Albums: New music from The Specials, Lil Nas X, Natalie Imbruglia and Sufjan Stevens & Angelo de Augustine
THE SPECIALS – PROTEST SONGS 1924-2012
WHEN The Specials emerged from Coventry in the late 1970s, much of their music was protest music – against Thatcher and the far right.
Singer Terry Hall describes their new album, conceived during lockdown, as an "interim project" – a collection of covers of other people's protest songs ranging across nearly a century.
The 12 tracks include reggae, folk and civil rights anthems from the likes of Leonard Cohen and the Staple Singers.
This is The Specials as you have never heard them before, rocking out on the psychedelia-drenched Trouble Every Day by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, or bringing introspection to a beautiful acoustic interpretation of Bob Marley's Get Up, Stand Up.
Some covers feel undeveloped – more like demos – but each show The Specials reshaping themselves to a different era or genre.
Most of all, it is reassuring that after 50 years The Specials remain as radical as ever.
LIL NAS X – MONTERO
MONTERO is a sweeping piece of work, exploring identity, sexuality and community though the lens of Lil Nas X's idiosyncratic mix of flamenco, country, trap and pop.
Before the success of Old Town Road, Lil Nas X was a college dropout sleeping on his sister's sofa – and that journey to pop superstar and queer icon – he came out as gay while Old Town Road sat atop the Hot 100 chart in the US – is central to Montero.
Tales of his insecurities and his romantic conquests gain equal airtime: this is a story of a young man embracing and exploring his sexuality.
Sir Elton John, Megan Thee Stallion and Miley Cyrus feature among the guest artists, but Lil Nas X is always the star.
He's as strong delivering punchy bars full of braggadocio as when recalling he intense insecurities of his youth.
An affecting, uplifting album that proves Lil Nas X will be an enduring star.
NATALIE IMBRUGLIA – FIREBIRD
"IS EVERYTHING broken?" asks Natalie Imbruglia on the opening line of her sixth studio album and first featuring new music in a decade.
That opening track, Build It Better – the resemblance to the Conservative slogan is presumably coincidental – is a perfect example of a personal sentiment applicable to the global situation.
The album features songs co-written with KT Tunstall, the Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr and the Magic Numbers' Romeo Stodart among others, but too often settles into schmaltzy lost-love territory and Texas-esque MOR pop.
The gleeful "look at me now" romp Not Sorry stands out as a welcome counterpoint – most deliciously and contemptuously on Imbruglia's "Ha!" before the second chorus.
The album is best on those occasions when it finds its bite, such as on early moments Nothing Missing and Maybe It's Great, while River and the title track – co-written with Stodart – provide a strong finish.
SUFJAN STEVENS AND ANGELO DE AUGUSTINE – A BEGINNER'S MIND
THE dulcet tones of Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine are married together on A Beginner's Mind, the product of a month-long sabbatical to a cabin in upstate New York.
The pair watched films at night and took inspiration from their viewing while writing in the morning. The outcome is a 14-track cinematic exploration that ranges across genres, from zombie horror Night Of The Living Dead to cheerleader rom-com Bring It On.
The album opens with Reach Out, which takes reference from 1987 film Wings of Desire, and draws you in with acoustic guitar fingerpicking and feels reminiscent of Stevens's enchanting album Carrie & Lowell.
Later tracks, like The Pillar of Souls and Cimmerian Shade, which are based on the horror films of Hellraiser III and Silence of the Lambs respectively, offer a more haunting seductive quality,
Although the movies are deemed to be only catalysts, film lovers will delight in analysing their influence and references.