Album reviews: The Black Keys, Pixies, Jackson Browne, Imelda May, The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, Chris Garneau

The Black Keys Turn Blue (Nonesuch)

If not quite the anthem-stuffed rock monster that was El Camino, The Black Keys’ follow-up album employs much the same formula of catchy, hook-laden melodies harnessed to tank-tread riffs that made its predecessor so irresistible.

Again written and produced by the duo with Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, it’s a post-modern blues-rock marvel which takes some of the core elements of rock’n’roll and re-casts them in new shapes, refurbished with strings, vibes, synths and mellotron. Only on the concluding “Gotta Get Away” do they slip whole-heartedly into boogie, finding another wrinkle on the classic place-name format through a singalong refrain: “I went all the way from San Berd’oo to Kalamazoo, just to get away from you.” So dumb, but such fun.

Most of the tracks have a deceptive familiarity about them: the fuzz-guitar Diddley-beat  of “It’s Up to You Now” suddenly stops and becomes a wine-dark blues-guitar excavation; shivers of strings and subtle guitar chording lend “Turn Blue” the sinister delicacy of “Oh Well”-era Fleetwood Mac, for a song about the prospect of “hell below”; and “Weight of Love” starts out with a slinky funk-pop confection of acoustic guitar, vibes and swirling keyboard pad, before slipping into a reflective guitar grind that recalls Neil Young with Crazy Horse, relaxed but wielding colossal latent power.

Sometimes, things become a touch top-heavy: with jittery keyboards and keening guitars darting hither and thither, “Bullet  in the Brain” is a thin idea over-egged. But, with Dan Auerbach’s falsetto croon floating smoothly over Pat Carney’s variously propulsive grooves (the jerky shuffle of “In Time”, the loping roll of “10 Lovers”, the strutting march of “Fever”), there’s an ever-expanding diversity of appeal to Turn Blue that should win new fans and please the faithful. 


Download: Weight of Love; In Time; Turn Blue; 10 Lovers; Gotta Get Away

Pixies Indie Cindy (Pixiesmusic/P.I.A.S.)

With its loud/quiet/loud dynamics, its squealing guitars, girls’ names in track titles, and the whimsical grisliness of songs about snakes and vivisection, the most surprising thing about Pixies’ first album in 23 years is that it holds so few surprises. It sounds exactly the way it should – although only “Bagboy” is softened by the kind of warmth once furnished by Kim Deal – but given the group’s noble position in rock history, that’s as disappointing as it is comforting. Indie Cindy works well as an album, and there are moments of inspiration in the opener “What Goes Boom” and the swaggering charm of “Blue Eyed Hexe”; but the overall impression is akin to a guided tour of Pixieland, a smartened-up heritage centre approved by Health & Safety.


Download: What Goes Boom; Blue Eyed Hexe; Ring The Bell; Jaime Bravo

Various Artists Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson Browne (Music Road)

Few of his contemporaries convey the hopes and disillusions of the ’60s generation as poignantly as Jackson Browne, possibly because his reflections are rooted in such painful personal experience that covering them can seem like trespass. His Eagles chum Don Henley offers a suitably world-weary version of the youthful “These Days” (sample lyric: “Don’t confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them”), while elsewhere on this tribute anthology the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams shine their individual lights into the corners of his songs. But across two discs there are too many mediocre versions, most revering the polite preciosity of the original Laurel Canyon folk-rock settings.


Download: These Days; Fountain Of Sorrow; The Pretender

Imelda May Tribal  (Decca)

Her follow-up to the popular Mayhem finds Imelda May still indulging the boisterous rapscallion character suggested by titles like “Wild Woman”, “Hellfire Club” and “Gypsy In Me”. The title-track sets the tone, an aptly-named rockabilly stomp celebrating the appeal of rock’n’roll in fine Cramps style, with chugging guitars over rolling snare and tom-tom beat. The self-portrait “Wild Woman” employs similar grinding, greasy charm, its careering riff recalling both “Rock Lobster” and the old Batman theme, while elsewhere a sleazy burlesque trumpet is stirred into “Wicked Way”, and the slow blues croon “Gypsy In Me” is ravaged by scrubbed guitar distortion. But there’s sweetness to balance the earthier aspects, especially in “Little Pixie”, a lilting portrait of a new-born baby.


Download: Tribal; Wild Woman; Gypsy In Me

The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger Midnight Sun (Chimera Music)

Having impressively helmed his mother’s Plastic Ono Band performances of last year, Sean Lennon and his partner Charlotte Kemp Muhl present their own musical vision as The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, with a full-blown psychedelic extravaganza that makes Primal Scream sound pipe-and-slippered. Midnight Sun is generously aswirl with soaring guitars, treated vocals and the occasional dash of the sort of brass-band whimsy of which his dad’s old band were so fond. It lends itself well to myths and legends both ancient and modern (the ransom tribulations of “Poor Paul Getty”), with diversions by way of the psych-funk putdown of a “lipstick anarchist”, “Xanadu”. But lurking behind the cosmicity, there’s usually a solid pop hook.


Download: Xanadu; Last Call; Great Expectations; Poor Paul Getty

Chris Garneau Winter Games (Rough Trade)

Singer-songwriter Chris Garneau shares many affinities with the wintry confessional corps that includes Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Antony Hegarty. Winter Games explores that season’s impact on our moods through troubled family stories - a sort of exercise in musical Seasonally Affective Disorder whose tentative revelations of bed-wetting, child abuse and  estrangement are relayed in stained falsetto or fragile murmur over misty, chilled backdrops of piano, string drones and poignant horns, with funereal beats imposing a valedictory tone. The addition of children’s voices behind Garneau’s falsetto lends  a naive optimism to “Oh God” reminiscent of The Flaming Lips, while elsewhere the parallels to Sufjan Stevens are unavoidable.


Download: Our Man; Oh God; Winter Song No. 1; Winter Song No. 2; Danny

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