April’s shopping bag: old new wavers, new old-schoolers and Radiohead’s latest curio.
COLD CAVE – Cherish The Light Years
Once you’re clued in – hardcore poster boy Wesley Eisold has become a vampire! – the band name does a fair job of describing the LP’s content. As if sired by sundry black-clad netherworlders, it’s starkly beautiful, glowering and spacious-but-mammoth-sounding. This stuff’s always compelling in its basic state. Ever since Scott Walker’s sepulchral baritone put the rock into baroque there’s been a steady stream of pale-faced men overcompensating for their 98 lb. frames, and although I’m sure none of Bowie, Iggy, Curtis, Murphy, Eldritch or Cocker would ever talk back to mother with that voice, somehow it always sounds terrific married to the right backing tracks. These’ll do. Eisold’s sneaky pop streak keeps Cherish The Light Years hopping. Half the songs sound like lost singles from one of DJ Lazarus’ darkwave club nights: the bellowing opener “The Great Pan Is Dead,” the Faint-biting “Icons Of Summer,” and a pair of ridiculously titled tunes (“Alchemy And You” and “Villains Of The Moon”) that do the muscularly danceable spirit of New Order’s Brotherhood proud. While we’re sifting through the time capsule, my absolute favourite has to be “Confetti,” a spectacularly baleful homage to Depeche and 4AD both, dropping a magnificently anguished, cod-Bowie vocal over a pulsing bed of electro-tom fills, crystal-clear guitar figures and cascading synths. It’s shamelessly retrograde, even sporting a perfectly gothic yearbook quote-as-hook: “It’s important that evil people look good on the outside.” Favourite song of the month – or 1986 – right here.
DURAN DURAN – All You Need Is Now
The record Andy Taylor probably figured they didn’t have left in them. All You Need Is Now is overgenerous, not flinty. Must be nice to think you’ve a surplus of songs 13 albums into your career. Even Rio was only about 45 minutes long. The hour-long run time affords opportunity to skeet shoot the weaker tunes, but aside from a lame Mark Ronson house track with a bleating Le Bon-Ana Matronic duet and one of those we’re-logged-in-and-turned-on mid-life crisis things, there’s precious little to get upset about. Among the many uptempo, could-be singles, “Too Bad You’re So Beautiful” has an immensely satisfying verse melody, “Girl Panic!” is as agreeably swishy as any of the debut album’s 45s, and the hustling disco bounce of “Being Followed” mines moody Euro verse/sunlit chorus duality with great skill. The six-minute “The Man Who Stole A Leopard” doesn’t hide its “The Chauffeur” genesis, but its execution is admirable. Nick Rhodes and original Duran singer Stephen Duffy made a good record together about a decade ago, which sparked fan talk about how the new romantic vibe still suited the band, if only they had the conviction to try it out under the Duran banner. They’ve done that here. The record’s slightly form-over-content – Andy’s buzzing riffs are missed; Roger’s metronomic fills are in short supply, producer Ronson’s layering is pushy in spots – but the enthusiasm is infectious. Easily surpassing expectations at this advanced stage, no Duran fan should pass this by; most new wave enthusiasts will find some treasure within.
HOLY GHOST! – Holy Ghost!
In the wake of LCD’s retirement, DFA’s poured its faith into Holy Ghost!, and while I don’t hear them as being wittily ironic enough to challenge James Murphy’s defunct band on an intellectual scale – lyrically, anyway – everybody knows stiff-backed Italo disco-cum-new wave lifts indie kids out of their chairs four times out of five. “Hold On,” an old single recalled to give the LP a boost, benefits from Murph’s co-prod, sporting a dirty serrated synth loop and lightly phased keyboards straight out of CHIC’s “Everybody Dance.” It’s addictive. So is “Wait & See,” the live opener – pristine, John Hughes flick-worthy pop tricked out with an octave-bounding bass line, buoyant synth pad hits and a wordless, boy band refrain. If the song were a cheerleader, you’d call it Muffy or Buffy. It sounded dead brilliant in concert; it’s nearly as irrepressible on record. Throughout, the candy floss superficiality is extremely agreeable, but sameyness lurks. There are other bass lines, dudes. Holy Ghost! isn’t quite as inventive as the first Sally Shapiro record – still my favourite Italo throwback – but after all the great-sounding carbon copies, there’s an amazing curveball tacked on at album’s end: “Some Children” leaves the ghosts of Bobby Orlando and Baltimora behind for a deeper dig into the crate o’ soul, blending a youth choir and yacht rocker Michael McDonald (!) into a confection every bit as clever as the old-school woody boogie Hercules And Love Affair crafted a few years ago. With a few caveats, Holy Ghost! is genuine boombox bounty.
SPOONS – Static In Transmission
Somewhat like the new Duran album – hell, somewhat like the newish OMD too – a way back playback comprising old tropes given a spit shine: lots of keybs and popping bass lines, and a very familiar singer taking camp followers all the way back to 1986. It’s a shame none of these period recalls ever dial the clock back an additional three-to-five years, when these bands were flirting with greatness, not painting by numbers. For not the first time, and I suppose not the last, the artist presents an album in search of the perfect single, 10 four-minute, radio-friendly ditties with lots of surface charm but of variable wattage. I’d give in to the easy joke implied by the album’s title, but Spoons – just Gordon Deppe and Sandy Horne this time around – are such sweethearts I’d rather highlight the better efforts: Deppe’s “Imperfekt,” “Breaking In” and “End Of Story” are slick and punchy, and Horne leads a breezy summertime keeper in “Escape.” The songs are grounded by a few too many fat saw-wave synth leads and flat drums to buck the nice-guys-finish-in-the-middle-of-the-pack trend. Good to have ‘em back though: I’ve caught Spoons in concert a few times, and if you can get out to a show I guarantee a quality night out.
RADIOHEAD – The King Of Limbs
“Codex” and “Lotus Flower” are smashingly beautiful recordings, and I like a few others too, but The King Of Limbs is really just a functionally decent, minor record from a major band, and historical recollections will be reduced to a few comments about the curious lengths the band took to protect that mediocrity by cleverly controlling the fanfare surrounding its release. Not a starter record for the uninitiated, but the second side’s a pretty decent reminder of how production and arrangement can fluff up second-drawer songs. Just once I’d like to see what these guys would come up with if we put them on a desert island without Pro Tools and Nigel Godrich. New Order and Smiths covers?
MIRACLE FORTRESS – Was I The Wave?
Sort of like the Brewis brothers’ Field Music and The Week That Was projects rolled into a one-man band, with emphasis placed on synths, not guitars. There’s a lot to like here, from the angular, almost architectural rhythms that support and eventually consume “Tracers,” to the expansive, sky-wide pop of “Raw Spectacle” and “Miscalculations.” The steady-as-she-goes equipoise of Graham Van Pelt’s approach keeps indulgence at bay – tasteful refrain abounds – although it also straightjackets his brightest pop song, “Spectre.” As a sound painting, “Spectre” is a lovely, soaring thing. It also needs a live drummer’s gristle. Could be a concert revelation waiting to happen. Generally speaking, an intelligent, crafty, nearly-there record, where the only fault is an overly measured gait.