Album reviews: Busted , The Specials, Andy Burrows and Matt Haig, Claire Richards
Half Way There
SOME things never change. Nearly two decades on from when the teenage members of Busted trivialised the criminal relationship twixt teacher and pupil with What I Go To School For, the three-piece are still singing about the sixth form, other bands they like, and girls. But then, it would be dull if the song topics evolved in direct proportion to their ages – a Busted album about changing nappies, whether to switch mortgage providers and when to put the recycling out would likely tank. A more mature sound is discernible on latest record Half Way There, though it is ostensibly a homage to Jerry Finn-produced American pop-punk. And Charlie is still lamenting while strumming an acoustic guitar in the more sombre moments. Are they targeting new fans, or delivering more of the same for those who were thankfully there the first time around? The mantra is clearly "If it isn't busted, don't fix it". A fun album.
IT'S an auspicious year for a Specials comeback: 40 years since the band's Jerry Dammers created 2 Tone Records and released their debut single, Gangsters and 10 years since the Coventry band re-formed, touring the US and playing with Blur at Hyde Park. Truly, it was time for some new material. Sometimes a legacy is best left untouched. Luckily, any risk of a twee nostalgia trip was never on the table. The Specials are a group that look forward. Encore is a nimble concoction of disco, ska and reggae. Its lyrics cut to the political zeitgeist and feel as sharp as the band's well-starched granddad collars. Only three of the seven original members feature but Encore still feels like part of the legacy. It's not perfect but we should be thankful for another dose of fiery political commentary and thankful that some bands are capable of comebacks that feel as vital as they feel fun.
Andy Burrows and Matt Haig
Reasons To Stay Alive
AFTER a drunken meeting on Twitter, Matt Haig, author of the extraordinary memoir Reasons To Stay Alive, and former Razorlight drummer and songwriter Andy Burrows sparked this collaboration. Inspired in part by Haig's books, the overall feel of this piece is that of joyous optimism, and that's just the music. When you settle in and listen to the words and melodies, Haig's desire to live just rises, encouraging the listener to dig deeper to find that glimpse of the light in what can be a very dark and all-encompassing sky. The title track has an ELO Time-esque vibe. And for those who think that an openly inspirational piece about facing the darkness that is mental health and depression could be saccharine-sweet and twee like many self-help books have a habit of sliding into, this is not that. It is so much more.
My Wildest Dreams
CLAIRE Richards, or 'Claire from Steps' as she's often known, is going it alone – a bold move for any member of any band. But Richards has an ace up her sleeve – her genuinely phenomenal voice. She has the rousing vocal many will recognise from a number of Steps' biggest hits, and it's all more outstanding in her solo work. Richards's debut album is jam-packed with melodic anthems about life and love and other themes that will make sense to an older audience (ie the Steps fans of yesteryear who have now grown up). It's refreshing to hear unadulterated songs like this again without the addition of an of-the-moment rapper/a reggae-inspired DJ/a painfully cool record producer etc. As saccharine as you'd expect, the record does have a mildly cheesy edge, but it's as addictive. From the poppier tracks such as Deep Waters and Brave, to soulful, power songs Don't Leave Me In This Love Alone and Liar, this is a winner.
IAN Brown's voice: a slice of permanence in a world of flux. He couldn't sing then and he can't sing now. But it didn't matter when The Stone Roses were at their peak in 1989 and it doesn't make much of a difference today, either. While the Roses, an epoch-defining band, were noted for the paucity of their output – just the two albums, though they're both classics (yes, even Second Coming) – Brown's solo career has taken a more let's-see-what-sticks approach. His latest offering, Ripples, is his seventh album since going it alone and, despite a fixation with conspiracy theories, it's not bad. On track four (of 10), The Dream And The Dreamer, he sings of "Fat cat puppeteers" orchestrating events from the shadows. On Blue Sky Day – incidentally the best song on the album – Brown references jet planes making chemtrails, a sentiment that would appear more at home on Infowars, rather than on a record belonging to a man who had a hand in creating the greatest debut album of all time. Despite the strange subject matter, Ripples is a solid, if not fantastic effort.