Album reviews: Pharrell Williams, Paloma Faith, Elbow, Drive-by Truckers, Robert Ellis, Nick Waterhouse

 

Pharrell williams G I R L (Columbia)

In 2006, Pharrell Williams’ debut solo album, In My Mind, following years as a hugely successful production partner in The Neptunes, landed with an almighty belly-flop. It was  a typical, tepid R&B effort, replete with  guest spots, but short on memorable tunes.

Since then, more diligent production work, combined with a presence as guest contributor to others’ hits, has upped his profile. As  a component of “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines”, and with a chart-topper of his own in “Happy”, Pharrell could reasonably claim to be the pulse of pop in 2013. And by this Monday, he may well have an Academy Award for the latter song’s inclusion in Despicable Me 2. This, it seems, is Williams’ time, an odd thing to imagine given his distinct lack of a headline personality in the mould of a Kanye or Beyoncé. He’s a sort of stealth superstar, rising almost without trace – except for the music.

G I R L, it must be acknowledged, is a far superior effort to In My Mind, with Pharrell’s light touch lending unity to the arrangements, which suspend the songs on gossamer webs of itchy beats, neatly syncopated rhythm guitar licks, and subtle flourishes of strings and electro figures. It’s infectious, featherlight and frothy, with character furnished by individual touches – the staccato string pulse and electric sitar of “Freq”, the tribal humming and hand percussion of “Lost Queen”, the electric  piano which lends a flavour of “Watermelon Man” to “Happy” (the best thing here).

But there’s still a space where the vocal character ought to be, one that can’t be filled by the A-list contributions of Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys and Daft Punk. Like the latter’s Random Access Memories, it’s an enjoyable dance-pop album lacking a central focus. But one whose diffident charm makes  a pleasant change from the overwrought wailing that routinely afflicts R&B.

***

Download: Happy; Lost Queen; Freq; Dust of Wind

Paloma Faith A Perfect Contradiction (RCA)

That Pharrell’s Midas touch remains potent is confirmed by “Can’t Rely On You”, his sole production here, which opens Paloma Faith’s new album with a bang it struggles  to equal thereafter, blending his modern, springy dance groove with her spunky old-soul attitude. A Perfect Contradiction was created during the singer’s relocation  to New York, and abandons her distinctive swing/soul hybrid for  a more mainstream R&B approach It’s not bad as such – the Daptone-style grooves of “Taste My Own Tears” and “The Bigger You Love (The Harder You Fall” evoke Amy Winehouse, and “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” has the big, bold manner of Dusty Springfield – but it does seem as if Paloma’s sacrificed some individuality for some of that bankable overwrought wailing.

***

Download: Can’t Rely On You; Taste My Own Tears; The Bigger You Love (The Harder You Fall)

Elbow The Take Off and Landing of Everything (Fiction)

Guy Garvey, like Paloma Faith, spent time in New York recently, but Elbow’s latest album remains anchored in the doughty verities of North-west England, notwithstanding the American influence on the lyrics to “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette” and “New York Morning”. Despite being written by different combinations of the line-up, it’s possibly their most homogenous album, most songs riding gentle pulses of percussion, organ and piano, guitars circling the action. At times, there are echoes of Krautrock and Terry Riley. Garvey remains a master  of character, as with the roaring boys in “My Sad Captains”, and while several songs dissect his own relationships, his tribute to asylum-seekers in “The Blanket of Night” displays a noble empathy.

****

Download: This Blue World; The Blanket of Night; New York Morning; My Sad Captains

Drive-By Truckers English Oceans (ATO)

With English Oceans, Drive-By Truckers take a persuasive tilt at the greatest rock’n’roll band title. Comprising equal parts Stones raunch and REM-style country-rock, songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are working  at the peak of their powers on  the deadpan, disillusioned “Shit  Shots Count” and the galloping, ghost-rider disdain of “Made Up English Oceans”. It’s a familiar cast of libertines and losers, girls “as plain as a primer coat”, guys at the end of their tether, and venal political fixers, a bleak prospect redeemed only by the concluding epiphany of “Grand Canyon”. The sardonic Hood perhaps sums up the worldview best: “You’re either someone’s, or you’re nothing/ God must be a lonely man.”

*****

Download: Shit Shots Count; When He’s  Gone; Primer Coat; Made Up English  Oceans; Grand Canyon

Robert Ellis The Lights from the Chemical Plant (New West)

Despite his desire to move more towards pop on this third album, Robert Ellis can’t prevent his country roots showing through. It’s partly due to his voice, a rich, baritone croon that recalls George Jones, and partly to his songwriting style, which encapsulates entire lives in three-minute tableaux of blue-collar loss and yearning. In “Bottle of Wine”, tack piano and smoky sax carry a lament for lost youth; curling pedal-steel licks entwine the escapist urge of “TV Song”; while “Pride” and “Only Lies” deal with the buoys we  use to keep sinking hopes afloat. A laidback version of “Still Crazy After All These Years” suggests the path he’s keen to take, but his best equivalent is the title-track, sketching a couple’s life in four scenes from seduction to death.

***

Download: Chemical Plant; TV Song;  Bottle of Wine

Nick Waterhouse Holly (Innovative Leisure)

Nick Waterhouse is the American equivalent of Richard Hawley, an artist whose aesthetic is rooted in 1950s analogue immediacy. His second album is a small but neatly formed collection, showcasing R&B guitar flourishes that recall Steve Cropper and Mickey Baker, and his band’s amalgam of rasping baritone sax and burring organ, borne on louche but nimble double bass and drum grooves. The blend lends itself well to the stealthy R&B of “High Tiding” and the slinky rumba-rock of “Sleeping Pills”, where a posse of female backing vocalists brings the promise of “hot, hot dreams”; while a version of Ty Segall’s “It No. 3” sounds like a cross between Mose Allison and Carl Perkins. Waterhouse’s own vocals could  be stronger, but his throwaway manner has a languid charm.

***

Download: High Tiding; Sleeping Pills; Holly; It No 3

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'