Albums: Labrinth, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Imagination and The Misfit Kid
LABRINTH'S second album, tentatively titled Take Me To The Truth, was shelved some time around the tail end of 2014 as he battled with his label for creative control. The next few years were spent in LA working with stars including Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus's sister Noah.
It's hard not to see Imagination And The Misfit Kid, the tale of a boy who sells his imagination to a businessman in exchange for success, as a cautionary tale based on Labrinth's own journey. The album is simultaneously more experimental and more jam-packed with potential pop hits than his debut.
All For Us and Misbehaving recapture the glitchy swing of his 2011 hit Earthquake with added futuristic soul, while Like A Movie repurposes a fizzing Bond-style beat for the dance floor. While its middle portion sags a little (Something's Got To Give feels a little paint-by-numbers) inventive tracks like Mount Everest claw back the intensity.
Thanks for The Dance
THIS is a reflective posthumous offering, the 15th studio album from master songwriter Leonard Cohen, although his son Adam can take a lot of the credit for its production.
Using material recorded before his father's death, Adam worked with various musicians including Beck, Damien Rice and Javier Mas, to compile a typically sombre yet enchanting selection of songs.
The majority of tracks are minimalistic, instrumentally speaking, but this only raises the platform on which Cohen stands – a stark, isolated place – his poetry spilling forth like black treacle into the surrounding quietude.
Opening track Happens To The Heart is tender and moving, a classic Cohen lament of lost love and what could have been. It's Torn, although short, is a beautiful piece, the gravelly vocal accompanied by acoustic guitar and a light tinkling of piano.
A parting tour de force from a much-loved mainstay of the music world.
You're In My Heart (with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)
I DOUBT even Sir Rod would argue against the view that, on some of his previous Christmas tie-ins, he's phoned through the performances.
No need to phone them through this time, as Trevor Horn has lifted the original vocals (and some instrumentation) from his classic singles and laid the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra doing their thing over the top – which all seems a bit pointless, as few of these songs were in any need of reworking.
At no point does the addition of the orchestra improve the songs, nor does it stray far enough from the originals to make this an interesting enough project.
Being Christmas, Sir Rod did remember to include one turkey, bizarrely teaming up for a duet with Robbie Williams on It Takes Two. Yes, it is how you'd imagine it.
Stick with the Greatest Hits or his first four albums.
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
I Made a Place
A FULL generation on from his solipsistic masterpiece I See A Darkness, is Will Oldham – AKA Bonnie 'Prince' Billy – lightening up?
A clue might be found in the cult singer-songwriter's personal life: he and his wife Elsa Hansen welcomed their first child last year. In his own words: "As these songs were worked on, in the night, my wife would wrap her pregnant body around mine while I sang the songs over and over and over. They're the first music that our daughter heard."
But it would be a disservice to describe this as a record simply of happy songs. As ever, Oldham is at his best at his most reflective, still managing to offer perspective on life's big questions that few modern folk singers can.
And, as the album unfurls to its close, it feels like Oldham is slowly crawling back into his shell, perhaps ready for another two decades of quiet contemplation.