The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Album Reviews

16

John Butler Trio 'Grand National'Australian roots activists return with their fourth long player.

The CLUAS Verdict? 5 out of 10

John Mayer, Roy Harper, Dave Matthews… how you react to that list pretty much determines whether the John Butler Trio are your bag or not.

The John Butler Trio are led by Mr Butler himself. Native of North America, he moved to Australia at age 10. Grand National is the band’s third album and he is credited almost single-handedly with making roots music fashionable down under - roots music being an umbrella term covering  a kind of looping, groovy brand of rock replete with wah-wah guitar solos, banjos, lap-steel and vaguely political lyrics. He preaches peace (man) and has the dreadlocks to show he takes it all very seriously. The opening track (and lead off single in Australia) is the highlight of the album. Better Than is funky, melodic and soars over the rest of the tunes on the album in that it does not sound forced. It is driven by an insistent banjo riff – if you’re going to download a track from the album, make it this one.

Daniella has a vaguely hip-hop feel to it. Butler syncopates his words in some embarrassing take on Dave Matthews. It’s awful. Funky Tonight does exactly what it says on the tin – throwing banjo, harmonica, congas and cowbells together in a messy squall. It works well enough but is followed by the execrable Caroline, a dreadful ballad about child abuse. The lyrics are trite, almost insulting. Poisonously syrupy. The musicianship is of a high standard, including a fabulously jazzy interlude on Gov Did Nothin’. The song is still let down by some entertainingly cack lyrics – “Now I don’t mean to offend / No I don’t wish to start a fight / But do you really think that the gov would do nothin’ / If all those people were white”. Sheesh…

Groovin’ Slowly is Bob Marley-lite. Devil Running up the ante with its opening backwards guitar solo over a droning didgeridoo before the ubiquitous groovy acoustic takes over. The chorus comes over all emo(!).The rest of the record floats by almost by accident.

Stephen McNulty


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15

CLUAS Verdict:  5 out of 10

A brave but, alas, futile, attempt at greatness; Everything Last Winter is the debut album from Fields.

Fields

The goal of Fields and their producer Michael Beinhorn (Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers) seems to have been to make Everything Last Winter a multi-textured indie pop record that gave the listener a new experience each time. However, the more one listens, the more one becomes frustrated with the bands attempts to shoehorn the ghost of Nick Drake and the soul of Fleetwood Mac into the same song. Put simply; there is just too much happening on this record to make it an enjoyable multiple-listening experience.

The difficulties faced by the listeners can be summed up in two songs. Both If You Fail We All Fail and Feathers, being the two most obvious attempts at combining the bodily fulid swapping intimacy of the bands earlier work and their new mega-stadium filling rock pretensions, start brightly enough. However, the cacophony of sound that litters the ending of both becomes far too claustrophobic over multiple listens and the bands desire to write the perfect crescendo would make even Gary Lightbody blush.

It’s not all bad though. While the majority of the album sounds as if it was written with serious musical aspirations in mind, tracks such as Skulls and Flesh and More and especially Schoolbooks, sound like they may well have been stumbled across in Nick Piell’s attic and it’s the listener, by being allowed more room to actually listen and appreciate, who is the main beneficiary of this serendipity.

In summary, Fields have the potential for greatness; they just don’t need to try so hard.

Steven O'Rourke


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23
Björk 'Volta'
Review Snapshot: This reviewer's first childhood memory was hearing the Beatles' "I want to hold your hand" and he's been in love with pop music ever sionce then,"Volta&qu...

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23

White Stripes 'Icky Thump'Review Snapshot:
The new White Stripes album shows off its blues and folk influences the way a pre-pubescent boy wears a fake moustache. An uninspired and uninspiring rock trudge that's not half as odd or interesting as it seems to think it is.

The CLUAS Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Reviews:
In the sleevenotes to 'Icky Thump', Jack White admits to being an impressionist. Fair play to him for his honesty; this record sounds like one long Led Zeppelin homage - blues-rock guitars and little else.

White's songs are as flat and unremarkable as ever but this time around there's no 'Seven Nation Army' killer riff to carry them off. Like with Morrissey, his titles are more interesting than the songs themselves - 'You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What Your Told)' and 'A Martyr For My Love For You' are unmemorable plod-rock.

Only the mariachi-style 'Conquest' is quirky and appealing - but that's a cover version.

The low point is 'Prickly Thorn (But Sweetly Worn)' a hilariously bad (but apparently serious) attemp at Celtic folk-rock. Also good for unintentional laughs is 'Saint Andrew (This Battle's In The Air)' - "Saint Andrew, do not forsake me", squeals Meg White with her schoolgirl-voice. Even twenty years from now, street urchins will be taunting her in public over it.

 If Jack White were to put into his songwriting at least half the imagination and energy he devotes to his imitation of a Deep South bluesman/medicine show huckster (as on the irritating 'Rag And Bone'), then The White Stripes might yet make music that lives up to the hype and mythologising they seem to inspire.

On the evidence of 'Icky Thump', however, they seem to have hit a creative dead-end.

Aidan Curran

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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23

Review Snapshot:
A fine work of Cohen- and Reed-influenced lo-fi folk-pop from a globetrotting chanteuse. One to put alongside Feist as this year's coffee-table albums of choice, perhaps?

The CLUAS Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
Keren AnnBorn in Israel, raised in the Netherlands, matured in Paris and domicile in New York, Keren Ann Zeidel is a successful chanson francaise singer in France. This, her fifth album, is in English and it's good enough to get attention as international as its recording (in studios in Paris, Tel Aviv, New York, Rekjavik and Los Angeles).

Keren Ann's music is not as eclectic as her globetrotting - she sticks mainly to intimate folk-pop, a lo-fi Feist, if you will. For the most part, most noticably on 'The Harder Ships Of The World', she seems heavily influenced by Leonard Cohen's world-weary writing style and murmuring delivery.

Other times, as with many Paris-based female singers these days, Keren Ann also draws heavily on Lou Reed - first single 'Lay Your Head Down' features a 'New York'-style spoken word verse and a blatant VU guitar drone. Her sweet chorus (and some well-placed handclaps) saves the song from being a complete Lou parody, and throughout the album Keren Ann manages to flavour her borrowings with her own personality.

Vocally she barely rises above a low croon, though sometimes with a touch of Beth Gibbons' soulfulness and Stina Nordenstam's quirkiness. Instrumentation is minimal but with enough subtle layers to keep the listener engaged to the end.

The whole package is that of a quiet, thoughtful musician writing melodic and intriguing songs. Definitely worth a listen.

Aidan Curran


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23

Biffy Clyro 'Puzzle'Review Snapshot:
Three years since ‘Infinity Land’ the curiously named Scots trio Biffy Clyro return with ‘Puzzle’. Less complex and slightly more accessible than their three previous albums to date, ‘Puzzle’ is still one of the most inventive and ambitious guitar albums you will hear all year.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10.

Full Review:
Is the simple pop melody, superimposed on a swathe of hard-rock guitars and thumping drums, the perfect rock equation?The myriad genres and sub-genres that clog the crowded world of alternative music will always confuse and enthral in equal measure. It’s easy to get lost within the surfeit of styles and attitudes, of empty poses and rock-careers built on a strict drug regimen. Ever since Bob Mould’s Husker Du started gluing pop melodies to hard guitar signatures, tuneful yet emotional hard rock will always grab the listener with an immediacy that other styles never will. Husker Du were the spark for the fire of The Pixies, who married off-kilter and disquieting song-structure with deceptively simple melodies. Kurt Cobain, in turn, liked their style. He copied their quiet/loud dynamic wholesale but pushed it a little further. While Black Francis’ world view was singular and distorted, Cobain’s world was one of narcissistic self-loathing. He put his feral, anguished howl over ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, injected the song with a pop DNA and turned it up to….12. It worked because it got under your skin and made your heart pump a little faster. It was cathartic and violent yet it was essentially a conventional pop-song, albeit hidden under layers of misanthropy.

Is it ridiculous to claim Biffy Clyro as the next link in the chain? Maybe in different times, Biffy might have been huge as they balance perfectly the two supposedly mutually exclusive concepts of a pop melody with hard rock, as ‘Teen Spirit’ did. But music will never be the social force that grunge was. It will never unite the disaffected on a global scale as everything now is easily accessible and compartmentalised. The Internet, with its attendant blogs and networks, is now the social force, and no Art form will supersede it. Yet, Biffy have a spirit that eschews fashion and famous girlfriends and empty NME hyperbole. There is something going on in their music that would unite people in the same intense way Nirvana did, if the world was the same as it was in 1990.

But it’s not just Nirvana that can be heard on their fourth album ‘Puzzle’. There is Queens of the Stone Age’s grimy, mechanical funk-rock on ‘Who’s Got a Match?’ There are even a few subtle nods, possibly ironic, to the skinny trouser angular-rock brigade. The theatrics of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is in evidence (in a good way) and a few knowing winks to early U2 (always early U2).  Muse can be heard on the monolithic opener ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’. It starts with an atypical intro, a series of short, sharp stabs of strings and drums before exploding into a trademark Biffo chorus, replete with full choral accompaniment. Like Muse, Biffy always try to incorporate arena friendly song-structure into their unique, music-as-math template. Although, ‘Puzzle’ is a little more straightforward than their previous efforts, it still jolts the listener throughout the course of its 14 tracks, both for its disconcerting tempo changes and for the plain fact it is so damn catchy. ‘Saturday Superhouse’has got a massive chorus that shows that no matter how complicated they try to be, they have a strong pop sensibility at heart and it’s no surprise it reached number 13 in the UK charts. Later ‘The Conversation Is…’ showcases another effortless hook on an album that is full of them.

 ‘Puzzle’ creates a puzzle. If Cobain was still alive, and became a little more musically adventurous, might he have come up with something like this? Quite possibly. Though they hail from Ayr in Scotland, ‘Puzzle’ is an American sounding album. It has a scope and expansiveness that is at odds with the musically blinkered outlook of contemporary British rock. You would be well advised to spend some time with it.

Ken Fallon

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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23

Funeral for a Friend 'Tales Don't Tell Themselves'Review Snapshot:
Funeral For A Friend return with a rock album that shows them trying to be taken serious, but it's hard to when the songs are just not there.

The CLUAS Verdict? 4.5 out of 10

Full Review:
On Tales Don’t Tell Themselves Welsh band Funeral For A Friend move away from their emo beginnings and become an all out rock band. As part of this transformation and they have also attempted to create a concept album. This, their third full length, is a story about a fisherman, named David, who is lost at sea. Excited?

The album starts well with the epic opener ‘Into Oblivion (Reunion)’ raising my hopes for this album. Both ‘The Great Wide Open’ and ‘The Diary’ are also highlights on this album making the first third of this album actually pretty solid as Funeral For A Friend rawk out. After that however, it all goes down hill. ‘The wheels fell off’, as some might say. The album just seems to blend into a mesh of repetitive riffs and annoying whiney vocals. It is a record that musically reminds me of local ‘battle of the bands’ competitions - technically proficient, but lacking any song-writing inventiveness.

The whole nautical theme really grates after a while. It may have seemed like a good idea, but the ‘concept’ is a boring one. My mind just shuts off listening to him sing about raising sails and the open water. It’s about as engaging as the dialogue scenes from Castaway.

They may no longer be emo, or post-hardcore (on that note, what is it with music journalists and putting the word ‘post’ before a genre to make a new one?), but in changing direction, they are now a boring, mainstream rock band. Consequently it may lose them a lot of fans who adored their debut effort, ‘Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation’, and, honestly, I can’t see them finding new legions of devotees as a result of this album.

Garret Cleland


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23

B. C. Camplight 'Blink of a Nihilist'Review Snapshot:
From the same label that gave us Bjork, The Shamen, & Chumbawamba, with this album B.C. Camplight is assured of household named status. A possible Pet Sounds of the noughties.

The Cluas Verdict? 7.5 out of 10.

Full Review:
Just like many artists before him, Brian Christinzio (or B.C. Camplight to us) set out in life to make the perfect pop record. On his debut album ‘Hide, Run, Away’ was a good try, but now on his second album he’s certainly getting closer.

Opening with the brilliant ‘Suffer For Two’ Christinzio’s harmonies and piano playing make this sound like an unheard Brian Wilson gem. There’s reminiscence for Pink Floyd on ‘Lord I’ve Been On Fire’, and ‘Soy Tonto’ would sit well on any lounge lizard album.

Despite struggling with his own mental illness, he worked as a volunteer in mental hospitals and a New Jersey Jail, specifically to collect stories that he could write about, and it’s from these stories that he’s created this album. Some happy, some personal and some unique (such as 'I’ve Got A Bad Cold', which has a bit of Pink Floyd and The Beach Boys all mashed up together).

There’s something for all tastes here.

Mick Lynch


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23

linkin park 'Minutes to Midnight'Review Snapshot:
Even Rick Rubin’s magical production skills can’t save this mediocre album as Linkin Park set about looking for a new direction, and new fans, but in the process, forget the 40 million that fell in love with their previous sound.

The Cluas Verdict? 3 out of 10.

Full Review:
One of the most anticipated albums of 2007 sees American sextet Linkin Park team up with Rick Rubin, the man with the midas touch, as they try to expand on the success of Hybrid Theory and Meteora.

Recorded over 14 months, ‘Minutes To Midnight’ sees Linkin Park taking a chance at trying to re-invent themselves, but putting a weak instrumental ‘Wake’ as the album opener doesn’t do them any favours. By track two ‘Given Up’, the screams of “tell me what the f**k is wrong with me” doesn’t make the song a memorable one, and on ‘Bleed It Out’ Mike Shinoda raps over some out of date 80s clapping sound effects.

Chester Bonnington takes lead vocals on ‘Shadow Of The Day’ and he sounds remarkably like Bono. The song is very reminiscent of ‘With Or Without You’, but I put that down to Rubin’s influence.

The first single from the album ‘What I’ve Done’ isn’t great, but it does contain a haunting piano intro that would sit well on any Hitchcock soundtrack.

 George Bush’s war on Iraq isn’t ignored here either. The bands frustration is demonstrated on songs like ‘Hands held High’ and ‘The Little Things Give You Away’, the latter written shortly after they visited New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina.

For me the standout tracks are the ballads. They may never reach the brilliance of Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty but on ‘Leave Out All The Rest’ Bonnington does a superb job vocally and displays the soft rock side of Linkin Park, a side that I never knew existed.

Speaking of ballads, ‘Valentines Day’ starts out as one, but halfway through; the band loses their way and are unsure what sound they are trying to achieve. They have saved the best for last however with the aforementioned ‘The Little Things Give You Away’.

With this album Linkin Park wanted to create something that maintained the integrity of the band's personality, but pushed their boundaries. The fans that bought their previous albums will have problems adapting to this new direction, and with 100 songs to choose from during the making of this album, I think they could have chosen more wisely.

Mick Lynch

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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23

CLUAS Verdict: 8 out of 10

Prince once again demonstrates why he is the pre-eminent popular musician in American life on this big name tribute to 1970s songwriter Joni Mitchell

Originally planned for release in the 1990s, this tribute to Joni Mitchell by some of the biggest names in the music business such as Elvis Costello, Brad Meldhu, k.d lang, Annie Lennox and her former lover James Taylor conforms to type by being neither flesh nor fowl. Lovers of Mitchell's spare arrangements and tensed up, anguished vocals will find these interpretations over produced and slick and fans of the contributing artists will equally wonder why their heroes recorded songs by an artist better known for her lyrics than her melodies. The low point of this record is an appaling rendtion of 'The Boho Dance' by Bjork and the absolute highlight is 'A Case of You' by Prince which flows out of the speakers like Manuka honey. The man is a solid gold genius and this cut sounds like it was done in a single take; Prince sits down at piano, tape starts rolling, wonderful music pours out of him, effortlessly. The 8 I've given for this record is reserved for that track alone. Nice one Prince, nice one Joni.

Jules Jackson


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Nuggets from our archive

2004 - The CLUAS Reviews of Erin McKeown's album 'Grand'. There was the positive review of the album (by Cormac Looney) and the entertainingly negative review (by Jules Jackson). These two reviews being the finest manifestations of what became affectionately known, around these parts at least, as the 'McKeown wars'.