Album reviews: New from McFly, Tim Minchin, Kevin Godley, Emiko Suzuki...
Young Dumb Thrills
A NEW McFly album is just what we need to brighten the gloom of 2020. Since the likeable band formed in 2003, their popularity has been cemented by appearances on Strictly, I’m A Celebrity, The Cube, The Voice Kids UK and even in some children’s books. They seem to really enjoy what they do and that enthusiasm is contagious. The big sing-along singles Happiness and Tonight Is The Night are the stand-out tracks from their sixth studio album. Another Song About Love is not the ballad people might expect from the title but a jaunty tune about songwriting, and You’re Not Special may sound like it should be angry and bleak but it’s another catchy track. The lively pace slows a little for the reflective Sink Or Sing and the romantic Like I Can, while Young Dumb Thrillsis a bit more raucous. Growing Up reflects that the band may be getting a bit older but they thankfully don’t feel the need to grow up just yet.
AT 75, Kevin Godley has done it all, from huge success with 10cc to pioneering work directing videos and inventing a virtual music studio. Now comes a debut solo album, although that hardly tells the full story, as Muscle Memory is a crowdsourced record. Godley received 286 instrumentals after posting an invitation on PledgeMusic – “Write and record with me” – in 2017. The site went bankrupt last year, delaying the project, but with the submissions whittled down to 11, the album is being released with a new track every fortnight. Opener Expecting A Message starts with a tortured synth before the beats kick in, The Ghosts Of The Living is a gentle acoustic ballad, while Periscope is a highlight. The heavy-handed anti-gun The Big Bang Theory is a rare misfire, but Song Of Hate, written with Gotye, manages to sound sunny despite some bleak lyrics. The album is highly political and much darker than you’d expect. Muscle Memory also sounds cohesive despite its highly collaborative concept.
APART Together is a nothing short of musical masterpiece. Tim Minchin has successfully blown away any walls that threatened to typecast him. This is an album filled with both serious power ballads, with a mix of heartbreaking realism and a tiny squint of optimism, and joyous snapshots reminiscent of his comedy tours. Opener Summer Romance is a soaring declaration of modern love and true lyrical poetry. This is followed by Apart Together, the tale of a couple found frozen to death. Although it isn’t necessarily what you would expect as song material, it is an effective commentary on the lack of community and economic social structure. Thankfully these two string-pulling tracks are followed up with a little bit of levity with Airport Piano. It is refreshing to hear such a lyrically driven album that is so well enunciated and where each phonic has a clear home. Apart Together is both simple and anthemic. A pure joy to listen to.
WHEN 21-year-old Emiko Suzuki became the latest up-and-comer to be signed by Japanese entertainment giant Avex Entertainment, she found herself label mates with the likes of K-pop mainstays Blackpink, Big Band and Exo. Yet her first offering, an EP of five tracks, veers away from the South Korean genre’s ultra-popular melange of rap and modish pop sounds. Suzuki offers something quite different: A bombastic, dynamic collection that draws from her career in musical theatre. Before the pandemic put paid to it, Suzuki was starring in Japan’s first production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down The Wind in Tokyo. After All and Back Home both nod towards Lady Gaga in full A Star Is Born mode, while Hail! Mr Happy Days is a tribute to Suzuki’s childhood spent performing Japanese gospel. There’s a certain dynamism to her voice that allows it to shift effortlessly from vaudevillian vamp to vocal runs Ariana Grande would gasp at, and After All is a fine blueprint for whatever comes next.
Frank Turner and Jon Snodgrass
Buddies II: Still Buddies
ALMOST exactly 10 years ago, Frank Turner recorded a 10-track album with the American country musician Jon Snodgrass. The intervening years have the seen the record, titled Buddies, become a cult favourite, at least among their shared fan base. Clearly there was demand for a sequel, because here it is. Another 10 songs, this time recorded over the internet, interspersed with snippets of conversation as the pair reminisce about American road trips and chat about ageing and family. Punk mainstay Turner, who has in the last six months become the face of the fight to save the UK’s grassroots venues, heads the recording and mastering with fine results. In fact the entire record is serviceable, with tight performances and entertaining, sometimes poignant material broken up by podcast-like chatter between the pair. Buddies II is fan service at its most pure. Looked at as a snapshot of an intensely creative friendship as opposed to a bona fide album and there will be much to enjoy. But really, this one is for the die-hards.