New Music Through Old Ears – Britney Remembers Wilco Hamilton

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It’s time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from pop metalheads A Day To Remember, alternative rockers Wilco, comeback princess Britney Spears and a musical soundtrack for some reason.

New Album from an Old Artist

Wilco Schmilco

Formed from the ashes of seminal alt-country group Uncle Tupelo, Wilco first came together in 1994 under the stewardship of singer Jeff Tweedy.

After two albums of understated folk/country, the band fell in love with the music of Woodie Guthrie and teamed up with Billy Bragg produced two albums of his unreleased and lesser known tracks, the excellent Mermaid Avenue parts 1 & 2.

While Wilco have never really been known for producing happy music, Schmilco must be one of the most resolutely downbeat albums I’ve heard since the passing of Elliot Smith. Opener Normal American Kids tells the story of an outcast uncomfortable in his own skin, hating those the world considers “normal”.

Things don’t get much better with If I Ever Was a Child and Cry All Day, and by the time we get to the odd GPS paranoia of Locator you start to wonder what’s going on in Jeff Tweedy’s head.

The Beatles influence that marked earlier albums appears sporadically, but it’s the George Harrison Beatles rather than the Lennon/McCartney stuff shamelessly ripped off by Oasis, Jet and countless other bands. The only hint of humour on the album crops up in We Aren’t The World (Safety Girl), as Tweedy subverts the charity classic into a twisted love song.

I strongly recommend against listening to this album after you’ve had a bad day, are short on sleep or are in anything but a great mood — and even then there’s a chance it will bring you down.

Standout tracks: Normal American Kids, We Aren’t The World

Sample lyric: ‘I hunt for the kind of pain I can take.’ (If I Ever Was a Child)

Verdict: 5/10 — well written, well performed and so depressing it should come with a warning sticker

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Britney Spears Glory

It has been 17 years since Britney Spears entered the global consciousness with … Baby One More Time, selling half a million singles on the day of release and leaping to the number one chart position around the world.

Going on to sell over 30 million copies, the album was accompanied by a provocative film clip and deliberately outrageous approach to publicity, leading to the American Family Association calling for a boycott of her albums. I wonder how that worked out for them?

After a couple more albums, an objectively terrible movie, a mutually successful relationship with Justin Timberlake and an ill-advised marriage to a backup dancer, Britney became more known a tabloid figure than a singer. The future seemed dark when Britney signed a four-year residency deal at Planet Hollywood Casino is Las Vegas, career graveyard to such luminaries as Elvis, Tom Jones and Celine Dion.

Then she released a new album and it’s called Glory. Whole books have been written about Britney’s private life, while comparatively little has been said about her singing talents.

This becomes evident three songs into Glory, when the auto-tuning becomes so pervasive that you could be listening to Britney Spears, Meghan Trainor or Kanye West, or some weird amalgamation of the three. It’s as processed as American Cheese, and about as palatable.

Irrespective of what you think of Britney’s music, it’s hard to fault her resilience. Every time Britney seems like she has lost it, appearing shoeless at a 7/11 at three in the morning, she pulls herself together, hits the gym and comes back looking amazing.

This current resurrection has led to a rumoured collaboration with former flame Timberlake and a moderate hit single, so would have to be considered a success.

Standout tracks: Hmmm… Nope, they all sorta sound the same to me.

Sample lyric: ‘I’m’a keep it simple, real simple, just luv me, just luv me.’ (Just Luv Me)

Verdict: 3/10 — not actively offensive, but over-produced and generic

Album I Expect to Suck

A Day to Remember Bad Vibrations

Formed in Florida in 2003, A Day to Remember (or ADR) seem to be one of those bands who smash a couple of different musical styles together and hope for the best. Formed by guitarist Tom Denney and drummer Bobby Scruggs, the band recruited singer Jeremy McKinnon and started touring heavily to refine their sound.

Before too long Scruggs was booted, and the band released debut album And Their Name Was Treason (2005), then signed with Victory records which would prove to be a poor decision in the long run …

Sophomore album For Those Who Have Heart was released in 2007, and the band’s profile got a boost from a cover of Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone. Guitarist Denney left the band after breaking his wrist, and ADR went back to touring, supporting artists including Parkway Drive, New Found Glory and The Devil Wears Prada.

In 2011 the band sued label Victory, claiming the withholding of over $75,000 in royalties, perhaps not realising that labels have been ripping off bands since the dawn of the record industry.

Unsurprisingly, Victory countersued, lawyers made an obscene amount of money, and ADR finally won the right to release their new album Common Courtesy independently, while still admitting that they still owed two albums to Victory.

Once again, released independently, Bad Vibrations isn’t a massive leap forward from previous ADR albums, but if you’re a fan of their particular brand of loud-quiet-loud shouty pop then this probably isn’t a bad thing.

If either of the above tracks float your boat, then feel free to check out Bad Vibrations, but there are far more interesting things out there.  Like the next album …

Standout tracks: Paranoia, Justified

Sample lyric: ‘I’m like a time bomb ticking in your head.’ (Paranoia)

Verdict: 6/10 — better than I expected, but it wouldn’t bother me if I never heard this album again…

What’s All the Fuss About?

Hamilton Original Cast Recording

Dubbed by some as “the greatest musical of all time”, Hamilton tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, the immigrant bastard orphan who was instrumental in the founding of the US constitution.

Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton has won 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which is a pretty impressive achievement for a musical about a semi-obscure historical figure.

Oh, and did I mention that Hamilton is a rap musical? As awful as that may sound to some readers, it totally works … 

Kicking off with the rousing Alexander Hamilton, writer/composer Miranda manages the impressive feat of packing a huge amount of biographical detail into each song and still make them catchy. The narrative tracks Hamilton’s struggle, his womanizing, his triumphs and his growing rivalry with former mentor Aaron Burr, the only U.S. Vice President to kill a man in a duel.

If you don’t know Hamilton’s story don’t worry, because ten minutes on Wikipedia or will enhance your enjoyment of this album significantly.

If you’re a fan of musicals, stop what you’re doing now and go out and buy this album. If you’re not, take a moment to appreciate Lin-Manuel Miranda’s achievements, then move on and embrace life.

Standout tracks: Alexander Hamilton, Right Hand Man, Yorktown, Non-Stop

Sample lyric: ‘Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?’ (Non-Stop)

Verdict: 9/10 — an amazing album about a fascinating man

Enjoy what you've just read? 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!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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