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Archive for June, 2012

Richard Hawley is a Sheffield institution; like Jarvis Cocker and Phil Oakey he is as much a staple of the northern English city as steel, housing schemes and hills.

His star has fairly risen in recent years and he now can’t be ignored. I did that a few years ago when a record label sent his album to be reviewed, claiming it was the best thing since gluten-free sliced bread. It certainly wasn’t, in fact I found it tiresome and didn’t review it. Times change, as do people and Hawley’s Standing At The Sky’s Edge is one of a number of fine albums seeped in 60s spiritualism. The cover reminds me of The Horrors’ Skying from last year and there are subtle links to that album, the lofty ambitions of the guitar playing, and the sense, in true psychedelic tradition, of two songs playing at the same time.

Sitars mingle with distorted guitars on the opener, the seven-minute She Brings The Sun, and I’m transported back to the meeting that never happened between The Beatles and The Byrds.

Later a surge of guitars drone out and out from the start to Down Into The Woods and the incessant hum continues for the remainder of this wonderful little buzz. It’s surprising, and refreshing to have a massive gear change, with Seek It offering beautiful harmonies, a love song without the clichés.

It’s those kind of delicious melodies I associate with Saint Etienne, the English three-piece that were all over the charts and television in the 1990s, a time when you could be retro and sound hip. They disappeared for some time, but here they are again, with an album about how music has shaped their lives. It begins in a Black Box Recorder style with Sarah Cracknell reminiscing about her childhood. “In 1974 I bought my first single, from Woollies in Redhill.”

Words and Music reminds us that the magic is always about  – whether it comes from the Record Doctor, who dispenses happiness through tunes, the knicker-wetting excitement elicited by seeing your favourite ever band (Tonight), or just a song about a DJ.

I’ve Got Your Music works despite sounding like Dutch handbag house from 1996 while Popular is another trip back to the era with a lot of beats and rhymes. It’s a pretty aimless song and not the only one. After a pop-fuelled start their eighth studio albums falters as it becomes difficult to determine what they’re actually trying to achieve. I’ll keep on playing that opener, Over The Border.

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Porky has had a soft spot for The Proclaimers since he borrowed their spectacles in 1987, the year they released their semi-acoustic, but sizzling debut, Throw The R Away. They no longer sing about their Scottish accent or away trips in Scottish football, and focus more on love, family life, and everything that the world can throw their way. Their latest album, Like Comedy (Cooking Vinyl) is the sound of two men maturing, and they even explain this organic change on Women and Song, “A hundred years ago/ I thought happiness was ice cream and football/ But time went by so fast/ Till I couldn’t see their attractions at all.”

Nevertheless, despite their affection “for the lassies” there are the occasional nods to the national game, such as on the opener, where the brothers hope for a good season on account of their main foes’ poor defence. Their standing within Scottish musical circles is not without a doubt: tours are sold out from Kirkcudbright to Kirkwall, and they have not forgotten their homeland, or the accents even though they no longer sing in their Perthshire brogue: “There’s you lying on your quilt/ There’s your west of Scotland lilt/ Singing me your guilt.”

It’s a typical Proclaimers mix of folk and country lurching from the reflective Dance With Me to the stirring There’s, though the highlight is the title track, which starts with one of the Reid brothers (they’re twins so fuck knows who’s at the mic) singing plaintively before both Craig and Charlie rouse their vocal chords with enough energy to wake up a morgue as they observe how life moves on form the days of hellraising.

The Proclaimers have often been the source of ridicule with their glasses and the pasty-puff cover that was King of the Road, but Like Comedy sees them finding some form as the folicles disappear and the kids are of an age where they can do exactly what their dads did in their youth.

The Proclaimers are a product of Auchermuchty but Garbage owes much of its success to their Edinburgh-born lead singer, Shirley Manson, who was once a part of the criminally under-rated Goodbye Mr MacKenzie. Garbage had a sparkling self-titled debut in 1995 which was a prod in the belly of Britpop with a lukewarm fork. This was how grunge should have evolved, retaining much of the noise and passion but channelling that into a sound that was feisty but electro-charged and adventurous.

Manson is certainly feisty and kicks off Not Your Kind of People (Stun Volume/ Liberator Music) – in velicose mood, on Automatic Systematic Habit, bellowing LIES LIES LIES at a presumed former lover, before telling us why exactly she’s slightly peed off. “Oh men like you keep me up at night/ you want your woman at home and your bit on the side.” Which is all well and good but I can’t imagine a male singer  saying the same thing, replacing men with women and escaping being labelled sexist.

Plenty of fuzzy guitars abound, Manson adopts a near-rap style on Blood for Poppies and it has a frenetic feel, as if they’re keen to make up for lost time. Control is a track that could have fitted on their debut, with its choppy beats and rousing verse. It’s followed by the title track that brings the mood down a notch, and is the weak link in an album that fails to break new ground, though that may not have been the purpose. This is an album whose objective is to reclaim some ground away from the emo bands, Radiohead and even the Gaga generation.

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