Andy Gill

Andy Gill is The Independent's Music Critic.

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Album review: Robbie Williams, Swings Both Ways (Island)

Swings Both Ways is a distinct improvement on Robbie Williams' Swing When You're Winning, and for the best reason. It's the original tracks that bring a new life to the form, while the standards – routine duets of "I Wanna Be Like You" and "Dream a Little Dream" with Olly Murs and Lily Allen, and a bland "Puttin' on the Ritz" – sound like filler. But I like the way Williams plays with references in his own songs, like the mention of A Love Supreme in "Swing Supreme", and the inversion of the Dylan Thomas poetic motif in "Go Gentle" from death to life, to support its theme of paternal advice to a beloved daughter just starting to make her way in the world. Elsewhere, "Snowblind" is another thoughtful, sensitive piece graced with an interesting arrangement.

Download: Go Gentle; Snowblind; Swing Supreme

Album review: John Cage, The Works for Piano 9: First Recordings (Mode)

This programme of Cage piano pieces brings together two works from the very early 1950s. "Haiku" comprises seven pieces, none longer than a minute, of appropriately enigmatic character, ranging across the entire spectrum from relative tonality to a complete atonality anticipating his "Music of Changes". The recently discovered solo piano version of the massive percussion sequence "Sixteen Dances" effectively combines its constituent parts in a manner comparable to Debussy's Preludes. It's intelligently performed by Jovita Zähl, who negotiates shifts such as that between the quixotic darting of "The Mad Dog" and the languid reflection of "Delicate Leaves", and applies the brief flourishes of "Fleeting Images" in a manner that allows the phrases to almost evaporate into thin air.

Download: Haiku; Fleeting Images; Jig for John; Medicine Man

Album review: George King, Jubilees (Odradek)

Perhaps better known for his jazz work, George King here offers a quartet of six-part suites of 21st-century solo piano music: testing compositions by Magnus Lindberg, Philip Cashian, George Benjamin and King himself. Lindberg's “Piano Jubilees” are short pieces unified by a balance between complexity and transparency, while Cashian's “Six pieces after paintings by Ben Hartley” brilliantly captures the quirky, naive spirit of the artist's work. Benjamin's “Shadowlines” offers a range of virtuoso techniques and stylings; as, too, does King's “6 Piano Études”, from the hypnotic tranquility of the 4th Étude and the Feldman-esque stillness of the 5th Étude to the writhing runs of the 6th Étude's torrential hubbub.

Download: 6 Piano Études; Six pieces after paintings by Ben Hartley; Shadowlines; Piano Jubilees

Album review: Latvian Radio Choir, Mythes Étoilés (Aurora)

While most British and European vocal ensembles continue to mine and refine the works of a Renaissance religious tradition, the Scandinavian “Concrescence” project is dedicated to exploring new forms of vocal technique, with spectacular results on Mythes Étoilés. The guttural groaning and Reichian ululations of Anders Hillborg's “Mouyayoum” create a trance-like mist of enveloping overtones, echoing the soothing harmonic resonances of Cage's “Four2” and Ligeti's “Lux Aeterna”. More dynamic activity marks Mārtinš Vilums' “Gāw ēk-dād kard”, whose low, resonant tones animate a creation myth about primeval oxen, and Lasse Thoresen's three-part title-track, a masterpiece of unexpected vocal sounds wrought into an extraordinary whole.

Download: Mythes Étoilés; Mouyayoum; Gāw ēk-dād kard; Four2; Lux Aeterna

Album review: Humble Pie, Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore: The Complete Recordings (A&M/Omnivore/Universal)

Formed in 1969 by pop stars (Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton) in search of “heavier” options, Humble Pie were one of the first supergroups. Despite an early hit, they lacked commercial impact until this live album, culled from four shows in New York. Featuring a 20-minute jam on Dr John's “I Walk on Gilded Splinters”, it became a cornerstone of the 1970s boogie boom, helping set the groundwork for heavy rock, the success of Southern rockers such as The Allman Brothers Band, and the mega-success of Frampton. His guitar work is fluid and stinging, while Marriott's cockney-sparrer charm and soul vocals offer an engaging focus. Reissued with the shows in their entirety, the result is... too much, man. Literally.

Download: Four Day Creep; I Walk on Gilded Splinters; Rollin' Stone

Album review: Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Shady/Interscope)

The success of the original Marshall Mathers LP was largely down to the brutal honesty of its message – "I'm a horrible person" – allied to the pop appeal of riffs such as "The Real Slim Shady". While the follow-up goes some way towards the same formula, the accumulation of antipathy is ultimately overwhelming. "I just hate to be the bad guy," claims Eminem, but clearly he doesn't – his flow only truly ignites through anger and reproach, and there are moments when his verbal dexterity amazes. He also has an ear for a killer sample, such as the Zombies track on which "Rhyme or Reason" is built. But he can be surprisingly sensitive: "Headlights" is an almost shockingly apologetic love-letter to the mother he once denigrated so viciously.

Download: Rhyme or Reason; So Far...; Brainless; Legacy; Headlights

Album review: Various Artists, Inside Llewyn Davis (Nonesuch)

This soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' tribute to the Greenwich Village 1960s folk scene offers a commendable account of the era's troubadour repertoire – and the bonus of Justin Timberlake and Marcus Mumford among the collaborators on an a cappella take on “The Auld Triangle”, perhaps the best thing here save for Bob Dylan's unreleased “Farewell”. Elsewhere, Timberlake contributes “Please Mr Kennedy” and Mumford adds harmonies to “Fare Thee Well”, sung by the film's star Oscar Isaac. Produced by the Coens with T Bone Burnett, the album captures well the sanctimony, bogus bucolicism and beatnik romanticism that characterised the age, along with that tang of “revolution in the air” (to quote its most successful adherent).

Download: Farewell; The Auld Triangle; Green Green Rocky Road

Album review: The Beatles, On Air: Live at the BBC Volume 2 (Universal)

Featuring broadcast recordings from a half-century ago, On Air features The Beatles' early hits and covers from their Hamburg setlist, interspersed with cheeky backchat with Auntie's staid presenters. It's an enchanting snapshot of British rock'n'roll at its moment of greatest revelation, the point at which the Tin Pan Alley production line of ersatz Elvises was rendered utterly obsolete. There's a laddish jubilation, bulging with testosterone, in the way they swagger through the catalogues of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and brio to the innovative harmonies of their own material. As a fascinating bonus, interviews reveal their musical interests and attitudes in a manner shockingly unguarded by today's standards.

Download: Please Please Me; Twist and Shout; I Saw Her Standing There; You Can't Do That; If I Fell

Album review: Emmanuel Pahud, Christian Rivet, Around the World (Warner Classics)

A musical journey linking Asia, Europe and both Americas, Around the World finds flautist Emmanuel Pahud and guitarist Christian Rivet seeking rapprochement between the old world of Handel and Francesco Molino and the new world of Elliott Carter and Astor Piazzolla, bridged by the emigrant Béla Bartók. The latter's six-part “Romanian Folk Dances” displays the duo's virtues, Rivet's nimble accompaniment providing momentum while Pahud leads with an airy grace. The greatest contrast is between the dynamic shifts of Carter's “Scrivo in vento” and the calm of Molino's “Duo Op 16 No 3”; but the most satisfying pieces are from Asia, such as the flute and guitar interplay in Toshio Hosakawa's “itsuku no komori uta”.

Download: L'Aube enchantée; itsuku no komori uta; Romanian Folk Dances

Album review: Stornoway, You Don't Know Anything (4AD)

This six-track mini-album offers fresh slants on the Stornoway sound, though their warmth and charm are retained for “When You Touch Down from Outer Space”, which welcomes aliens (or babies, depending on your view) with a net of delicately embroidered guitar. “You Don't Know Anything” espouses the reading of books, and “Waiting on the Clock” evokes the first flush of love: there's a Belle & Sebastian flavour to its reminiscences of making mix-tapes for a girlfriend – small memories with large impressions. Things go slightly awry with the stodgy prog-rock textures of “Clockwatching” and “The 6th Wave”, but it's the work of a band obsessed with a multitude of musical directions, which has to be A Good Thing.

Download: When You Touch Down from Outer Space; Waiting on the Clock; You Don't Know Anything

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