It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new releases from trap crossover newcomer Lil Nas X, rock legend Bruce Springsteen, rap weirdo B.O.B and alt-rock supergroup The Raconteurs.
New EP from a New Artist
Lil Nas X – 7
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard the rap/country crossover song Old Town Road, sung by Lil Nas X, accompanied by a suddenly-cool-again Billy Ray Cyrus. Blending the twang of country with a catchy trap hook, the song is a crossover success the way that Walk This Way brought fans of rap and hard rock together back in 1985.
Perhaps wisely, Lil Nas X uses his debut EP to demonstrate that he’s not just a novelty artist, touching on a number of genres across the 19 minute running time of '7'. Second single Panini is a cheesy, family friendly rap-pop ditty, while F9mily (You & Me) sounds like throwback 1980’s electro-pop. In case you’re into this sort of thing, Lil Nas X has a weird obsession with numbers and parentheses, as seen on the aforementioned F9mily and the Depeche Mode-ish C7osure (You Like).
In terms of guest stars, the omnipresent Cardi B makes an appearance on Rodeo, crispy drummer Travis Barker from Blink 182 brings his usually passion to the skins and songwriter Ryan Tedder (Beyonce, Maroon 5) ensures that any of the songs on the EP have the potential to be at least a minor hit. Last but not least, if you’re a fan of Nirvana, the late Kurt Cobain is credited for the melody to Panini, which bears only a passing resemblance to the caustic In Bloom.
Oh, and if you really like Old Town Road, the EP contains not one but two versions, the ubiquitous version with Billy Ray Cyrus and the original, recorded for a grand total of $30. To celebrate Pride Week, Lil Nas X recently came out — good for you, sir.
Standout tracks: Old Town Road, F9mily
Sample lyric: “Said you wanted me to thrive, you lied.” (Panini)
Verdict: 7/10 – better than I expected.
New Album from an Old Artist
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
No matter how you feel about the music of Bruce Springsteen, it’s hard to deny that he is one of the few "classic" artists producing interesting music in 2019. No disrespect to the Stones, or Elton, or Paul McCartney, but it’s safe to say that their old stuff is indisputably better than their new stuff. Can the same be said for Western Stars, or does The Boss buck the trend?
The first word of the title gives a good hint of what’s to come, as Western Stars takes a languid look at the fading glory of old-timey cowboy America, maintaining a ragged dignity despite the racist clown that’s running the place. Springsteen has always had an impressive ability to craft touching stories of working class people — a skill that has only grown as he has aged.
Produced without the backing of The E Street Band (the first Springsteen album in 14 years without Little Stevie and the crew), Western Stars is pretty much a solo album, which is reflected in the stripped back nature of most of the songs. Driven by guitar, drums and Springsteen’s unmistakable voice, this is an album that rewards repeat spins.
Listening to Western Stars, there is a sense that Springsteen will be around forever, charting the lives of fighters, lovers and losers and playing four hour shows to sold-out audiences. At the age of 69, The Boss is still as vital and as passionate as he’s ever been, and this album is well worth checking out for anyone who ever rocked out (ironically or otherwise) to Born in the USA.
Standout tracks: Western Stars, The Wayfarer, Hello Sunshine
Sample lyric: "Once I was shot by John Wayne, yeah, it was towards the end.” (Western Stars)
Verdict: 8/10 — still The Boss.
Album I Expect to Suck
B.o.B. – Southmatic
Musically talented yet wildly misguided in many other ways, the rapper born Bobby Ray Simmons was an early adopter of the inexplicably popular conspiracy theory that the Earth is flat, and also believes that we are surrounded by Reptilian aliens who wear human skin and control government and the top echelons of big business. Bizarrely, B.o.B also once claimed that slavery never existed, perhaps hoping to capture the public attention gained by Kanye when he claimed that slavery was a choice.
Wacky beliefs aside, B.o.B found fame fast, as his debut single Nothin on You (featuring Bruno Mars) reached number one on the charts in both the US and the UK. Follow up singles Airplanes and Magic also gained significant airplay around the world, and his 2010 debut The Adventures of Bobby Ray debut at number one on the Billboard top 100.
Follow up Strange Clouds (all about chemtrails, another ridiculous conspiracy theory) featured guest spots from artists including Andre 3000, Nelly, Eminem and Lil Wayne, and continued to release albums every couple of years, including 2013’s Underground Luxury and 2017’s Ether. Surely not to generate album sales, B.o.B announced that 2018’s NAGA would be his final album, but like Ric Flair, it seems B.O.B just can’t retire.
Amusingly, the album cover for Southmatic is bordered by the words “No Genre”, repeated ad nauseum, as if this is going to convince people that they might find some sweet bluegrass or classical jazz. This is not accurate, as the album contains relatively well done hip hop and rap, but nothing that you’ll remember half-an-hour after you listen to it.
Standout tracks: Nope
Sample lyric: “Kundalini rising, the snakes is rattling, I tried to be vegan but I eats the cat.” (Southmatic)
Verdict: 3/10 — just not that good.
Ch..check It Out
The Raconteurs — Help Us Stranger
Forever destined to be known as one of many of Jack White’s side projects, The Raconteurs released their first album Broken Boy Soldiers back in 2006. Led by catchy single Steady as She Goes, Broken Boy Soldiers was Awarded Album of the Year by prestigious rock mag Mojo, and was followed by a tour opening for Bob Dylan and a couple of Grammy nominations. The band followed up with Consolers of the Lonely in 2008, then either broke up or went on hiatus for ten years, depending on your perspective.
Confusingly known as The Saboteurs in Australia, due to a legal challenge from Queensland Jazz act Raconteurs, White is joined by Brendan Benson on vocals and guitar, and the garage-rock Greenhornes rhythm section of Jack Lawrence on bass and Patrick Keeler on drums. They’re a tight musical unit who aren’t afraid to get a little loose with their songs, as evidenced by the stumbling, shambolic resonance of Help Us Stranger.
Jack White can play guitar like a demon, and Help Us Stranger is propelled by a succession of dirty riffs and catchy hooks, with White and Benson trading vocals and clearly having a huge amount of fun at the same time. Probably a little less self-indulgent than White’s recent meandering solo release Boarding House, Help Us Stranger is still a bunch of talented musicians making the music they want to make and, whether you like it or not, seems somewhat irrelevant.
Standout tracks: Help Me Stranger, Only Child, Sunday Driver
Sample lyric: “When you’re searching in the dark, it doesn’t matter if you’re blind.” (Shine the Light on Me)
Verdict: 8/10 — a raw, passionate album of dirty blues rock.
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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