David Bowie in 2018

Being the sort of nerd music fan that makes end of year compilations, I went a bit over the top this year and made a five CD set that included some themed discs. One of these was a Bowie in 18 set. It might be of some interest to you possibly, you can get it here. It's a gapless playback deal.


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Suede - Manipulation (The Blue Hour bonus 7" vinyl track)

Liberated from the Deluxe Boxset Edition of 'The Blue Hour', a crunching snotty number that deserves to be heard. 

If asked by the bands management I will take this down. Hopefully they won't so fans can hear it. 

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David Bowie - The TDWS 'Loving The Alien' Box Set Review

Bowie and the 80’s. It all started off so well (Scary Monsters {and Super Creeps} and a few spin off single productions) yet even the most ardent Bowie fan would be hard pressed to argue that the decade was a continuation of the man’s glory years. Yet commercially he was never healthier, scoring huge sales and massive live engagements. So for me this latest in a series of four (so far) box sets offers me time and a chance to re-evaluate a period that I’ve always viewed with some disregard.

First off, the box is another fine package, great ‘mini LP’ artwork reproductions, though some of the details is so small I’m struggling to read it even with a magnifying glass (aka the perils of getting old). The book contained within is great but I’m not so keen of the cover illustration of the package. And as for the music? Well, let’s be clear, ‘Let’s Dance’ (1983) is a fine, fully realised in the artistic sense, complete Bowie album. It’s an era defining blueprint for pop, it has weird, political and personal relationship numbers. The production is amazing and the performances top rate. OK, so it showed that David was struggling to write new songs, but I even like the so called light weights on this album (‘Shake It’ and ‘Without You’) and the choice of covers and reworks is considered and sublime (‘China Girl’ could not be more different from Iggy Pops Bowie assisted original, but as a pop song it’s even more commercial than the album’s title track). And the remaster here breathes life and detail into the minutiae of the recording. In short, it’s never sounded better.

‘Tonight’ (1984) was a rushed and incomplete follow up, so unlike Bowie to miss an opportunity of this scale. ‘Blue Jean’ was a decent pop hit, ‘Loving the Alien’ the albums only inspired moment, but David brought no more new solo compositions to this set. His cover of the Beach Boys ‘God Only Knows’ is one of his most lamented recordings, creating more disdain than even ‘The Laughing Gnome’, but I like it, it’s heartfelt and genuine. However, the album wallows in a lack of direction and ultimately in lack of interest from the artist. ‘Never Let Me Down’ (1987) certainly regained direction, it brought eight new solo compositions to the table, a couple of co-writes and another Iggy cover. A huge world tour was built around this album. But for me, it stinks. Bowie’s only less listenable album for me is ‘Tin Machine 2’. The songs aren’t great, but the production is overwrought and typifies the era x10. ‘Day In, Day Out’ was an OK single, and the title track was sweet and gentle. There’s a track on the original that Bowie has erased from his official history to such a level that it’s nowhere to be seen anywhere in this 11-disc (CD) collection (‘Too Dizzy’). So, is it not so strange then a newly constructed 2018 reworking is the centrepiece of this box set?

Well yes, obviously, but also no. Bowie himself was involved in a 2008 reworking of ‘Time Will Crawl’ for a compilation album and expressed a desire to revisit the album, to realise and release what he felt was a collection of really good songs from its trappings. This new version has virtually all new instrumentation and uses some alternate vocal takes. To me it is an improvement on the original album, probably preferable to ‘Tonight’ as an album now, but still suffers from some of the original version’s weaknesses. The songs are not classics, the latter half particularly nosedives in quality. Perhaps the main beneficiary from the 2018 rework is ‘Glass Spider’ which is no longer cringeworthy. It is still however a failed attempt at ‘Diamond Dogs’ era scene painting and storytelling. But overall, I am pleased that this project has been undertaken, though I hope dearly that no more Bowie albums get this treatment (Nile Rodgers has already worked on an orchestral version of the track ‘Let’s Dance’ for an upcoming various artist 80’s project). For the record, both ‘Tonight’ and ‘NLMD1987’ both benefit from sensitive remasters and like their more illustrious sibling ‘Let’s Dance’ have never sounded better.

David Bowie / Loving The Alien 1983-1988 11CD box set

Also included in this set, ‘Serious Moonlight (live 1983)’ a decent live offering though only singles from the album David was promoting made it into the set. The sound is OK, a bit lacking in focus, maybe down to the fact performances were largely open air/enormodrome affairs. ‘Glass Spider (live Montreal ’87)’ perhaps sounds better, has an interesting setlist but too much of the attendant ‘Never Let Me Down’ album and brings back some horrible memories. Snippets of dialogue are still present from the Broadway like in-between song exchanges and add nothing to the experience, just as in ’87. This was the only time I saw Bowie live, I just couldn’t do it again for fear of being similarly disappointed. It left me standing on my seat shouting the question/statement ‘why is this so bad?’. Or words to that effect. Neither of these live albums add to the Bowie legend in the way other post Jan 10th 2016 live releases have. But they do document the era.

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There also ‘Dance’, a collection of dance and dub remixes from the time. A similar project was nearly released in the mid 80’s and would maybe have had some validity at the time, though now it leaves me cold. Bowie made his artistic statement mostly complete in his finished songs, and extended rehashes from outside collaborators just add nothing. There’s also ‘Re-Call 4’, a two disc round up of single edits, B-sides and soundtrack contributions. This actually collects some of Bowies best works of the decade (‘This is Not America’, Absolute Beginners’, ‘Underground’, ‘When the Wind Blows’) but also has some superfluous content. Original vinyl only edits of ‘NLMD87’ numbers anyone?

After all of this, Bowie drew a line under solo activities for a while, attempted to regain his mojo with the ultimately ill-informed Tin Machine, and finally re-emerged with a second career as a still relevant ageing rocker in a fine series of albums right until his passing. But the 80’s happened. Those of us that lived through the decade with testify that it wasn’t all bad. A fair bit of it was though.

6/10 the music, 9/10 the package.

Suede - 'The Blue Hour', A Fans Review

Suedes 8th studio album arrives 25 years into their recording career. This includes the 7 year break the band took from 2003 which in itself was enveloped by an 11-year gap between albums 5 and 6. The band have built this one up as being their most ambitious and the expectations from their feverish fans (I am one of Facebooks ‘Insatiable Ones’ myself) matches the band expectations in scale. With a big time producer (Alan Moulder; The Killers, U2, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins amongst many others) and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra present on 8 of the albums 14 tracks there really is a feeling of reaching for new heights here. The band have always had a big sound so how do they manage with this aiming big strategy?

Well, reception from very enthusiastic fans has been very enthusiastic! Myself? I’m loving it, I feel it as a possible career highlight which has led me to go see the band live for the first since they toured in support of album #3 ‘Coming Up’. The band and in particular lyricist/vocalist Brett Anderson has spoken of a theme to this album but won’t elaborate, saying he prefers the listener to read into it and settle on the concept themselves, something I’m more than happy to do. Musically this is a massive album, the guitar anthems are huge and the interwoven orchestral movements, whether complimenting or leading are wonderful. Opener ‘As One’ illustrates this, it’s cinematic, and though early on there’s an atypical Suede riff this has an Omen overture feel to it and it leaves you eager to hear the rest of the album. It also serves warning that orchestra and rock meet here in one of their most perfect unions ever. ‘Wastelands’ is a huge Seudeanthem and as the chorus screams ‘When it all is much too much, We’ll run to the wastelands’ it’s hard not to melt. The snow gets an early mention too, and make no mistake, this a winter album, wind in your face and cold rain pricking like needles. ‘Mistress’ shows us a different part of the twilight town, as the other woman skulks behind her locked door, cold and alone, but loved and needed. A brief spoken word piece (don’t cringe, it works) leads into ‘Beyond the Outskirts’ which sounds autobiographical to anyone that’s read Brett Andersons classy life story (vol.1) ‘Coal Black Mornings’. ‘Beyond the outskirts, Come with us, We’ll jump out of the page’ indeed. It’s one of the few orchestra free tracks yet it’s still massive, small town dreaming and blank feelings all over my face. And ‘Coming Up’ riffage makes it’s first touchstone appearance around it’s 2:20 mark which put simply makes you smile even through the desolate picture being painted. ‘Chalk Circles’ is simply outstanding, a synth washed nursery rhyme, feelings of abandonment, friendship bracelets and a ring-road with a massed demonic choral hook. Scott Walker.

‘Cold Hands’ is fabulous glitter stomp Suede, more ‘Coming Up’ era guitar feeling, it’s an anti-anthem blast, ‘I followed you and now I want to curl up and die’ is possibly the albums bleakest moment and it’s most helpless track. And it runs into ‘Life Is Golden’, an absolute killer anthem, a song to Brett’s children (‘The same blood runs through your veins’) that rises above being mawkish by simply being amazing. ‘You’re not alone, Look into the light/You’re never alone, Your life is Golden’. Think ‘All the Young Dudes’ 2018, really. ‘Roadkill’ is a brave experiment, a poem about a dead bird recited as spoken word. Sound’s a bit sixth form? But it’s lifted by its surroundings and outright bravado. ‘Today I found a dead bird…’, haunting, inhabiting somewhere between ‘Future Legend’ and ‘Glass Spider’. A bit more Omen in the mix, it shouldn’t work… ‘Tides’ is a slab of gothic finery, pretty desperate but powerful and still strangely hopeful and uplifting. ‘Don’t be afraid if Nobody Loves You’ was the albums first official single, the fact that it’s for me the weakest song here is a statement of how good this album is because it’s still wonderful, (Suede)anthemic and huge, promising love and beauty in a wilderness. ‘Dead Bird’ is a coda to the earlier spoken word piece, it’s basically a field recording of Brett and one of his kids burying a dead bird they’ve found all underpinned by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s 26 seconds long.

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And here the albums steps up and just gets better for the final climatic concerto of it’s closing three tracks. ‘All the Wild Places’ is a none too subtle rewrite of Scott Walkers ‘Plastic Palace People’. ‘Oh, off all the wild places I love, You are the most desolate’ is its chorus. ‘The Invisibles’ was the first song made available from the album and is a huge orchestral number with heavy Scott Walker overtones too. I’d love to hear him singing these songs. This is like a (national)anthem for Suede fans, ‘We are the invisibles, Strange and lonely’ with real life just out of reach. And as you sit thinking ‘We’ll how can they better that?’ ‘Flytipping’ turns up and full stops the whole album. Not quite rock opera, but close enough, orchestra drenched sections crash into piledriving rock introduced by drum rolls so Beatlely that you swear the band have sampled some old Oasis B-side. ‘And I’ll take you to the verges, as the paper drifts like falling snow’ is a pretty killer line, as is the it’s closing ‘And I’ll pick you wild roses in the tunnels by the underpass’. Lyrically, musically it’s a peak, both the track and the album it comes from. For a band that already have their acknowledged masterpiece (‘Dog Man Star’) this album is a masterpiece, soon to be, I’m sure, acknowledged too.

My understanding of the loose concept, ‘The Blue Hour’ refers too a particular time in life, adulthood just before middle age, when you can appreciate childhood through your offspring more than you ever did when you were a child yourself. It’s the pre-dusk time of day and life, it’s the area between suburbia and the countryside. The fly tipping and trash that covers the wastelands are the marks we as individuals leave on the planet and on our descendants.  That’s my take, my interpretation.

For the financially flush (or foolish?) there’s a beautiful box set version, with CD, LP and exclusive 7”, the brash, snotty and early Suede sounding ‘Manipulation’. Apparently, there was nowhere it fitted into the album? It should have been wedged in crudely, bang in the middle, like the rude awakening it is. Also in the box is a wonderful instrumental version of the album, here, especially the more orchestral tracks have a life, a cinematic, life of their own. It has more gothic feel than any previous Suede album, the guitar especially bleeds Siouxsie and the Banshees. I really haven’t bought in to an album like this since ‘Blackstar’. Like that, this is a career highlight, in this case very possibly the artists best.


Soft Cell - 'Keychains & Snowstorms' The Box Set - A Fans Review

I’ve been a fan of Soft Cell and Marc Almond since 1981 when ‘Tainted Love’ first thrust the duo into the public spotlight. That was 37 years ago. Almond had a great 10-disc box set a couple of years back, he’s made many solo albums and been involved in many collaborations and various theatrical projects in the intervening years and was even recently given an OBE. 10 discs just didn’t seem enough. Soft Cell though released 3 albums in their short career, a fourth followed in 2002 during a brief reunion and there’ve been remix projects etc. but my initial reaction was ‘What do you put on a 10 disc Soft Cell set?’ when I heard of this. Well, this is what they’ve done....

Disc One, ‘The Phonogram Hits 12” 1981-1984’ is a remastered ride through Soft Cells glory days via the extended mixes, regarded by Dave and Marc as the definitive versions, with just minor editing to allow them onto one disc. ‘Tainted Love’ was number one in 17 countries and ‘Torch’ would’ve been their second number one if Gallup had done things correctly. There are 3 other top five hits too. The later singles weren’t as successful but were just as great. The band was a hit machine. Everything in the box has remastered audio which has been done sympathetically and the songs have never sounded so good.

Disc Two gives us the B-sides to these hits. Back in the day when singles mattered and sold many units as physical products, B-sides were important, and many bands put a lot into them. Soft Cells B-side repertoire demonstrates this era perfectly. Production is often a bit rougher or looser and the songs a bit less polished, but everything here demonstrates the evolution of the band as well the actual hits themselves do.

Disc Three, ‘New Extended and Reworked Mixes’ is possibly my favourite set in the box. Using (almost exclusively) original recording elements but taking advantage of modern production techniques and tools Dave Ball has pieced together 12 tracks from the bands past as they ‘envisaged’ them at the time. ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ sounds a complete version now rather than a track glued together with an instrumental version somewhat crudely. ‘Youth’ is the anthem it always wanted to but never quite managed to be. ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’ now has the orchestral flow it tried to attain originally, and ‘Martin’ takes its place as a genuine classic rather than the clumsy album bonus track it was once presented as. The best thing you can say about this disc is that many tracks actually outshine their original versions, and that’s no mean feat.

Disc Four presents rarities, alternate versions and ‘curios’. Highlights for me are the second album (‘The Art of Falling Apart’) extended and USA mixes. ‘Loving You, Hating Me’ should have been a single everywhere, it would have been the albums biggest hit I’m sure. The sound quality remains great throughout, the remastering breathes life into tracks from third album (‘This Last Night in Sodom’) allowing the dense sound space and clarity that I’ve not heard on it before. And, to be fair to the aforementioned ‘Martin’, the original mix sounds pretty epic here. The ‘Soul Inside’ demo is urgent and sparse with a great vocal.

Disc Five, ‘The Early Years 1978-1981’ is pretty self-explanatory, the story of the band before hit singles and fame. There’re even three songs from the band’s first ever gig. Although all remastered the sounds is a little questionable in places due to the nature of the source material. But there’s so much here of interest. The legendary self-released and financed by Daves’s mum, ‘Mutant Moments’ is officially released on CD here for the first time ever and in the best quality I’ve ever heard it in (I once to the horror of my wife paid 20 quid for a bootleg 7” of this record). A demo of ‘Tainted Love’ masks the mega hit that the bands version of the song would become. There are songs the band never released officially (some saw the light of day many years later on the semi-official ‘Bedsit Tapes’ demo CD’s); anyone fancy a rough electronic take on Black Sabbaths ‘Paranoid’? That’s here.

Dave Ball and Marc Almond of Soft Cell.

Disc Six gives us radio sessions and tracks from 2002’s now regarded as a wasted opportunity ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ 2002 reunion sessions. There’s nothing really new to entice listeners in, the BBC stuff has been out before though as with everything else in the box it’s never sounded this good. The trio of songs releases before the 2002 album on various compilations convey a sense of direction that the finished album itself seemed to lack. The group even released a song that had been considered as a single instead of ‘Tainted Love’ back in 1981, Frankie Valli’s norther soul stomper ‘The Night’. It felt like a semi desperate attempt to recreate a moment when it was released (also see ‘Monoculture’ vs ‘Memorabilia’). It’s actually pretty decent but little to do with the reunion added to the groups legacy or even held a candle next to most of Marc’s solo stuff. Having said that everything sounds heavier, darker and more enticing on these new masters.

Disc Seven, ‘Non-Stop Euphoric Dubbing’, attempts be a ‘non-stop’ volume three with a continuous mix of ‘dub’ mixes from across the bands catalogue. It works on one level, it sounds great and it’s very well done but for me falls short on another level; I don’t see myself returning to this disc for repeated listens. But it could be a grower, there’s some great stuff on this disc.

Discs Eight and Nine give us a 1983 Los Angeles gig and other live recordings. The L.A. gig has the band presenting ‘This Last Night in Sodom’ to the American public and willfully refusing to play ‘Tainted Love’ which had been a mega huge hit in the States. The quality of the gig recorded in front a very enthusiastic crowd is superb. It puts the bands only official live album from the ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ tour to shame and builds excitement for the bands upcoming final ever show at London’s O2. There’re also four songs recorded at the Hammersmith Palais in 83/84. These are fan recordings so the quality drops but it’s still very listenable. Finally, there’s four tracks recorded around the UK in 2003 and these sound great too, from the Scott Walker-ish ‘Barriers’ to a sprightly ‘Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go’.

Disc Ten gives us a DVD extravaganza. There’s the original ‘Non-Stop Exotic Video Show’, original first album promos with some specially recorded bonus stuff. I feel this could have been cleaned up and remastered to a higher standard, it’s pretty much VHS quality here. The groups other promo videos are scooped up and there’s plenty of BBC and other TV performances too. Most interestingly there’s a live in May 1981 (pre-success) show. The band look as though they’re performing from in the middle of the audience and the set is very ‘Mutant Moments’ yet the performance is lively and its a fascinating glimpse into the early genesis of a band on the brink of huge success. Very few artists would be comfortable releasing something like this but then there are/were/will be very few artists like Soft Cell. When ‘Tainted Love’ kicks in its already a lot tighter than the demo version from earlier in the box and key elements from the breakthrough ‘Top of the Pops’ performance are in place. The looks on the faces of some of the audience are a joy.
(there has been a reported issue with DVD, and indeed my copy won’t play the BBC section. Phonogram are aware, and I believe its likely replacement discs will be issued, so you can buy with relative confidence...)
*Since I wrote this this morning it has been confirmed that the DVD discs will be replaced, though the reason for the fault was a little strange, ‘hand picking issues’…


There’s also a nice hardcover book with an intro from both Dave and Marc and a fantastic potted history/essay from Simon Price. As you’d expect there’s a good spread of pictures too. The set pleases me perhaps more than I expected it too. There not too much repetition, ‘Tainted Love’ is only represented about half a dozen times including video’s and I’m pleased this was not just presented as the four albums with bonus tracks which would’ve been boring. The unreleased, early rare and ‘new stuff’ is a joy. The band have recently announced a total of three new tracks, it’s a shame they came along too late to be included. And we have the farewell gig in London in late September to look forward too. There plenty of supporting merchandise out there if you want it, there is even a ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ real ale, in pubs now and for sale at upcoming O2 show. There are reissued albums on the way and a CD/DVD/Blu-ray of the farewell show to look forward too. It’s been hinted that the duo could continue to work together as some sort of ongoing studio concern but live it seems like this is it. The box set is the icing on the cake of the bands 40th anniversary and farewell celebrations, and it’s not overly expensive either. Highly recommended if you’re a fan of the band or Marc Almond, or even if you’re just a casual fan with a disposable income.


Richard Jobson - The Speed Of Life

A book about two aliens coming to Earth to seek David Bowie was always going to appeal to me. That it’s cover is a homage to ‘Low’ makes the deal sweeter. That said book is written by Richard Jobson, poet, filmmaker and vocalist and lyricist of punk/new wave legends Skids is the cherry on top of the trifle. It is a bit of a slow burner though I tore through the last quarter of the book today on a couple of commuter level train journeys. The story is presented in a no chapter mode and is well thought out and framed, though lacking a little in originality when it comes to plot twists. After finishing it though I can heartily say I enjoyed it, and if you’ve a passing interest in Bowie, Sci-Fi or Skids or Jobbo then it’s well worth investigating. 

You can get it here…

Eels - The Deconstruction, a review

Eels are an institution now, active for nearly a quarter of a century, and here with their 12th album proper (not to mention countless compilations, live recordings and contributions to soundtracks and tribute albums etc…). Add the fact that a lot their subject matter is about death, lost love, suicide, mental illness, i.e., the institutionalised, and their place as songsmiths for the disaffected and lonely is easy to understand. And here on this album, it is frankly and thankfully, business as usual. Saying that makes it sound like I don’t wish E peace and happiness, of course I do, though its doubtful this art would exist as such a crucial happening.

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Opening with the delicate and ornate title song ‘The Deconstruction’,  we can tell we are listening in to an on the spot Eels album. Soothing chamber pop with shuffling beats, and Beatle-esque middle eight vocals, it’s a great track. No, there’s no new ground broken, but you don’t buy Eels records to hear them take on hip hop or something. It’s just a bonus if they do decide to do that. ‘Bone Dry’ is able to include couplets like ‘In my dream I see you there, your eyes fixed in a vacant state’ and a chorus of ‘Bone dry, you drank all the blood’ with ‘Sha la la’s’ and ‘Shooby dooby dooby do’s’. It’s what sinister unsettling pop should do, knock you about in all directions and still leave you feeling that you know exactly where you’ve been.

Some instrumental passages/numbers punctuate the album in short bursts, not an essential move but one that suits the mood. ‘Premonition’ shows the light/dark feel of Eels perfectly, a hymnal gentle guitar motif with choral like backing vocals under the hook ‘I had a premonition, it’s all gonna be fine, you can kill or be killed, but the sun’s gonna shine’. If you’ve not read any of main man Mark ‘E’ Everett’s musings on his life and the troubled family history he has come through, then you really should (’Things The Grandchildren Should Know’). A short, not physically taxing read that has a weight that makes a feel of a much larger book, his well-written prose is a perfect companion to virtually any Eels release.

The music throughout is both informed by the modern whilst pinioned by nostalgic tips of the hat. Strings are heavy, choral subtexts never far from the surface, without ever feeling saccharine or trite. And moods swing, the mellow, funereal ‘The Epiphany’ leaps straight into the pop blast of ‘Today is the Day’, handclaps, riffs and twee keyboards. This jaunty little number leads into ‘Sweet Scorched Earth’, ‘I love the way your hair falls on your eyes, and the way the sun hits them as it dies, there’s poison in the water and the sky’. This is Eels, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is all wrapped up in an orchestral chamber pop package that sounds like it’s being played by angels.
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But negatives are always counter balanced with hope and a positive. Birdsong interlude is followed by ‘Be Hurt’. ‘Come on be hurt, you know you can take it’ is finished with ‘and I’m not gonna let it destroy you’. E has really become the perfect singer for all this bitter sweetness. His delivery is always assured and concise. The following track declares ‘in your darkest night of the soul, you are the shining light’ over more handclaps and a Motown beat’. ‘There I said It’ is basically ‘I Love you, there I said it’ as a song, albeit a morose piano ballad song.

‘Archie’ is a lullaby for E’s son, born when his father was 54. At 55 now, E and Archie’s mother have divorced. The final filmic instrumental ‘The Unanswerable’ should have bled (instead there’s a pause) in to the closing ‘In Our Cathedral’, a battening down of the hatches manifesto. This is Eels first album in four years, quite a gap for a prolific artist/band. They’re on such great form here that I hope that either they don’t take four more to return, or if they do then that record is as considered and finely crafted as this one, a truly latter day classic Eels album.

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The Decemberists – ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ - a review.

The Decemberists from Portland, Oregon return with their eighth album. Wikipedia quotes them as an ‘indie pop/baroque pop’ band, I’ve always found them a bit folk rocky with emphasis on the indie rock side. This album sees more modern pop sounds take a leading role, mainly through synths being higher up in the mix. On lead single ‘Severed’ I felt this watered down their identity a bit, but the good news is that the album works with any new designs adding to the bands character. 

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The bands songs have always taken a story telling approach and their best songs have often had a darker edge (Listen to ‘The Rake’s Song’ from 2009’s ‘The Hazards Of Love’) and last year they released the magnificent ‘Ben Franklins Song’ as part of the ‘Hamildrops’ mixtape project linked to ‘Hamilton’ the Broadway musical. It was a magnificent snarly aggro pop gem, sweary and angsty and an instant classic. This new album deals in part with the feeling of despair, depression and absurdity of the US 2016 election result that many Americans felt in the aftermath.

Leading off with second single ‘For Once In My Life’ a pacey strummed acoustic guitar leads to a fairly familiar sounding Decemberists song, albeit underpinned by fairly Brit sounding synths and with a slightly simpler lyric than many a song by the group. ‘Cutting Stone’ lyrically is more traditional fare for the band, a fluid bass line underpinning a simple beat song again punctuated by balanced synth melodies. ‘Severed’ starts like an early OMD song and sounded quite alarming as the albums first single. Here on the album it compliments the mood of the record as an overall and whilst not falling into ‘classic’ status it certainly makes more sense than it did as a standalone track. The synthy feel on the songs so far evokes for me a feel of latter-day Arcade Fire too. 

‘Starwatcher’ is a military beat driven percussive monster with hint’s of Led Zep lyrically. ‘Tripping Along’ is a lusty and romantic near ballad, ‘Your Ghost’ a stalkerish psych out that for some reason reminds me of Terry Hall’s post Fun Boy Three group The Colourfield. ‘Everything Is Awful’ raises the bands baroque pop flag, whilst ‘Suckers Prayer’ is perhaps the most traditionally American rock the band have ever been, we’re almost treading in ‘The Band’ territory, the prayers refrain… ‘I want to love somebody, but I don’t know how…I want to throw my body in the river and drown’.

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On first hearing ‘We All Die Young’ I had to check that Suzi Quatro didn’t have a co-write credit as it’s almost a re-write of ‘Can The Can’ or something, and it’s magnificent. The most pop moment here, a trashy glam stomp that’s pretty out of character but all the more memorable for it. ‘Rasulka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes’ is a slow burner gradually climbing to a climax tale of compulsion and longing whilst blind to the  danger laying ahead. It’s two songs carefully melded into one and is a second album highlight in a row. Then the album closer and title track slopes in, like the opener the vocal over strummed guitar with some tweeness in its instrumental middle section.

Throughout the album songwriter Colin Meloy’s vocal entices and holds interest which is a constant through the Decemberists recorded catalogue. This might not be the bands best work, but it is a well balanced and consistent collection, if you miss classic REM or are searching for pop along the lines of the Divine Comedy and have not checked out the Decemberists before, then I heartily recommend that you give ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ a go.


Also, because, why not, here's  a classic Decemberists song.