Albums: New music from Steps, Smashing Pumpkins and Gary Barlow, plus collected favourites from Spandau Ballet
STEPS – WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
THE 90s dance-pop band's sixth studio album opens with the catchy title track and first single What The Future Holds. Then it's straight into the second single, the pleasingly Abba-esque Something In Your Eyes.
The family-friendly dancefloor hits continue with One Touch, one of the strongest tracks thanks to a combination of a fast singalong chorus and slower verses. The smoother and slightly theatrical Under My Skin follows, then it's back to the high energy dance with Heartbreak In This City.
Short, sharp strings and piano add something different to Come And Dance With Me, and To The One has some interesting twists. Hold My Heart is slower and more emotional, allowing the band to show off their strong voices and harmonising skills.
Some might prefer a little more variety in the 13 tracks but keeping to their successful formula means Steps fans will probably love this.
GARY BARLOW – MUSIC PLAYED BY HUMANS
HAVE Kraftwerk gone acoustic? Is this an avant-garde electronica composer's latest opus?
No, it's just our Gary, doing what he's always done but with a title that nods towards the fact there are real instruments.
On the opening track he shows how "human" this record is by featuring Sgt Pepper's-style tuning up, followed by a faux-humble spoken introduction. And then – BANG – Barlow's serving up hot jazz in Who's Driving This Thing, which sounds like a decent tune from the cutting room floor of the musical Chicago.
The album remains in the same up-tempo vibe for the first four tracks, and though your toe's been tapping (especially on Enough Is Enough, a duet with Beverley Knight), something's been bothering you.
Lead single Elita, featuring Michael Buble and Sebastian Yatra, finally tips you off – the crooning, the duets, the big arrangements: Barlow is trying to muscle in on Buble.
SMASHING PUMPKINS – CYR
TWENTY-five years on from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Smashing Pumpkins are doubling up again. CYR reunites Billy Corgan, fellow founder members James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin and long-time guitarist Jeff Schroeder, with the frontman taking on production duties and adding synthesisers to his repertoire to give a new dynamic, most evident on opener The Colour Of Love and Tyger, Tyger.
Thematically, the album lies on the dark side as witches – including the Wyttch, of one of the stand-out tracks – and necromancers abound, while another track is titled Anno Satana.
Backing singers Katie Cole and Sierra Swan elevate Black Forest, Black Hills and A Hidden Sun from a 20-track set which at times becomes slightly samey. Throw in a five-art animated film rolled out across a series of double A-side singles and there is a lot to digest – for hardcore fans, though, it's twice as nice.
SPANDAU BALLET – 40 YEARS – THE GREATEST HITS
RELEASED exactly four decades after they signed their first recording contract, 40 Years – The Greatest Hits charts Spandau Ballet's rise from punky upstarts to New Romantic icons.
Its three CDs strike a fine balance between chart-ready hits (Gold, True), fan favourites (Through The Barricades) and unheard cuts (a striking cover of Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer recorded back in 1990).
Spandau Ballet have seen their fair share of internal power struggles across the years.
This compilation, however, shines the spotlight a band obsessed equally with social commentary and pure, unadulterated pop.
Spandau Ballet – led by Tony Hadley and the Kemp brothers – have reformed enough times in the last decade that even the most fervent fans will not be gasping for more.
But 40 Years – The Greatest Hits remains both an effective entry point for new listeners and a reminder of Spandau Ballet's surprising breadth.