The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Album Reviews

14

A review of the album 'Here Come the 123s' by They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants - Here Come The 123sReview Snapshot: Grammy-winning quirky, melodic fun from 90s indie icons. Not just for kids!

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
They Might Be Giants had a succession of indie hits back in the late 80s/early 90s. Their best-known album was "Flood", released in 1990, on which you'll find the indie disco staple "Little birdhouse in your soul". People took music pretty seriously back then (when rock music fans were the goodies and rave music fans were the baddies) and they suffered a little bit in the eyes of the Serious Music Fan on account of being too much, well, FUN compared to the other bands that were hip at the time, but I guess it didn't phase them much as they've released 10 studio albums since, with the most recent albums featuring music for kids that adults too could love.

Their music had a kind of kiddishness to it even early on - there was a song on "Flood" called "Particle Man" that described battles between Particle Man, Triangle Man and Person Man and was made into a Tiny Toons video. It wasn't until 2002 though that they released their first full album for kids called "No!", which they followed with "Here come the ABCs" (2005) and then this album.

Like their grown-up music output, the basic template is American alternative rock, but very quirky, very melodic, and fun fun fun! Most of the songs have some kind of number-related theme - from "Zeros mean so much" to "813 mile car trip" - but this isn't an educational record in that it doesn't make any attempt to teach, rather it just uses numbers as jumping-off points for goofy (and somtimes amazing) lyrical ideas, like "9 bowls of soup" in which an ichthyosaur uses bowls of soup to construct a Very Large Array with a view to communicating with aliens (and inviting them for lunch). Stylistically it's pretty eclectic - "There's only one Everything" is danceable indie pop, "The number two" is reminiscent of 70s Elton John, "High five" is faintly disco-y, "Days of the week" is a march - but it's all distinctively They Might Be Giants, and every single song has a hummable tune. So hummable, in fact, that it's damn hard to get some of them out of your head - in my house you can regularly hear "One dozen monkeys" being sung as you pass the shower door.

Don't let the fact that this is aimed at children put you off, though if you have kids/nephews/nieces/younger siblings this would make a brilliant present (and they'll love the accompanying DVD, complete with the band as woollen puppets). Obviously it's neither earth-shattering nor profound, but it's entertaining in the best sense of the word, and it'll put a big grin on your face.

Cormac Parle

  • Cormac is in Stoat and recently launched kids-tunes.com which sells CDs for kids (such as 'Here Come the 123s' by They Might Be Giants).

 


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08
Florence & The Machine 'Lungs'
  A review of the album 'Lungs' by Florence & The Machine Review Snapshot: Although Florence Welch may have garnered the press attention, the album's arrangement and produ...

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23

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse 'Dark Night Of The Soul'

Danger mouseReview Snapshot: Artists fall out with record label, release album for free online as a parting shot. Nope I’m not talking about Machina II by the Smashing Pumpkins, but Dark Night of the Soul by Danger Mouse and friends. DNOTS does dabble, however, in similarly dark realms. Shiny summer pop this isn’t, store it up for the winter. It's late night introverted pop and it's a curious aside in the Danger Mouse canon.

The Cluas Verdict? 6.9 out of 10

Full Review: As if parting ways with Paul McCartney and Radiohead wasn't enough kudos-shattering for one decade, EMI now finds itself embroiled in a right kerfuffle with the enduringly zeitgesity producer-cum-cash cow Danger Mouse. His über collaboration-compilation with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse - featuring such luminaries as Frank Black, Iggy Pop, Julian Casablancas, Gruff Rhys, and Nina Persson (The Cardigans) - has been streaming online on NPR for the past few weeks , originally in anticipation of a physical release through EMI. However, following disagreement with EMI over release logistics, Mouse et al have opted for the pragmatic route. With David Lynch contributing a vast collection of photography described as a "visual narrative" to the music, the album's completion was marked by a limited release of an artbook of these photographs along with "a blank CD-R as an artefact to use however you see fit".

It might not be available on an official CD release, or via a legitimate download, but this is not something that would stop CLUAS from reviewing it. That nice NPR stream of the album came in handy... 

So, how does it rate?

Well, Gnarls Barkley it isn't. Nor would you expect Danger Mouse not to diversify with every new project he embarks on. Given the time of year this album has reached Cluas Towers, you might expect Danger Mouse to have one eye on shiny summer pop-ulism. Not the case. Its a remarkably dark album, perhaps best stored up for those dull introverted winter nights.

Album opener 'Revenge' finds a pensive Flaming Lips churning out what can loosely be described as a sombre retake of 'Fight Test' in that it features the same Wayne Coyne confidence-inducing brand of lyrics but in a far more stifled and moody fashion. Although slow-paced a lá Beck's cover of "I Need Your Lovin (Like The Sunshine)" it does reach an intense drum-laden crescendo, the kind that leaves you wishing that this was a full-length Flaming Lips album in its own right so they could continue exploring this newfound dark sound.

The renaissance of Gruff Rhys finds a new chapter on 'Just War' - it starts out as a swampy slide guitar effort but quickly sidesteps into electricified layers. Although oozing in complexities, its actually quite a simple tongue-in-cheek anti-war song.

Another highlight includes Frank Black's appearance on 'Angel's Harp' - it has all you would want from Black - the thrashy guitars, the iconic wail, its fantastic. Although sounding quite fresh and new, its possibly the most Pixie-esque track he's written since that band stopped recording together.

Apparently all the vocalists on this album were sent instrumental tracks and simply asked to record over them with whatever vocals they wanted and its pretty evident on Iggy Pop's effort 'Pain'. By no means Iggy Pop's worst ever project - see his Sum 41 collaboration - it does come across as a self-indulgent imitation of Ian Curtis. Even though there mightn't have been a Joy Division without the Iggy influence, this song just isn't good.

The rest of the album is very filler-ed - albeit with some bright spots from Nina Persson and Julian Casablancas - but on the whole DNOTS keeps Danger Mouse up there on the producer wishlists across the popular music landscape. Surely Michael Jackson will be on the phone to recruit him for that comeback album any day now...

Ronan Lawlor


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11
Royksopp 'Junior'
A review of the album 'Junior' by Royksopp Review Snapshot: After an uninspiring and uneven second studio album Royksopp get their groove together with "Junior", their summer col...

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10
The View 'Which Bitch?'
A review of the album 'Which Bitch?' by The View Review Snapshot: A failed attempt by the 'Dundonian upstarts' to recreate the magic of their debut album, 'Hats Off to the Busk...

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10

A review of the album 'A Journal For Plague Lovers' by Manic Street Preachers

manic street preachers - journal for plague loversReview Snapshot:
Fourteen years ago Richey Edwards, the then lyricist and rhythm guitarist of the Manic Street Preachers, went missing at a well-known suicide spot on the Severn. And despite a handful of alleged sightings of the former Manic, was in November of last year announced dead. And now in 2009, A Journal for Plague Lovers adds another chapter to the legacy of one of Britain's great songwriters.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
For those of us inclined to sentimentality, the Richey Edwards saga has been an ongoing source of enchantment, never allowing us to stray too far from Manic album releases, on the admittedly slight chance that the tragic lyricist might return. Sadly, since it has been well over a decade since his disappearance, it would seem unlikely that such a scenario might arise and so A Journal for Plague Lovers serves as the next best thing.

The use on this album of a folder of poetry left by Edwards is a source of controversy that has split opinion amongst even the most hardcore fans of the Manic Street Preachers. For some it is a worthy homage to the band member who supplied so much of the content that made 1994's 'The Holy Bible' such a mesmerising and quintessential rock offering. For others, the folder of poetry left behind embodies the most intimate of details written by the troubled icon in his darkest moments and question whether it is advisable to put these words to music after so much time has passed. According to the band themselves, the lyrics were simply too good to be left unreleased.

From the instant that the opening track 'Peeled Apples' kicks in, you get the impression that this is the Manics back to their best. There are the movie snippet sound clips that have become a common feature of their albums, followed by thumping bass lines and the familiar grungy guitar riffs of James Dean Bradfield.  On this album the Manics are typically outspoken and meddlesome. The first track explores the role of brands and consumerism as Bradfield roars out:
"The levi jean will always be stronger than an uzi" and "A series of images against you and me trespass your torment if you are what you want to be".

And without time for so much as a breath, the second song on the album kicks off. 'Jackie Collins Existential Question Time' is arguably the strongest track on the album, combining the various elements that over the years have merged to define the Manics, such as the anthemic guitar riffs, caustic lyrics and the inimitable vocals of Bradfield.

A Journal for Plague Lovers has, in parts, an uncomfortably overwrought feel to it. The lyrics are that of a confused, emotional mind struggling to get a grip on the multiplicity of mysteries in modern society.  'She bathed herself in a bath of bleach' for example, is a fairly cynical insight into the pitfalls of love and lust.

Despite the gritty and often forlorn nature of the album, it enthralls from start to finish. Undoubtedly there is enough quality on the album to whet the appetites of the now almost famished Preachers' fans (their last album 'Send away the tigers' wasn't all that great) and enough to re-ignite the interests of those who were often sitting on the fence in relation to the Welsh band. With the ominous sounding riffs and frenetic vocals, A Journal for Plague Lovers sounds more like a follow up to The Holy Bible than any other Manics release.

Kevin Boyle


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10

A review of the album 'Break Up The Concrete' by The Pretenders

Review Snapshot: Though it leans more towards blues and country than its predecessors, the ninth album by Chrissie Hynde et al. is still recognizably safe classic rock. But slipping it into a Greatest Hits package feels needlessly defeatist.

The Cluas Verdict? 4.5 out of 10

Full Review:
The Pretenders 'Break Up The Concrete'This is odd: our review copy of the new album by The Pretenders comes in a double CD with a Best Of. What’s more, the hits compilation is Disc 1 of this set and the new album is Disc 2. You’d think it’d be a brave record company exec who’d propose this to Chrissie Hynde.

Do you really need us to review The Pretenders’ hits? Surely you already know from constant airplay those smart late-‘70s rockers, radio-friendly ‘80s poppers and blustery ‘90s stadium ballads. (We’ll only point out that this compilation doesn’t include a catchy 1999 cover of The Divinyls’ ‘Human’, which is a pity.)

So, the new album, then. For the most part, ‘Break Up The Concrete’ is unremarkable blues-tinted MOR rock. Hynde, forever in skinny jeans and black t-shirt, still pulls the same rawk chick shapes but with a hint of nostalgic wistfulness on gentle country rock numbers like ‘You Didn’t Have To’, ‘One Thing Never Changed’ and ‘Love’s A Mystery’ (“Lovers of today/Aren’t like lovers of the past”). It’s strange and slightly sad to now associate Hynde, one of rock’s great icon(oclast)s, with concepts like ‘nostalgia’ and ‘gentle country rock’. But then, you can hardly expect iconoclasm from someone who subordinates her new album to a Greatest Hits disc in the same package.

There are a couple of interesting moments on this record all the same. Opener ‘Boots Of Chinese Plastic’ is a rousing bit of rockabilly, a sound that suits Hynde’s attitude and voice. (Unfortunately, it’s let down by naff verses about Buddha, Hari Krishna, Allah and Jesus.) And ‘Almost Perfect’ is an acoustic bossa nova groove where Hynde sounds jazzy and (almost) fresh – could that be for her a new route worth investigating?

Anyway, Hynde would do well to heed her album title: please destroy that dull, grey rock. And next time let your new album stand or fall on its merits rather than hide it under the oldies.

Aidan Curran


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10

A review of the album 'Here Come The Vikings' by Astrid Williamson

Review Snapshot: One glorious lyric aside, a record of chugging ones, epic ones, book-smart lyrics and all the regulars of indie-by-numbers. You’re a busy person with other records to hear and other things to do, so this needn’t detain you.

The Cluas Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review:
Astrid Williamson 'Here Come The Vikings'The fourth solo album by former Goya Dress singer Astrid Williamson is more plugged-in and amped-up than her previous records. Unfortunately, while for her this might be a grand creative leap, for the listener ‘Here Come The Vikings’ is mid-table indie-rock of the sort you’ve heard many times before.

To be fair, there are brief flashes of personality on show here. When she rocks out, like on opening ‘Store’, Williamson has a strong and soaring voice similar to ‘The Lion And The Cobra’-era Sinead O’Connor. But a lot of the uptempo tracks here are unoriginal and unimaginative chuggernauts, while slower numbers like ‘Crashing Minis’ and ‘Pinned’ strain themselves to sound like epic heartstring-tuggers.

The blandness of the music is reflected in the lyrics, which mostly have a sense of being all craft and no feeling. The poppy ‘Sing The Body Electric’ shoehorns in fairly arbitrary references to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Walt Whitman, as if Williamson desperately wants us to know that she knows who they are. And then at the other extreme, ‘Falling Down’ features the anodyne ‘insight’ and uninspired clichés of your average Celine Dion or Bon Jovi hit: “They say a little information/Can be a dangerous thing… Love is all we need/Why do we keep on falling down?”

At least ‘Shut Your Mouth’ features an innuendo-drenched couplet that even Cole Porter would have envied: “Please forgive my pursuit of you/But I have to get to the root of you.” (Keeping in that spirit, our spellcheck wants us to change Astrid’s first name to ‘Astride’.)

But apart from that tantalising flash of invention, there’s nothing new or memorable about this record. You couldn’t imagine real Vikings coming and going so unremarkably.

Aidan Curran


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09
Julie Feeney 'Pages'
A review of the album Pages by Julie Feeney Review Snapshot: There isn't an artist quite like Julie Feeney at work in Ireland today, her music is at once eccentric, grounded, cheeky and vulner...

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06
We Were Promised Jetpacks 'These Four Walls'
A review of the album These Four Walls by We Were Promised Jetpacks Review Snapshot: A confident statement of intent from this Edinburgh four piece who are staunch in their sound and endearing in ...

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Nuggets from our archive

2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.