The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Album Reviews

31
Peter Doherty 'Grace/Wastelands'
A review of the album 'Grace/Wastelands' by Peter Doherty Review Snapshot: Rambling acoustic album from the pen of Peter (not Pete anymore) Doherty. Devoid of the energy and drive of his e...

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24
Dark Room Notes 'We Love You Dark Matter'
A review of the album We Love You Dark Matter by Dark Room Notes Review Snapshot: An album that proves there's more to electro-indie than silly stage antics and dodgy dress sense, We...

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24
White Lies 'To Lose My Life'
A review of the album To Lose My Life by White Lies Review Snapshot: With echoes of Interpol, Echo and The Bunnymen, Editors and more White Lies emerge from the ashes of ‘Fear of Flying&rsqu...

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20
Antony and The Johnsons 'The Crying Light'
A review of the album The Crying Light by Antony and The Johnsons Review Snapshot:The spine tingling vibrato remains very much in evidence and the bruised and broken hearts that found refuge in &l...

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17

A review of the album 'Blue Lights On The Runway' by Bell X1

Blue Lights On The Runway by Bell X1Review Snapshot: Uninventive indie rock dressed up in the too-large suit of Talking Heads, the new Bell X1 album has little in the way of invention or excitement. It would take a tectonic shift in their creative thinking for this band to become relevant or interesting again.

The Cluas Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review:
It’s a coincidence that the two major Irish album releases of spring 2009, ‘No Line On The Horizon’ by U2 and ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’ by Bell X1, have such similar titles. Apart from sounding alike, both titles evoke images of sky and travel. And both are aspirational and ambitious: they tell us that U2 know no boundaries and Bell X1 are revving for take-off.

In fact, the Kildare band’s fourth studio album is flat and unadventurous, like an interminable taxi round the runway without ever leaving the ground.

The funkiness of ‘Flock’ has been left off this new album. With its stylistic nods to arty post-punk and emotive indie-folk, the strongest influences this time around seem to be Talking Heads and a bit of Arcade Fire. The Heads comparison is most obvious on lead single ‘The Great Defector’, where Paul Noonan lapses into a David Byrne-style singing voice that pops up again at various points on the record. Lyrically, Noonan’s taste for yoking together random quips and images also recalls Byrne and Black Francis.

But all of that feels like fancy dress. This album falls flat because there aren’t any outstanding tracks on it; no catchy hooks or earworm choruses to help these songs stay in the memory. Chord progressions are safe and familiar. Verses feature long lines of bedsit-romantic lyrics delivered with little melodic variety; we can tell that there are choruses because some lyrics are repeated. And there are two instances of maudlin piano ballads: ‘Light Catches Your Face’ and ‘The Curtains Are Twitchin’. Noonan’s distinctive Kildare vowels, like on ‘One Stringed Harp’, offer rare moments of colour and individuality, and that’s about all.

Quite simply, it’s stale and boring stuff – far from the tuneful charm of their 2000 debut, ‘Neither Am I’. Today’s newly-prominent Irish acts, such as Jape and Fight Like Apes, are making music that’s inventive and exciting. Next to them, Bell X1 sound like a band whose time has passed.

All in all, ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’ is just one step up from the horrors of Snow Patrol. The last Snow Patrol album, ‘A Hundred Million Suns’, shares the luminous, aspirational title imagery of this Bell X1 release, and both bands deal in the same over-earnest indie that plays on emotion over excitement.

Worthy but unoriginal – by analogy with landfill indie, can we consider Bell X1 and their peers as recycling-centre indie?

Aidan Curran


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12
Tony Christie 'Made in Sheffield'
A review of Tony Christie's album 'Made in Sheffield' Review Snapshot: Medallion man steps out of comfort zone, and covers the Arctic Monkeys. "Made in Sheffield " is uneasy ...

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10

A review of the album 'I Never Thought This Day Would Come' by Duke Special

Duke Special, I Never Thought This Day Would ComeReview Snapshot: While never consistently matching the dizzy heights of previous album 'Songs From The Deep Forest', Peter Wilson still makes a convincing tilt at the title of Ireland's Best Songwriter. A few Duke-Special-by-numbers numbers aside, mostly collaborations, his new album contains more of the same catchy, heartfelt piano-pop with which he's now synonymous. A consolidation, then.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:

Not to burden the new Duke Special album with impossible expectations or anything, but Peter Wilson’s previous long-player, ‘Songs From The Deep Forest’, was simply astounding. Bursting with baroque ambition, soaring joy, searing heartache, witty poetry, warm sincerity and catchy tunes, it’ll soon be permanently camped on the upper slopes of Mount Best Irish Album Ever. (If not, it’ll be because of the drippy single mix of ‘Freewheel’, for which someone should be fired.)

So, the follow-up, then.

Well, while not topping or matching its illustrious predecessor, ‘I Never Thought This Day Would Come’ is still a very good album. With it, Wilson continues a fine strand of work and consolidates his reputation as a Champions League-level pop songwriter.

It falls short of greatness because it can’t keep up the consistent emotional, lyrical and musical density of ‘Songs From The Deep Forest’. Simpering second track ‘Sweet Sweet Kisses’ shares a melody with ‘She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain’ and is just as repetitive and flimsy. ‘Flesh And Blood Dance’ feels like a photocopy of ‘Portrait’ off the previous album. And if ever a song sounds like hard work just from its title, then it’s ‘These Proverbs We Made In The Winter Must End’. A track co-written with, of all people, Bernard Butler, that title is the catchiest bit. Exactly.

(Butler, of course, famously walked out on Suede’s ‘Dog Man Star’, another baroque pop masterpiece whose frosty darkness complements Wilson’s sunnier disposition.)

But there’s plenty to be positive about on this album. Wilson, like Paul McCartney, seems genetically designed to write (or co-write, as is more often the case on this album) tunes that’ll be whistled by postmen and bus drivers the world over. It’s surely no accident that, like all radio-friendly pop songwriters, he usually makes the title the lyrical hook of his songs.

And though we complained above that this album can’t match the power of its predecessor, there are still plenty of memorable moments. It’s hard to dislike the bruised optimism of opening track ‘Mockingbird Wish Me Luck’ and the subversive cynicism of the title song (whose punchline is given away by its own subtitle).

Best of all are two tearjerkers that rate among Wilson’s finest songs. It’s hard to convey the emotional wallop of Wilson singing simple lines like the title lyrics of ‘If I Don’t Feel It’, ‘Why Does Anybody Love?’ and ‘Nothing Comes Easy’. If you listen to them on the bus to work tomorrow morning, good luck convincing fellow passengers that you’ve just been chopping onions. Like poor old Elliott Smith, Wilson has the knack of marrying bleak sentiment with gorgeous melody. And his voice, that vivid Belfast accent, is still his ace: the implicit touch of sincerity and individuality that has us trusting the emotions he evokes.

If we’ve gone on too much about Wilson’s previous album, that’s because the man has set a dizzyingly high standard and we want him to maintain it on this new record. He doesn’t always succeed, but now we know that a good Duke Special album is better than most people’s best. Go on, son – write that next record all by yourself and make it blow our minds.

Aidan Curran


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09
Rodrigo y Gabriela 'Live in Japan'
A review of the album 'Live in Japan'  by Rodrigo y Gabriela Review Snapshot: The live CD may come across as canned, but watching the DVD really brings back some beautiful recollectio...

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09
Joan as Police Woman 'To Survive'
A review of the album 'To Survive' by Joan as Police Woman Review Snapshot: Joan Wasser has musical smarts to die for but they're not that evident on "To survive". Never was ...

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19

A review of 'Fight Like Apes & The Mystery of the Golden Medallion'

Review Snapshot:  Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion is, to borrow a phrase from the funniest man on television, Jon Stewart, an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, nestled in a sesame seed bun of mystery. I hated it, I liked it, I loved it, I hated it again and then, when I thought I was falling in love one more time, something struck me and everything changed. Fight Like Apes have made a solid debut record. Indeed it will probably be one of the best records of the year and for that they should be commended.  It’s just that I was expecting more than solid.  I was expecting greatness.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:Fight Like Apes & The Mystery of the Golden Medallion

I’ve had Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion in my hands and on my stereo for quite some time now. There was, obviously, a temptation to rush to judgment on this record. After all, it was being touted as the most important release of the year and one could only sit back and smile at the ensuing clamour to be the first to review it. Had I reviewed it on the day of its release, it would have garnered no more than a 3 or 4. A week later it could have scored 9 or 9.5. That’s how much my feelings towards this album fluctuated.

Now though, after almost a month of soul searching, I realise why this album confuses me. Following a number outstanding live performances I’d bought into the hype surrounding Fight Like Apes and for the first couple of weeks after its release I paid the price for such foolishness. No album could have carried the weight of expectation I had laid upon the shoulders of Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion. However, shorn of my unrealistic expectations (which would surely have soundtracked the second coming of Jesus and/or Elliott Smith) this is actually quite a good album.

There are those that will complain that songs like Jake Summers, Lend me your Face, Do you Karate? and Battlestations have all been reworked and don’t sound as lo-fi (and, therefore, as good) as their originals. However, when you listen to the album in its entirety these re-workings were necessary. The original versions of those songs just don’t hold the slick production values of newer tracks like Something Global and Digifucker.   As individual songs they lose some of their charm, but the reworking benefits the album as a whole.

John Goodmanson (Death Cab for Cutie, Pavement) was brought on board as producer and has obviously decided to bring the band in a more polished direction and Fight Like Apes have (‘indier than thou’ types please look away now) created a more commercially viable record because of that. The Fight Like Apes formula is one a lot of bands could take note of.  High octane live shows help to generate underground hype and establish indie credentials.  Releasing a well produced record  will then, almost certainly, generate mainstream radio play and increase sales.

Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion is not an album without faults mind. It’s very ‘top heavy’ for a start. The second half of the album (12 songs) contains only two songs, Do you Karate? and I'm Beginning to Think you Prefer Beverly Hills 90210 to Me, that are worthy of note. Lumpy Dough, Snore Bore Whore and Megameanie do nothing to counter claims that the boys and girl in Fight Like Apes may be more self-conscious than they claim. Fight Like Apes are at their weakest when they try to sound like Fight Like Apes. 

In the words of Eamon Dunphy, Fight Like Apes & the Mystery of the Golden Medallion is a good album, not a great album. However, and you only have to read the sheer volume of reviews/blogs associated with the band to see I’m not alone, I firmly believe this is a band with greatness in them. That being said, history hasn’t been kind to Irish ‘next big things’ (JJ72 for one) and only Fight Like Apes know if they can ever become the band the rest of us seem to think they are destined to be. Indeed, only Fight Like Apes know if they even want to become that band. 

Steven O'Rourke


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Nuggets from our archive

2006 - Review of Neosupervital's debut album, written by Doctor Binokular. The famously compelling review, complete with pie charts that compare the angst of Neosupervital with the angst of the reviewer. As you do.