Albums: Justin Timberlake keeps a hint of country but this ain't no Hank Williams record
Man O The Woods
AFTER a significant break from the treadmill of making music Justin Timberlake is back with his fourth studio album Man Of The Woods. If you were expecting a marked change in direction you will be sorely disappointed. It was touted that the former NSYNC star was dabbling with country and roots, but this was never going to be a strong element when you see that Timberland and the Neptunes are on the production credits. What Timberlake has created is a homely sound with a hint of modern country. As ever there are some up-tempo grooves – Filthy is a ball of fun wrapped up in electro funk. There is no doubt that Timberlake is proud of where he comes from and is hoping that the resurgence in new country will bring him new fans, but there is not quite enough country running though Man Of The Wood's Memphis veins to keep them.
Walk Between Worlds
IN THEIR 30th year of releasing music, Simple Minds have produced an assured and steady 19th album full of the hallmarks of their former success. The 80s band reached an international stage after their hit song Don't You (Forget About Me) provided the soundtrack to one of the 1980s' most enduring pop culture moments: Judd Nelson's raised fist in The Breakfast Club. While none of the tracks of Walk Between Worlds can hold quite the same chart potential, Simple Minds have avoided the classic gaffes of bands still at work three decades into their career. This most recent collection of songs stays true to their synth-pop roots, while adapting the subject matter to better suit modern sensibilities. The songwriting in stand-out tracks like Utopia and Barrowland Star is outstanding, with catchy hooks and an atmosphere that eschews overstatement for quality.
BRIAN Fallon returns with his second full-length album. Still best known as the singer/guitarist from New Jersey punk rock band The Gaslight Anthem, Fallon continues to forge his solo career with a second record since his main band went on hiatus in 2015. In many ways Sleepwalkers carries on where Painkillers left off in 2016; it is a straight-up rock'n'roll record filled with fast moving tracks (Forget Me Not) and sad love songs (See You On The Other Side) with occasional killer riffs, such as on My Name Is The Night. If The Gaslight Anthem were often seen as channelling Springsteen, then Fallon here is channelling The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and similar bands. Musically lighter than The Gaslight Anthem but emotionally and lyrically heavier, Sleepwalkers deserves to be a hit this year.
Go Dig My Grave
APPEARING without her Magical Orchestra, Susanna Wallumrod returns with a collection of songs spanning centuries and continents: from England and America, from Joy Division, folk ballads and her own pen, the pieces mostly cast a glance deathward. Not light listening then, but frequently beautiful and always expertly crafted. Freight Train introduces Wallumrod's front-and-centre voice, as crystalline as the melody it traces and the virtuosic accompanying harp; all archaic lines and shivering delivery, Purcell's pre-classical Cold Song is majestic rather than maudlin even as Winter asks "let me freeze again to death"; with Celtic inflections, Susanna's original composition sounds equally timeless. Also, there's an apocalyptic/serene take on Rye Whiskey, and a title track that really needs to soundtrack Peaky Blinders. Oddly, Lou Reed and Joy Division covers aren't high points, but Susanna has a scholar's discernment, an angel's larynx, and on a record concerned with epitaphs, commands attention amid life's noise.
Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
"WHIMSICALLY comfortable" springs to mind when trying to think of a brief yet all-encompassing description of The Wombats' latest effort. The Liverpudlian indie rockers are back with their fourth album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, comprised of a playful track listing – Lemon In A Knife Fight, anyone? – and easily digestible rock/pop tunes. Nothing on this collection is particularly challenging – it's politely accessible, with its layers of pop guitar, dense beats and lead singer Matthew Murphy's effortless vocals. But it is a decent foray through noughties-esque sounds, even if the tracks sometimes meld together, and will no doubt follow in the footsteps of their previous top five albums Glitterbug and This Modern Glitch. Listen out for opener Cheetah Tongue, one of the more unique offerings on the record, Out Of My Head and lengthily named closing track I Don't Know Why I Like You But I Do.