New Music Through Old Ears: Linkin Jack and Sam’s Cherry

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This week, entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from half of the White Stripes, nu-metal survivors Linkin Park, hot new singer Sam Smith and stoner rockers Black Stone Cherry.

New Album by an Old Artist

Jack White: Lazaretto

Once upon a time, Jack White was the lead singer and guitarist for a band called the White Stripes alongside Meg White, who was either his ex-wife or sister, depending how gullible you are.

The White Stripes produced seven albums full of raw, blues-influenced rock, with hit singles including Blue Orchid, Fell in Love with a Girl and The Hardest Button to Button. They also made some pretty cool videos…

A frequent collaborator, Jack was also a member of bands including The Raconteurs (known as The Saboteurs in Australia due to copyright reasons) and The Dead Weather, although neither group experienced the same fan adoration or commercial success as The White Stripes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ongoing adoration turned Jack into something of a rock star and he took advantage of his new status by dating movie stars (Renee Zellweger) featuring in period movies (the dreary Cold Mountain) and beating the crap out of people he disagreed with (the unfortunate Jason Stollsteimer of the Von Bondies).

When the White Stripes decided to call it a day in 2011, Jack was already hard at work on debut solo effort Blunderbuss. Written, recorded and produced entirely by Jack, the album featured multiple musical styles and won Best Rock Album at the 2013 Grammy awards. Lead single Love Interruption showed a natural evolution from the Stripes sound, continuing to blend Jack’s love of classic rock with diverse influences from around the world.

After spending the intervening years touring and focusing on his other charming and odd interests, 2014 sees the release of Jack’s sophomore solo album Lazaretto. Further expanding the world music influences, the album also takes some inspiration from Hip Hop, as evidenced on the title track.

Inspired in part by short stories and plays written by Jack when he was nineteen, Lazaretto is an album that charts an important milestone on the journey of Jack White — the moment he started his transition into this generation’s Bob Dylan.

Entertaining, interesting and challenging in equal measures, Lazaretto rewards repeat listens and is a must-buy for any fans of The White Stripes. 

Best tracks: Lazaretto, Entitlement, Three Women

Sample lyric: ‘There are children today that are lied to, they’re told the world is rightfully theirs.’ (Entitlement)

Verdict: 9/10 — my favourite album of the year (so far).

New Album by an Oldish Artist

Linkin Park: The Hunting Party

Linkin Park are one of the few survivors of the Nu-Metal wave of the nineties, staying somewhat relevant where lesser bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit have fallen into obscurity*.

The reason for Linkin Park’s continued success lies in a number of factors.

They release an album every couple of years, with a consistent sound that changes just enough that not every record sounds the same. They really seem to enjoy what they’re doing, which is a nice change from people like Lana Del Rey who seem to get more miserable with growing success. Perhaps most importantly, LP are highly commercially savvy, taking on commercial sponsors to ensure they maximise tour revenue (once with tragic results).

It is this final issue which causes Linkin Haterz (as I assume they’re called) to point their fingers and snigger through their hipster beards — Linkin Park have sold out, and they’re not afraid to admit it. Still, when said selling out results in consecutive platinum albums and sold out concerts around the world, perhaps it’s not entirely a bad thing?

After a diversion away from their heavy roots with previous album Living Things (and the frankly awful remix album Recharged), the metal returns with a vengeance on The Hunting Party. This is probably the heaviest album Linkin Park have released to date, and to my ear this is a good thing.

The Hunting Party doesn’t reinvent the musical landscape, but if you’re looking for an album with well written heavy music, you could do a lot worse. Oh, and if you get a chance to catch the band live next time they tour, I recommend it.  They’re very entertaining.

Best tracks: All For Nothing, A Line in the Sand, Final Masquerade

Sample lyric: ‘The light on the horizon, was brighter yesterday.’ (Final Masquerade)

Verdict: 7/10 — raise the metal horns, Linkin Park have risen from the electronic grave.

Album I Expect to Suck

Black Stone Cherry: Magic Mountain

The musical genre of Stoner Rock is much maligned. With certain exceptions like Soundgarden and Queens of the Stone Age, most stoner rock bands are dismissed by serious music fans as juvenile and predictable.

Finding it’s origins in the seventies metal of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, stoner rock has remained a largely underground phenomenon, with little radio airplay to support most releases. As an example of this, Black Stone Cherry have been together since 2001 and last week was the first time I’d ever heard of them. 

New album Magic Mountain is basically four-on-the-floor Southern hard rock, but most the songs are about smoking marijuana. Lead single Me and Mary Jane is a good example of this — if you didn’t know what Mary Jane referred to, you might this this was a love song. Probably not, but you never know.

Black Stone Cherry have released four albums in their thirteen year career, which isn’t exactly what you’d call prolific. Some people might suggest that if they smoked less weed they might be a little more productive, but then again Willie Nelson has recorded over 60 albums to date and doesn’t seem to be slowing down yet, so maybe they’re just lazy.

Unless you’re committed to a certain lifestyle, this probably isn’t an album you’ll listen to very often. Sure, there are a few good riffs, but the overwhelming obsession with a single subject limits the appeal.

Best tracks: Me and Mary Jane, Magic Mountain

Sample lyric: ‘Got the top down and Skynyrd up, we’re laid back, but we’re on the up.’ (Me and Mary Jane)

Verdict: 3/10 — best listened to after 4:20.

Ch-check It Out…

Sam Smith: In The Lonely Hour

There is no doubt that Sam Smith has a beautiful voice. Indeed, he has the sort of voice that will make you stop, listen for a moment and say; ‘That bloke has a great voice. I’m a bit sick of that Money on My Mind song, though.’

Sam Smith is a great voice looking for a great song to sing.

After breaking out in the UK by singing the hooks on Disclosure’s single Latch and Naughty Boy’s incredibly annoying track La La La (included here as a bonus acoustic track), Smith won both the BRIT Critics Choice Award and BBC’s Sound of 2014 poll, both prior to the release of debut album In The Lonely Hour.

Featuring singles Stay With Me, Lay Me Down and Money on My Mind, In The Lonely Hour is like the first mile of a long journey — you know that there is a destination at the end of the road, but it’s a bloody long way away.

It’s not that the songs on In The Lonely Hour are dull, it’s more that Smith lacks the life experience to write a truly interesting song. Perhaps somewhat sheltered at twenty two, Smith freely admits he has never been in love and hence bases his songs on his life experience; one night stands, having no money and generally being a bit of a loser.

At a little over half an hour, this album is barely longer than an EP, but at least it doesn’t hang around to outstay its welcome.

Best tracks: Stay With Me

Sample lyric: ‘Oh won’t you stay with me, 'cause you’re all I need.’ (Stay With Me)

Verdict: 5/10 — maybe skip this album and buy the next one when he’s had his heart broken a few times.

* In the unlikely event that there are any Limp Bizkit or Korn fans reading this article, I appreciate that both bands are still together and making music, but you’d be hard pressed to call either group ‘relevant’, no?

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