It’s time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new releases from hair-metal survivors Bon Jovi, virtual pop stars Gorillaz, British chappie James Blunt and the most Awesome soundtrack of the year.
New Album from an Old Artist
Bon Jovi: This House is Not for Sale
Bon Jovi have been around for a long time, but even fans are hard pressed to name more than two band members. Sure, everybody knows Jon Bon Jovi, and most people have heard of former guitarist Richie Sambora, but mainly because he used to be married to 1980s heart-throb Heather Locklear. But how about David Bryan, Tico Torres or Hugh McDonald? I actually went to see Bon Jovi in the late 1980’s and I couldn’t pick any of the aforementioned blokes out of a lineup if my life depended on it. Except maybe Tico Torres. He’s the one with a soul patch, right?
After leaping to international acclaim off the back of 1986 album Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi have never really gone away.
While their albums might not be number one hits, they continue to pack out stadiums around the world. This House is Not for Sale is Bon Jovi’s 13th studio album, released 32 years after their self-titled debut. It’s a professionally produced album with competent musicianship and it’s also one of the most boring things I’ve listened to this year.
While Bon Jovi were never really a heavy rock band, particularly compared to contemporaries like Guns ‘n Roses, they’ve been veering closer to middle-of-the-road Eagles territory for some time now. Over recent years, they’ve started to incorporate more country influences into their music, which is fine if you love Garth Brooks but not so great otherwise. This House is Not For Sale sounds like a house band in a bar where they have chicken wire in front of the stage.
At the end of the day, Bon Jovi have forged a solid if unremarkable career path. They haven’t produced a couple of great albums then imploded like Nirvana or the aforementioned GnR, rather choosing to stay the course and keep producing inoffensive music that would never bother anyone. Except me, for some reason…
Standout tracks: All Hail the King, The Devil’s in this Temple
Sample lyric: ‘Till I can find a way to turn all tears into wine, I’ll hitch my ride to a daydream.’ (Living with the Ghost)
Verdict: 5/10 — neither very good nor very bad, just very generic.
New Album from a Cartoon Artist
Formed in 1998 by artist Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl) and musician Damon Albarn (Blur), Gorillaz are the most successful virtual band of all time, in a field that includes both The Archies and Alvin & The Chipmunks. The band are made up of singer 2-D, bassist Murdoc Niccals, guitarist Noodle and drummer Russel Hobbs who is apparently named after a toaster.
Debut album Gorillaz was released in 2001 and contained hits including “Rock the House” and “Clint Eastwood”. Blending reggae, electronica and trip hop, along with a bunch of other influences, the band released sophomore album Demon Days in 2005, then the one-two punch of Plastic Beach and The Fall in 2010. While essentially a Damon Albarn solo project in the studio, Gorillaz have employed a revolving door of live musicians over the years, including Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash.
Seven years since their last release, Gorillaz have just dropped Humanz, an album rich with themes of dissatisfaction and political alienation, although deliberately avoiding any reference to Donald Trump. The album includes guest appearances from a selection of musical luminaries, from Grace Jones to De La Soul and the result is an interesting if slightly disjoined affair. Some tracks, like Ascension (featuring Vince Staples), capture the trippy, mischievous Gorillaz of old, while others miss the mark and land closer to musical wallpaper.
There may be a time when bands like Gorillaz are commonplace — animated faces for musicians who want to show off different sides of their personalities. On the other hand, Gorillaz may be an anomaly — that rare combination of musician and artist who came together to create something interesting. Who’s to say?
Standout tracks: Ascension, Momentz
Sample lyric: ‘With the holograms beside me, I’ll dance alone tonight.’ (Saturnz Barz)
Verdict: 6/10 — it’s time for another Virtual Band to take on Gorillaz domination…
Album I Expect to Suck
James Blunt: The Afterlove
The most interesting thing about James Blunt is the fact that he used to be in the army, and once strapped his guitar on the outside of his tank while serving in Kosovo. If only a random shell had picked off said guitar, we might have been spared the warblings of one of the most inexplicably popular singer/songwriters of our generation.
After leaving the army in 2002, Blunt released his debut album Back to Bedlam in 2004. Initial singles High and Wisemen did well, but it was third single You’re Beautiful that really shot Blunt into the stratosphere. Reaching the top of the charts around the world and played incessantly for years to come, the song has also repeatedly appeared on Worst Songs of All Time lists. Blunt shrugged off the abuse with good humour, which showed that he was a far better human being than a singer.
In 2012, Blunt announced that he was "taking some time out for himself”, which many critics optimistically took to mean that he was retiring. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case, with the release of fourth album Moon Landing in 2013. Blunt did, however, solidify his status in the "faded rock star" club when he signed on as a judge on X-Factor Australia in 2015. He used this time to write and record new album, The Afterlove, which is… not that great, lto be honest.
Mostly stepping away from the “bloke with guitar” persona into a more Bieber-esque space, The Afterlove sees Blunt singing over lukewarm house beats. It’s a bit like when KISS went disco, but KISS were awesome to begin with and James Blunt was not. The only highlight is the self-deprecating 2005, where Blunt laments that he’s spent the last dozen years apologising for ‘”You’re Beautiful”.
Standout tracks: 2005
Sample lyric: 'I wrote you a love song, now it’s something that you hate on.’ (2005)
Verdict: 2/10 — insipid.
Ch-check It Out…
Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix vol. 2
Soundtracks are a funny thing. Songs that sound fantastic played in Dolby surround sound in the context of a great movie can fall flat when played in the comfort of your own home. The original Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix fell into this trap, sounding fantastic in the cinema but a bit tired and retro at home. The 70s mixtape approach made the movie fun, but ultimately was something of a limitation to the album.
For those too young to remember what a mixtape was, well, it’s essentially a playlist with between 12 and 15 songs, captured on analogue tapes that would occasionally self-destruct and require re-spooling with a pencil. The Awesome Mix vol. 2 contains a bunch of 1970s tracks from the well-known to the obscure, and your enjoyment of the disc will depend almost entirely on how you feel about 70s music.
Kicking off with the upbeat Mr Blue Sky by ELO (used to great effect over the opening credits as Baby Groot dances as a battle rages around him) followed by the rocking Fox on the Run by The Sweet, the album’s early high point is Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, a song that sounds better the louder you play it. There are also tracks by George Harrison, Parliament and Cheap Trick, who remind you what a great band they once were with the cracking Surrender.
Despite the jokey choice to close the album with a song by David Hasslehoff (which will make more sense after you see the movie), this album does a good job of showing that the 70s was an era of songs that told a story. The two standout tracks from this perspective are Brandy by Looking Glass and Father to Son by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, a song that inevitably brings a tear to my eye.
Standout tracks: Fox on the Run, Surrender, Father and Son
Sample lyric: 'I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy.’ (Father and Son)
Verdict: 7/10 — retro fun with some forgotten gems.
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