Album reviews: Katy B, Aretha Franklin, Neil Finn, Maximo Park


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The Independent Culture

Katy B "Little Red" (Sony)

Much talk of “adult” emotions and “dealing with issues” precedes the second album from Peckham’s Kathleen Brien, but don’t fret: she hasn’t deserted the dancefloor.

On 2011’s On a Mission, Katy B emerged as a choice collision of raver-next-door and dance-pop trailblazer, forging a path from club to chart for the likes of Disclosure to follow. So, alarm bells sounded at news that the follow-up would involve melancholic reflection and the input of Robbie Williams’s old mucker Guy Chambers. What was it to be, a “mature” makeover for the smartphone-waving market?

Only in part. “Crying for No Reason” is the main offender, a billowy weepie touched by the hand of Chambers, though it’s echoed in the “doing an Adele” stakes by the over-vocalised “Still” and a song called “Emotions” (because “Feelings” was taken, presumably). And if it’s dodgy words you want, try the love-as-ecstasy metaphor on “All My Lovin’”, a song that bangs on until a little less lovin’ starts to sound preferable.

Still, dud lyrics won’t worry clubbers, and Brien still has the savvy and stamina of a caner-come-good. “Next Thing” is an energised opener, rapacious and vivacious. “5 AM” teases comedown anxiety into a club-pop killer without lapsing into pity-me torpor. “I Like You” and “Everything” spring lusty R&B blooms from Brien’s Rinse FM roots, seeming to exhale with the dry ice direct from some marathon all-nighter.

The ballads will be the tracks from Little Red to own the charts for the foreseeable future, but it’s on the 5am dancefloor that Katy B’s second album will score its biggest impact.


Kevin Harley

Aretha Franklin "The Queen of Soul" (Rhino/Atlantic)

The best back-catalogues in pop history are a story in themselves, and Aretha’s Atlantic backstory is one of the greats. Here it is in expansive but nevertheless distilled (and dirt cheap) form in one four-CD set, selected judiciously from the 14 albums released under her name between 1967 and 1976, plus a few outtakes/rarities.

This is soul – soul not as personal exegesis but as votive offering, the gospel method brought to bear on the secular realms of love and household and family and womanhood, with horns, funk and towering grace; 87 songs of joy and pain and all the stops in between.

Not all of them come off,  but all of them work hard at it.  It is inconceivable that you might spend a better 15 quid  this week.


Nick Coleman

Neil Finn "Dizzy Heights" (Lester Records)

With what Wikipedia describes as a “moderately successful” solo career and the best days of Crowded House behind him, it’s perhaps ironic that Finn should choose to call his latest offering Dizzy Heights.

On the first few listens, it feels like a joke that has backfired. The tunes, such as they first sound, come buried in the sort of production that musicians usually turn to in an effort to disguise the fact that the songs are weak. How, you find yourself thinking, did the man behind Woodface come to this?

Then suddenly, the songs reveal themselves, the wall of sounds ceases to be a barrier, and the back end of the album contains songs (almost) as good as any he has written. Wilfully abstruse, then, but still one hell of a talent. 


Simmy Richman

Maximo Park "Too Much Information" (Daylighting)

Maxïmo Park have created a beer to accompany their fifth album, so it’s a good job their endurance is worth celebrating.

Here, the North-east new-wave revivalists refresh their default angular moves with nervy propulsion (“Give, Get, Take”), elegant synth-pop (“Brain Cells”) and electro-glide reflections (“Is it True?”). At the centre, a book-ish outsiders’ taste for lyrics resembling reading lists holds firm.

Lapses into rote mosh-jobs (“Her Name Was Audre”, “My Bloody Mind”) let them down, but tributes to local libraries and recommended writers (Lydia Davis, Roberto Bolaño) prove they remain the kind of inquisitive band who couldn’t give a monkey’s about charges of pretension. And that’s always worth toasting.


Kevin Harley