New Music Through Old Ears: Mother Jackson, Allen & Dalle

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This week, entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from departed pop star Michael Jackson, retro rockers Wolfmother, cheeky lass Lily Allen and solo punk Brody Dalle.

New album by a deceased artist

Michael Jackson: Xscape

When an album is released after the death of a significant artist, it generally falls into one of two categories.

The first is the unfinished work in progress, where an artist dies mid-way into producing a new album. The album is duly completed by bandmates and released shortly after the passing. This generally results in interesting and sometimes classic albums such as Notorious BIG’s Life After Death, Janis Joplin’s Pearl and Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York.

The second category of posthumous release is the shameless cash-grab. Often orchestrated by greedy family members or unscrupulous record execs (although perhaps that is an oxymoron), the songs on these albums are generally of low quality and were not released by the artist during their lifetime for a good reason. Examples of this include Lioness by Amy Winehouse and An American Prayer, which features recordings of Jim Morrison reading his interminable poetry over phoned-in backing music by the rest of The Doors. Awful in every way.

But where does Xscape fit in? Somewhere in the middle, I would suggest.

There are a couple of decent songs on Xscape, including Slave to the Rhythm and first single Love Never Felt So Good (written with Paul Anka back in 1983), but at eight tracks, it’s barely longer than an EP. There are the inevitable collaborations with current artists — of whom MJ, I think, would approve of at least one:

What sets Xscape slightly above later Hendrix or Tupac posthumous discs is the involvement of a phalanx of producers and admirers that add their touch to the unreleased demo tracks — with variable results. Curated by Epic Records honcho L.A. Reid, the album features production by Timbaland, StarGate, J-Roc and John McClain, who I’m pretty sure was the guy out of Die Hard.

Even taking into account the contributions of multiple producers, and talented singers like Justin Timberlake and Usher, Xscape isn’t an album that MJ would have released when he was alive.

Best tracks: Slave to the Rhythm, Love Never Felt So Good

Sample lyric:Love never felt so good, and I’d die if it ever could.’ (Love Never Felt So Good)

Verdict: 6/10 — not great, but still new Michael Jackson (which is better than a lot of new music, to be fair).

New album by the female Jesus?

Lily Allen: Sheezus

A lot of people don’t like Lily Allen. They don’t like her voice. They don’t like her attitude. They don’t like that she got famous because she was related to someone in the record industry.

If you are one of these people (and I’m not making any judgements) then I humbly suggest you skip down to the next review, where you’ll find someone almost entirely different from this Cockney ‘lady’…

Allen made a splash with her 2006 debut album Alright, Still, which featured the huge single Smile and the slightly less huge follow ups LDN and Alfie. This latter track was written about younger brother Alfie Allen, who plays the man formerly known as Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones.

Sophomore album It’s Not Me, It’s You took more of an electronic approach, but retained the cheeky lyrics and somewhat disposable sound of Allen’s first album. Singles from this album included The Fear and F**k You, which shouldn’t be confused with songs of the same name by The Stiffs, Cee-Lo Green, Smashing Pumpkins and Rancid

Seriously people, it’s not that clever a title…

After taking a hiatus from music for a few years, Allen returns with Sheezus, kicking off with opening track URL Badman. Taking aim at basement dwelling internet haters, the track is a song of its time, accurately skewering fools like MRAs and professional trolls with a well-considered turn of phrase.

Title track Sheezus is somewhere between a sarcastic reply to Kanye West’s Yeezus and a declaration of her ongoing relevance in the face of younger competition, and represents the album well. The lyrics are clever, the beat is catchy, but all in all it’s a bit repetitive and forgettable.

First single Hard Out Here tried (and failed, in my opinion) to satirise artists who objectify women and make them dance around in skimpy clothing. The fact that she does this by objectifying women and making them dance around in skimpy clothing seems to miss the point — but I could be wrong…

Best tracks: URL Badman, Our Time, Take My Place

Sample lyric: ‘I don’t troll, I make statements.’  (URL Badman)

Verdict: 7/10 — not for everyone, but for those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like.

New album by a solo punk

Brody Dalle — Diploid Love

Born in Fitzroy, Victoria, Brody Dalle picked up a guitar when she was thirteen, formed her first band at sixteen and started playing gigs, lying about her age when necessary.

At 1995’s Summersault Festival, Dalle met Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, and the two started dating despite a thirteen year age gap. As soon as Dalle turned eighteen the pair got married, which is either romantic or creepy, depending on your perspective.

In 1998 Dalle formed the Distillers, releasing a self-titled album two years later. Follow up Sing Sing Death House was recorded the same year, but re-released in 2002 off the success of song Seneca Falls. Various members left the band along the way, and by 2003’s Coral Fang, Dalle was the only remaining original member of the band.

Deciding that The Distillers was too limiting, Dalle folded the band and formed Spinnerette, releasing a self-titled album in 2009. The band featured guitarist Tony Bevilacqua from The Distillers, bassist Alain Johannes from Eleven and drummer Jack Irons from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

This band never actually broke up, but it took Dalle another five years to write and record her solo album Diploid Love, so I wouldn’t hold your breath for another Spinnerette album if I were you.

The first single from Diploid love was Meet the Foetus/Oh The Joy, which starts out a bit like a KISS song but morphs into a sort of Garbage/Blondie hybrid, which is unsurprising when you learn that Shirley Manson provides backing vocals for the track.

Overall, Diploid Love lacks a sense of coherency, with Dalle’s native punk songs sitting uncomfortably next to Dido-esque tracks like I Don’t Need Your Love.

Best tracks: Don’t Mess With Me, Parties for Prostitutes

Sample lyric: ‘You’re the reason I can stay, and fight until the death.’ (Don’t Mess with Me)

Verdict: 6/10 — sludgy punk with flashes of inspiration

Album I expect to suck

Wolfmother: New Crown

Wolfmother is Andrew Stockdale like Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor.

Things weren’t always this way, but original bandmates Myles Heskett and Chris Ross left the group back in 2008 due to that old favourite ‘personal and musical differences’.

When Wolfmother broke big back in 2006, it was off the back of gloriously seventies retro rock riffs behind vaguely nonsensical lyrics about hot chicks and unicorns. The music was derivative and disposable but, like British compatriots The Darkness, it was still a lot of fun.

After the departure of Heskett and Ross (who went on to form Palace of Fire and Good Heavens), Stockdale hired some new guys and released Cosmic Egg. Named after a yoga position, the album was relatively successful commercially, reaching number three on the ARIA chart, but featured little in the way of musical development or creative evolution.

After recording By The Sword with ex-Guns ‘n Roses guitarist Slash in 2010, Stockdale released solo album Keep Moving in 2013. It sounded pretty much like Wolfmother, which is probably because it was recorded with various incarnations of the band before they quit.

Perhaps realising that hard rock bands sell more albums than solo artists, Stockdale relased 2014’s New Crown under the Wolfmother moniker.

Filled with ten interchangeable Seventies-influenced tracks, there is absolutely nothing surprising on New Crown, except perhaps the fact that someone thought this was a good album to release in 2014.

Most songs on this album go on for at least thirty seconds too long, the time filled with pointless guitar noodling run through a vintage amp. We get it, Stockdale. You know how to play guitar. When your influences expand to include anything after 1979, maybe we’ll talk.

Best tracks: I Ain’t Got No (a clear Rolling Stones rip off, but not badly done)

Sample lyric: ‘I sat and listened to a man named Dr Joe. Wow, my tangerine dream. Wow, my tangerine dream. Wow, my tangerine dream.' (My Tangerine Dream)

Verdict: 2/10 — if you think music was at its best in 1974, this might be the best new album out this week.  Everyone else, keep looking.

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