Help: A Day In The Life
Anyone else spend the weekend battling with War Child's servers, trying to download Help: A Day In The Life? Frustrating as it was at times getting on that golden free server, the end result was a mostly satisfying always interesting collection of 22 tracks, recorded and released in just over 24 hours, that will make it's physical appearance in the record racks on the 26th September. Stripped of months of studio time and over production this veritable pick'n'mix of the current crop of UK indie acts has produced some surprising results and a striking rebuttal to the notion that charity plus rock stars equalls turgid dross. Today we take a track by track look at what's on offer before new releases by Elbow, the Dandy Warhols and Sigur Ros.
Damien Rice's Cross Eyed Bear kicks off the proceedings with a particularly raw single take four minutes. It's a typical Damian Rice darkly beautiful lament on accoustic guitar and cello that rings every ounce of heartbreak from it's spartan plucked notes. He's followed by one of two African acts, both of whom have spent time in war zones. Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier in the Sudanese civil war reworks his track Gua (Peace) rapping his experiences of a life formed through conflict over ululating voices and East African rhythms.
It's up to Kaiser Chiefs to become the first to let the side down with a fairly droneful, uninspiring cover of Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through The Grapevine that does no justice to either the original or themselves. Keane's take on Sir Elton's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road hits all the right (high) notes and is assisted by Faultline's ambient production but again we're left asking why. And why were the drums mixed so high, crashing away over the general mellowness? Don't do it again please. Kudos then to Pete D and crew who raise the stakes once more, late entrants in the game too, with the pleasingly shambolic acoustic strum through From Bollywood To Battersea replete with rain sticks. Well why not. Maximo Park pick up the pace with Wasteland that bounces along in the Maximo Park way, whilst Mylo adds the squeaks, bleeps, blips, drops, coughs and white noise on the somewhat idiosynchratic Mars Needs Women.
We're still convinced that Razorlight's Johnny Borrell sounds exactly like The Hooters' Eric Bazillian and Kirby's House sees them moving further from the indie darlings they once were into a fully fledged stadium rock band. And we're not stopping them. A rolling 70's rock strum that for no earthly reason breaks into a big chorus repleat with gospel choir which is genius in it's own OTT way.
As on any good compilation the producers have certainly spent some time thinking about the pacing, building and dropping but why do we need a Christmas song in September? Probably only Anthony of the Johnsons can answer that. His duet on Happy Christmas, War Is Over with Boy George is imbued with about as much torch song pathos the guys can mange. Which is a fair amount let us tell you. It's so camp it's a surprise Michael Eavis hasn't tried to lay a drainage ditch down the middle of it.
The last band on the album you'd expect to go two tone would be Belle And Sebastien. But that's what they do. The Eigth Station Of The Cross Kebab House doffs its pork pie hat to The Specials but wait. Is this Kele from Bloc Party also straying into Terry Hall territory with additional U2 guitar harmonics laid over the top on The Present? Guess it must be. It doesn't quite work, the delay pedal doing nothing to the song. Another last minute addition to the line up, Coldplay, give us How You See The World No 2, one of their broody Radiohead atmospherics. At least you won't run screaming if you've already overdosed on Fix You.
Leave it, then, to Damon Albarn to continue to prove that Gorillaz are one of the most intersting English bands at play today. Unless Coxon rejoins the fold we'd say that Blur's now the side project as the increasingly multi talented Mr Albarn blends traditional Chinese strings with a gentle acoustic guitar on the seven minute Hong Kong. The Go! Team drop their Big Beat beats for Phantom Broadcast, their own mini Western theme tune that just might have a tiny touch of Highland Fling thrown in for good measure. If expectations continue to be broken then fair play to Hard-Fi for adding their own electro tinged Oasis-a-like Help Me Please, that's far and away the most interesting thing we've heard them do to date.
So time to throw in some crashing guitars from the Manic Street Preachers who've picked up their balls and gone for broke in a brief blast of bluster on Leviathan. They're never going to rewrite The Holy Bible but it's satisfying to catch a glimpse of a more carefree band at work. We were completely taken by Tinariwen when we caught them at Glastonbury last year. Cler Achel has a gentle rolling Mali funk from these Tuareg tribesmen complete with additional ulalations. It's great to be able to write ulalation twice in the same review. Three times. No ulalations in The Zutons' Hello Conscience, a straight up rollicking rock number that should end on a sax flourish but doesn't. Oh well. Nobody's perfect. Except possibly Elbow whose Snowball is another slice of delicate heart broken pop under Guy Garvey's world weary voice that's the equal of anything they've ever done. Radiohead's I Want None Of This is principally Thom on piano messing around with the opening chords to Frankie's Two Tribes in typically bleak manner. The Coral pick up the pace a touch It Was Nothing in time for The Magic Numbers to close the show with Gone Are The Days which sees Romeo Stoddart still suffering from advanced broken heart syndrome whilst writing cheerily mellow West Coast pop.
So little in the way of B-Sides or stocking fillers. Rather a genuinely intersting and worthwhile effort for a good cause that warrants your £9.99 for the full album or whatever random tracks you choose to download on their own - all of which can be done from the War Child Music site. As with it's predecessor it makes for decent snapshot of our NME / XFM sponsored music scene and whilst hanging together better as an album in its own right. Many of the songs included here are worthy of a place on a full-on long player. Many show how effective they can be at short notice and with only a couple of exceptions, none do a disservice to the artists involved. A little something for everyone and for this reason, as much as for the cause it's our album of the week although it will have to share the title with...
Elbow - Leaders Of The Free World
You might already have guessed that we're more than a little partial to Elbow, and the long awaited Leaders Of The Free World has done nothing to abait that. We'll even go as far as saying that not only is this their most accessible album to date but the the best British album of the year so far. Magic Numbers? Coldplay? Humbug. If you want heart breakingly beautiful melodies, epic choruses and intelligent, literate pop by the bucketload then the wait is really over.
Whilst Asleep In The Back and Cast Of Thousands may have kept many at bay through a gentle obtuseness, Leaders piles on the pop friendly tunes whilst never losing the band's ability to pen a well crafted tune. From the darkly political title tune:
The Leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing Stones
through the epic bombast of the current single Forget Myself to the soaring ode to coming home Station Approach there's not a poor tune on an album shot through with Guy Garvey's wry humour and quirky ability with a great line as well as a fine hook. Far from the maudlin brush they're often tarred with this is 11 tracks of sheer uplifting class.
This week it's NME running all the streamed playbacks. Fill in the form and listen to Leaders Of The Free World here.
The Dandy Warhols - Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars
The Odditorium is the name given to the Dandy Warhols'hometown studio. We have no idea where the Warlords Of Mars bit came in. Still the album title is as frustrating as the album can be, although we love it none the less. Never a band to toy with public affection they've turned in a semi-compilation of all their previous sounds from the low slung Morricone influenced trumpets of Thirteen Tales (Love Is The New Feel Awful), the New Romantic electro influenced Welcome To The Monkey House (Everyone Is Totally Insane), The gutter pop of Come Down (Down Like Disco), and the rambling psychadelic jams of their eponymous debut (A Loan Tonight), which gets a special nod through the piss taking spoken word intro.
There are some great Dandys pop tunes: Holding Me Up, All The Money Or The Simple Life Honey, an uptempo country number: The New Country, the simply oddball and high as a kite dog noises of Did You Make A Song With Otis and in the chaotic, stand in a room and shout a lot jumble of Smoke It, the finest single of the year so far. In probably the best week for album releases in a long time Odditorium holds it's place as the most off the wall record without ever being anything less that completely brilliant. Since we're on a roll here we're going to make this album of the week as well
Enter the Odditorium courtesy of the NME here.
Sigur Ros - Takk
OK, so we've had a third, a fifth now time for a fourth, the fourth from Icelandic soundscapers Sigur Ros and before you complain about us going a little over board on the album of the week front we're awarding this one as well. Just to keep the balance mind you, but also because this is the most entrancing 66 minutes of harmonies ever to glisten off a glacial lake. Melodies drip like rain drops from pine trees as the forest folk frolic in the lush verdant arrangements that make up Takk (Icelandic for Thank You we believe). This is the dictionary definition of ethereal, songs woven into dreams, shifting and changing throughout but always emerging in a burst of sunlight through the trees.
The standout track Glosoli takes its time building layer upon layer of soft sounds before erupting into a glorious cacophony of thrashing guitars whilst Se Lest (almost literally)tunes into the sweetest of child hood memories through xylophone and glockenspiel sitting under Jonsi Birgisson's child like falsetto. We have absolutely no idea what he's singing about but it makes you want to weep for lost innocence, the strangeness of the language adding to the magical quality of the work.
If you're having a bad day, if the cricket's taken a turn for the worse, then we recommend you lose yourself in Sigur Ros here.