New Music Through Old Ears: Prophets, Fighters, Thieves and Creators

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Entertainment editor John Turnbull reviews recent releases from British rockers Nothing But Thieves, rap/metal supergroup Prophets of Rage, lyrical wizard Tyler the Creator and stadium superstars Foo Fighters.

New Album from a New Artist

Nothing But Thieve: Broken Machine

When I reviewed Nothing But Thieves self-titled debut back in 2015, I called it 'a solid debut from a band to watch'. Led by exceptionally gifted singer Conor Mason, the Southend-on-Sea band managed to sound both fresh and timeless at once, producing the kind of rock that a young Rolling Stones may have put out if they formed in 2012 rather than 1932.

Two years later and Nothing But Thieves have released their follow up album: Broken Machine. While not as immediately impactful as its predecessor, this is the kind of album that grows on you — so much so you’re likely to find yourself humming one of the tracks as you go about your day. Particularly catchy are anthemic number Amsterdam, a head-banging delight, club banger Live Like Animals and cutting confessional Sorry.

In just a couple of years, Nothing But Thieves and Conor Mason have gone from writing catchy but sometimes shallow songs to being one of the most interesting songwriters and lyricists in modern rock. After half a dozen listens, this is one of my favourite releases of 2017 — a collection of disparate tracks brought together by a super-tight rhythm section and Mason’s versatile voice.

Immaculately produced, Broken Machine sounds great on a high-end sound system or through headphones, but if they’re not available just turn it up loud and it still sounds great.

Standout tracks: Amsterdam, Particles, Broken Machine, Sorry

Sample lyric: "And I say honey what is love, you just say I drink too much." (Sorry)

Verdict: 9/10 — improves with every listen.

New Album from an Old Artist

Food Fighters: Concrete & Gold

The Foo Fighters are in an interesting career position somewhat akin to the Eagles, in that they keep releasing new material but people really go to their concerts to hear the old stuff. And don’t get me wrong, a Foo Fighters concert experience is definitely worth the effort, as Dave and the boys routinely play for three hours and work their asses off to ensure the crowd leave happy.

Despite their live acumen, the last few Foo Fighters albums tend to blur together, each release filled with reliably catchy rock songs that seldom break away from the standard quiet-LOUD-quiet formula. 2014’s Sonic Highways was both an HBO documentary and an album charting the recording of eight tracks at various iconic studios across the US, revealing once again that the Foo Fighters are a charming bunch.

The first thing that hits you when you listen to Concrete & Gold is how heavy it is. Gone (for the most part) is the patented Foo Fighters song template, replaced instead by down and dirty heavy rock. After the one-two punch of T-Shirt and Run, a new mood emerges with Make It Right, with a touch of Southern Groove, while La Dee Da is all fuzzed out guitars and Jim Jones allusions.

If you don’t mind the Foo Fighters but haven’t listened to one of their albums in a while, I encourage you to check out Concrete & Gold.

Standout tracks: Run, La Dee Da, Make it Right

Sample lyric: “Keep your pretty promise to yourself.” (La Dee Da)

Verdict: 8/10 — satisfyingly heavy.

Don’t Call it a Supergroup

Prophets of Rage: Prophets of Rage

Supergroups are a curious thing. Theoretically, the fusion of individual parts of great bands should result in something pretty cool, but too often you end up with a Tinted Windows (featuring members of Hanson, Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne) or a Power Station (Robert Plant and half of Duran Duran) rather than something you’d actually choose to listen to.

Since the departure of chief shouter Zach de la Rocha in 2000, Rage Against the Machine have become something like musical ronin — masterless samurai who fight for causes they believe in (or for money). Guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford drummer Brad Wilk first teamed up with former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell to form Audioslave, releasing single Cochise in 2002. Cornell hung around for a few years and the band released three albums, but they never really hit the creative heights of Rage and Cornell announced his departure in 2007. And then they met Chuck D.

Founder of Public Enemy, one of the most controversial rap groups of all time, Chuck D has never been afraid of speaking out. The mix of Chuck D and Rage had the potential to be one of the most radical political bands of all time, so it’s probably a good idea that they invited B-Real from Cypress Hill along for the ride. A longtime fan of chilling with the herb, B-Real cuts through the tension and adds some much needed humour to Prophets of Rage.

From opening track Radical Eyes to closer Smashit, Prophets of Rage are unafraid to take a stand, taking on issues from Black Lives Matter to the reign of Schmuck a l’orange. If you like your music angry and righteous, check out this album.

Standout tracks: Radical Eyes, Legalize Me, Hail to the Chief

Sample lyric: “All hail to the chief, who came in the name of a thief, to cease peace.” (Hail to the Chief)

Verdict: 7/10 — heavy political rap/rock with a side of herb.

Ch-check It Out…

Tyler, The Creator: Scum Fuck Flower Boy

Odds are that most people reading this article probably haven’t heard of Tyler, The Creator. Known to his parents as Tyler Gregory Okonma, the young rapper rose to prominence as a member of hip-hop collective Odd Future. He attracted controversy over misogynistic lyrics and a series of commercials described by one social critic as ‘arguably the most racist commercial in history.

Much has been made of the cut up technique used by artists like David Bowie. The idea is that you write a bunch of lyrics and cut them up, then reform them in new and interesting ways. While it certainly worked for the Thin White Duke, Tyler The Creator takes the approach to a new level, cutting and pasting entire songs.

Despite the confronting title, Scum Fuck Flower Boy is a remarkably intelligent album, mashing together wildly different musical styles while maintaining something of a cohesive narrative. While bursting with creative vigour, there are certain elements of Scum Fuck Flower Boy that fall flat, particularly the sub-one minute links between songs. To be fair, I’ve never been a fan of skits on hip hop albums and these are no different: amusing on the first or second listen, but ripe for deletion from playlists to improve the overall listening experience.

Probably not for everyone, Scum Fuck Flower Boy is an interesting entry in the annals of hip-hop, creating art from chaos and daring other rappers to keep up.

Standout tracks: See You Again, Where This Flower Blooms, Pothole

Sample lyric: "I got too much drive, don’t wanna steer off path.” (Pothole)

Verdict: 7/10 — one of the most creative albums you’ll hear this year.

Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)

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