Album reviews: Bryan Adams, Hozier, Self Esteem,Tom Walker, Skinny Lister
Shine A Light
JUST going to throw it out there: Bryan Adams duetting with Jennifer Lopez is one of the most left-field but brilliant musical moves of 2019. Who'd have ever dreamt up such a thing? They work in harmonious glory together on jubilant up-tempo ballad That's How Strong Our Love Is, the second track of Adams's 14th album. The record is a summery ode to the kind of music that made him a household name. There's a confidence in the Canadian rocker's latest offering, the courage of knowing that his greatest charts days were maybe in the 1980s and 1990s, but believing in his style and skill to not change a thing. This album could have been released in the early 1990s, and that's absolutely fine in this case. Filled to the brim with rocky ballads and fast-paced pop-rock belters with familiar hooks, his raspy voice cuts against the twangy guitars and verse-to-chorus-to-bridge build-ups that climax with epic key changes. Adams is unchanged and as catchy as ever.
"IT'S not the waking/ it's the rising" – there may be no more spine-tingling way to begin a record. A tribute to musicians who championed civil rights in their work, Nina Cried Power made Obama's 2018 playlist, and wins because it doesn't let the work of Ms Simone, Curtis etc remain a static thing to be appreciated, but a vital force whose current can flow into the present. Mavis Staples guests, leaving her indelible mark and providing that past-present link... Can the whole album be this, please? Our opening trio is certainly strong – singles Almost (Sweet Music) and Movement follow, the latter making a romance sound like it moves the very earth. Another highlight is To Noise Making (Sing), taking up Nina's theme in gospel robes, sure to soundtrack 2019's every inspirational TV moment. The album's second half offers a much-needed intensity break – a folk detour culminates in Shrike, which most radiantly flaunts its Celtic DNA. This record should secure the Wicklow man's stardom.
REBECCA Taylor has come a long way from playing a wooden chair with some drum sticks during her days as one-half of quietly popular indie duo Slow Club. Zip forward to 2019 and the Sheffield multi-instrumentalist has escaped from her musical cocoon to deliver a debut solo record drenched in attitude previously withheld. This manifests itself in 16 tracks, each wildly different from the one preceding it. There are gospel choirs, stonking basslines, and African chants, with hat-tips to everyone from Kanye West and The 1975, to Kelis, turn-of-the-millennium girl bands and William Orbit. It is not an album lacking ideas. The searing guitar on She Reigns is the closest thing there's been to Purple Rain in 30 years and is begging to be heard live, while the rousing singles Rollout and The Best ensure mainstream success beckons. A brilliant album, deserving of Mercury recognition.
What A Time To Be Alive
TO DESCRIBE What A Time To Be Alive as "highly anticipated" would be to undersell the glorious cyclone of hype around 27-year-old Tom Walker. His rise came fast. A single with chart-topping producer Naughty Boy, slots supporting George Ezra and The Script, and an undeniable earworm in Leave A Light On. Now a Brit for best breakthrough act. And all this without an album to his name. It's fair to say the stakes were high. But despite the pressure, the Scottish troubadour has pulled through. With the help of some industry veterans he's crafted an album certain to please. His voice is at its most intoxicating when it's given space, like on second single Angels. When shallow songwriting leaves Walker treading water, like on the competent but one-note Dominoes, he falls back on his vocal chops and everything returns to its rightful place. His unique voice is what caught the public's eye and it will be the reason What A Time To Be Alive captures their hearts.
The Story Is...
FOLK-rock, particularly folk punk-rock, can be a bit of hard sell. As a genre it conjures up images of crusty hippy types in cargo pants being tiresomely political. The Story Is..., the fourth album from cult folk-rock band Skinny Lister, threatens to head into the heart of that territory with the Ska-infused opener Second Amendment, which takes an askance look at the American attitude to gun control. Thankfully it then swerves into much more unexpectedly everyday subject matter; any album featuring a love song with the chorus "I put unleaded in my diesel vehicle" is some kind of work of genius. Other intriguing subjects include being wary about sinister neighbours (Artist Arsonist) or being so infatuated with someone you can't concentrate (the fantastically new-wave My Distraction)
And when they manage to combine these two instincts, such as on the ethereal Stop and Breathe, the outcome is quite captivating.