It’s well past time for some new music, as entertainment editor, John Turnbull, checks out new albums from British pop rockers Florence + the Machine, perennially angry rapper Eminem, stadium fillers Muse and the quirky Lowdown Hokum Orchestra.
New Album from a Newish Artist
Florence + the Machine — How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Formed in London in 2007, Florence + the Machine is made up of singer Florence Welch and producer/vocalist Isabella ‘Machine’ Summers, joined by a rotating group of support musicians. The band released debut album Lungs in 2009, and quickly rose to popularity thanks to the support of the BBC. With songs inspired by a temporary breakup between Florence and her partner, the album remained in the British top 40 for an impressive 65 consecutive weeks, and spawned a total of six singles including Kiss with a Fist, Dog Days are Over, Drumming Song and You’ve Got the Love.
Second album Ceremonials was released in 2011, going straight to number 1 in the UK and Australia. With another six singles in the offing, the band supported the release with a heavy touring and publicity schedule, appearing at the Intel/Vice sponsored The Creators Project and on TV shows including The X-Factor, Later… with Jools Holland and Good Morning America.
With a sound influenced by soul, blues and gospel, the real strength of Florence + the Machine lies in the vocal chops of Florence Welch, who is able to switch from delicate melodies to roaring refrains in a heartbeat. With a comparable range but more restraint than artists like Mariah Carey, Florence doesn’t cover three octaves in a song just to show she can – any vocal gymnastics are in the service of the song. This is evident on new tracks such as the dreamlike Ship to Wreck and the transcendent Delilah, as well as first single What Kind of Man.
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is a stunning album from a band at the top of their game.
Standout tracks: Ship to Wreck, Delilah, St Jude, What Kind of Man
Sample Lyric: ‘Did I drink too much, am I losing touch, did I build a ship to wreck.’ (Ship to Wreck)
Verdict: 10/10 — album of the year (so far)
New Album from an Old Artist
Muse — Drones
Fond of grandiose stadium rock and songs about the universe, Muse formed in Devon, England in 1994. Originally called Gothic Plague, then Fixed Penalty and Rocket Baby Dolls, the band settled on the name Muse when they decided that it would look good on a poster. Comprised of singer/guitarist Matthew Bellamy, bassist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard, Muse released their debut album Showbiz in 1999.
Renowned for their blistering live shows, Muse wear their influences on their sleeves, owing a particular debt of gratitude to Queen and Freddie Mercury. Their cover of Sixties standard Feeling Good is often namechecked as the best cover version of all time, and they hilariously sued Celine Dion when she tried to name her Las Vegas show Muse, claiming they didn’t want anyone to think they were the Canadian warbler’s backing band. They won.
The band really broke big with 2003’s Absolution, driven by singles including Time Is Running Out, Hysteria, Sing for Absolution, and Butterflies and Hurricanes. After winning a fistful of awards for the album and their live shows, the band called in the lawyers again, this time to sue Nestle for unauthorized use of their version of Feeling Good in an ad. They won again. Over the next few years Muse built on their reputation, releasing commercially successful albums Black Holes & Revelations (2006), The Resistance (2009) and the electronica influenced The 2nd Law (2012).
With themes such as brainwashing, personal responsibility and the dehumanizing effects of war, seventh album Drones is heavier than anything that Muse have released before. First single Dead Inside is driven by some awesome metal-style drumming from Howard, while Psycho takes a leaf out of Full Metal Jacket’s playbook by including the rantings of a psychopathic drill sergeant.
Standout tracks: Psycho, Dead Inside, Mercy
Sample Lyric: ‘I tried to change the game, I tried to infiltrate.’ (Mercy)
Verdict: 8/10 — a good album that would probably sound great live
Album I Expect to Suck
Eminem — Detroit King
It’s not that I dislike Eminem. On the contrary, I think he’s a talented rapper with a great ear for a hook, and while he has made some questionable life choices he seems to have got clean and become a decent father to his daughters. He also holds the record for most words per second in a song, with the impressive if self-aggrandizing track Rap God. What I dislike, however, is the cynical cash grab that this album represents…
For those unfamiliar, Eminem rose to fame in 1999 with The Slim Shady LP, spitting controversial rhymes over beats by hip hop legend Dr Dre. Early singles included My Name Is, The Real Slim Shady, and the controversial Stan, performed at the Grammy Awards with Elton John in an attempt to distract from the accusations of homophobia that would dog the rapper throughout his career. After Slim Shady came the Marshall Mathers LP (2000), The Eminem Show (2002) and Encore (2004), and then greatest hits package Curtain Call in 2005.
As Eminem’s success grew, so did his personal problems. He struggled with drug addiction, a fractured relationship with wife Kim, attention from the Secret Service for threatening to kill the president, and an absolutely toxic relationship with his mother, all of which led to a hiatus from the music industry that lasted until 2009. On his return he released the somewhat sub-par Relapse, followed by Recovery the following year, an album which went on to become the bestselling digital album in history. Featuring the singles Not Afraid and the Rihanna collaboration Love The Way You Lie, the album shot Mathers back into the commercial mainstream, despite his efforts to the contrary.
Finally, we reach 2015’s Detroit King. Rather than a "new" Eminem album, this appears to be a shameless cash-in featuring a bunch of demo tracks and alternate versions. Most of the tracks lack the melodic hook that made them stand out in the first place, and in a few places he simply appears to have taken the backing music from one song and stuck the vocals for another over the top. There are a few lackluster guest appearances from artists like Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, but they do little to raise the quality of the release. The fact that this album is nowhere to be found on Eminem’s website is telling — if he doesn’t care about it, neither should you.
Standout tracks: None
Sample Lyric: ‘All he wants to do is kill you in front of an audience.’ (Early Morning, which sounded better when it was called 3AM)
Verdict: 1/10 — you can do better than this, Marshall
Ch-check It Out
Lowdown Hokum Orchestra — That’s Showbiz
With influences from Jazz, lounge music and burlesque, Lowdown Hokum Orchestra are at their heart a live act. In fact, their website promises: ‘A hoochie coochie, sexy, saucy, musically driven romp of a show’. Taking this into account, album That’s Showbiz manages to capture a measure of the insanity of their live performances, albeit without the titillation inherent to burlesque shows.
Led by singer/guitarist/producer Doc White and acclaimed Jazz vocalist Nichaud Fitzgibbon, Lowdown Hokum Orchestra play the kind of music you would expect to hear if you time travelled back to the 1930s. The album kicks off with the cheeky You Only Love Me For My Lunchbox, followed by Lowdown’s interpretation of the Blues standard I Got My Mojo Working.
Other standout songs include the Cab Calloway classic Reefer Man and My Favorite Record, a track that blends a bunch of old-timey and modern songs and wraps them in an enduring love for the simple joy of listening to music. Even if you don’t like burlesque, this song should bring a smile to your face.
One other point worth mentioning is the effort that has gone into the CD cover, a dying art in these days of digital downloads. In the spirit of burlesque, the front cover slides out to reveal a near-naked female torso wearing nothing but pasties, along with a third option that presents the nudity covered by a Lowdown Hokum Orchestra logo.
Standout tracks: My Favorite Record, Reefer Man, Rise Up Children
Sample Lyric: ‘Well he says he walks the ocean any time he gets the notion, you know you’re talking to that Reefer Man.’ (Reefer Man)
Verdict: 7/10 — not necessarily my cup of tea, but entertaining all the same
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