Arts

Albums: New music from Soft Cell, Arcade Fire, Blossoms and Emeli Sande

 Soft Cell - Happiness Not Included

SOFT CELL – *HAPPINESS NOT INCLUDED

SOFT Cell's first album in 20 years opens with a vivid depiction of a future filled with androgynous, leather-clad boys and girls, flying cars and weather-control devices.

At its best, *Happiness Not Included captures the erratic energy and high drama that lifted singer Marc Almond and producer Dave Ball to chart stardom in the 1980s.

Their collaboration with Pet Shop Boys, Purple Zone, is a dancefloor beast – with stabbing synths and an almost unbearably catchy hook. Nostalgia Machine, meanwhile, pays tribute to the the disco of Studio 54 as well as British touchstones like T Rex and David Essex.

The album falls down when the duo turn towards slower, more atmospheric material.

Heart Like Chernobyl contains some ungainly metaphors, while album closer New Eden reaches for grandeur but only plods at a glacial pace.

*Happiness Not Included is an uneven album but one that shows Soft Cell are still testing the boundaries of their art 40 years on.

Rating: 3/5

ARCADE FIRE – WE

CANADIAN indie rock band Arcade Fire are back with their sixth studio album, WE – an instalment that may have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but one that is definitely worth the wait.

The album, their first in five years since 2017's Everything Now, is a two-sided offering, the first side, I, and the second, WE, delivering poignant lyrics and music with meaning.

Their album return is layered with lyrics that reflect the world of isolation, fear and loneliness, indicative of the global collective during the pandemic.

But fans need not fear they will be weighed down by concept or intention, because the resulting music is still upbeat, highly listenable and catchy.

It's a glittering musical return for the band.

Rating: 4/5

BLOSSOMS – RIBBON AROUND THE BOMB

BLOSSOMS have taken a leap forward on their fourth album, forging a new and distinctive sound from their love of folksy Americana and classic rock.

Ribbon Around The Bomb oozes personality while retaining the playful, energetic vibe of their previous work.

Frontman Tom Ogden suffered something of an existential crisis before the pandemic.

He confronts this on the twinkling Americana-tinted Visions, where he considers where life will take him next, not yet 30 but already a married man with two number one albums under his belt.

Clearly he has put his imposter syndrome behind him: these tracks sound supremely confident and Ogden's voice jumps easily between singalong choruses (on the title track) to quiet reflection and folksy crooning (on The Writer).

The band have cited Simon & Garfunkel as inspirations for this record, and their musical breadth and songwriting chops have definitely bled into it, producing perhaps Blossoms' finest album yet.

Rating: 4/5

EMELI SANDE – LET'S SAY FOR INSTANCE

IT'S been three years since Emeli Sande's last album and much has changed: the Aberdeen-raised singer left her major label for an indie and announced to the world that she is in love with a woman.

Let's Say For Instance channels this newfound sense of personal freedom, the result being 16 tracks of uplifting soul and sweet R&B.

Certainly, there is a little more edge here than usual. But this is not the radical departure some might expect: instead, Sande refines her sound, embracing quieter moments and looking back at her roots in dance music for inspiration.

Look What You've Done features the rapper Jaykae delivering a fierce verse against a swaggering garage beat, while Brighter Days is a classic handclap-driven gospel number.

The production is generally light and clean, giving her voice the space it needs to shine, and the dance beats pleasingly crisp.

In these trying times, her brand of uplifting pop is just the ticket.

Rating: 3/5

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