Albums: James Blunt, Stereophonics, Underworld and James Arthur
Once Upon a Mind
JAMES Blunt is here to make you think deeply but feel pretty darn positive at the same time. The You're Beautiful crooner has taken a personal edge with his sixth, family-inspired album, but despite its depth and candour there's a palatable peppyness to the record, the largely cheery-sounding folksy-pop songs spiked with jubilation.
Having dabbled with electronica on his previous album, Blunt is back to what he does best – combining his emotions with radio-friendly bops. It's when you listen to Blunt's sometimes woeful words that you're brought back down from cloud nine, such as on Monsters, where he sings to his unwell father: "I'm not your son, you're not my father, we're just two grown men saying goodbye."
From the euphoria of album opener The Truth, an upbeat song that would perfectly accompany a long, sluggish drive, to the anthemic and bold, lyrical hug that is Champions and the dramatic, piano-laced How It Feels To Be Alive, Blunt is better than ever.
STEREOPHONICS frontman Kelly Jones has always excelled at is his ability to tell a story in his lyrics, and this shines throughout Kind, as you get the feeling this offering is more personal to him than others have been.
The excellent Street Of Orange Light pushes the country twist on the album to the forefront, along with Make Friends With The Morning, which is close to being the standout moment just behind the lead single Fly Like An Eagle.
For those who love the anthemic rock choruses and stirring guitar solos we've come to expect from the 'Phonics, Don't Let The Devil Take Another Day and I Just Wanted The Goods join their list of classics and that will surely echo around arenas on their forthcoming tour.
You get the overall feeling that the album is about searching for answers, and maybe even a fresh start – they may have just found it, as this is Kelly back to his songwriting best.
Drift Series 1
DRIFT Series 1 marks the end of a year-long experiment for Underworld. Singer Karl Hyde and modular maverick Rick Smith have released weekly "episodes" combining music, film and writing.
It's a brilliant move. Their live shows have never faltered but recent releases failed to hit the high notes of their mid-90s pomp, or rival the quality and breadth of today's laptop-crafted electronica.
The space offered by the spontaneity of weekly release handed the veteran dance duo license to stretch out and take risks. Over 52 episodes they revisited older tracks, released forgotten material and collaborated with today's stars like London techno producer 0 [Phase] and Australian jazz band The Necks.
Thankfully, the band have condensed their hectic year into a 10-track album of variety and clever pacing. It's no substitute for having followed Underworld on their year-long journey. But as a record of what letting go and taking risks can do for a band, it's a must listen.
Here's to next year.
ON HIS third album, You, X Factor alumnus James Arthur finally starts to hit the right notes. Flashback to 2012: he triumphs on Simon Cowell's TV pop-factory and releases Impossible, the most successful winner's single in the show's history. But a series of scandals over his use of homophobic language, as well as a well-documented battle with mental health, put the brakes on his ascension.
You takes these issues and puts them centre-stage. Its 17 tracks tackle redemption and anguish with an admirable deftness – there's some good songwriting here.
Marine Parade and the title track, featuring Travis Barker, successfully position Arthur as a soulful, troubled troubadour, even if they do feature some questionable rapping.
But make sure to pack your tissues. You has one-tone and there's no relief from its sadness. Still, it's an improvement on 2016's Back From The Edge. Arthur might soon be back on the up.