Albums: New from The Divine Comedy, Skepta, Miley Cyrus, Avicii, Scott Lavene
The Divine Comedy
NO-ONE writes a song quite like Neil Hannon. They're both simple and accessible, yet there is a complex undertone to the lyrics and the layering of the overall sound that just doesn't compare to anyone else. Featuring collaborations with singer-songwriter (and Neil's partner) Cathy Davey, Chris Difford (Squeeze) and Thomas Walsh (Pugwash, The Duckworth Lewis Method), Office Politics hits the nail on the head of the current feel of the times. From the dark despair felt by many as Donald Trump was announced US President (Dark Days Are Here Again) to the malaise of having to wait your turn (Queuejumper). There are strains of Depeche Mode-al synths that add to the overwhelming meh of the modern situation, in Norman And Norma, a story of two people trying to recapture a spark that is missing from their lives – one of my favourite tracks from the album. Office politics is a fabulously morose album that in true Divine Comedy style doesn't take itself too seriously.
Ignorance Is Bliss
IN THE three years since Konnichiwa was released, Skepta has become a father, dated supermodel Naomi Campbell and won a Mercury Prize for his 2016 album, hailed as a genre-defining moment for grime. His journey to become one of UK's biggest rappers has not always been smooth but as Skepta says in No Sleep – a track from his new album – "the new me learned from the old me". Battle bars, clever jibes and collaborations with J Hus and WizKid renews his classic grime style but with an unpredictable edge. Skepta serves a slice of nostalgia at every turn – from the reminiscent beat in Gangsta featuring old friends Boy Better Know to the unexpected sampling of Sophie Ellis-Bextor's early noughties tune Murder On The Dancefloor in Love Me Not. Lyrically, the 36-year-old maintains the same bravado and self-assurance of Konnichiwa but with moments of raw emotion. With nothing left to prove to anyone who doubts his talent, a confident Skepta continues to push the boundaries.
She Is Coming
MILEY Cyrus has come out the other side of her Twerking and Doing Rude Things On Purpose phase, adopted after her Hannah Montana days. This princess of reinvention nearly always managed to pull off whatever she was doing, whether it was country, saccharine ballady pop, or hip-hop, but her music has settled; Cyrus has finally found herself. On new EP She Is Coming, the 26-year-old almost carves out a new genre for herself throughout its six tracks – a kind of mellow dance/hip-hop/trap hybrid with a dose of alt-pop and her trademark no-holds-barred lyrics. Opening track Mother's Daughter is an enticing feminist power track, demanding respect in both its simple yet effective lyrics and ear-worm melody, while trap-inspired slow jam Unholy is relaxing as she sings about having sex next to takeaway containers. RuPaul collaboration Cattitude is as risque as they come; the other tracks are just as decent, suggesting that Cyrus probably should have eked this out to release a full album.
Little more than a year on, Avicii's apparent suicide still feels eerily inescapable. The Swedish producer, real name Tim Bergling, became the first casualty of the EDM boom aged 28. Caught up in the glitz and gloom of international fame on the cusp of his 20s, Bergling had little time to adjust. The extent of his anxiety and depression was revealed in stark and upsetting detail in the documentary Avicii: True Stories. It's hard not to hear a deep sadness on Tim. But maybe that's because Avicii's music was always tinged with melodrama. In a fitting touch, long-time collaborators including Aloe Blacc, Coldplay's Chris Martin and Joe Janiak helped complete the tracks he was working on before his death. Tough collides Middle Eastern strings with classic pop vocals, while Fades Away wraps a pulsating beat around sweet vocals and poppy strings. It's not perfect. But Tim is a template for what Avicii could have created if he had been left to flourish, far from the trappings of fame.
LOVERS of old-school eccentrics – an increasingly lesser-spotted breed in pop music – would be well advised to check out this idiosyncratic offering from Essex songwriter Scott Lavene. The melodies are catchier than you might expect from somebody who describes himself as a punk poet, but it's lyrically that the album stands out, each track acting as a witty, ironic short story about life on the fringes of society. Modern World opens with an unprintable but hilarious takedown of the digital era, while the title track is a slightly sinister spoken-word account of a day in Laverne's life in which he encounters murderous friends, engages in money-making schemes and laments the state of the nation in general. Any darkness of subject matter is however frequently undercut by esoteric references to double denim, VHS tapes and Fray Bentos pies. It's not clear how seriously any of it is meant to be taken, but it is seriously entertaining.