Category Archives: Album reviews

Black Country Communion: BCCIV

Black Country Communion | BCCIV

Black Country Communion’s comeback album begins with the sound of musicians tuning up. Someone counts them in and they launch into a riff that could only come from the home of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Judas Priest.

The message is clear: ‘BCCIV’ is the work of a real band, its four members playing with all the give and take that comes from performing live in a room together. But this is no ragged jam session put to tape. For all the natural spontaneity and raw power of the performances, it’s ultimately about the songs. And this time co-writers Glenn Hughes and Joe Bonamassa have crafted the supergroup’s most consistently excellent collection of songs yet.

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Pet Shop Boys: Fundamental/Further Listening 2005-2007

Pet Shop Boys | Fundamental/Further Listening 2005-2007

You don’t get more unlikely pop stars than the Pet Shop Boys. Even when they first arrived on the charts, Neil Tennant was more Basil Fawlty than Simon Le Bon, while Chris Tennant got on with his mannequin impersonation.

Yet, even after 20 years, not much had changed. By 2006 the vocalist’s hair had turned silver and the keyboard player acquired sunglasses and a cap, but ‘Fundamental’ had the duo serving up articulate synth pop as if it were 1986. They even brought in Trevor Horn, who produced some of the ‘80s most overblown hits, to provide the same kitchen sink approach he used on songs like Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ and the Boys’ own ‘Left To My Own Devices’.

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Interpol: Our Love To Admire

Interpol | Our Love To Admire (10th Anniversary Edition)

When Interpol arrived, with ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’, they did so fully formed. Not the work of a band trying to find a sound or an identity, their debut album was, like The Strokes’ ‘Is This It’, a detailed mission statement. Which poses the question: where to next?

The answer, for the NYC quartet, was more of the same: ‘Antics’ covered the same ground as its predecessor, but with weaker songs. So, for their third album, the band knew they needed to do something different.  

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Pet Shop Boys: Release/Further listening 2001-2004

Pet Shop Boys | Release/Further Listening 2001-2004

If ‘Actually’ is the one with all the hits, ‘Introspective’ the one with all the extended dance mixes, ‘Behaviour’ the commercially disappointing masterpiece, and ‘Very’ the one with ‘Go West’ and those pointy orange hats, ‘Release’ is Pet Shop Boys’ “guitar album”.

But, released at the height of nu-metal, this is no attempt by Tennant and Lowe to elbow Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park off the top of the charts. Instead, as to be expected, their elegant eighth studio album subtly incorporates tasteful guitar work courtesy of The Smiths’ Johnny Marr. Regardless of whether he’s strumming an acoustic, laying down atmospheric textures with his effects pedals, or playing a bonafide solo on ‘Birthday Boy’, his contributions never feel like an afterthought.

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Pet Shop Boys: Nightlife/Further Listening 1996-2000

Pet Shop Boys | Nightlife/Further Listening 1996-2000

It’s 1999, almost 15 years since your breakout single topped the UK charts. Your highest-charting hit of the decade was a Village People cover version released six years earlier. You’re past 40. What do you do?

Most ageing artists looking for chart redemption wouldn’t release a concept album of songs from the musical they’ve been working on – including one featuring a pre-’Spinning Around’ Kylie Minogue, and another based on a classical piece by the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

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Bell X1: Arms

Bell X1 | Arms

“As the world feels like it’s becoming a harsher place,” says Bell X1 singer Paul Noonan, “we seek out the comfort of the familiar and familial…arms.”

And comfort is exactly what the Irish trio’s seventh studio album offers. Despite being described by the frontman as the most difficult record they’ve made, ‘Arms’ is their warmest, most welcoming yet.

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Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Lay It On Down

Kenny Wayne Shepherd | Lay It On Down

Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s not one for coasting. On the road, his everyday runabout is a pimped-out 2010, supercharged Dodge Challenger SRT-8. And in the studio, eight albums into a solo career, he’s still pushing himself as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter.

“I wanted each song to really stand on its own with the songwriting, the music, the words,” he says of his latest LP, ‘Lay It On Down’.

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