Albums: New music from Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Rey, James Arthur and Nathaniel Rateliff...
ED SHEERAN – EQUALS
TURNING 30, becoming a father, getting married and the death of friend and Australian record boss Michael Gudinski are the themes that tie Ed Sheeran's fourth album together.
There's a clarity of vision here, most obvious on opener Tides and love song Collide, with saccharine odes to childhood sweetheart turned wife Cherry Seaborn being the thread the binds these 12 tracks together.
First Times is the musical equivalent of a kitsch 'Live Laugh Love' wall hanging and will undoubtedly soundtrack many a first dance at weddings.
Musically, the album is all over the place. The singles Bad Habits and Shivers, plus Overpass Graffiti, riff on the 1980s nostalgia. Stop The Rain and Love In Slow Motion are classic Sheeran fodder, with melodic "Yeah yeahs" and tuneful guitar.
Elsewhere, the listener is greeted with UK garage rhythms and R&B bops.
Sheeran has clearly streamlined his songwriting with one eye fixed firmly on 'the algorithm' of the streaming era.
LANA DEL REY – BLUE BANISTERS
LANA Del Rey returns with her second album of 2021 and third in three years. The music doesn't vary much – piano ballads, understated strings and brass, occasional lowkey beats – but undeniably plays to her strengths
Some lyrical themes are familiar too: doomed love, bad boys half-cut when the party begins and nostalgia for a mythical Middle America.
The title track references a picture of "me on a John Deere" tractor and Oklahoma, but there's usually darkness on the edge of town: Del Rey sings "now I am lost" in Nectar Of The Gods, and muses in Arcadia "they built me up three hundred feet tall just to tear me down".
Then there's the shadow of Covid, with Black Bathing Suit mentioning quarantine and Zoom, adding "if this is the end, I want a boyfriend".
Some of these songs date back years, but Blue Banisters sounds coherent and adds to the legacy that Del Rey seems increasingly concerned about.
JAMES ARTHUR – IT'LL ALL MAKE SENSE IN THE END
IT'S been a challenging nine years for Arthur since the huge success of his X Factor win, with up and downs in his personal and professional life.
That is clear from the lyrics which do not shy away difficult subjects – Running Away talks about bad decisions and using drugs to escape life's pressures, while SOS asks for help to save his soul.
It's not all doom and gloom though, as the singles released so far have shown.
Medicine is a love song to someone who is more addictive than any drug and September is an melodic ode to a lover who helps to chase away the demons and makes life better.
There is also optimism for the future with Emily, a catchy song to an imagined future daughter.
Some of the album tracks sound a little samey but Arthur's mix of singing and rapping makes it an interesting listen.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF AND THE NIGHT SWEATS – THE FUTURE
THE Future, his third album with the Night Sweats, marks a new era for Nathaniel Rateliff, who before the pandemic was spiralling out of control – his drinking had peaked and his marriage had fallen apart.
The death of his friend Richard Swift from complications related to alcohol abuse was a turning point.
Now on his latest album with the Night Sweats, Rateliff appears to have reached some equilibrium.
The retro-soul of Love Me Till I'm Gone sees him channelling Charles Bradley – its lyrics and vocal delivery exude calm self-acceptance.
The title track, meanwhile, sees Rateliff's versatile voice bending itself around a dose of classic Americana that captures the band at their live best.
On What If, he considers giving up on music and love before facing up to the challenges of life – something he admits avoiding in previous years.
This is the sound of an artist facing his problems and finding inspiration within them.