New Music Through Old Ears: Summer Parsons Grande Affliction

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Time for some new music! This week entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from Aussie boyband 5 Seconds of Summer, pop princess Ariana Grande, family teamup Liam and Neil Finn and folk troubadour Dan Parsons.

New Album from a New Artist

5 Seconds of Summer: Youngblood

5SOS are an Australian boyband formed by a bunch of boys who met at Norwest Christian College in Western Sydney in 2011. Based on this description alone, I would expect not to like them, so I was pleasantly surprised when they dropped the cracking single Youngblood. Surprise turned to puzzlement when the band released a glossy filmclip for that song, featuring not the band but a bunch of Japanese rockabilly types. It was… a savvy attempt to break into a high value market, I guess?

Taking a look back, 5SOS started out by releasing covers of tracks by Chris Brown and Mike Posner on YouTube, signing with Sony off the back of massive social media support. First EP Unplugged charted well in Australia and New Zealand (and Sweden, weirdly enough) and received a massive boost internationally when Louis Tomlinson from One Direction sent a link to video “Gotta Get Out” to his hordes of followers.

The One Direction love continued when 5SOS released single “Out of My Limit” in November 2012 and Niall Horan posted a link to the track on his social media. It wasn’t a big surprise when the boys announced that they’d be supporting One Direction on their global tour, all the while continuing to deny that they were a boy band, instead insisting that they were a proper pop-punk band.

Sorry lads, just because one of you has green hair doesn’t make you punk. Youngblood is a pop album through and through and should make 5SOS legion of young female fans happy. While the lead single is great, the rest of Youngblood is a little flat, to be honest. It’s not a bad album per se, but it’s apparent that the band still has a long way to grow as songwriters.

Standout tracks: Youngblood, Lie to Me

Sample lyric: “While I’m cleaning up your mess, I know he’s taking off your dress.” (Lie to Me)

Verdict: 6/10 — probably way more if you’re a teenage girl

New Album from a Family band

Lightsleeper: Neil and Liam Finn

Family bands don’t necessarily have the best reputations — consider The OsmondsThe Partridge Family, Oasis. There are exceptions, of course, and it could be reasonably argued that both Split Enz and Crowded House fall into this category. Neil Finn was a stalwart of both bands (along with his brother Tim), and has recently been playing with evergreen rockers Fleetwood Mac, replacing the recently fired Lindsey Buckingham. It’s fair to say that he has a good musical pedigree.

Liam Finn was born in Melbourne in 1983, but moved to New Zealand with his parents when he was young, touring occasionally with Crowded House. He started performing professionally when he was 17 and quickly gained a reputation as a serious musician with a somewhat whimsical bent. He released a couple of albums with band Betchadupa, including their poignant swansong Aiming for your Head.

When Crowded House reformed in 2007, Liam became part of the touring band and, in 2008, he was invited to support Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder on his solo tour of the US, but it was somewhat inevitable that Liam would eventually record an album with his father. But it’s not just the two of them. Completing the musical picture on Lightsleeper are mum Sharon Finn on bass and brother Elroy Finn tag teaming with rock legend Mick Fleetwood on drums.

As the name suggests, Lightsleeper is a mellow album filled with haunting melodies and beautiful harmonies. It rewards repeat listens with layers of subtle meaning, and, although it lacks the catchy pop hooks of previous Finn family projects, it’s well worth a listen.

Standout tracks: Anger Plays a Part, Back to Life

Sample lyric: “For men in bloom passion is a spark.” (Anger Plays a Part)

Verdict: 7/10 — complex and beautiful

Album I Expect to Suck

Ariana Grande: Sweetener

I first encountered Ariana Grande in the kids TV show Victorious, where she played annoying and vacuous best friend Cat Valentine. The character was spun out into her own series, the equally annoying and vacuous Sam & Cat, which ran until 2014. Despite being relatively successful, the series was cancelled after one season following a minor scandal involving co-star Jeanette McCurdy, which coincided with the burgeoning success of Grande’s singing career.

Grande released debut album Yours Truly in 2013, with lead single The Way debuting in the Billboard Top 10. Shortly after the album’s release, Grande was sued by Mindor Music for directly ripping off a line from the 1972 novelty hit Troglodyte by the Jimmy Castor Bunch, setting a theme of enduring unoriginality that she would continue for many years.

An accomplished PR professional, Grande carefully curates her image through social media channels, with her only major misstep being the 2015 incident where she was filmed licking donuts in a donut shop and saying, “I hate Americans. I hate America.” The fact that she managed to recover from this glimpse into her true personality speaks volumes for how talented she is — it’s just a shame that this talent doesn’t extend to the songwriting realm.

There is no doubt that Grande has a good voice, but Sweetener is an entirely bland listening experience, punctuated occasionally by the hilarity of Grande trying to act street. Second single God is a Woman is paper-thin feminism, and guest stars like Missy Elliot, Pharrell Williams and the always classy Nicki Minaj, sounding vaguely embarrassed to be there. If you’re a fan of disposable pop then you’ll probably find something to like, but all others should steer well clear.

Standout tracks: Pete Davidson (about her current boyfriend), a song destined to be forgotten two minutes after she dumps him 

Sample lyric: “The universe so vast to me, 7 billion is on the Earth.” (Blazed)

Verdict: 2/10 — not for me. Or you, most likely.

Ch…check it Out

Dan Parsons: Sunday Morning Cinema

Growing up as an only child of a musical family in Cedar Creek, an hour outside Brisbane, Dan Parsons had a lot of time to teach himself about music. After listening incessantly to his parents albums and tuning in to whatever radio station he could get on any given day, Parsons taught himself to play the guitar and began to play gigs while still in his teens.

Heavily influenced by 70s folk, blues and soul, Parsons released his debut album Firestarter in 2010, probably figuring that most people wouldn’t confuse it with the Prodigy song from 14 years earlier. He spent the next three years writing, arranging and self-recording his self-titled sophomore album, building a following up and down the East Coast of Australia. Third album Valleywood was nominated for Best Folk-Roots album at the 2015 Age Victoria Music Awards and attracted rave reviews from critics around Australia.

For new album Sunday Morning Cinema, Parsons put together a new band called Rodeo Pony. featuring Robin Waters on keyboards, Alex O’Gorman on bass and Bree Hartley on drums. Together they recorded the album live to tape over three days at The Aviary studios in Melbourne, and the result is a breezy, freeflowing slice of modern Aussie folk.

Standout tracks: Here Goes Nothin, Codeine, Never Made a Promise

Sample lyric: “It’s all right leaving in the morning, it’s all right when I can’t stay.” (Codeine)

Verdict: 7/10 — well worth a listen

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: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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