Here’s our latest round-up of four current record releases worth a listen, by Richard Ashcroft, Manic Street Preachers, Bob Dylan and various artists including the Waterboys and Stereophonics.
Another will follow in due course.
Richard Ashcroft: These People
Apparently chastened by the lukewarm reception given to his last album, released under the pseudonym RPA and the United Nations of Sound in 2010, the former Verve frontman is going by his proper name again here, as, indeed, he did for the last one upon its US release the year after in a failed effort to outdo the lowly chart placing of No 20 it had to settle for in his homeland.
The Wigan-born 44-year-old isn’t giving up on the initials entirely, though, as his name is dwarfed by the letters RA on the front cover of his fourth proper solo album, and the dread letters RPA – short for Righteous Phonographic Association apparently – also make an appearance on its inside packaging.
All similarity with its disappointing predecessor ends there, however, as These People’s 10 tracks are classic Ashcroft from beginning to end and should see him restored to his rightful place at the upper end of the top 10 tomorrow, May 27.
Lyrically, he may retread some old ground, but given how fertile that old ground was, that’s entirely understandable and is no bad thing at all, and vocally, he’s on such commanding form here that pretty much every track sounds like an instant classic.
Highlights include the opener, Out of My Body, and Everybody Needs Somebody to Hurt, as well as the title track.
Manic Street Preachers: Everything Must Go (20th anniversary reissue)
A bumper box set version of this latest reissue of what is probably the Welsh band’s finest hour includes all manner of goodies, but fans without £60 or so to spare will have to settle for the standard double-CD version or the 10th anniversary package released a decade ago.
The new two-disc set consists of a remastered version of the original 12-track album sounding better than ever and bursting at the seams with hits including A Design for Life, Kevin Carter and Australia, plus a live album recorded at Manchester’s Nynex Arena in 1997.
The live disc finds them on decent form, though apparent sound issues prevent James Dean Bradfield’s vocals from coming across as well as they undoubtedly did on the night, but the studio album remains one of the Manics’ best and one of the finest LPs overall to be released over the last two decades.
A No 2 first time round, it was their first top five hit and also their first recording following the disappearance of their rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards, now presumed dead, the year before.
Various artists: BBC Radio 2 Sounds of the 80s, Volume 2
The Manics also provide one of the highlights of this second attempt to restore the reputation of a decade widely held to be the worst in musical history.
The Welshmen are veterans of the first compilation, a top five hit in 2014, and here they more than make amends for their enjoyable but erratic take on the 1981 Rolling Stones hit Start Me Up, underplaying its trademark riff in favour of the Krautrock-influenced sound they also employed on their own album of that year, Futurology.
There can be no qualms or quibbles, however, about their version of Fiction Factory’s (Feels Like) Heaven, a No 6 hit for the Scots in 1983, as it more than does justice to one of the better songs of its time, injecting an anger and energy not to be found in the original.
Fellow Welshmen the Stereophonics provide another of the new 36-track set’s better moments, a route-one run-through of Don Henley’s 1984 hit single The Boys of Summer. It’s shorn of the original’s nods towards the dancefloor, but it’s all the better for that as the more basic treatment it’s given here serves to highlight the poignancy of the Eagles drummer’s lyrics.
Veteran alternative rock act the Waterboys and late pop legend Prince had a sort of mutual appreciation society going on in recent years, with the former frequently covering his 1984 single Purple Rain, a No 2 hit, as they do here, and the latter covering their single The Whole of the Moon, a No 26 in 1985 and No 3 in 1991, and also, incidentally, done by Boyzone on volume one of this series.
The Waterboys’ version of Purple Rain is a fine effort and very faithful to the original, the only noticeable difference being that it’s a Scotsman singing rather than an American.
Other artists featured this time round include James Bay and Leann Rimes, both singing I’m on Fire, a No 5 for Bruce Springsteen in 1985, and Elbow’s Guy Garvey softly muttering his way through the 1983 David Bowie chart-topper Let’s Dance in the manner of an Alan Bennett monologue.
Margo Price: Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
No country-and-western cliche goes unexplored on an album so traditional that it gives the impression of regarding even the union of country and western as a newfangled innovation to be regarded with suspicion.
They’re all present and correct here – her daddy losing his farm, an honest country girl going off the rails in the big city and even those hoity-toity Nashville folk being no better than they ought to be, among them – but, and this is just about as redeeming as redeeming features get, they’re apparently all based on the true story of Price herself, so there’s no arguing with that, and there is an air of authenticity about it, giving weight to comparisons with the likes of Tammy Wynette and Billie Jo Spears.
Produced by Alex Munoz, it’s the first C&W LP to be released by Jack White’s Third Man records label, but, given that it was a top 10 hit on the US country chart for the Illinois-born 33-year-old, it’s unlikely to be the last.