This edition of New Borns brings you a bit of a mixed bag. First up, an in depth cover of the latest New Order album, which has been greeted with anticipation and mixed reviews from around the world. For such an influential band to be releasing new music after a dry spell of 10 years, it leaves much to consider. Similarly, the reformation of iconic British band The Libertines also sees them releasing new music after a equally lengthly of time away from the studio. Rounding out this edition are singer songwriter Kurt Vile, who’s indie following is starting to diversify, as well as new music from French electro-pop group AaRON and rock stalwarts Stereophonics.
Album Title Music Complete
Label Create Control
Genre Pop, Electronic
Moments Of There is only one New Order
Stand Out Restless, Singularity
For Manchester’s arguably best-known export prior to OASIS (if you’re of a certain age), New Order has claimed its new album – the first since 2005’s “Waiting For The Sirens Call” is “Music Complete”. Next up for the public generally is to consider whether it’s transformation complete, too. Based on the sounds contained therein, that’s debatable.
New Order are of that era from whence many came but few seemingly survived. Electric pop tinged with wry observations about life, circa 1980s. Who have we got left then? The Cure? Depeche Mode? And New Order.
This is also New Order playing out the Pink Floyd storyline. Who’d have ever thought of comparing them? But the signs are there. First couple of albums with original perceived-as-visionary genius frontman (Syd Barrett/Ian Curtis), unmistakable touch for the next line-up formation from the bass
player (Roger Waters/Peter Hook) followed by legal wrangling after said bassist subsequently decides to quit the band and it ends up led into the future by the guitarist (Dave Gilmour/Bernard Sumner).To the songs themselves. Eleven of them, clocking in at 65 minutes total.
As has generally been the case with them for the past two decades, it’s a case of one-third utter brilliance, one-third head-scratchingly odd and one-third average only when compared to the brilliant bits. A good-ish album with some superb moments.
For those seeking numbers, I’d say 7 out of 10 for the sounds. Plus 0.5 for the fact that the band was prepared to get back in the studio for the first time in a decade in the first place. The presumably egotistical Hook isn’t missed. But keyboardist Gill Gilbert has been welcomed back in a big way indeed. The best moments just really do sound, well, bigger, with her on board. But enough of me, let’s let the band also speak for themselves.
Guitarist Phil Cunningham said they’d always intended a throwback to their electronic days after the semi-acoustic strum-fests that were much of “Sirens Call” and the bridging Bad Lieutenant release “Never Cry Another Tear” from 2009. New bass player Tom Chapman agreed, though given he’s the most recent recruit, I’m not sure how much input he’d had into those classic 1980s albums anyway…
Drummer Steve Morris said he’d been initially worried about how well they’d be received minus Hook’s onstage influence. No probs, really. Frontman Bernard Sumner said it was clearly the dance side of New Order that mattered most at present to the fans after three years of 30-year-reunion gigs.
As Sumner noted: “To be a real band, a live and vibrant entity, you have to do the things that bands do – and that’s make music, not just keep replaying the past. We could just go out on the road and play endlessly, but if you’ve got a creative bug you need to feed it and breathe new life into the band.”
Fortunately, as the whole nostalgia-act-forever would’ve been just plain weird, nay wrong, somehow. The same went for Pink Floyd. New Order’s ninth full length studio album was almost an EP. Gilbert preferred the shorter form but was apparently voted down by Morris and Sumner. The latter in particular still reckoned albums have some punch left in them. And, at times “Music Complete” definitely does as well. But ironically though, “Music Complete” at its best would’ve made a superb EP.
The best of “Music Complete” comes at the start. More than matching 2001’s “Get Ready” and arguably not far behind “Sirens” or 1993’s “Republic”. Try these for a hat-trick of hits out of the blocks. “Restless” (jangly guitar, understated bass, sly introspection), “Singularity” (buzz-saw cutting keys) and “Plastic” (floor-hitting stomp-a-rama).
What follows meanders from interesting to indulgent. Can’t blame New Order for attempting a few different things, but they don’t all come off. “Tutti Frutti” is sadly as disposable a novelty tune as the title suggests. Both “Unlearn This Hatred” and “The Game” suffer from a nagging sense of too-similar to other tracks, while supposed centrepiece “Stray Dog” just doesn’t work. Iggy Pop intoning Sumner’s poetry over an otherwise terrific instrumental? Yeah. Weird is what I thought, too.
Elsewhere, “People On The High Line” is all piano-hammerin’ and finger-snappin’, with a skittering instrumental section, riding a wave of hi-hat and percussion. “Academic” is assured territory in Bad Lieutenant mould, while “Nothing But A Fool” really is an epic at nearly eight minutes, with a brooding echo of Joy Divison in Sumner’s tale of love and love lost. He seems to have a thing for that, does Sumner. And he’s had two marriages to back that stuff up.
At least Sumner sounds revitalised overall on “Music Complete”, as does the rest of New Order generally. The tunes themselves are hit and miss, for sure (aren’t they on most albums these days?). But to hear them carrying on their career in itself is something a bit special, really. Music incomplete, maybe, but reunion mission accomplished in terms of membership renewal.
Album Title We Cut The Night
Label Wrangram Music
Moments Of Radiohead, Portishead
Stand Out Blouson Noir, Shades Of Blue
On the other side of the world, Aaron (Artificial Animals Riding On Neverland), a french duo of musical prodigies fascinated by Portishead or Radiohead, have released their third album We Cut the Night, five years after their last album to date. Simon Buret and Olivier Coursier bring together their own personal universes and take us once again to their magical never-land.
In 2006 Aaron was revealed to the public thanks to the film Je vais bien ne t’en fais pas, where the song U-turn (lili) was adopted as the main theme. Victorious in the “European Best Breakthrough Artist” award category in Denmark as well as the NJR movie award, the French duo continued to win audiences with their intimate and personal first album, based on a instrumental simplicity (mainly voice/piano or voice/guitar), enhanced by sweet and charming melodies. Three years later their second album came out, which show some true evolution of the group with an obvious desire to round out their recipe: the music was richer, more complete, integrating new electronic sounds in their songs, without losing their magic. We Cut the Night demonstrates a worthy descendant of this musical road. The electronic sounds have become more and more present, which in turn shows the group’s predilection for some instruments have since faded in favour others. Making pop songs with electronic instruments?! Here is the bet that these musicians have given themselves and the result is more than enjoyable! The songs continue to gain rhythm, complexity and maturity. The singer’s voice, as dark and delicate that it is, certainly brings us plenty of emotion with some a kind of modesty. The softness yet bleakness of the album seems to make it even more sincere.
Aaron have moved forward with We Cut The Night, now using electronic instruments to extend their musical horizons from their starting point, producing a gentle and quiet pop sound, quite dark and magical. We can only applaud the path undertaken by the two Parisians and really appreciate the journey into their never-land.
Artist The Libertines
Album Title Anthems For a Doomed Youth
Moments Of Dirty Pretty Things, Babyshambles
Stand Out Heart of the Matter, Gunga Din
Looks like a fashionable time for British band reunions! After the surprise and successful return of Blur just a few months ago, its now The Libertines who make their come back after a dry period of more than 10 years. After the worldwide success of their latest album (no way anybody has forgotten the massive hit Can’t Stand Me Now taken from their self-titled sophomore release), not to mention the individual professional success of the different members of the group (Dirty Pretty Things for Barât and Babyshambles for Doherty), The Libertines, revivalists of the great British Rock genre, have lost none of their talent, instead, quite the contrary.
After an abortive attempt in 2009, the Libertines reconcilement was made to wait. Even with just the first chords of the album, we know this is enough to realise that the bohemian-rocker-poets have lost none of their musical soul. The Doherty/Barât duo works again seamlessly on this new album, completely “british”, and the band have lost none of the melodic strength and this musical poetry (that little something that, in my opinion, was missed in the aformentioned side projects) that we expected. After hearing their first single Gunga Din, you can hear those pop/rock melodies, guitars riffs, rhythm and dynamic, vocal sincerity and lyrics that are still written in way that we are familiar with. Whether the dark rock song, or sad ballad, the message is written in the most poetic way possible. The proclaimed leaders of this doomed youth gerenation, bohemians, poets, musicians, remain faithful to their origin. It was easy to see that Doherty’s poetry was missing on the Dirty Pretty Things, just as Barât’s guitar playing was on the Babyshambles. Maybe the magic of the Libertines operates only when the two friends are reunited. Poetry remains, rhythm streams, feelings run unleashed, with this “lost cause” bohemian style, which is definitely very present on this album. Because after all, above it all, this is what The Libertines are – the first generation of this doom youth, faithful to themselves. Passionate, torn, dependent, with the only escape being an inexorable need to put it on paper and to express this vision of the bohemian life, with all that it entails. Reget, deception, love, joy and sorrows. For me, The Libertines are the best current example of the modern poets, who no longer use a paper and a pen to express, but instead a guitar and a microphone. A rock poetry pushed by a force of an amazing pace.
The Libertines were able to rekindle the flame created more than a decade ago, imposing their style and their music. Great expectations at the height of experience. It remains to see if these hopes are here to be endured, but for now, it’s bloody good to-have ’em back !!
Album Title Keep The Village Alive
Label Stylus Records
Moments Of Oasis, Elliot Smith
Stand Out I Wanna Get Lost With You, My Hero
Stereophonics have released this month what seems like a direct sequel of their last album to date (Graffiti on the Train in 2013). Surfing on the inspiration from their previous world tour, the Welsh band, fronted by the charismatic Kelly Jones, returned right away to the studio to record their ninth album – Keep the Village Alive.
As I’ll tell you right away, Stereophonics are one of those bands that I discovered at birth (barely 8 years after mine) and followed them through their whole career (as I remember back to a time where, in order to follow up an artist, you had to buy magazines and CD’s). And I must confess that since their debut, the band has managed to bring me the very good, along with the very bad.
My main complaint is that, I think, there was a kind of progressive commercialisation of the group through time (especially since Keep Calm and Carry On). It is therefore with great apprehension that I listened to this new album. And I have say that at the first listening, I was pleasantly surprised. While Graffiti on the Train was, for me, the most commercial (and worse?) album from Stereophonics, it seems that this sequel turns to the opposite direction and sounds closer to their debut.
Kelly Jones pulls and explores once again inside his rock and roll universe, along with his blues roots that we feel on a lot of songs, together with his unique vocal that we know and recognize among a thousand. The opening track is the single C’est La Vie which demonstrates that the group’s energy is always present with their dynamic rhythm. Sing Little Sister sounds like an heated take on blues-rock, while Song For The Summer or My Hero reminded me of the magnificent ballads of Gotta Go There to Come Back.
The only criticism would be the lack of boldness. I miss these punks from Wales who, despite being persistent like a watch (with an album every two years) and seeming to renew the experience each and every time, they still continue to create a mind blowing surprise. This daring and surprise seems a little attenuated here, although it is always nice to hear a good Stereophonics album, not the best to date, but certainly not the worst !!
Album Title B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down…
Genre Folk Rock, Slacker Pop
Moments Of Dinosaur Jr, Real Estate
Stand Out Pretty Pimpin’, Life Like This
B’lieve I’m Goin Down… marks album number six (and his third with major label Matador) for Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile, and with this comes a healthy dose of musical evolution, inclusion of new instruments and a step forward for Kurt as a songwriter and musician. This is in no way to say that the chilled, guitar based style that we know and love him for is gone – instead maybe a broader experimentation that ensures each release is as fresh an exciting as we know it can be.
Since parting with The War on Drugs in 2008, it is apparent that there has been a definite progression of both Kurt’s former band and his new material, as accompanied by his band The Violators. Despite the mutual departure and the occasional appearance of Kurt on the ‘Drugs recordings, the growth of each as an individual groups has charted a heavy majority of the industry’s attention. With their album-of-the-year status and festival favourite position of The War on Drugs with their Springsteen-flavoured stadium ballads, it is interesting to see Kurt growing a broader fan base, emerging out of a cult-following with his approachable songwriting, soothing finger-picking guitar work and 90’s flavoured melodies.
B’lieve I’m Goin Down…demonstrates just how Kurt is refining his style whilst diversifying in sound – even taking a nod to his first ever instrument, the banjo, which features on I’m an Outlaw. Along with this, we even hear appearances from a Hammond organ (Dust Bunnies), piano (Life Like This and Lost My Head There and Bad Omens), without losing the overall vibe that we are familiar with in Kurt’s earlier work. Fans of his unique finger-picking style guitar work will not be disappointed either, because this too is splattered throughout this release (see Kidding Around or All in a Daze Work for some fantastic examples), as well as a hark back to his fuzzy drum machine days on Wild Imagination.
It must also be remembered that as well as being a talented guitar player, Kurt is well known for his witty lyrics and melancholy arrangements. Take first single and album opener Pretty Pimpin’, which features some amusing lyrics such as “Who’s this stupid clown blocking the bathroom sink? But he was sporting all my clothes, gotta say pretty pimpin’.” Where most of the lyrical content as a parallel to Kurt’s breezy style, slacker ethos and days in a daze, there is a true heart and family nature underneath it all. Which in turn, certainly contributes to the wide appeal and growing fan base that Kurt is experiencing.
B’lieve I’m Going Down definitely isn’t a revelation in songwriting. Fans of his previous work will be impressed with this new release, whilst new fans will find themselves upon a rich back catalogue to delve into. Present are the catchy, pop-infused melodies with enough indie cred to still be featured in the underground media, as well as the easy listening guitar work that wouldn’t be lost in your Dad’s record collection. Whatever you are into, it’s pretty easy to a find a place somewhere in your ear for this release.