The Dandy Warhols, “Odditorium or Warlords of Mars” (Capitol/EMI) – 3/5
Overrated alternative pop act The Dandy Warhols continue their shape-shifting ways, this time setting aside the eighties fetishism of 2003’s ‘Welcome to the Monkey House’ in favour of a return to atmospheric indie rock. The highly mannered song titles (‘Love Is The New Feel Awful’, ‘Everyone Is Totally Insane’) and disposable pop songs (‘Smoke It’) remain, despite the stylistic shift into early Wilco territory evidenced by the horn section on classicist rock/soul number ‘All The Money Or The Simple Life Honey’. Witness other Wilco touches: overt C&W gesture (‘The New Country’) and vintage gear in the cover art. A new direction, but loyal fans won’t be disappointed.
Ying Yang Twins, “United State of Atlanta” (TVT) – 2/5
In the context of the hiphop phenomena known as ‘crunk’ (read: chronic plus drunk), the Ying Yang Twins are comparatively pop. But if collaborating with Britney was supposed to make them more palatable to the mainstream, your average punter will still struggle with the hedonism, misogyny, and lurid sex raps here. If you’ve heard single ‘Wait (The Whisper Song)’ you’ll know what I mean. This is rowdy, dirty Southern hiphop made to boom from a slammed Skyline. There are some nice production touches, especially in the techno-y squelches and straight-up, oldskool beats – think early nineties Snoop Dogg meets Miami bass.
Kanye West, “Late Registration” (Roc-A-Fella) – 4/5
While there are a some fantastic tracks on ‘Late Registration’, Kanye West’s sophomore effort is not as consistently strong as his debut ‘The College Dropout’, which was one of the albums of 2004. Production-wise, it’s a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ as West once again employs many of his trademark stylistic tricks. Much (deliberately conspicuous) use is made of old soul and jazz samples. Not so much samples, in fact, as direct quotations. As a nod of respect the old school, it’s laudable, but musically the results are mixed. Ray Charles’ visceral, gravely blues voice drives ‘Gold Digger’, one of the standout tracks. Similarly, the massive ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone’, (featuring West’s Roc-A-Fella patron Jay-Z) is built around an inventive recontextualisation of its Shirley Bassey hook. But ‘Touch the Sky’ sees West tranquilizing Curtis Mayfield’s great ‘Move on Up’, and ‘My Way Home’ relies too heavily on an unmodified Gil Scott Heron chorus. Regardless, West is unquestionably a gifted artist and an underrated lyricist. The excellent ‘Crack Music’ intelligently deconstructs the place of hiphop in black identity, and its appropriation by wider culture. Highly recommended – but if you haven’t heard ‘College Dropout’ check that out first.
Simple Minds, “Black & White 050505” (Sanctuary) – 2/5
Founding members Charlie Burchill (guitar) and Jim Kerr (vocals) return with a new studio album, a full twenty years after their commercial heyday. They’ve tweaked their sound since ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’, but not much. Rather than capitalising on the resurgence of interest in early eighties British indie (witness the success of Interpol), the band seems to be stuck in some kind of epic rock time warp. But Simple Minds were never of a piece with ‘arty’ bands like Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnymen. Rather, the reverby piano and soaring, Edge-esque guitar intro to opener ‘Stay Visible’ reminds you why they were often pegged as a lesser, Scots, version of U2 (and how U2 became the inspiration for many a dodgy trance producer). Kerr, always given to lapses of judgement (beret and trench coat, anyone?), spends much of the album crooning agedly (‘Stranger, beautiful stranger/I wonder if you are the silent star, explain…’), or else straining so hard with the gravity and bombast of it all he sounds as if he may have a hernia. Whatever magic has kept acts like New Order and U2 (relatively) relevant across the decades, Simple Minds do not have.