Croft’s nearly whispered vocals, the songs resonate with the kind of longing and unresolved relationship tension that is their calling card. The album opens with lead single ‘Angels’ with a sound that reflects the ubiquitous ‘Intro’ from the first album, all pulse-y and breathy. In the brutal ‘Unfold’, Madley Croft murmurs “In my head, you tell me things you’ve never said, and I chose to forget, I take the good and leave the rest”. For someone who is at the end of a relationship, this song could just about tear them asunder. Music has power to both raise up and tear down. Despite the massive appeal of the xx, this song should come with a warning label for already depressed or lovelorn souls. Another stand out, ‘Reunion’, is simply hypnotic with its steel drums and repetitive chant.
Still extremely sparse and minimalist, it almost makes you want more, straining for just a bit of embellishment. But when it subsides, you are strangely satisfied anyway. I know of no other band that can tease out an almost build to the music without disappointing you by not finishing it. The xx seems to have found a mystical formula to do just that. The original critical acclaim heaped on the band came at a time when music was needing a fresh injection. With ‘Coexist’ they prove that they are not only great musical craftsmen, but a still-needed voice in the ever-clanging music industry.
‘Coexist’, the second album by the xx, is out now on Young Turks. Bits of the band’s intimate BBC Maida Vale performance for Steve Lamacq in late August were broadcast are during the final hour of Lammo’s last Monday night’s programme. It’s available on iPlayer here until next Monday morning.
Lucy Rose’s half-decade career has been well documented. From her gold record with Bombay Bicycle Club, her extensive touring on the festival circuit and slow drip of new material over time to keep the wave of acclaim building, it’s a career that’s already reached heights that most only ever dream of. So, can she keep it up with this, her highly anticipated debut album ‘Like I Used To’?
‘Red Face’ opens with a crash before settling into her almost trademark gentile vocals and from there, you’re trapped. Deciding to listen to something else before this album has finished is a challenge, from listening to it on travels to even just lying in bed. You want to keep listening through the familiar yet fresh sounding ‘Middle of the Bed’ and continue through all eleven tracks.
But it’s the two newest singles ‘Lines’ (Video of the Moment here) and ‘Bikes’ (Video of the Moment here) that steal the show. There’s a simplicity to both of them that seems to erupt into the kind of tracks that Laura Marling’s sets have been needing of late: energy. They build the kind of atmosphere that similar songwriter Ben Howard has been pushing to the top of the billing for the last year or two. And it’s the style of music that could see Rose through success beyond that of both. The comparisons in terms of overall sound to Marling are sparse, but let’s not forget that she came through Noah and the Whale to get her foot in the door.
Elsewhere on the record, it’s hard to find a weak spot. Whilst some of the album tracks sound a bit too similar to make for a hugely original record (‘First’, ‘Shiver’ and ‘Night Bus’ [Watch Listen and Tell video from 2 years ago at the end of this post] are all in danger of falling into this category), it’s not that Lucy Rose is hugely different or original that makes her an interesting artist. It’s the honesty and endearing nature of her songwriting. If you heard a track like album closer ‘Be Alright’ on a Coldplay or Mumford record, you’d flush it out as overglazed “what you want to hear” music; in Lucy’s repertoire though, there’s the uplifting nature of what feels like a story we don’t know behind it and that’s almost so relatable, it’s a cliché. Luckily, by this point in the album, you’re so fond of these semi-autobiographical songs that clichés are lost to honesty, and that’s what makes this album so special.
‘Like I Used To’ is out Monday the 24th of September on Columbia. John interviewed Lucy at Reading last month; read that interview here. You can also catch Rose on tour in October and November.Update 19 September: Thanks to her lovely PR people, you can stream the album below.