My review of James Arthur’s debut is up. As night follows day, anyone emerging from X Factor who aspires to anything other than acting as a conduit for interchangeable POP! is instinctively attacked and mocked – I’ve already seen Arthur widely being labelled as ‘pretentious’, ‘bitter’, ‘angry’ etc with countless sneering references to ‘authenticity’ and ‘credibility’. Tedious beyond belief yet it’s kinda not the done thing to parse any negative effect which X Factor may have on pop music. You need only spend a few minutes on the #xfactor tag on a Saturday evening to see how degrading and tawdry the whole thing has become. It has an air of the colosseum about it – folk really think nothing of tearing these (mostly) kids apart in the most visceral, vicious ways. Yet despite treating it with utter contempt, the habitual cry of ‘snob!’ will go up whenever anyone dares to criticise the show, as if participating in the weekly hatefest is to be ‘down to earth’. Odd, to say the least.

James Arthur – James Arthur

A few hours after writing this I read Caroline Sullivan’s review in The Guardian. She calls it the ‘comeback of the year’ which, in a year where we’ve seen the return of David Bowie and Daft Punk, is hyperbole and then some. Still, having not paid attention to BG in years I was surprised by how right it feels to have him releasing music again.

Boy George – This Is What I Do

In retrospect I’m not entirely sure why I so anticipated a new album from an artist hardly renowned for churning out good albums…the only Cher album most people would even be able to name is Believe and part of that would be guesswork. So I was disappointed but never mind. I’ll still go and see her in concert and no doubt love it.

Cher – Closer To The Truth

A review written in a bit of a hurry cos I’m off on holiday later (I might have mentioned this?) It’s since been pointed out to me that Geoff Barrow of Portishead made the Shania comparison a couple of days ago, albeit in a far more disparaging manner. I plead ignorance.

To say I was confused when I first listened to this album a few weeks ago would be putting it mildly. I’d never heard any of Haim’s music but was aware that seemingly every music site in the UK was going crazy for them. I didn’t get it. I listened to the album many times to see if it would click and I still don’t get it. In fact, I’d say it’s more of a 2.5 album but what’s half a star between friends?

Haim – Days Are Gone

Review: Pure Heroine – Lorde

Lorde wants you to know that she’s different. Much has been made of the fact that “Royals,” her platinum-selling breakout hit, was inspired by a cool disdain for the bling rhetoric of “jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash” which Lorde felt dominated the pop landscape as she grew up in New Zealand. Certainly its opening claim, “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh,” can’t help but seem like an arch rejoinder to chart queen Rihanna. There’s nothing new, of course, about youthful rebellion against an ostensibly monolithic culture, but “Royals” almost feels like a watershed moment: the very deliberate cross-pollination that has characterized chart pop since rap and (more recently) electronic dance music encroached upon its sales is ingrained in the 16-year-old Lorde. It feels entirely organic that she expresses her anti-materialist sentiment over a sparse backing owing much to hip-hop and also drawing on the lo-fi aesthetic typical of British post-dubstep artists like Burial, The xx and James Blake.

Lorde’s story so far has more than the whiff of a more iconic British artist around it. Like Kate Bush, she was discovered as a teenager and has been mentored until her emergence on the scene, seeming fully formed and sounding quite unlike anything else around. The confident introspection of “Royals” is typical of Lorde’s debut, Pure Heroine, an album which is striking in its precocious self-awareness.  It shouldn’t seem so unusual that a teenager can be so articulate, of course – perhaps expectations have been corrupted by the asinine gloss of contemporary teenage artists such as Justin Bieber and One Direction. Whatever the reason, it’s disarming to hear Lorde’s smouldering voice singing lyrics that convey an authentic and engaging honesty. Her difference is no teenage pose, then, and being as savvy as she is talented Lorde draws attention to this contrast at several points throughout the album – most notably in “Team” where she drily notes “I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air…so there.”

Aside from distinguishing herself from mainstream pop Lorde also draws on more traditional ideas of the outsider, with the album from its title onwards portraying an eagerness for a life lived beyond traditional mores. By the time we get to the big reveal of penultimate track “White Teeth Teens” we know what’s coming: “I’ll let you in on something big – I’m not a white teeth teen.”  This ‘I’m not like other girls’ shtick rarely falls into cliché, however, with Lorde’s words frequently seeming more literary than lyrical (her mother is a poet and she has spoken of being influenced by Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver). The wry “Buzzcut Season”, for example, would make Dorothy Parker proud while the opaque love story of “400 Lux” hinges on delightful lines like “I love these roads where the houses don’t change (and I like you)”.  For all the tales of messy romance and allusions to dysfunction, however, the conquering fantasies of “Still Sane” (“I’m little but I’m coming for the crown”) suggest a steely ambition and assurance which fundamentally separate her from the simpering subordination of the oft-cited in comparison Lana Del Rey.

The music quite rightly gives these dazzling lyrics ample space to be noticed. Sparse electronic backing couches Lorde’s vocals on most of these songs and “Royals’” trick of multi-tracking the chorus is repeated to the point of overuse. Nonetheless there is novelty here: the club-friendly “Ribs” repeats its mid-tempo verses as more frenetic choruses riding on a 4/4 beat, an unusual but inspired touch, while an observation that “the sun’s starting to light up when we’re walking home’ is met in the final syllable by a gloriously evocative harmony line in “Glory and Gore”. “Team”, with its Robyn-esque radio-friendly melancholia, is perhaps the most conventional pop song here yet it begins with a processed acapella vocal which becomes more distorted until it loops and falls beneath crunchy drums. The songs unravel like tightly wound coils, bursting with energy and never outstaying their welcome. On paper the starkness should be repetitive but Pure Heroine riffs on a very deliberate, expansive severity. When the closing “A World Alone” adds guitar and sound effects to its dynamic drum patterns and looped vocals, it doesn’t feel like a revelation.

This final song includes a lyric which is destined to be much quoted: “maybe the internet raised us or maybe people are jerks.” That sharp and witty response to the ‘Generation Me Me Me’ handwringing perfectly captures Lorde’s appeal for a generation undoubtedly tired of being spoken for.  In Lorde they, and indeed we, have a compelling, articulate and contemporary voice. Pure Heroine is most certainly only the beginning.

4.5/5

My review of the new Elton John album. Sir Elton, to you.

Elton John – The Diving Board

Click title for the review.

I tend to write these things in a kind-of-stream-of-consciousness mode and rarely make any major edits. This means that I always have thoughts on how I’d change them after the fact. I went for a walk after writing this and started thinking about how Talking Heads have pretty much supplanted The Smiths or Joy Division or The Pixies as the ‘touchstone band’ du jour. ‘Eclecticism’ is the big thing at the moment.

The 1975 – The 1975