Albums: Nick Waterhouse, David Gray, Jack Savoretti, Stephen Malkmus, Foals
OLD school rock'n'roll albums are now so common that "retro" has become a genre all of its own. Nevertheless some do it better than others, and Nick Waterhouse does it about as well as anyone outside of 1962. Every track on the American singer-songwriter's self-titled fourth album is as perfect a facsimile of late 50s/early 60s jukebox floor-fillers. Inevitably this can sometimes leave songs verging dangerously close to pastiche – the lounge swinger Wreck The Rod is the nearest Waterhouse comes to becoming a hipster Michael Buble – but for the most part the sheer quality of the songwriting transcends the era-specific wrapping. Wherever She Goes (She is Wanted), Song For Winners and Man Leaves Town would set feet tapping in any decade, but they sound especially good soaked in vintage bar-room piano, sax and electric guitars. This is an album that even the heppest of hep-cats can dance to.
Gold In A Brass Age
SINCE bursting into the mainstream with album White Ladder single Babylon, David Gray has been an enduring but increasingly peripheral figure – without a top 10 single since 2005's The One I Love or a chart spot at all since 2009's Fugitive reached number 103. But a more abstract lyric-writing approach allows the 50-year-old to focus on producing a richer-sounding 11th studio album which plays to his traditional strengths and showcases new tricks. Opener The Sapling sets the scene, Gray's trademark croon augmented by gospel-sounding choral vocals, while the album benefits from electronic experimentation best evidenced by the background claps and distorted vocals on the title track. That, and the beautiful Watching The Waves stand out among a strong set while Gray's increasingly sonic restlessness, in tandem with producer Ben de Vries, reaches its peak as Hurricane Season spirals into a thrilling climax built around operatic samples.
Singing To Strangers
WITH his windswept hair and taste in chunky knitwear, Jack Savoretti is every inch the heart-throb, but he has a fathoms-deep voice and a melancholy bent that belies his cherubic appearance. As befits such a voice, many of the tracks on Singing To Strangers are bathed in melodramatic strings and take off into bombastic choruses. Candlelight is so thick with portentousness it should be considered for the next Bond theme. Here and there he does lighten up – the stripped-back title song has a sweet Cat Stevens vibe. For the most part, however, this is music for tear-stained pillows. Despite their no-nonsense titles such as Dying For Your Love, Better Off Without Me and Love Is On The Line, these tales of heartbreak do have a lyrical depth not common to the genre, and are likely to appeal as much to wistful parents as much as their lovesick teens. He might well turn out to be the 21st century's Tom Jones.
FOR dyed-in-the-wool Pavement fans, news that frontman Stephen Malkmus was planning an album of electronic music might have raised eyebrows or even caused panic. Yes, some moments of Groove Denied will be unfamiliar territory for lovers of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Slanted And Enchanted. Take the Eno-inspired Viktor Borgia, or A Bit Wilder, which sounds, almost unthinkably, like Malkmus doing New Order at a karaoke night. But before long the famous slacker style is back – not least on the excellent Come Get Me, which arguably sounds more like Pavement than anything the Californian has produced since the band split nearly two decades ago. And while Malkmus's ventures into the electronic are charmingly primitive – he explains he wanted Groove Denied to feel "sonically pre-internet" – it is none the less thrilling to hear one of the greatest songwriters of the past 50 years try something totally new (to them, at least).
Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
FOALS have been many things. In 2008 they were a skittering math rock band. A few years later they were darlings of the NME, pioneers of seven-minute epics like the lush and grandiose Spanish Sahara. Then they broke America with a slew of punky numbers like Inhaler. But Oxford's finest have always held loftier ambitions. With each new album, a reinvention. Now, the inevitable: A concept album exploring post-climate change guilt and modern political apathy. Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost is the first of a pair of records. There's a smattering of new sounds on offer. Here a prog-rock breakdown, there a blissed-out synthesizer, although the pacing stays remarkably similar to previous works. But while the album has been hyped as some kind of concept record, the motif never hits home. As Philippakis sings "Cities burn/We don't give a damn/'Cause we got all our friends right here," on penultimate track Sunday, it becomes apparent the album's grand message has got lost in transit, displaced by the stadium-size choruses.