It’s time for the final new music update for 2017, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from (fellow) angry middle-aged man Eminem, lovelorn chap Sam Smith, talent show judge Iggy Azelea and the final live album from Linkin Park.
New Album from an Old Artist
Few positive things can be attributed to the rise of Donald Trump, but he certainly inspired Marshall Mathers to write some angry-yet-hilarious songs about his rise to and subsequent abuse of power. While Revival isn’t specifically about the orange goblin, his shadow hangs heavy across every track, inciting rage, self-doubt and despair in equal measures.
Kicking off with the self-loathing Walk on Water (featuring Beyoncé), Revival seems to improve in mood as it progresses, hitting a cathartic high note early with the Ed Sheeran collaboration River, getting righteously pissed off with the Trump-attack Like Home (featuring Alicia Keys), and shamelessly rocking out on tracks like In Your Head and Remind Me. The latter features a catchy-as-hell hook from Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n Roll, accompanied by deliberately offensive lyrics, making it near-impossible for the record company to cut a radio-friendly version.
The closing combo of Castle and Arose are tributes to Mathers’ daughters, looking back on the bad decisions he made during their lives via a series of letters written at different points in his career, including his brush with death following a methadone overdose. The delicacy of these tracks separates Eminem from his contemporaries — there’s no way that aspiring Senator Kid Rock would be capable of writing songs like these.
Revival is akin to a Best of Eminem in that it features his multiple personalities, from the psychopath narrating the darkly comedic Framed, the struggling father depicted in Bad Husband and the witty self-deprecating braggart of Heat. The reflective nature of middle age seems to suit Marshall Mathers and the revolving door of A-list performers guest starring on Revival is a testament to his influence across genres.
Standout tracks: Arose, Like Home, River, Remind Me
Sample lyric: “I love you, ‘cause you remind me of me.” (Remind Me)
Verdict: 8/10 — the best Eminem album in a long time.
New Album from a New Artist
Sam Smith: The Thrill of It All
After rising to international fame off the back of his 2014 debut album In the Lonely Hour, Sam Smith embarked on a worldwide whirlwind tour, that featured countless chat show appearances, festival performances, out-of-court settlements and broken hearts. Oh, so many broken hearts. Which eventually gave him enough material to write a second album…
For anyone wondering about the penultimate point in the previous paragraph, Smith reached a settlement with Tom Petty for the similarities between Smith’s mega-hit Stay With Me and Petty’s not insignificant hit Won’t Back Down. Still, Smith didn’t let this minor setback slow him down, recording the theme tune for the 2015 Bond flick Spectre. The song won Smith two Guinness World Records and an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which is pretty impressive really.
Good news! If you liked In the Lonely Hour (and 12 million in sales would suggest that at least some of you did), you’ll probably enjoy The Thrill of It All. Despite his worldwide success, Smith is still pining for love, albeit with a world-weary sort of desperation and awareness that his rock-star lifestyle makes relationships difficult. This point echoes clearly through first single Too Good at Goodbyes, but resonates throughout the album.
Vocally, Sam Smith remains in a league of his own, soaring to new heights and plumbing depths of emotion. Some of the lyrics are a little hackneyed, but he’s nothing if not genuine.
Standout tracks: Too Good at Goodbyes, Midnight Train, HIM
Sample lyric: “Holy father, we need to talk…” (HIM)
Verdict: 7/10 — heartfelt and honest, if at times a little overwrought.
Cash-In or Tribute? Posthumous Release of the Week
Linkin Park: One More Light Live
Live albums can be a bit hit and miss at the best of times, often used to fulfil a contractual obligation when a new album isn’t going to happen. Live albums released following the death of a band member are even more questionable — was the deceased ever planning to release this music or is it just a record company exec cashing in?
One listen of One More Light Live is enough to make the answer obvious: this album is a tribute to Chester Bennington. With stripped-back production bringing Bennington’s voice to the fore, the album showcases his impressive range, from heartfelt ballads to impassioned howls. Released at any other time in the band’s 20 year career, this album may have been a disaster, as it doesn’t feature a lot of their hits and minimises the contribution of the other five band members, but at this point it seems perfect.
It is hard to ignore the hints of Bennington’s fragile mental state across One More Light — but, then again, the band’s lyrics have been based around darkness and self-doubt since their debut single One Step Closer back in 2000. I struggle to think of a happy Linkin Park song, as even upbeat tracks like Bleed It Out have dark lyrics, but songs like Nobody Can Save Me have a particular poignancy following Bennington’s suicide.
If this is the end of Linkin Park (and let’s face it, it probably should be) then One More Light Live is a fitting tribute to a band that exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, driven in large part by the deeply personal and often tortured lyrics of Chester Bennington.
Standout tracks: Battle Symphony, Nobody Can Save Me, Crawling, Heavy
Sample lyric: “I’m dancing with my demon, I’m hanging off the edge.” (Nobody Can Save Me)
Verdict: 9/10 — startlingly beautiful.
Single I Expect to Suck
Boom Boom — Iggy Azalea
Okay, I admit this bit is mostly filler. There just aren’t that many new albums released this close to Christmas, okay? But then I came across this single in the "likely to suck" category on iTunes and my heart leapt. Iggy Azalea was back? This couldn’t not be bad! To add a surreal touch, the song doesn’t seem to have an official video yet, despite being the theme song to the sure-to-be-awesome sequel Pitch Perfect 3, so the only video I can find on YouTube is from the video game Just Dance.
Aaaaand… if you got through that video, I commend you. Due to my commitment to journalistic integrity, I listened to the song on repeat while I wrote this review, yet can say almost nothing about it — apart from the fact that it was generic crap that could have been written by a smart phone. Good to see that some of my instincts are still working…
Sample lyric: “I got that boom boom all up in your face.”
Verdict: 1/10 — exactly what you'd expect, yet somehow worse.
Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).
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