Album reviews: Kasabian, Blondie, Mary J Blige, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Also: Juliet Fraser, Alice Coltrane and Juana Molina

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The Independent Culture

Kasabian, For Crying Out Loud

★★★★☆

Download this: You’re In Love With A Psycho; Twenty Four Seven; Good Fight; Comeback Kid

Although a guaranteed chart-topping act for over a decade now, Kasabian’s album sales have been dwindling gradually for the past few years, from assured multi-platinum appeal to the measly gold disc awarded 2014’s 48:13. Notable for its artsy one-word titles and electronica leanings, it was Serge Pizzorno’s stab at trying something a little more experimental after four albums’ worth of festival anthems. For Crying Out Loud suggests that inclination is now completely cleared out of his system: rather than explore at length in his studio, this album was written in six weeks to ensure maximum impact and immediacy, with no song allowed to become too flabby. Right from the urgent, stomping opener “Ill Ray (The King)”, this is clearly a band determined to take no prisoners, their attention condensed to a tight focus on each song’s momentum.

Scant concern has been wasted on the words, however; although that’s never been Kasabian’s strong suit. An early album highlight, for instance, is the single “You’re In Love With A Psycho”, evidence for which includes the imponderable assertion “I’m like the taste of macaroni on a seafood stick”. But who cares, when the striding, anthemic groove bowls along so assuredly, embodying the song’s tone of arrogance tempered with anxiety? “Twenty Four Seven”, a sympathetic expression of the energy expelled “trying hard just to be someone”, then doubles down on the single’s appeal, courtesy of a muscular, almost brutish riff matched with a suitably strained guitar break. Three tracks in, and they’re back to punching their weight with a fresh confidence – and it doesn’t end there. “Good Fight” is less direct, more akin to the laddish good-time rock of the early Seventies Stones and Faces, with the Keef-style hang-back raunch of Pizzorno’s guitar set against the crisp punch and roll of the drums, and rippling barroom piano escorting the song from the premises.

Another highlight is the pacy “Comeback Kid”, a furiously galloping rocker on which Tom Meigham gets to deliver some of the album’s most engaging lines, quirky kitchen-sink stuff about a “big cheese in a bedsit” and “nosebleed in a pound shop”. Elsewhere, “Wasted” is a sad summertime anthem (“there’s been so much sun wasted without you”) with guitar arpeggios buoyed by a tambourine groove, and a lovely vocal counterpoint added to the hook; while “The Party Never Ends” is a more melancholy, introvert expression, wrapped in sombre horns.

The only time the band stray from the tight-focus approach comes on “Are You Looking For Action?”, a scudding disco-rocker which strides along for over eight minutes with contrails of synth in its wake. But even here, Kasabian manage to shift through several sections – the synth solo, the voicebag guitar break, etc – without losing the song’s essential swing. It’s further confirmation of their new-found confidence, coming soon, I’m sure, to a festival near you.

Blondie, Pollinator

★★☆☆☆

Download this: Doom Or Destiny; Fun

Following the more experimental approach of 2014’s Ghosts Of Download, Blondie revert to something closer to their classic band style for Pollinator, with mixed results. It opens well with “Doom Or Destiny”, which chugs along efficiently with endless repetition of the title hook, Debbie Harry’s voice apparently joined by those of Joan Jett and Laurie Anderson. But it’s one of only two tracks written by Harry and partner Chris Stein, as elsewhere they lean heavily on outside contributions. It’s not always pretty: TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek brings a certain verve to “Fun”, a genial alliance of disco beat and nibbly guitar itch, but the bittersweet “Best Day Ever” is a halfway house between Sia Furler’s pop smarts and the stilted, angular guitar riff of The Strokes’ Nick Valensi. As for Charli XCX’s “Gravity” and Johnny Marr’s “My Monster”, they just sound like desperate grasps for something – anything – before the latter stages of the album slump into terminal dullness.

Mary J Blige, Strength Of A Woman

★★★☆​☆

Download this: Love Yourself; Set Me Free; U + Me (Love Lesson); Hello Father

After the refreshing change furnished by 2014’s The London Sessions, things are pretty much back to normal for Mary J Blige on Strength Of A Woman, which finds the Queen Of R&B Reproach once again embattled by amorous treachery – presumably triggered by her recent split with her husband/manager. It’s R&B’s most familiar theme, but few do it this well, Blige rehearsing a few choice rejoinders (“Are you worth this fight?”, “There’s a special place in hell for you”, etc) before deciding, during a slow, bluesy demolition of his supposed betrayal, to “thank you for showing me who you really are”. The British influence has been ditched for soul classicism – as in the Steely Dan-esque horn arrangement to “Set Me Free”, and the echoes of Stevie Wonder in “Hello Father” – mixed with more skittish modern beats on the likes of “U + Me (Love Lesson)” and “Love Yourself”, where Kanye West pops up to rap about himself, aptly enough.

Juliet Fraser, Morton Feldman: Three Voices

★★★★★

Download this: Three Voices

Three voices, but just one singer: this demanding, 50-minute solo vocal piece was specifically composed to be performed by one singer – originally, American virtuoso Joan La Barbara – overdubbing all three parts, a feat requiring immense technique and control. Though based on a few lines from a Frank O’Hara poem about snow dedicated to Morton Feldman, actual words only appear around 20 minutes into the piece; up till then, Fraser’s overlaid tones carpet the soundstage softly, whisked into eddying whorls here and there, shifting and sliding wordlessly against each other. Feldman believed Three Voices shockingly “sensuous, if not gorgeous”, and Fraser’s approach here indulges this aspect warily. The result is lush but ultimately swaddling, as O’Hara reveals that the snow is actually trapped inside a glass snow globe, “whirling like a thought” – a dialectic of freedom and containment brilliantly captured in Fraser’s precise but involved evocation of “the ambiguous space between beauty and evil, between the living and the dead”.

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Lovely Creatures: The Best Of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

★★★★​★

Download this: The Mercy Seat; Red Right Hand; Brompton Oratory; Jubilee Street; Higgs Boson Blues

Comprising three CDs and a DVD of videos and interviews, Lovely Creatures is a long-overdue survey of the curious career of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, from the band’s beginnings in the cabaret-Elvis intrigue of From Her To Eternity, through the fervid terror of “The Mercy Seat”, the bloodstained murder balladry of the Cave/Kylie duet “Where The Wild Roses Grow” and the predatory menace of the Tom Waits-ian “Red Right Hand”, up to the more contemplative mood of Push The Sky Away. While Cave’s main concerns – love, death and God – are frequently addressed throughout, it’s the extraordinary malleability of The Bad Seeds’ empathic arrangements which allows such a broad range of interpretations to flourish. So although Cave’s adept grasp of vocal expression, from aching melancholy to erupting hysteria, guides the narratives of these songs, this is not simply a singer backed by a band, it’s a unit striving for collective expression, by whatever means possible.

Alice Coltrane, The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda

★★★☆​☆

Download this: Om Rama; Om Shanti; Er Ra; Keshava Murahaha

Following John Coltrane’s death in 1967, his harpist widow Alice dedicated herself to spiritual matters, establishing the Sai Anantam Ashram in California, where these devotional pieces were recorded between 1982 and 1995. Heretofore available only on private cassette tapes, they represent a unique rapprochement between Eastern and Western traditions: “Keshava Murahaha” features Devic chant accompanied by classical strings, while the 24-piece Ashram choir employed on tracks like “Om Rama” and “Om Shanti” introduces a gospel flavour to the Hindi material. The results are looser and less formal than might be expected, more imbued with soulful swing, slipping back and forth between the modes and incorporating ecstatic gospel-style call and response passages against a patinated backdrop of shakers, percussion, swooping synths and droning organ. Elsewhere, shifting vocal pitches and elisions render “Journey To Satchidananda” more specifically Eastern, whilst Coltrane’s harp is restricted to a solo performance of “Er Ra”. A fascinating personal journey, captured in a singular sound.

Juana Molina, Halo

★★★★☆​

Download this: Paraguaya; In The Lassa; Sin Dones; A00 B01

With Halo, Argentinian singer Juana Molina continues the intriguing, addictive approach of 2013’s Wed 21, with her soft Tropicalismo-style Spanish vocals embedded within delicately experimental arrangements. It’s remarkably subtle stuff: “Calculos y Oraculos” sounds like air escaping from pipes, as her singing is assailed by sinking wisps of synth; and in opener “Paraguaya”, her feathery voice is set against a bed of dry percussion and bass, with wavery string figures adding woozy, swirling colour. But there’s meticulous attention to atmosphere in each piece, be it the ingeniously intertwining synth lines and simple shaker groove of “A00 B01”, or the quietly pulsing urgency of tracks such as “Cara De Espejo” and the infectious “In The Lassa”, where the puttering beat and bassline are punctuated by subdued snare rolls and piquant interjections of fluid guitar figures from Deerhoof’s John Dieterich. Despite not understanding a word of what she’s singing about, it’s entirely entrancing, in a manner simultaneously strange and familiar.

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