Friday, 9 July 2010

The Listening Post: New on Stuff's iPod....


After a pair of frankly underwhelming albums over the last few years – the cold electronica of ‘Body Language’ and the bitty ‘X’ – it was pretty important for Kylie Minogue to reclaim her pop crown – and fast – with her eleventh studio album. In a chart climate where pure pop music has been pretty much consumed by endless r’n’b, rap, grime and countless derivative variations, an album full know, actual songs, might have struggled to find an appreciative audience if it hadn’t been a blistering return to form for the woman who, ten years ago, delivered a modern pop classic in ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ and has, let’s face it, struggled to find a decent follow-up. Fortunately Kylie has risen to the challenge and, in ‘Aphrodite’, released a blissfully exuberant album which evokes both ‘Light Years’ the ‘Fever’ (her best work) and erases the painful memory of guff like ‘Speakerphone’ ‘Nu-Di-Ty’ and even the frothy but vacuous ‘Wow’ from the last album. ‘Aphrodite’ doesn’t really put much of a foot wrong for its forty-odd minute running time – it’s a glorious love letter to Kylie’s greatest obsessions ; dancing and having fun - and teaming up with Madonna’s former producer Stuart Price (as well as pulling in writing contributions from the likes of Calvin Harris, Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters and Tom Oxley-Price from Keane) has refocused Kylie’s music and given it back its heart and soul.

‘’s all I really wanna so, so dance’ sings Kylie on the album’s debut single ‘All the Lovers’, apparently a direct descendant of ‘I Believe In You’ from the ‘Ultimate Kylie’ collection and while it’s easy to mutter ‘Grow up, Kylie, you’re in your forties, there’s more to life than dancing’ I think it’s time to accept that for Kylie as an artist ‘getting down’ onto the dance floor and having a damned good bop is about as deep as it gets. So ‘Aphrodite’ aims itself at the feet – apart from the lilting, mid-tempo ‘Everything is Beautiful’ – and pretty much every track here has the potential to fill the less pretentious dance floor . Next single ‘Get Outta My Way’ has got Top Five stamped all over it and, like the rousing ‘Put Your Hands Up’ it’s pretty much as anthemic as Kylie’s ever been. ‘Closer’ has a sophisticated, sultry groove and the clattering percussions of the title track gives the album a well-placed mid-point kick. The pace just doesn’t let up across the rest of the album from the itchy and insistant ‘Illusion’, ‘Cupid Boy’ which sails close to the Rock Kylie of ‘Some Kind of Bliss’ years ago and ‘Can’t Beat The Feeling’ is a big, powerful, rousing and life-affirming album closer courtesy of Calvin Harris. ‘Aphrodite’ is an astonishing and compelling return to form from an artist who’s not had it easy over the last few years and whose personal struggles seemed to have taken the edge off her music. ‘Aphrodite’ deserves to be the sound of the summer, a genuinely uplifting and joyous pop album – and we just don’t get enough of those these days. Brilliantly simple – and simply brilliant.


The Scissor Sisters pretty much conquered the world three long years ago with their instant classic ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ and their second album ‘Ta-Dah.’ The idiocity of download culture kept their following three ‘single’ releases out of the UK charts and the Sisters eventually slunk away to start crafting their all-important often-difficult third album. So here’s ‘Night Work’. After a false start which included a whole abandoned not-up-to-the-mark album and lead singer Jake Shears upping sticks to Europe to rediscover his musical mojo the band have come up with a big, bouncy album which is hugely out-of-step with current musical tastes in the UK (which have, let’s face it, reached pretty much rock bottom) and yet it’s full of urgent dance floor stompers coupled with the usual slightly risqué lyrics and OTT performances. Lead single ‘Fire With Fire’ sounded like a huge disappointment at first blush but repeated listens reveal its powerful, hypnotic charms as it builds from a slow, acoustic start into a big, lusty, demanding monster which lodges itself in your brain without you even realising it. Like Kylie, the Scissor Sisters have aimed their new album directly at the dancers amongst us and there are no concessions to drippy ballads here. ‘Any Which Way’ the song they so brilliantly debuted at Glastonbury with a guest appearance by Kylie herself is the most compelling disco tune here but the album’s full of good stuff –‘Night Work’ and ‘Whole New Way’ kick the CD off in upbeat style and the pace never flags throughouout ‘Skin This Cat’, ‘Running Out’, ‘Harder You Get’ right the way through to ‘Invisible Light’ featuring Ian McKellen. The songs have the urgent pumping insistence of the best Europop coupled with that slightly seedy,camp theatricality which has always characterised the Scissor Sisters. ‘Night Work’ is an album you’ll be listening to for a few months before filing it away as the nights turn darker and probably never listening to it again. But it’s a belting pop album in its own right albeit one which might not find the audience it deserves to because the kids just don’t seem to go for this sort of stuff at the moment.

Also on Stuff’s iPod...


Until they went all stadium-rock in the mid-to-late 1980s, Glasgow’s Simple Minds were one of my favourite bands and the brilliant ‘New Gold Dream’ is still capable of sending a shiver. The band have had a minor renaissance lately with a Top 10 album last year and the decent single ‘Rockets’ (despite lead singer Jim Kerr’s embarrassing lumbering Dad-dancing in the promo video). But Kerr’s got some solo stuff to get off his chest now in the guide of Lost Boy! and this first album (there’s another on the way) harks right back to the early days of Simple Minds with big, rousing choruses, chiming guitars and dense bass-lines. This is, simply put, Kerr’s best work in over two decades and probably my favourite album of the year. ‘Refugee’ is a big, crashing album opener, ‘She Fell In Love With Silence’ rattles along and the first single ‘Shadowland’ could, in all honesty, have been lifted from any Golden Era Minds album. ‘Remember Asia’ pulsates urgently and ‘Bulletproof Heart’ showcases the strangely lilting purity of Kerr’s vocals with its soaring chorus. It’s not all good news though; ‘Return of the King’ is a bit forgettable and the album fizzles out with the crashing ‘Soloman Solohead’ and ‘The Wait parts one and two’ which seems a bit tuneless and meandering. But there’s more than enough meat here to satisfy any fans of classic Simple Minds and I await the next delivery from Lost Boy! with more anticipation than I might for any new works from the band itself. Bit of a result.


Weller’s been around for so long now – over thirty years – that he’s pretty much part of the British musical landscape and it’s not easy for him to be noticed these days. This latest CD is an attempt to not only ‘wake up the nation’ but to remind his audience of the ‘angry young man’ persona which characterised his early days in the Jam. The CD is full of short, sharp punchy songs – some of them often sounding like little more than short fragments of songs, in all honesty – but when it’s on a roll it’s as good as Weller’s ever been on stuff like ‘No Tears To Cry’, the title track, ‘Fast Car/Slow Traffic’, ‘Find the Torch/Burn the Plans’, ‘In Amsterdam’ and a handful of others. Powerful, urgent stuff which demands and deserves to be heard.


Recorded on the road during their world tour last year to support the ‘Perfect Symmetry’ album this eight-track mini-album continues and develops the band’s sunnier disposition with a clutch of upbeat, 1980s-influenced pop songs including ‘Back In Time’, ‘Clear Skies’, the rather beautiful closing ballad ‘My Shadow’ as well as ‘Stop For a Minute’ which, despite the dreary rap by K’Naan (which, hilariously, rhymes ‘beautiful’ with ‘cuticle’...come on, get a grip!), really should have been a Top Five single and ‘Ishin Denshin (You’ve Got To Help Yourself)’ which, despite the fact only the chorus is in English,is one of the catchiest things I’ve heard all year. ‘Night Train’ is a welcome treat and bodes well for the band’s next full-length opus.


Hardly a household name, singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt has built up a loyal fanbase over the years and remains best known for his 1990s album ‘Here Be Monsters’. He’s been an acquired taste because he’s never really courted the mainstream but ‘Lustre’ sees him drift perilously – and hugely successfully, creatively at least – towards the populist on an album of beautifully-crafted pop songs which are sometimes lilting and atmospheric but occasionally – in the title track and the stunningly-catchy ‘Heart of a Wolf’ and ‘Do As I Say Not As I Do’ – pretty much perfectly-formed nuggets of pure pop. ‘Lustre’ is worthy of your time if you’re looking for something which combines the popular and the left-field.


The Radio 2 listeners amongst you may have heard the station’s support of Reed’s recent single, the retro title track, and the album is pretty much more of the same. It’s an album full of gutsy, authentic classic 1960s/70s soul numbers characterised by Reed’s powerful, heartfelt vocals and whilst the tunes are solid and catchy – ‘Young Girl’, ‘Name Calling’ and ‘Pick a Number’ and the brilliant final track ‘Explosion’ are stand-outs – it does get a bit wearing and samey. But Reed’s a real talent and it’s an album worth dipping in and out of if you want some good, snappy soul songs sung well and with a real passion.

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