Albums: New from Matt Berninger, Katie Melua, Beabadoobee, The Struts, Yllwshrk
WITH the expanded 10th anniversary re-release of The National’s career-high album High Violet four months ago, does the world really need a solo album from the band’s singer? The answer is a definite yes, as Matt Berninger’s debut under his own name is a quiet triumph, produced impeccably by Booker T Jones, frontman of Booker T & The MGs. Opening track My Eyes Are T-Shirts (“they’re so easy to read”) comes with his distinctive baritone, while the album features washes of organ on One More Second, mournful strings on Collar Of Your Shirt and licks of brass on All For Nothing and Take Me Out Of Town. The typically literate lyrics are more personal than those for The National, while the music is stripped down, freed from the need to fill arenas. Serpentine Prison, in its melancholy and introspection, is reminiscent at times of Robert Fisher’s criminally under-rated alt-country outfit Willard Grant Conspiracy, and its understated qualities deserve a wide audience.
Album No. 8
WHILE none of her recent works have matched the commercial success of her debut and sophomore albums, former Belfast resident Katie Melua has quietly been serving up top 10 hits for over a decade. This – if it is a sign of anything – points towards her knack for cutting through passing trends with artful song-writing and occasional sonic experimentation. The British-Georgian has been clear that this is not a divorce album – coming as it does shortly after her split from World Superbike racer and musician James Toseland. But on Album No. 8, love is both the question and answer. Melua’s coded lyricism is put to good use on English Manner, which explores the shifting power dynamics of a love triangle, while Maybe I Dreamt It is a paeon to shared experience. Inspired by folk greats like Bob Dylan, Album No. 8 features some fine, old-fashioned song-writing. But often a good idea is swallowed by clumsy orchestration or production, leaving what might have been majestic feeling more glacial.
Fake It Flowers
TURN-of-the-millennium emo pop might not quite be the flavour of the month right now, but Beabadoobee – real name Beatrice Laus – somehow carries it off in a way that feels totally at home 20 years on. After all, her biggest splash so far came in the most 2020 way possible – suddenly going viral on TikTok after rapper Powfu sampled her debut single Coffee. In a recent LA Times interview, the British-Filipino singer said she spent every night dancing around in her pants to the likes of Michelle Branch, Veruca Salt and the soundtrack to Lindsay Lohan’s Freaky Friday. That should probably give you a decent idea of what to expect from her debut studio record, but there’s far more depth to Beabadoobee than her bedroom listening and playful demeanour might suggest. Sorry is a quiet-loud-quiet anthem bursting with serious pop prowess, while the lo-fi lilting ballad How Was Your Day is lifted straight out of the Daniel Johnson songbook. Closer Yoshimi, Forest, Magdalene presents a terrific slice of saccharine art rock with hints at an even more interesting future.
IF EVER there was a 21st Century reincarnation of glam rock, The Struts are surely it. Bedazzled with rhinestones and draped in leather, the enigmatic Derby quartet have emerged with another riff-heavy offering from the depths of the global pandemic. The follow-up to the impeccable hooks of 2018’s Young & Dangerous, Strange Days saw the band move to the US and in with producer Jon Levine. Thrashing out nine tracks in 10 days, this speedy approach has left the new album lacking the magic of its older sibling. Strange Days’ title track is an underwhelming affair, drizzled with the vocals of fellow Brit Robbie Williams, while the additional guest appearances read like an A-Z of classic rock – The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr, Tom Morello, Def Leppard duo Phil Collen and Joe Elliott. The long-awaited follow-up was always going to be a tough task, but what the previous album produced in terms of infectious hooks, stadium choruses and down-tempo tales of woe, Strange Days misses out on by the narrowest of margins.
Danielle de Wolfe
I Am Aladdin
PSYCHEDELIC rocker Frank Zappa’s genre-breaking album of orchestral music, The Yellow Shark, gives this band their name. It’s a fine indicator of what’s to come – a meeting of classical and contemporary rock that spews forth something quite unlike either. Frequently disorientating, yllwshrk’s debut album, I am Aladdin, gives the listener only fleeting reference points to cling on to. Sam West’s vocals point towards the diaphanous tones of Anohni, the percussion to the spasmodic post-punk of These New Puritans. But the band’s sounds are their own, shifting through noisy orchestral excursions to tender ballads like One By One and Northern Soul. Members of the group have appeared on albums by Radiohead, Frank Ocean and Foals as members of the London Contemporary Orchestra, and the LCO returns the favour here, adding atmospherics on the discordant Millennials. I am Aladdin is a finely-tuned balancing act, between light and dark, experimentation and simplicity. It’s an exciting debut from a band whose references range from Mahler to Black Mirror.