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This week, entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the ‘surprise’ album from Beyonce, an unlikely collaboration between Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones, a new blast of weirdness from Gypsy folk punks Gogol Bordello, and the 45th anniversary re-issue of a Velvet Underground classic.

New Album by an Unlikely Duo

Billie Joe and Norah — Foreverly

If we can ignore the terrible album title for a minute, let us consider the musical compatibility of aging punk Billie Joe Armstrong and soul prodigy Norah Jones.

One writes three minute blasts of angry discontent with punk institution Green Day, the other sings songs so laidback people have been known to die in her audience and not be discovered until the next morning, Okay, I made that last bit up, but even so she’s pretty freaking mellow…

As I press play on Foreverly (seriously, Foreverly!? I get that this is a tribute to the Everly Brothers but is that really the best title they could come up with?) I hope against hope that I might be about to experience Norah Jones first stab at punk rock.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Forevely is an album filled with old-timey middle-of-the-road country-influenced pap. There is an outside chance that a couple of the songs might have some kind of down home appeal in a playlist, but listened to in an album format this is the aural equivalent of waterboarding.

If you’re a hardcore punk or Green Day fan there is a good chance that you will hate this album. If you’re someone who thinks Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) and Wake Me Up When September Ends are the best Green Day songs, you might find something to like here. If you’re an older listener with fond memories of the Everly Brothers (particularly following the recent death of younger brother Phil) then you’re probably best just to buy their greatest hits — the originals are better.

The duo seemed to have a pleasant (if somewhat uncomfortable) time making the album, which is probably something.

It’s always interesting to watch artists trying to perform outside their chosen genre, with particular highlights being Frank Zappa’s orchestral compositions and Ice T’s metal masterpiece Body Count. It’s always interesting listening to an artist spread their wings — but in some cases, it just proves that they’re a flightless bird, like the Penguin.

Taking this into account, I would humbly suggest that Billie Joe Armstrong never attempt this sort of thing again. Drugs are bad, but middle-of-the-road country music sung by an aging punk is worse.

Best tracks: Nope.

Sample lyric: ‘You’ll regret the day you seen me leavin’, cause when I leave I’ll be a long time gone.’ (Long Time Gone)

Verdict: 1/10 — might be good if you like this sort of thing, I suppose. Like licorice. Or enemas.

New Album by an Odd Artist

Gogol Bordello — Pura Vida Conspiracy

The music of Gogol Bordello is catchy and upbeat, but it isn’t for everyone.

Formed in 1999 on the Lower East side of Manhattan, this Gypsy band incorporate influences of dub and punk, but have a style all their own.

Named after classic Ukrainian/Russian writer Nikolay Gogol, the band have released six albums in their 15 year career and built a solid following based on their incredibly entertaining live shows. Seriously — I caught them at a festival back in 2010 and spent the next year trying to convince all of my friends to listen to Trans-Continental Hustle (usually to no avail — as I said, they’re a bit odd).

The music of Gogol Bordello focuses around controversial themes — the plight of Gypsies (both in Europe and around the world), the need for personal freedom and the therapeutic value of having a good time. At any time, the band has around half a dozen members playing a combination of modern and traditional instruments — the result is a glorious cacophony.

Frontman Eugene Hutz (no relation to deceased Simpsons lawyer Lionel Hutz) claims influences including Jimi Hendrix and Parliament / Funkadelic, which sort of makes sense when you listen to Pura Vida Conspiracy.

Some of the songs take a couple of listens to really get your head around, but there is an unbridled joy in the music which can’t be ignored.

Gogol Bordello — best Gypsy Punk band of 2014.

Best tracks: I Just Realized, Gypsy Auto Pilot

Sample lyric: ‘Where is the exit? Of course there is none.’ (I Just Realized)

Verdict: 7/10 — more than worth a listen for music fans with an open mind.

Album I Expect to Suck

Beyonce — BEYONCE

The most interesting thing about this album is the way it was released — straight onto iTunes with no pre-promotion or publicity.

Naturally, this generated a massive amount of publicity and drove the album to a new sales record on iTunes — probably because the Apple platform was the only way to buy the album for the first week of release.

BEYONCE is also being marketed as the first ever ‘visual album’, which apparently annoyed Kanye West a great deal because he came up with the idea first, but his ‘people’ told him it was a stupid idea. In case you hadn’t heard, Kanye is a self-proclaimed Creative Genius, although he doesn’t write that on forms in airports because sometimes he forgets how to spell the word genius.

True story.

What is a 'visual album', I hear you ask?

It’s an album with music videos for all of the songs. Wow, that is an original idea. The songs are pretty much what you’d expect — disposable, well-produced R&B influenced pop with guest stars aplenty.

In an interesting marketing angle, Beyonce has used the release of this album to make a stand for female empowerment and equal work for equal pay. Don’t get me wrong — this is a positive message that should be accepted by all, but it rings a little hollow from someone of Beyonce’s rarified privilege. While enormously talented and hardworking, her career has been stage-managed by men from day zero — first her father in Destiny’s Child and then by husband and producer Jay Z.

The questionable choices continue when Beyonce has her infant daughter Blue Ivy ‘guest star’ on the song Blue. Seriously, how self-indulgent is it to get a kid who can’t even talk yet to ‘guest star’ on your album? The only way it could be worse would be if it were Pitbull or one of those horrible Smith offspring

Last and certainly least, on XO Beyonce samples a NASA official reacting to the Columbia shuttle disaster — a move which she weakly defended as an attempt to "help heal those who have lost loved ones and reminded us that unexpected things happen..." 

As confirmation that the album is rubbish, the hipster tools over at Pitchfork love it.

Best tracks: Superpower (featuring Frank Ocean), Blow (a song about oral sex, apparently)

Sample lyric: ‘Can you eat my skittles? It’s the sweetest in the middle. Pink is the flavor.’ (Blow)

Verdict: 2/10 — just for the marketing, really. And for the record, I don’t think pink is a flavor.

Retro Re-issue

The Velvet Underground — White Light/White Heat (45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)

The Velvet Underground were not a very successful band when they were together.

Sure, they were hip, friends with Andy Warhol and hugely influential to anyone who knew about them, but in terms of albums they sold peanuts compared with 1968 hits like the Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet and the Beatles White Album.

Led by the always-chirpy Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground was made up of serious musicians — from composer John Cale to guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, all of whom contributed to the artistic direction of Velvet Underground albums. The creative relationship was strained, to say the least, but the conflict resulted in beautiful slices of darkness.

Following the release of debut album The Velvet Undergound and Nico (either enhanced or ruined by the input of Andy Warhol hanger-on Nico depending on your perspective), the band severed their relationship with Warhol and set to recording what many consider to be their best album — White Light/White Heat.

Saturated with feedback and resolutely experimental, the album sold terribly, peaking at #199 on the Billboard Top 200. This is somewhat unsurprising, considering tracks like The Gift, which features a left/right split audio track with a short story playing in one ear and a cacophonous instrumental track playing in the other. With a title track about amphetamine use, themes include prostitution, self loathing and transphobia — pretty challenging stuff for 1967…

After the musical disgrace that was the Metallica / Lou Reed collaboration Lulu, there are some people who argue that Lou Reed was simply taking the piss. Unfortunately, Reed died before he could confirm or deny this hypothesis. For anyone who had the misfortune of listening to Lulu, here is what a Metallica and Lou Reed collaboration is supposed to sound like.

If you’re a fan of experimental music, you should really own a copy of White Light/White Heat.

This particular release has the original Mono version, a remastered stereo version, a live show and alternate takes including John Cale’s last sessions with the band.

Best tracks: White Light/White Heat, Beginning to See the Light, I Heard Her Call My Name

Sample lyric: ‘White light, going messing with my mind, white light, and don’t you know it’s gonna make me go blind.’ (White Light/White Heat)

Verdict: 7/10 — essential music history for any punk or metal fan

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