It's time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out a trio of Aussie albums and the latest release from U.S. hitmakers Macklemore & Lewis.
New Album from an Old Artist
Hilltop Hoods — Drinking From the Sun, Walking Under Stars Restrung
Formed in Adelaide back in 1994, the Hilltop Hoods have worked long and hard to build a reputation as one of the best bands in Australia. Drinking From the Sun, Walking Under Stars Restrung is like a "best of" the Hilltop Hoods last two albums (each excellent in their own right), backed by the majesty of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
The idea of combining a popular band with a symphony orchestra is not exactly a new one, having first occurred way back in the Sixties with the Moody Blues album Days of Future Passed. It was all the rage during the Seventies, with bands including Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake & Palmer and even Elton John dropping discs with orchestral backing. Thinks went a little quiet during the Eighties, but leapt back to prominence in the late Nineties with Metallica’s S&M, inspiring a new bunch of orchestral albums from artists like Yes, Meat Loaf, Kiss and Rod Stewart.
This isn’t even the first time the Hilltop Hoods have collaborated with the Adelaide Symphony orchestra, releasing The Hard Road Restrung back in 2007. If that album was good (and it was), then this album is great, capturing the magic of the Hilltop Hoods at the top of their game and taking it to another level. From the opening of The Thirst (part 6) through the hits (I Love It, Cosby Sweater) to the intensely moving Through The Dark, this album shines. Written by MC Pressure about his son’s battle with cancer, Through The Dark is a song that should raise a tear in the eye of every parent.
Far from being ‘just a hip hop act’, Drinking Restrung marks the point when the Hilltop Hoods became one of the best bands in Australian history, destined to be remembered in the company of acts from AC/DC to The Angels.
Best tracks: Through The Dark, I Love It, Speaking in Tongues, Higher
Sample lyric: ‘You were eight when we headed for casualty, and no child should face their death or mortality’ (Through The Dark)
Verdict: 10/10 — an instant classic that should appeal to anyone who likes music
New Album from an Old Artist
Sia — This Is Acting
Anyone who has followed Australian music over recent years know that Sia Furler has a magnificent voice and a prodigious songwriting talent, having written hits for artists including Rihanna, Beyonce, Britney Spears and Jessie J. After releasing albums including Healing is Difficult (2001), Colour The Small One (2004) and Some People Have Real Problems (2008), Sia released her biggest commercial success We Are Born in 2010.
Including the singles Clap Your Hands, You’ve Changed and the incredibly catchy Bring Night, the album sold well both in Australia and internationally. That was the point that Sia decided to retire from singing. Stating in interviews that she didn’t like the attention on her personal life, she spent the next three years writing songs for other people, before getting back into the studio and recording 2014’s 1000 Forms of Fear.
As a reaction to what she felt was unwarranted personal attention, Sia started covering her face in public performances and interviews. She used a young doppleganger (and the odious Shia LeBeouf) in music videos and tried to keep the focus on the music. Naturally, this led to a lot of critics branding her a poseur or a Slipknot/Alice Cooper wannabe, but who really cares what critics think?
New album This Is Acting doubles down on the privacy thing, with Sia wearing giant wigs and performing with her back towards audiences. Despite these shenanigans, Sia remains a highly talented singer, and This Is Acting showcases both her vocal and songwriting chops.
Best tracks: Fist Fighting a Sandstorm, Unstoppable, Reaper
Sample lyric: ‘So come back when I’m good and old, I’ve got drinks to drink and men to hold.’ (Reaper)
Verdict: 7/10 — a solid album from a talented performer
Album I Expect to Suck
Wolfmother — Victorious
Is Wolfmother a real band or a self-indulgent exercise in one man’s nostalgia?
Formed in Sydney in the year 2000, the original lineup featured singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale, keyboardist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett. Their Seventies influenced self-titled debut album was released in 2005 and garnered heavy radio play off the back of rocking singles including Woman and Joker & the Thief, a decent song so overplayed that it took years before becoming listenable again. Many critics accused the band of being derivative, although not necessarily in a bad way.
Three years later Ross and Heskett quit the band (or were fired, depending on who you believe), and Stockdale recruited some new players to record the underwhelming Cosmic Egg. Most critics called the album derivative, but suggested there might be some signs of musical evolution. After changing the lineup again, this time expanding to a five piece, Stockdale abandoned the planned Wolfmother album and released a solo disc, featuring all of the players that were in Wolfmother at the time. This was followed by more lineup changes and the 2014 album New Crown. While there were a couple of attempts at something new, most listeners agreed that it was more of the same.
Two years (and more lineup changes) later, Wolfmother are back with Victorious. Produced by Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan, AC/DC), Victorious sounds like it was recorded in 1975 using the best of today’s technology. There are some great riffs on this album, but as usual Stockdale doesn’t know when to stop, and many tracks degenerate into self-indulgent guitar noodling.
If it had been released in 1975, Victorious would have been overshadowed by albums like Physical Graffiti, A Night at the Opera and Toys in the Attic. In 2016 it is overshadowed by the other albums in this column, along with almost every other disc released so far…
Best tracks: Gypsy Caravan, Victorious
Sample lyric: ‘Don’t you ever get tired and feel like giving up?’ (Victorious)
Verdict: 3/10 — for fans and family members only
Album that will sell millions whether I like it or not
Macklemore & Lewis — This Unruly Mess I’ve Made
Macklemore (real name Ben Haggarty) and Ryan Lewis (real name Ryan Lewis) first met in 2006, when Lewis became a promo photographer for the aspiring rapper. Three years later Lewis became Macklemore’s producer, and the duo released a bunch of EPs that gradually built a cult following. The pair first attracted critical attention with the substance-abuse confessional song Otherside, which sampled the Red Hot Chili Peppers song of the same name.
In 2012 Macklemore and Lewis released album The Heist, which spawned hit singles Thrift Shop, Can’t Hold Us, Wing$ and Same Love. The album went multiplatinum, caught on among middle class audiences who didn’t listen to rap and found Eminem ‘too offensive’, and drove burgeoning hipsters into thrift shops around the world. The duo won awards, even beating out Kendrick Lamar’s seminal good kid, m.A.A.d city for the best Rap album at the 2014 Grammys.
Somewhere along the line, Macklemore started to feel guilty about his success. The theme comes up again and again across This Unholy Mess I’ve Made, particularly on the opener Light Tunnels and the sprawling final track, White Priviledge II. After taking shots at other white artists who have appropriated black culture (‘The culture was never yours to make better, you’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea, fake and so plastic’) Macklemore questions his own motivations and recounts conversations with clueless racists who happen to like his music.
It’s not all soul searching however, as the joyous first single Downtown would attest. Other upbeat tracks include the Weird Al inspired Let’s Eat, the autobiographical Bolo Tie and the hilarious Dance Off, which features Idris Elba challenging Macklemore to a dance off. If this song is not made into a video clip something is very wrong with the world.
Best tracks: Dance Off, Brad Pitt’s Cousin, Downtown, Kevin
Sample lyric: ‘I can’t help it, I’ve got bruises on my pelvis. Ladies, fellas, don’t drunk dial your exes.’ (Dance Off)
Verdict: 7/10 – entertaining if a little uneven at times, Macklemore is still the most family-friendly white rapper in the world
Did you enjoy what you just read? Well, John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out!
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