Album reviews: Snow Patrol, Chvrches, Joe Bonamassa, Lindi Ortega and The Beat
It has been eight years since Snow Patrol released Fallen Empires and a massive 12 years since Chasing Cars made them synonymous with the alt-rock power ballad. Wildness sees the band partner with producer Jacknife Lee as they appear on the surface to come to terms with the rapid growth that they saw back in 2006. On first listening it feels like Snow Patrol have tried to step back to the early years, when they had a bit more grit about their records. Light On Earth is the perfect opener and reintroduction to the band. You could say that Gary Lightbody and co faced their 'life' block square on. Empress has the words to uplift and Heal Me is one of their strongest anthems to date. But if you are a steadfast fan of their emotional rock, What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get? is the track for you. If you were hoping for a new direction from Snow Patrol you won't find it here, but there are glimpses of a fresher sound to come.
Love Is Dead
It must be hard to make a record that's resolutely pop, yet speaks to 2018. Moving to New York and welcoming outside producers for the first time hasn't changed Chvrches' work substantially, but has resulted in an album whose highlights are by turns vulnerable and militant. Well-directed anger towards various heads of state (Graves) is notable amid dismissals of lovers – Miracle's badass chorus is destined for soundtracks, Never Say Die boasts snares that sound like being beaten up by an end-of-level boss – but the outliers make this record treasurable. My Enemy, a two-hander with The National's Matt Berninger, is gracefully laced with ennui, and Deliverance scores Madonna points with its devotional language and 1980s chords – but affecting miniature Really Gone, is stunning, declaring "I'm trying my best to toughen up for these days". Its tranquillity and emotional directness are a great gambit by Lauren Mayberry, and (frankly) show up the chart-bothering anthems around it.
British Blues Explosion Live
This new record sees the American guitarist pay (and play) homage to the music that inspired him to take up an axe in the first place. The first disc of the double CD edition shows exactly what is to follow by kicking off with Beck's Bolero/Rice Pudding. Here, JB takes the original and gives it a tough but respectful workout, ably assisted by an excellent set of backing musicians. The keyboard player in particular emphasising the 1960s vibe throughout the set. As this is a live album, the songs are frequently extended jams, in much the same way they would have been when performed back in the day. The shades of Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page are much to the fore but, interestingly, the vocals also take on similarities to their original performers, such as Rod Stewart and Robert Plant. This isn't groundbreaking stuff but, then again, it's not a clinical replaying of old songs either. It takes the originals and makes them fresh again whilst having a blast at the same time. A clever trick.
The spirit of Sergio Leone hovers over the seventh release from Canadian Country singer Lindi Ortega, and like that director's Spaghetti Westerns, Liberty is quirky, spooky and wildly entertaining. Opening with an Ennio Morricone-style instrumental, the album is awash with Mexican guitar and lyrics about horses, hats and guns. The full-throated mariachi trumpets on Through The Dust Part 2 are a lot of fun, as is the Spanish-language chorus of the offbeat love-song Pablo. When Ortega's tongue retreats from her cheek the songs are wonderful on their own terms too: Darkness Be Gone and Forever Blue both mix haunting, downbeat verses with soaring choruses. Only one track, Lovers In Love, sounds like a traditional country number – and notably it's the single weak spot on an otherwise captivating album.
The Beat (Starring Dave Wakeling)
Here We Go Live
The original band came to the fore during the rise of Two-Tone in the late 1970s and continued to have hits through to the 1980s. A lack of later success led to their break-up and eventually two versions of the band came into existence. Dave Wakeling, one of the band's founding members, now leads his version, also known as The English Beat. This album is his first studio release since 1982 and takes up where they left off all those years ago. The mix is the familiar ska and reggae beats, mixed with pop hooks and a twist of punk attitude. The lyrics feature social themes along with politics, much in the way the band did when it started. Although essentially a Wakeling album, backed by guests such as Roddy Radiation Myers of The Specials, it certainly has the trademark energy of the best ska records. As such, it should certainly find favour with fans of the genre.