Album reviews: Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey, The Hold Steady, Shakira, Liars, Sabina


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The Independent Culture

Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey Coming Back Home (Universal/Chess)

Thankfully he hasn’t gone back home yet. Wilko Johnson’s pancreatic cancer has been held at bay longer than at first seemed likely – and it is cheering to think that it is his psychological indomitability that has made it so. Doubtless the Thames estuary has  many things to offer, but it is not, and never will be, a medicinal spa.

Here’s the great man enjoying a brief but enjoyable studio hurrah with Roger Daltrey of The Who. It is not a substantial offering, nor does it plough a new furrow – but it is a buzz.

Johnson’s regular rhythm section, Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe, are graciously augmented here and there by Mick Talbot’s keyboard. Together they splice together a refreshed Johnny Kidd & the Pirates fantasy, especially on “I Keep It To Myself” – the sound of basic Fifties American blues and R’n’R lugging up the Essex Roads, to be met by a welcome party of amped-up English thugs with guitars.

Material? We get 10 extracts from the Wilko songbook, including “Sneaking Suspicion”, “All Through the City”, the title track, plus Dylan’s “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window”, all of them – with the exception of the wounded “Turned 21” – given the same treatment. Choppy, curt, Canvey.

Daltrey is altogether more deep-chested and muscular than his snaky predecessor, Lee Brilleaux, but they share the same vocal register, and if his reading of Wilko’s greatest song, “Keep It Out of Sight”, is a histrionic smear where it ought to be as clipped as the pitter-pat of pointy feet, then it is only polite in the circs not to complain. Maximum joy? “Everybody’s Carrying a Gun”, which hops like a toddler.


Nick Coleman

The Hold Steady Teeth Dreams (Washington Square)

If Craig Finn’s storytelling bar-rockers’ frenetic instincts edged them towards burnout on 2010’s Heaven is Whenever, their sixth album relocates their muscle and adds stamina.With keyboardist Franz Nicolay long gone and third guitarist Steve Selvidge recruited, the classic rock clout kicks in hard: “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” is pure Thin Lizzy.

But they also sound confident enough to provide space for Finn’s lyrics of high nights and soul-harrowed hangovers, especially on the Springsteen-ish “Spinners”. Between the druggy ruckus of “On With the Business” and slow-burn reverie of “Oaks”, they sound like a band trying to harness their chaotic energies for lasting purposes – and succeeding whole-heartedly.


Kevin Harley

Shakira Shakira (RCA)

Hip-twizzling, Game of Thrones-dressing Colombian pop star Shakira is audio Marmite. To the 60 million people who’ve bought her records she’s a yodelling, lyrical genius. To everyone else she sounds like a strangulated sheep.

After a four-year hiatus, Shakira’s 10th album is full of raggae-tinged, bouncy melodies and absurd, occasionally quite poetic lyrics: “the stars make love to the universe” on ballad “Empire”. Teaming up with Rihanna on “I Can’t Remember To Forget You” is ironically memorable and “Cut Me Deep”, her collaboration with Canadian raggae-pop band Magic!, is also catchy. But “Medicine”, a duet with country star Blake Shelton, is a stretch too far, even by Shakira’s infinitely flexible standards.


Kate Wills

Liars Mess (Mute)

A band less comfortable with confrontation might have sounded stretched beyond definition by Liars’ shape-shifting tendencies. As it is, a full-bodied commitment to friction has been a galvanising constant in the experimental New York trio’s lurches between post-punk, avant-rock, drone devilry and oblique electronica.

Their seventh album keeps up the good, wilfully fractious work, retuning their dial to a kind of mutant dance assault; all restless beats, strafing synths and mickey-taking invitations to “smell my socks”. The second half takes a murkier turn: “Boyzone” is no Ronan Keating homage. But Liars revel in keeping their listeners on edge and entertained making Mess their most wickedly enjoyable album yet.


Kevin Harley

Sabina Toujours (Naim Edge)

New York dance-rock outfit the Brazilian Girls are one of the most underrated bands of the noughties, so it’s no surprise that their German/Italian lead singer’s debut solo effort has a lot to recommend it. 

Things get off to a shaky start with “Cinema” which uses The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” as a musical template and makes full but rather obvious use of the fact that Ms Sciubba sounds a lot like Nico.

But thereafter, things are as eclectic and raggedly charming as one could wish for with the off-kilter arrangements never getting in the way of the songcraft, and the witty, surreal lyrics always adding rather than detracting from the experience. A delightful indie pop record that’s by turns intense, playful and touching.


Howard Male