Album reviews: King Creosote, The Divine Comedy, Wretch 32...

Jamie T, Jinnwoo, Britney Spears and Free

Andy Gill
Wednesday 31 August 2016 17:20
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King Creosote, Astronaut Meets Appleman – 4/5

Download this: You Just Want; Faux Call; Love Life; Rules Of Engagement

Once a prodigious releaser of albums on CDR, vinyl and CD – some 50-odd at the last count – Kenny “King Creosote” Anderson has reined in his output since the acclaimed Diamond Mine and From Scotland With Love. And it may be to his advantage: Astronaut Meets Appleman is a brilliantly concise, pointedly potent collection of songs whose apparent themes – the usual KC keenly-observed accounts of inter-personal relations and ramifications – hang suspended between the poles of digital and analogue, man and machine, heaven and earth, nature and technology, suggested by the curious title. That he manages to achieve this with such audacious musicality, masked by an understated charm and wit, makes it a singular, sui-generis delight.

Throughout, he creates an absorbing sound-bed from folk-rock grooves embellished with unexpected tones and textures: the sullen guitar thrumming of “You Just Want” is strengthened by rhythmic breathing, while eerily keening violins dance around the beat like dreamy dervishes; epiphanic bagpipes cement the cyclical guitar and organ of chugging recluse-rocker “Surface”; and cascading sparkles of harp illuminate the wan cello of “Faux Call” (a typical KC phonetic gag), a lilting waltz-time apologia crooned in his quavering tenor. “It’s the silence that somehow says it all, that I’m missing,” he laments, a man made more acutely aware of absence by the absence even of silence.

Elsewhere, the bumbling troubles, unspecified transgressions and mis-directed emotions that comprise these songs are usually handled with Anderson’s characteristic drollerie and “who, me?” disingenuity. The emotional turbulence traversed in “Love Life” takes him from erotic fever (“All of my chemicals cry out with desire”) to barfly protestations of innocence (“Her jealous accusations know no bounds/Scarlett Johannson was never in my house”) with no drop in genial enthusiasm; while the quirky spaceship romance of “Betelgeuse” ultimately results in disappointment so disarming that “my bipolar crash squeezed the arctic air out of my lungs”.

It’s not perfect, of course. I doubt if I’ll play “Peter Rabbit Tea” - his baby daughter chanting the title over a growing arrangement of strings and harp, in the manner of Gavin Bryar’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” - very often, for instance. But as the concluding “Rules Of Engagement” drifts away on a misty bed of ambient noise, one’s left with a lingering, whiskery warmth increasingly rare in modern music.

The Divine Comedy, Foreverland – 3/5

Download this: Catherine The Great; Napoleon Complex; A Desperate Man

Six years on from the vivacious Bang Goes The Knighthood, Neil Hannon’s latest Divine Comedy outing seems to lack the bite which gives the best of his work its raffish frisson. There’s still plenty to enjoy – the bounding brass and Latin-flavoured groove attending “A Desperate Man”; the trenchant admission, in “How Can You Leave Me On My Own”, that “When you leave, I become a bad-smelling, couch-dwelling dickhead”; and the way that “Other People” ends mid-sentence, “…and I blah, blah blah” - but they’re counterbalanced by stuff like the simpering cute duet “Funny Peculiar”, with its whistling solo, and the mimsy Shangri-La fantasy “Foreverland”, swaddled in wistful accordion. By far the best song here is the single “Catherine The Great”, (“she was a crazy, spontaneous girl”), a characteristic DivCom union of witty, literate lyric and wry musical illustration.

Wretch 32, Growing Over Life – 3/5

Download this: Antwi; Pressure; Open Conversation & Mark Duggan; Dreams

Wretch 32 sustains his trademark blend of stern social critique and softer romantic charm on Growing Over Life, although the album’s impact has been somewhat dissipated by the five-year gap since Black And White. But there’s a thoughtful depth, not to mention a grim determination, about tracks such as “Open Conversation & Mark Duggan”, a reflection on black/police relations, and “Pressure”, a rumination on responsibility which finds Wretch resolving to confront a litany of onerous duties, observing “but pressure makes diamonds”. Still, some of those duties are pleasures, such as the parental situation in which he “found my treasure”, as he notes in “Words”, which scuttles happily along on a rattling drum’n’bass beat. Elsewhere, sparse synth lines predominate, with variety provided by Emeli Sande on “I.O.U.” and Loick Essien & Teni Tinks on the gospelly “Church”.

Jamie T, Trick – 2/5

Download this: Sign Of The Times; Tinfoil Boy

One step forward, two steps backward: having produced perhaps his best album with 2014’s Carry On The Grudge, Jamie T is at best stationary, and often retrograde, on Trick. Musically, it’s much the same brew of angry rapping and Clash-style power-chord punk – the outlaw anthem “Robin Hood” even includes reference to a loveable bank robber – while the lyrical themes cover well-trodden ground, from the heroin victim of “Tinfoil Boy” to the social stasis of “Tescoland”. But the chant-along choruses just feel like fighting ancient battles mapped out decades earlier. Rather more interesting is the vein of uncertainty opened in songs such as “Self Esteem” and “Sign Of The Times”, though one can’t help wishing he’d taken his own advice in the latter: “I wish I’d been a little more exceptional/unconventional”.

Jinnwoo, Strangers Bring Me No Light – 4/5

Download this: Solo Man; I Am, I Am The World’s Oldest Man; You Should Be Feeling This, Elliott; Strangers Bring Me No Light

This debut album from singer-songwriter Jinnwoo (aka Ben Webb) has been a long time coming, but definitely worth the wait. With the likes of Alasdair Roberts, Malcolm Middleton and Kami Thompson adding subtle harmonies to his strange, haunted warble, Jinnwoo mines a scarred emotional battlefield of bereavement and rejection in pieces such as “Solo Man” and the bleak portrait of domestic alienation “I Am, I Am The World’s Oldest Man” (the “Elliott” mentioned in one title is surely Elliott Smith, a fellow traveller in sensitivity). The songs are lent suitably miasmic backdrops by the inventive percussive effects, string drones and ambient sounds accompanying his guitar, which, in the concluding nine-minute title-track, swell and swirl to subsume his voice, as if drowning in a whirlpool of emotional torment. Not an easy listen, but a rewarding one.

Britney Spears, Glory – 3/5

Download this: Just Like Me; Man On The Moon; Invitation

2013’s lacklustre Britney Jean may have been Britney’s “most personal” album, but it was also her least successful. Which probably makes Glory a (hopeful) comeback album. And although it marks no significant shift in style – she’s still mining the same pop-R&B seam – it’s undoubtedly a better effort than its predecessor. The main improvement lies in the varied uses to which her voice is put, from the breathless cooing of “Invitation” to the oddly adenoidal tones employed for the jaunty bubblegum paean to pole-dancing, “Private Show”, where the excess sass suggests an attempt to occupy Katy Perry territory. But the best performances are her stunned realisation that an old flame’s new girl looks “Just Like Me”, and the breathy autotune tone used for the island vacation-pop number “Man On The Moon”.

Free, The Vinyl Collection – 4/5

Download this: All Right Now; Fire And Water; My Brother Jake; A Little Bit Of Love; Wishing Well

If ever a band was built for vinyl, it was Free. There’s a tough, burly strut to their grooves which shrinks the closer it’s exposed to mp3 algorithms. At a time when lead-guitar pyrotechnics drove the British blues-rock boom, Simon Kirke’s lean, fatback drumming and Andy Fraser’s elegant, dancing basslines added an infectious, funky syncopation that reflected the band’s teenage tyro spirit. That same callowness, however, effectively placed a time-limit on the band’s existence, with guitarist Paul Kossoff succumbing too soon to heroin overdose, and petty antagonisms breaking the band apart; but this box set of their albums also speaks volumes about nurturing and perseverance, with the band afforded two so-so albums before realising their true potency, as Free did with the majestic Fire And Water.

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