It’s new music time as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from former Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, former Beach Boy Brian Wilson, former queen of pop Madonna and former Garfunkle sympathizer Paul Simon.

New Album from a new Artist

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

For a brief shining moment in the 1990’s, Oasis were one of the biggest bands in the world. Driven to fame by a combination of classic-rock inspired riffs and the Gallagher brothers media-baiting attitudes, the band eventually imploded in a haze of drugs, recriminations and unfettered ego. But they did release a couple of decent songs along the way…

After Oasis split in 2010 Noel did a few solo gigs, played drums for Paul Weller and generally enjoyed himself for a while before forming the band High Flying Birds. Their debut album was released in 2011 and included singles The Death of You and Me, Dream On, and AKA…What a Life, which was originally released as the soundtrack to a Vauxhall commercial. Rock ‘n roll!

Chasing Yesterday is pretty much what you’d expect from a Noel Gallagher album in 2015; well crafted songs that owe a heavy debt to the 1970’s, lyrics that alternate between the vaguely clever and incredibly twee, all wrapped up in a commercially appealing package designed to appeal to fans of Oasis. There are a few tracks that deviate from the formula that are worth a listen, but overall this is an album designed for fans of Gallagher and his previous work.

If you’re one the many people who had issues with how derivative Oasis was, then you’ll probably have similar problems with Chasing Yesterday. At least half of the songs on the album sound like the could have been sung by T-Rex on an off day, and there is actually a track called While The Song Remains the Same, which could generously be described as a loving tribute to Led Zeppelin. Worst of all, Lock All the Doors sounds exactly like The Darkness, which is going down a rabbit hole of derivativeness…

Best tracks: Ballad of the Mighty I, The Dying of the Light

Sample Lyric: ‘The girl with the X-Ray eyes, she’s going to see through my disguise.’ (The Girl with the X Ray Eyes)

Verdict: 6/10 — good for fans of Oasis or those who think music reached its peak in 1976

New Album from an Old Artist

Madonna – Rebel Heart

Madonna is one of those artists who may not be as relevant to contemporary music as they once were, but can still command an audience and media attention based on their body of work. She is perhaps better known for falling over on stage at the Brit Awards than any songs she has released in the last 5 years, but as an artist who has sold over 300 million albums over her career any new album has to be worth a listen.

Rebel Heart is Madonna’s thirteenth studio album, and features appearances by Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper and Mike Tyson, along with producing contributions from Kanye West, Avicii and Diplo. For all of this influence it sounds exactly like a Madonna album – highly polished vocals over catchy hooks, somewhat lacking the honest passion of singers like Amy Winehouse or Brody Dalle.

There is a strong dance influence across Rebel Heart, which works on some songs better than others. While Maddy has been packing the dancefloor for almost thirty years, there is a hint of desperation to some of the tracks, spitting couplets about getting wasted and trying to sound as much as possible like the random 21 year old currently at the top of the pop charts . Unapologetic Bitch/Bitch I’m Madonna/Iconic, I’m looking at you. On the upside, a couple of songs sound like covers of her own work, with Illuminati almost demanding that you strike a pose while listening to it. There are also some truly infantile lyrics, but I suppose dance songs aren’t really about the words, are they?

Rebel Heart will appeal to longtime fans of Madonna and those who like dance pop delivered by a borderline senior who looks like she could crush your head without breaking a sweat. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Standout tracks: Devil Pray, Heartbreakcity

Sample lyric: ‘And we can take drugs and we can smoke weed and we can drink whisky. Yeah we can get high, we can get stoned.’ (Devil Pray)

Verdict: 7/10 — a solid album but do not listen to Madonna’s advice on substance abuse.

Album I Expect to Suck

Brian Wilson – No Pier Pressure

The Beach Boys formed back in 1961, originally known as the Pendletones. Featuring Brian Wilson, brothers Carl and Dennis along with Mike Love and Al Jardine, the band became known for singing songs about beaches, girls and surfing, despite the fact that only a single member of the band knew how to surf. Following the death of his beloved father in 1973, Brian became a recluse, took a massive amount of drugs and experienced a worsening of his mental illness that would plague him for decades to come.

Featuring contributions from Jeff Beck, Don Was, Lana Del Rey and former Beach Boys Al Jardine, David Marks and Blondie Chaplin, No Pier Pressure is an album that Brian Wilson could not have made without a little help from his friends.  With tracks containing disparate influences from reggae, to jazz, blues and soul, No Pier Pressure sounds more like a collection of individual songs than a coherent album.

The best tracks hark back to Wilson’s halcyon days in the Beach Boys, particularly On The Island with guest vocals by Zooey Deshcanel and Our Special Love, featuring vocals by Frank Ocean. Sail Away captures the rollicking mood of a sea shanty, while The Last Song proves that Lana Del Rey is a talented singer when she’s not saying stupid stuff about killing herself. The only downside to all of these guests is that most of the songs are Auto-tuned to hell, which may work for Kanye West but doesn’t feel quite right for Brian Wilson.

No Pier Pressure is a fascinating album if you consider where the former Beach Boy has come from and everything he has been through. It would be easy for him to stay locked in a room and live on royalties, but he’s out there recording new music for the fans that have supported him for so long. Good for you, Brian Wilson.

Standout tracks: On The Island, Our Special Love, Sail Away

Sample lyric: ‘We booked a seven day cruise on our summer vacation.’  (On the Island)

Verdict: 6/10 — some fine tracks but let down by the lack of cohesion and overuse of Autotune

Ch-check it out…

Paul Simon – The Ultimate Collection

I’ve never really thought of myself as a Paul Simon fan. I mean, I bought Graceland when it came out, but I was too young to appreciate his 70’s stuff and thought of Simon & Garfunkel as middle-of-the-road grandpa music. Taking all of that into account, I found The Ultimate Collection to be a surprising and engaging listening experience.

Covering the span of Simon’s career from 1964 to the heights of Graceland, this album is packed with tracks that you know from movies, TV shows and just growing up in a Simon and Garfunkel influenced world. I’m reminded of the classic scene from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous where conservative mother Francis McDormand holds up the Simon and Garfunkle Bookends album cover and says; ‘Look at their eyes!  Drugs!!!’

With a degree in English Literature, Paul Simon has a talent for writing personal songs that resonate with a broad range of listeners, from the brooding Boy in the Bubble to the haunting Mother & Child Reunion. Classic Simon & Garfunkle tracks like The Sound of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water use beautiful harmonies and deceptively simple song structures to provide a base for lyrics that mean as much today as they did in the 60s. 

Did you know that Simon and Garfunkel were originally billed as Tom and Jerry, as their real names were considered ‘too ethnic’? The world has moved on a long way from the days when Paul Simon started performing, but his contribution to musical history cannot be ignored.

Standout tracks: Mrs Robinson, Me & Julio Down by the School Yard, Graceland, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover

Sample lyric: ‘My travelling companion is nine years old, he is the child of my first marriage.’ (Graceland)

Verdict: 9/10 — recommended for everyone except those who hate Paul Simon and/or music.

Like what you read? John’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 them out!

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