Sunday, 22 February 2009

My Pod - Music and Stuff: The Boss and The Kings

Bruce!! Bruuuuuuuce!! I can't say I've ever been a huge devotee of the work of the man they call the Boss, or Bruce Springsteen as he's generally known. Yes, back in the day (whatever that means) I thought 'Born To Run' was a rattlingly good rock song and the 'Born In The USA' album struck a collective nerve back in 1985. But Bruce, a bit worried by the fact he'd gone all commercial and pop-starry, decided to run away from the sound of crunching guitars and tight drums and went all angsty and introspective and reflective and I lost interest. But the old feller's found his creative muse again as he canters through middle age and it seems that he's no longer quite so bothered about being 'cool' and is happy to cocentrate on churning out the good ol' blue collar rock'n'roll which made him famous. Less than 2 years on from the release of the likable, uplifting 'Magic' album (and that's almost indecently hasty by modern standards)here's 'Working on a Dream', a new 13-track grab-bag of lively, catchy rock stompers with a couple of moody ballads for good measure. This is good stuff, great driving music (even in miserable February-weather Britain)andf there are a handful of radio-friendly tunes here which are up with the best of the man's work to date.

Buty tha album doesn't get off on the best footing. 'Outlaw Pete' is a rambling, bluesy eight-minute track which borrows, unfortunately, from Kiss front-man Gene Simmon's solo hit 'I Was Made For Loving You' so all attempts at credibnility are shot from the first chorus. The song's pleasant enough but it doesn't really need eight minutes, thanks. Elsewhere we're on more familiar ground - Bruce rocks it like he always did (?) on 'My Lucky Day'. the title track, 'Surprise Surprise' while 'This Life' kicks off with some unexpected Beach Boys harmoninising. 'Good Eye' has a distinct yee-he country hoe-down feel. 'Tomorrow Never Knows' is a semi-acoustic shuffler with a chorus which is already lodged deep in the recesses of my brain and as the album races for the finishing line the pace slows down with 'Kingdom of Days, 'The Last Carnival'and the bonus track 'The Wrestler', from the fabulous Mickey Rourke movie.

'Working On a Dream' is the sound of a maturing rock star, a man comfortable with his place in the musical firmament and unafraid to just indulge himself (and his fans) with the sound and style which made his name. It's the companion piece you might have expected for 'Magic' and it's a fine, unpretentious and enjoyable rock album which, quite rightly, in unafraid to be a little bit pop. Good stuff.

I just can't decide whether the album of 2008 was Elbow's 'Seldom-Seen Kid' or Coldplay's 'Viva la Vida or Death And All His Friends'. The former I only really became acquainted with over Christmas, the latter's been in and out of my in-car CD player since release. But what about the Kings of Leon? Despite the fact they've released a handful of increasingly well-received albums, they've never really wandered onto my line of vision before. I heard 'Only By the Night' last year when a kindly lady who works at the hotel where I've been known to spin a few discs in the name of DJing (but never anything like the Kings!) ran me off a copy because she gets a bit sick of my wedding party playlist (*but nothing like as much as I do). Hmmm, this is good stuff, I thought as I listened to it once or twice and then put it away. But in light of the band's well-deserved Brits win this week, I purchased my own proper copy of the CD and I've suddenly realised what an astonishing album 'Only By The Night' actually is.

This is a big, powerful, beefy selection of great songs, songs which are dark, brooding,sweeping, majestic...and pretty insidious. The CD kicks off with a four-track run of songs which is pretty much unbeatable. The CD's first track, 'Closer'. is musically brilliant, rolling and creeping along and sweeping the listener along on a virtual tidal wave of sound (hmm, wonder if there are jobs going at the NME?). Next up we have the crashing 'Crawl', the next single (or whatever passes for a single these days) before we hit 'Sex On Fire', the first single and a massive number one hit - and I'm ashamed to say this is a song which didn't click for me for ages. Now I can see it as the most energised rock anthem of the last ten years and it's right up there with Elbow's gorgeous 'One Day Like This' from last year as the best track of 2008. Current single 'Use Somebody' is up next; more mannered than 'Sex on Fire' it's powerful and insidious and frnakly, the powerhouse punch of these four tracks leaves you rather thanfkul that track five, 'Manhattan' is a bit less memorable. 'Revelry' raises the album's game again with its joyous chorus and by the time we reach the superb 'I Want You', via '17' and 'Notion' it's pretty much inarguable that what we have here is a Classic Modern Rock/Pop album.

I'm a bit of a groove man, really. I like songs with tunes, songs with rhythm - maybe that's a side-effect from my life as a DJ. I love a good, clever lyric too, but really I'm up for a top tune and something that just touches that part of my brain which makes me remember a damned good song. 'Only By the Night' is just full of great songs. I'm struck by the confidence and power of the music, the rawness of the vocals (I'm not ashamed to say I don't know enough about the band to even be able to name the lead singer with any confidence) and the energy in the production and performances which just explode out of the speakers.

So...that album of the year dilemma? Solved, I think...

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