Here’s our fourth round-up of 2016 of four current record releases worth a listen.
More will follow as the year goes on.
James: Girl at the End of the World
The fickleness of fortune can be a curiously arbitrary thing for long-established acts once the first flush of success has deserted them.
Sometimes it requires a wholesale change of approach to regain the acclaim and success they deserve, as demonstrated by country-and-western legend Johnny Cash’s albums with producer Rick Rubin from 1994 onwards, returning him to the top 10 posthumously in 2006 and 2010 for the first time since 1972.
In other cases, they just keep on doing what they’ve always done, and eventually that restores them to favour, as was the case with what turned out to be Motorhead’s final album last year, their first top 10 hit since 1982.
They might not appreciate the comparison, but alternative rock act James appear to be poised to do a Motorhead with their 12th album, Girl at the End of the World.
It’s set to return them to the top five today, potentially their highest chart placing since 1999’s Millionaires, a No 2 hit, and, if its early-week sales keep up, could even give them their second chart-topper, the other, if so, being the 1998 compilation The Best of James.
That’s no more than the Manchester band, together from 1982 to 2001 and since 2007, would deserve as it’s an excellent record, but the other two full-length LPs they’ve released since reuniting, 2008’s Hey Ma and 2014’s La Petite Mort, were equally good but had to make do with relatively lowly chart placings of 10 and 11 respectively.
If anything, splendid though it is, it’s not quite up to the bar set by La Petite Mort as that one, literally, was largely about matters of life and death, whereas this one is more relaxed and playful, too much so in the case of Alvin, a piece of whimsy inspired by the late Alvin Stardust and sung in French, though frontman Tim Booth is often capable of adding a semblance of profundity to even the most mundane of material.
It’s more dancefloor-inspired than anything they’ve done for a while, and although anyone who’s seen Michael Douglas strutting what he quite possibly thought of as his funky stuff in the 1992 film Basic Instinct, pretty much any dad dancing at pretty much any wedding disco or even Booth himself putting his 56-year-old body through all manner of inadvisable manoeuvres on stage might argue that men of a certain age should have as few dealings with dancefloors as possible, James more than get away with it, in the words of one of their singles.
The unspeakable Alvin, quite possibly destined to become a post-summer holiday novelty hit should it attract the attention of the right DJs, aside, this is as strong an album as James have ever produced, and any combination of two-thirds of its 12 tracks could easily walk into a future best-of without causing any raising of eyebrows.
Highlights include Nothing But Love, Feet of Clay, Dear John, the title of track, To My Surprise and Catapult.
Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
Rock legend Iggy Pop has suggested that this album, his 17th solo effort, could be his last, and, if so, that would indeed leave discerning music fans worldwide feeling the post-Pop depression of its title as it finds him in fine form.
It’s not right up there with the highlights of a musical career stretching back to the 1960s, but given what the US singer, alias James Osterberg, has achieved over the years, that would be an unfair expectation.
It is, however, his most consistent LP since 2003’s Skull Ring or even 1999’s Avenue B, though given the patchiness of his output since then, bar his two albums with the reformed Stooges, that is possibly fainter praise than it merits.
Pop has billed it as being a departure from his comfort zone, but, like his late mentor and friend David Bowie, he’s never really been afraid to take chances and try something different, recent years having seen him sing one album half in French and make another one all about a French novel unlikely to have been read by much of his fanbase, as well as duetting with Kylie Minogue on the novelty festive song Christmas Wrapping last year.
As with Bowie, that swapping of styles has been prompted on occasion by an urge not to be seen as out of touch and in a bid to boost record sales, but mostly it appears to have been inspired by a sense of adventure and an eagerness to try something new, and that seems to be the case on this collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, assisted by Homme’s bandmate Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, as much as ever before.
“I’ve nothing but my name,” he bemoans on American Valhalla, but, in reality, world-famous though his name might be, he’s also, on the evidence of this LP, still got the voice, talent and persona that earned him that reputation, and it is very much to be hoped that this doesn’t turn out to be his swan-song,
It’s not got much in the way of instant earworms, but, as its opening track promises, there’s every chance it will break into your heart and crawl under your skin after a few listens, and it looks set to give him his biggest hit for years today.
Laurence Fox – Holding Patterns
Just as lots of musicians, such as David Bowie and Mick Jagger, have tried their hand at acting over the years, so lots of thespians have had a go at turning the tables – Richard Harris, Christopher Lee, Heather Peace, William Shatner and much of the cast of Game of Thrones, for example.
Laurence Fox, best known for playing James Hathaway, a detective inspector, in the ITV drama series Lewis from 2006 to 2015, is among the latest to have a go, and his debut LP, Holding Patterns, a follow-up to the 2013 EP Sorry for My Words, isn’t bad at all.
There’s a bit of grit to his voice and his lyrics come across as heartfelt and without artifice, but typecasting being what it is, it remains to be seen whether there’s quite enough of note here for the 37-year-old to be able to abandon his day job and move into music full-time, like Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue before him, and I shudder to think what his boss’s old boss, classical music snob Endeavour Morse, would make of it.
Josef Salvat – Night Swim
This is the debut album from Australian singer-songwriter Salvat, best known here for his 2014 cover version of Diamonds, a No 72 hit after being featured on a TV advert for Sony tellies, and there’s more than enough about it to suggest that it won’t be the 27-year-old’s last.
Diamonds is only to be found on a deluxe version, but the standard CD’s 12 tracks offer enough sleekness, polish and vocal prowess to win him plenty of new admirers.