It’s time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a listen to new releases from British supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets, Social Justice Warriors pj harvey, electro-popsters The Pet Shop Boys and indie oddballs The Mountain Goats.
New Album from an Old Artist
pj harvey — The Hope Six Demolition Project
Starting life as a trio in England in 1991, pj harvey was named after singer songwriter Polly Jean Harvey after the band allegedly couldn’t come up with a better name. The band released two albums as a trio, 1992’s Dry and 1993’s Rid of Me, both of which attracted significant critical praise.
Following tensions inside the band, Harvey went solo in 1993, maintaining the band name as a marquee for collaborations and solo releases.
Collaborating with musicians including John Parish, Mick Harvey and producer Flood, Harvey released two moderately successful albums before 2000’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. Featuring collaborations with Thom Yorke from Radiohead and singles including Good Fortune, This is Love and A Place Called Home, the album was a huge success and garnered Harvey the 2001 Mercury Music prize.
Ten years later Harvey won the award again, this time for Let England Shake, and remains the only artist to win two Mercury Prizes.
Fast forward 5 years and pj harvey is still making beautiful, interesting and challenging music. Written during her travels through Kosovo, Afghanistan and the projects of Washington D.C., The Hope Six Demolition Project is equal parts concept album and theatre of the mind, evoking stage shows from Shakespeare to burlesque.
The title refers to the HOPE VI program in the United States where run-down public housing is demolished to make way for better housing, often forcing residents out in the process.
There is a huge amount of variety across this album, from the thumping beat of The Ministry of Defence to the 60’s singalong of Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln. Driven by virtuoso musicianship and Harvey’s layered lyrics, The Hope Six rivals Let England Shake for pj harvey’s most politically charged album.
Standout tracks: The Ministry of Defence, Chain of Keys, The Wheel
Sample lyric: ‘I saw people kill each other, just to get there first.’ (A Line in the Sand)
Verdict: 8/10 — perhaps not an easy listen, but worth the effort all the same
New Album from a New Artist
The Last Shadow Puppets — Everything You’ve Come To Expect
Debut album The Age of Understatement was released in 2008, and it has taken the band a full 8 years to record the follow up, Everything You’ve Come To Expect.
There is a chance that the title of this album is ironic, and that after 8 years Turner and Kane know that they can’t deliver what fans have been hoping for. In fact, a number of the songs on this album sound like they weren’t trying to please anyone but themselves – which can be both a good and a bad thing.
With influences from David Bowie, Scott Walker and the Beatles, there is a strong classic rock thread running through this album, filtered through Turner’s understated delivery and Kane’s experimental bent.
The wordy title track evokes Pink Floyd and ELO, Bad Habits lays a garage band sound over a funky jungle groove, while Sweet Dreams, TN evokes alt-country whiner Ryan Adams.
If you’re a fan of the Arctic Monkeys or The Rascals, you probably already own this album. For everyone else, this is an interesting chapter in the evolution of Brit-pop, diverting but not essential.
Standout tracks: Aviation, Bad Habits
Sample lyric: ‘Apocalyptic lipstick campaign, Four Horsemen in a one horse race.’ (Everything You’ve Come to Expect)
Verdict: 7/10 — experimental modern Brit-pop
New Album from an Old Artist
Pet Shop Boys — Super
In the 35 years since then the duo have sold over 50 million albums and had hits that define a decade – it’s hard to listen to West End Girls or It’s a Sin without thinking of the Eighties.
After releasing a greatest hits album in 1991, the Pet Shop Boys reinvented themselves, embracing Computer Generated Imagery for their videos. While this was a cutting edge decision at the time it certainly makes the videos look dated, like a slightly more advanced version of Max Headroom.
The late 90’s and 2000’s saw an increasing number of collaborations and remixes, and included a notable performance with David Bowie at the 1996 Brit Awards.
Super is the thirteenth studio album from Pet Shop Boys, the third after splitting from longtime label Parlophone in 2013. Available on vinyl, CD and digital download, Super features a collection of synth-pop ditties that recall the 80’s while incorporating a modern sheen.
First single The Pop Kids is probably the best song on the album, embracing the band’s retro appeal.
It is a credit to Tennant and Lowe that they have been able to incorporate contemporary sounds on Super without losing their distinctive feel. While it doesn’t all work, considering that Pet Shop Boys have been making music consistently for 35 years, it is impressive that this album includes anything new at all.
Standout tracks: The Pop Kids, Groovy
Sample lyric: ‘I live every day like a sad beast of prey, for I have to appear to be strong.’ (The Dictator Decides)
Verdict: 6/10 — some fun tracks, but gets a bit generic towards the end
Ch-check it out…
The Mountain Goats — Beat the Champ
Much like pj harvey is really Polly Jean Harvey, The Mountain Goats is really John Darnielle, a Californian singer/songwriter who has been releasing music under the name since 1991. Independent to a fault, The Mountain Goats released a number of boom-box lo-fi recordings throughout the Nineties, often on cassette with runs of only a few hundred copies.
Rather fond of a concept album, early album titles included Yam, the King of Crops and The Hound Chronicles.
After signing with Ajax records in 1994, The Mountain Goats released the slightly more commercial Zolpilote Machine, and then proceeded to release an impressive 13 albums over the next 18 years. New album Beat The Champ returns to the concept album well, diving into the territory days of professional wrestling before the rise of Vince McMahon and the WWE.
For those with some knowledge of these ‘classic’ days of wrestling, there is an enormous amount of depth and love for the era on Beat the Champ. Chavo Gurerro tells the story of the Hispanic superstar father of current Lucha Underground star Chavo Jr, while Foreign Object is tribute to hardcore wrestlers like Abdullah the Butcher.
Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan is a remarkably moving account of the death of Bruiser Brody, sung in the first person, while Werewolf Gimmick tells the tale of a veteran who likes to go to local shows and beat the crap out of the local jobbers.
There are lots of allusions to death on Beat the Champ, which seems appropriate considering the staggering number of pro wrestlers who have died young.
Even if you know nothing about the subject matter, Beat the Champ is an quirky, listenable album with a couple of standout tracks.
Standout tracks: Werewolf Gimmick, Choked Out, Animal Mask
Sample lyric: ‘Get around fine on one leg, lose a kidney, then go blind.’ (The Ballad of Bull Ramos)
Verdict: 7/10 if you’re not a wrestling fan, 9/10 if you are.
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