Albums: Frank Turner's Be More Kind a political record that might be his best yet
Be More Kind
Don't Worry, the opening track on English folk-rock singer-songwriter Frank Turner's seventh album, is a statement for the anxious times we live in, telling us: "don't worry if you don't know what to do". It sets a theme for the rest of the album. 1933, a commentary on the state of politics, reminds us that "the first time it's a tragedy/the second time it's a farce", clearly a reminder of what happened before the Second World War and what is happening again in some parts of the world.It's when Turner sticks with politics that his songwriting ability and musicianship shine through. On the track named after Donald Trump's presidential campaign slogan (Make America Great Again) we are told of the kindness and hospitality that Turner has experienced in the US, while offering the US some rousing "suggestions from the special relationship", such as: "let's make America great again/by making racists ashamed again". It could well be Turner's best album yet.
Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose
This is Plan B's third studio album and it's been a long eight-year wait for fans. In 2010 there was The Defamation Of Strickland Banks, and then soundtrack album Ill Manors, so 2018's studio album release Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose has been a long time coming. Plan B, real name Ben Drew, hasn't been fading into the background, though. His album is everything you could hope for: staying true to the sounds that defined his early days, but he also ventures effortlessly into new sound territory. Grateful is a strong opener on the album – easy on the ear and equally catchy. Other stand-out tracks include Stranger, Heartbeat and the already released title track. It's A War will also no doubt be a hit with fans. Straight after that you're thrown straight into Plan B at his best with Guess Again – which is kind of what the entire album keeps you doing.
Until now, Janelle Monae's public persona has been androgynous android but there's been a hormonal surge in the system and there is rage in the machine in this, her third studio album. Her sound continues to cross genres from hip-hop to funk, with more in between. Make Me Feel is unmistakeably inspired by her mentor and hero Prince, as is the sense of her revealing raw sexuality but there's also a strong statement on the state of the nation, the closing track Americans, takes a swipe at the American dream, while Crazy, Classic Life says everything might be a mess but let's party anyway. The musical landscape is mostly upbeat and celebratory, but lyrically, there is power, intelligence and strength.
After solo projects and a fine EP, Middle Kids' debut proper demands that you take notice. As they namecheck Maryland, we could be in the USA's East Coast or their native Australia, and the record balances universal appeal with hooky, visceral personality. When in Edge of Town, lead vocalist Hannah Joy takes an inventive melody and makes it stratospheric, you don't just appreciate her musicality; the band works as a unit, chugging guitars and drums increasing tempo around her to elevate the song. It's not the LP's only passage of adrenalised glee. As fuzz, distortion and stacked harmonies recur, it's obvious the trio is throwing everything into its debut. Arrangements switch gear in service of a song – but occasionally you hear the clang of a kitchen sink. Stripped-back moments thus have more power. Joy's songwriting seems (a) emotionally healthy (b) to make that sound utterly exciting. Give Lost Friends a listen before your actual friends start recommending it.
Hailey Tuck is the latest in the seemingly never-ending stream of modern acts taking tracks from rock and pop's back catalogue and reinterpreting them in a self-consciously retro style. Although the Texas-born singer has at least headed down the lesser explored of avenue of old-school jazz, and has first-class credentials in the form of renowned producer Larry Klein, it nevertheless still makes for a wan listening experience. The style is a little too mannered to suit to these mainly mid-to-late 20th Century originals, made famous by artists including The Kinks, Paul McCartney, and Pulp. Even songs closer in spirit, such as Joni Mitchell's Cactus Tree, are rendered somewhat inert; the emotional content exchanged for era-specific authenticity. Although Junk is certainly not rubbish, it will most likely prove too junky for jazz purists and not junky enough for pop fans.