Paul Weller: Wake Up The Nation
Seeing Weller in Auckland in October was my gig of the year. He tore at his set-list with gusto, making the new tracks sound as impressive as Jam or Wild Wood-era solo output. Wake Up the Nation is surprisingly excellent, not just a return to form but possibly his best yet, a rallying call to all those who suffer from apathy and disinterest. Weller hasn’t made a comeback after a couple of iffy albums, with As Is Now and 22 Dreams both good career moves, but few people were expecting him to hit the mark so often, as he does on Nation, especially on Fast Cars/ Slow Traffic and the burning, angry title track.
The Courteeners: Falcon (Polydor)
Falcon is an album born of the musically-rich north-west of England, the lyrics resonating with Mancunian landmarks, of lovers being in faraway London, and all the things that working class people in the towns across the breadth of dear old England do. There will be comparisons to Editors, the typical “indie-rock band” but the Courteeners are the mature version of the Arctic Monkeys, their tales being of late 20s heartache and exuberance.
Phoenix Foundation: Buffalo (EMI)
Please take a trip with the Foundation through Wellington’s Town Belt and hill suburb of Mt Victoria on Eventually, and take your brolly with you. Be enchanted by the child-friendly Flock of Hearts, be invigorated by Pot and singalong like a mad thing to the wonderfully fruity lyrics of Orange & Mango. Buffalo is a gloriously simple record, one that is very New Zealand in its themes, but also sounds like it could traverse traditional musical snobbery and parochialism, and appeal to, say, indie fans in Manchester.
The Burns Unit: Side Show (Proper Music)
Given that the backgrounds of the Unit are folk, alt-country, rap and a band that can best be described as indie-Indian there is a fascinating breadth of ideas and sounds on Side Show. There’s the Kate Bush-esque Sorrys, featuring the enchanting vocals of Emma Pollock, the campfire niceties of You Need Me To Need This and the emotionally, and politically, charged, Send Them Kids To War. With such a range it almost feels like a compilation.
Natacha Atlas: Mounqaliba (World Village)
Mounqaliba is written almost entirely by Atlas and Samy Bishai, who grew up in Egypt, the orchestral players are Turkish and Atlas sings in Arabic, with interludes in French on a Francoise Hardy song and English on Nick Drake’s River Man. Atlas moves easily through the languages, adding beauty and grace to the non-Arabic tracks while adding some bite when she sings in Arabic. It would be difficult to pigeon-hole this album as World, something Putamayo would make a compilation out of, but like a band she performs with Transglobal Underground this is an album that reflects the sounds, sights and feel of the modern world.
Chris Difford: Cashmere If You Can (Saturday Morning Music Club)
A wonderfully Squeezy title from a songwriter who keeps the curious English observational style very much alive. Cashmere If You Can jumps from one joyous catchy singalong to another. On Like I Did, Difford tells a familiar parental tale, of how kids do exactly what they did once: “He’s getting stoned (like I did), he plays bass (like I did), he lays in bed like I did, how can I complain.” Society is awash with vacuous lyrics and music, so it’s refreshing to hear tales of regret, of young men leaving their loved ones to go to war, and the problems of noise in a small house, sung by someone who’s not just observing society, but who has lived some of the tales he puts to tape.
Belle and Sebastian Write About Love (Rough Trade)
The basic tenets of a B & S album are all enclosed: dreamy vocals, plaintive melodies, and beautifully penned songs about relationships that never happened, schoolyard bullying and, a tale of the toxic friend who only calls at midnight when a relationship with a muscleman goes awry. There are some lovely tracks with ’60s bounce; it’s impossible not to be entranced by the hook-heavy I Can See Your Future or the escapist harmonies of the title track featuring actress Carey Mulligan.
Ten City Nation: At The Still Point (Sturm Und Drang)
As the band have progressed from their days as Miss Black America, they’ve become even more nihilistic. More guitars, more anger, more Stooges and more Nirvana influences. The opener, Flashing Lights is very accessible – punk with discipline – but Room 10101 is, shall we say, the kind of thing that would scare mothers around the world. At times we need noise in our life. Not the Korn or Green Day form of noise, but something more digestible, even though At The Still Point might give you that bloated feeling after listening to all 12 tracks in one go.
Howl Griff: The Hum (Recordiau Dockrad)
A single, Crash and Burn, is a cosmic outpouring of twee, delirious pop, reminiscent of a lovely Canadian bunch called Cinderpop and shares a sense of the surreal with The Coral. And, like those scousers, Howl Griff tell stories of real characters, such as a lady who “can help you in the dark of night and improve your memory”, on Jean’s Therapy. Meanwhile, on Uduhudu, spirits are raised from the dead in a spangly, manic and effervescent shanty. Glorious, bonkers stuff only the British can do, and the Welsh do best for some reason.
Goldfrapp: Head First (Mute)
Goldfrapp have revisited electro-glam with an album that’s unashamedly steeped in the glorious synths of the 1980s. The opener, Rocket, sounds suspiciously like The Pointer Sisters’ Jump, and is followed by Believer, a beauty that harks back to the radio-friendly Supernature album of 2005. It ends with Voicething which wouldn’t sound out of place on the last Kraftwerk album.
FParom 1977 to 1982 Paul Weller was
the driving force behind the Jam,
a Mod band that had the energy
of punk. All guitars and rousing
statements, the Jam enjoyed an amazing
run of numbers ones in the UK. Cocktail
pop came in the form of his next band
The Style Council and since 1991 has
been a solo star.
In recent years, Weller’s credibility has
dripped and some people have written
him off. However, Wake Up The Nation
is, well a wake up-call, to the Modfather
and to his fans. And to Britain to shake
off its apathetic lumber and get groovy
The 16 tracks here crackle and fizz,
proving that no matter his age (over 50)
Weller remains a formidable force. The
edginess of his early solo career is mirrored
on the opening track Moonshine
and its equably impressive cousin, the
album’s title track.
Paul Winders and The Goodness prove
that the Dunedin sound is very much
alive. You Can Have It All has the kind
of nicely-scripted lyrics, tuneful observations
of New Zealand life and the
easy-going manner that reminds me of
bands like The Chills, The Bats and The
Verlaines, who Winders was a member of
once. Best of Friends is so dammed hummable,
and Thank You is as good as anything
the above bands have recorded.
On our world trip, we now take in
Argentina, the beef, rugby and, above all
football-loving South American country.
And music: ah yes, the tango. The Gotan
Project are its 21st century flag-bearers
giving latino music a modern update,
fusing the traditional dancefloor freneticism
with jazz and a touch of electronica.
Not too much though. Gotan cut and
paste the Argentinean commentary of
Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal
against England in the 1986 World Cup
and immserse passages of a famous local
novel into Rayuela. Somehow I can’t
imagine Latin America’s biggest star,
Shakira, doing things like that.