Albums: Neneh Cherry, John Grant, REM, Novo AMor, The Overtones
THIRTY-seven years after being in The Slits, and 29 since Buffalo Stance, Neneh Cherry is making music no less attractive and colourful – the differences are just a deepening of mood and theme. Co-created with Four Tet, Broken Politics is a poetic acknowledgement of humanity's compassion deficit, and a trip down a memory lane of Dax hair grease and treasured vinyl. Opener Fallen Leaves sets the tone, its downcast lyric lifted by woody snares and harp into the song of someone alive and resolute. Kong sees the punishingly intense hi-hats of dub join classical instrumentation to create a Bjork-like soundscape, while Cherry combines matters personal ("bitter love still put a hole in me") with those more global ("Goddamn guns and guts and history") to great effect. Her vocal is gentle, rhymes devastating, whether elliptically confronting forced migration or quoting The Last Poets; Hebden's steel drums, kalimbas, beats and vinyl-crackle make her vision sonically unignorable.
REM At The BBC
REM fans hungry for more from the band are having to make do with various repackagings and live albums – but they're at least getting a wealth of material with REM at the BBC, the CD edition of which incorporates eight expansive discs of live material from 1984 to 2004. There are some real treats in there for both the passing to the hardcore fan – not least a rollicking What's The Frequency, Kenneth? from Milton Keynes in 1995 and a spine-tingling E-Bow the Letter, sung with Thom Yorke in London's St James' Church. And tinny and echoey as the recording might be, it's hard not to get a rush of heady excitement at hearing Radio Free Europe as it would have been heard in a sweaty Rock City in Nottingham in 1984. But while no-one can doubt the quality of the songs or that REM were a live act to truly behold, does the world really need another REM box set?
Love Is Magic
SINCE finding fame with his sumptuous solo debut Queen Of Denmark, Grant has wandered ever further from the beaten track (though to increased commercial success) and the bizarre string of non-sequiturs which kicks off Metamorphosis sets a suitable tone here. Electronic stylings are increasingly prominent but the title track and Is He Strange showcase his voice and his knack for a simple, beautiful tune. Touch And Go is a supportive ode to transgender military whistleblower Chelsea Manning ("Not one of them could last three minutes in your shoes"), while it is fair to say US President Donald Trump does not receive the same understanding on an astonishingly (and unprintably) titled song directed at him. The disco flourishes on He's Got His Mother's Hips, Diet Gum's twisted spoken-word and the Icelandic poetry incorporated into The Common Snipe show the ongoing evolution of one of music's most fascinating and contrary talents.
THE melancholy spirit of autumn can be heard all over this debut collection of folk songs from Welsh singer-songwriter Ali Lacey. All of the tracks have a quiet, elegiac quality, frequently dealing with themes of looking back and rueful new beginnings (Novo Amor itself means new love in Portuguese). Lacey's ethereal vocals add a lightness to songs that tend to feature downbeat lyrics ("hardly anything works out" runs the chorus of Emigrate) and sometimes deal in dark and troubling subjects, particularly Repeat Until Death, which explores a friend's descent into drug addiction. Apparently written and recorded during long nocturnal sessions at his home studio in Cardiff, the album has an agreeably intimate atmosphere, yet the tracks frequently climax with sweeping crescendos which, despite the general aura of melancholia, make listening to Birthplace a genuinely uplifting experience.
Only a few short months after the tragic loss of their lead vocalist Timmy Matley, The Overtones return in this self-titled album, their first since 2015. You To Me Are Everything, the album's lead single, proves that the vocal harmony group is highly capable as a four-piece. The album is strongly bookended with covers of the much-loved classics Say A Little Prayer and Love Is In The Air, respectively. Both are true highlights, possessing the fun old-school vibe and gorgeous harmonies the group is known for. As well as these, and somewhat unsurprisingly, the record is dotted with more emotional moments, none more so than in Goodbye. The heartfelt track is a heart-wrenching, genuine farewell to their friend. Other than that, the album can be described as a thoroughly upbeat effort, a sincere ode to Matley, but at the same time, it also establishes an updated sound for The Overtones, with Lachie Chapman's honeyed vocals standing out in particular. The Overtones take the comforting sound and tone that fans will recognise from previous albums. It's highly enjoyable, and this reviewer found it extremely difficult to sit still while listening. It may not be the most surprising or exciting of records, but it is a warm and familiar hug for the ears that you can't help but dance to.