The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Album Reviews

02

Review Snapshot:
An ambitious 'organic dance' album that lets itself down with bad production, outdated dancefloor sounds and a basic misunderstanding of what an eclectic record should sound like. 

The CLUAS Verdict: 4 out of 10

Full Review:
Straight outta Cornwall, Rairbirds have been active in the UK for most of the last decade with their brand of organic dance - no samples, just live instrumentation. Unfortunately, this long-time-coming first album has all the hallmarks of being sat on and fiddled with for too long.

Fair play to them, it must be said, for their ambition in gathering a variety of sounds and influences: dancefloor-fillers, jazz-style workouts and late sixties rock (including a cover of Dylan's 'It's Alright Ma I'm Only Bleeding') are all thrown in there.

However, there's a basic conceptual flaw with this record: as can be clearly heard on 'Unknown', these different sounds are just stuck together like Lego bricks of different shapes and colours. What this means for the listener is that the tracks cut sharply from chilled to bangin' and back again, wrecking every buzz it creates. Being eclectic like a radio show (lots of styles presented separately one after the other) is no model for making an eclectic record (lots of styles mashed together to create one new style). 

And the dance parts - Hacienda-style anthems with naff titles like 'Lo 2 Hi' and 'B Sum 1' - sound dated compared to more accomplished contemporaries like Justice and Digitalism, both of whom make real-deal eclectic dance music that's fresh in both composition and production.

Speaking of which, the production on this record is terrible: can that really be an actual orchestra (the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, seeing as you asked) sounding as flat and tinny as a keyboard setting?

There are lots of good intentions and plenty of energy on this record, but little in the way of anything exciting, memorable or well-made. Maybe Volume 2 will be the one.

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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01
Josh Ritter 'The Historical Conquests Of'
Review Snapshot: He may be a shining light in an overcrowded Irish singer-songwriter scene, but this album finds Josh Ritter failing to take the leap forward that his fans might have hoped for. Though...

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01
Levy 'Glorious'
Review Snapshot: This melodically ambitious record from former anti-folker shows plenty of scope in relation to the presentation of the songs, yet is let down by repetition of production techniques. D...

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21

Future Kings of Spain Nervous SystemReview Snapshot: A fantastic follow up to their eponymous debut album, Nervousystem puts to rest the myth of the ‘difficult second album’ and reminds us just why the Future Kings of Spain were tipped for greatness four years ago.

CLUAS Verdict?  9 out of 10

Full Review:
For almost two years, the Future Kings of Spain have sat on Nervousystem, difficulties with their record label almost turning the LP into their very own Smile. However, earlier this year, common sense prevailed and the band was free to release the album on their own What’s the Kim? label. Due for release at the end of September, Nervousystem has most certainly been worth the wait.

From the moment Guess Again (with riffs that Billy Corgan can only reminisce about these days) opens the album, right through to the last vestiges of Disappear, you know you are listening to something special. Nervousystem is the Emancipation Proclamation of alternative indie rock. It’s a statement to those who listen to this particular genre of music, imploring them to forget everything they thought they knew, free their minds and absorb the possibilities that come from being willing to make music that is truly different.

‘Why can’t you do what I ask of you?’ asks Joey Wilson in his trademark disinterested drawl on Syndicate a song that’s eight minutes of infectious rock rave which, whether you’re in your sitting room or on the DART, makes you want to dance. Not even had Prince, Robert Smith and Peter Hook grown up in North Kildare/West Dublin, could they dream about writing a song as well constructed and as instantly mesmerising as this.

It’s the perfect centrepiece to an album that deviates away from the youthful, full-blooded, angst of Face I Know and drifts seamlessly towards a more melodic, mature sound. Wilson along with guitarist Karl Hussey, bassist Anton Hegarty and drummer Bryan McMahon appear to have unabashedly embraced the philosophies of the albums producer Ian Grimble and adopted a skinny jeans and leather jacket clad indie rock sound that isn’t afraid to take its younger sister to a Kylie concert.

The results of taking this risk are, for the majority of the album, positive. Stand out tracks Guess Again, Chemical Burn and, my personal favourite, Kick in the Teeth absorb you in the way The Pixies might, yet you can hear them sitting quite comfortably between A.N Other pop tart and The Next Big Things on any commercial radio station, without selling the very essence of their soul the way Snow Patrol did. The only time it fails to sparkle is on the frustrating You Dream in Solid Gold which builds and builds but never quite climaxes.

Overall, it’s difficult to criticise an album as arresting as Nervousystem. You want to put it on repeat but are afraid that by overplaying it that it will lose its appeal. So far it hasn’t. I said at the start that, given the headaches involved in ensuring its release, this could have been the Future Kings of Spain’s Smile. Instead, it may well be their Pet Sounds.

Steven O'Rourke


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21

Smashing Pumpkins ZeitgeistReview Snapshot: While Zeitgeist sounds intrinsically like a Smashing Pumpkins album, it sounds like a Smashing Pumpkins album from the 1990’s.  A diplomatic description of the bands first release in seven years is ‘pointless.’  A more damning critique would be to view Zeitgeist as nothing more than Billy Corgan shoring up his pension fund.

The CLUAS Verdict? 3 out of 10

Full Review: When Billy Corgan decided to take out a newspaper advertisement to announce the 'reformation' of the Smashing Pumpkins, I must admit, I was surprised. Corgan had, after all, been pimping Smashing Pumpkins music as both Zwan and under his own name since the group split. To paraphrase the Bard 'That which we call a Smashing Pumpkin, by any other name would sound the same.'

With this announcment though, images of a heavyweight fighter, clearly out of shape, punch drunk for the last seven years and stepping in to the ring for one last pay cheque, circled my mind. This was surely little more than a get rich quick scheme designed to trade on the Smashing Pumpkins brand.

After my first listen I actually laughed. Corgan was clearly undertaking the biggest practical joke in the history of alternative music by allowing a Smashing Pumpkins tribute band (the Mashing Thumpkins no doubt) to record an album and release it under their heroes moniker.  Checking the album sleeve confirmed that this was not the case however, meaning that Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin had merely adopted the roles of Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles by building a cardboard cut-out of Rock Ridge (or in this case the Smashing Pumpkins) to protect the original.

That they managed to recreate the original Pumpkins sound without half the original line-up is an impressive achievement.  However, the problem with the 2007 version of the Smashing Pumpkins is that songs like Doomsday Clock and Tarantula, without the melodic buffeting and, indeed, genius of a Tonight or 1979, sound too aggressive to make for comfortable continuous listening.   

Despite all of this, Zeitgeist may well keep existing Smashing Pumpkins fans happy. It may be a watered down (in terms of variety) version of a Smashing Pumpkins album but it is still a new release that many may have feared would never come. That being said, there is very little here to keep a casual listener coming back or, less forgivable, attract new listeners.

Overall, Zeitgeist fails to justify the hype that surrounded its impending release. Depending on your previous opinion of the band, this represents either a disappointing pastiche of the Smashing Pumpkins sound or a cynical attempt by Billy Corgan to cash in on the mystique that comes with seven years absence. Unfortunately,  these opinions are not mutually exclusive.

Steven O'Rourke

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


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21

Review snapshot: Garbage start out not being garbage... and then slowly but surely they become absolute garbage. Unfortunate.

The CLUAS Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review: Garbage fairly well leapt out of the blocks in the mid 90s. They seemed perfectly formed. Powered by Butch Vig (famed producer of Nirvana's Nevermind and other luminaries like Sonic Youth) and fronted by Shirley Manson, a Scottish dervish whose look was more suited to the shoegazer bands of the late 80s, Garbage received massive support from MTV. Now 4 albums and 12 years later, the band have decided to consolidate with a Best Of collection. Or is it an epitaph to what has become a faltering career?

Absolute Garbage shoots its bolt early on. Vow, Queer, I'm Only Happy When It Rains were all sleek, poppy hits garnered from their eponymous, and best, debut album. Shining brightest of all is Stupid Girl, a fab tune with a Claytonesque bassline and a sexy lyric. Manson's snarling delivery was reminiscent of Chrissie Hynde.

But it's all downhill from there. Garbage have, essentially, remade their debut with ever decreasing rewards. I Think I'm Paranoid was a minor hit. Their Bond theme, The World Is Not Enough, was pretty much unmemorable (as was the movie) - I challenge you to hum the tune. Probably the best of their latter period songs, Androgyny, has been bizarrely omitted from this collection. By the end of the album's generous 18 tunes, one has to desperately resist hitting the forward button.

My advice? Pick up their debut album from a bargain bin. It's an interesting document of 90s alternative pop.

Stephen McNulty

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


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21

Rilo Kiley Under the BacklightReview Snapshot: With significant praise from the likes of Elvis Costello and Coldplay, Rilo Kiley change musical direction with this offering, and head down the Pop route. Probably the most refreshing pop-album of the year.

The CLUAS Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review: From the opening track, the recent single ‘Silver Lining’, you’ll fall in love with the vocals of Jenny Lewis. It’s impossible not to make comparisons with Christine McVie, and indeed throughout this album there’s an evident Fleetwood Mac influence. The brilliant ‘Breakin Up’ (surely a future single) sounds like it was lifted from Tango In The Night, while on ‘Dreamworld’ Blake Sennett’s lead vocals are remarkably similar to Lindsey Buckingham’s.

Casting the ‘Mac’ influence aside, it’s the versatility of Jenny’s vocals that steal the show here. On ‘Smoke Detector’ and ‘15’, Lewis goes all Country. Think Reba McIntyre meets Dolly Parton. While the music is bright, the lyrics are dark. ‘15’ tells the controversial story of an online dating relationship: “He was deep like a graveyard / she was ripe like a peach / how could he have known she was only 15”.

Sexual themes run through at least 4 of the tracks here (‘Smoke Detector’ sees Jenny sing “I was smoking him in bed...”). The title track is not the only one with an 80s influence on, ‘Give A Little Love’ also shows that the band have been listening to their Kraftwerk and O.M.D. records. ‘Dejalo’ is the weak track on here and ‘The Moneymaker’ is the heaviest, with the latter providing a catchy riff and hook that makes it memorable.

We may have heard all this before, but under the blacklight, there’s a bright one shining through and Rilo Kiley’s name is written all over it.

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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18

Hard Fi Once Upon A Time In The WestReview Snapshot: One of the most anticipated albums of 2007, Hard–Fi return with a rocking record, littered with strong tracks and ballads, yet not caring what anyone thinks. Doing what they want, and doing it with aplomb.

The CLUAS Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review: The thumping distinctive sound of ‘Suburban Knights’ lets you know it’s the return of Hard-Fi. The radio-friendly single is the opener on their second album ‘Once Upon A Time In The West, and it gets better as the album progresses.

‘I Shall Overcome’ is brilliant, with elements of The Clash and Rolling Stones blended together to make another rocking tune. ‘Tonight’ is unfamiliar sounding Hard -Fi. It’s one of the strongest ballads on the album and should give fans that see them live, a required momentary rest.

The piano-intro to ‘Television’ is the calm before the storm, it picking up momentum as it progresses. It’s typical Hard-Fi with its catchy chorus “television, not religion / everybody sing hallelujah”.

‘Help Me Please’ is a poignant ballad Archer wrote about the death of his mother while ‘Can’t Get Along (Without You)’ reminds me of The Ramones ‘Baby I Love You’, very 60s Phil Spector.

From the 60s to the 70s they proceed with ‘We Need Love’. Inspired by Billy Bragg’s ‘Progressive Patriot’, this could so easily have been a single by The Specials.

The closing track ‘The King’ sounds remarkably like The Verve’s ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (probably because they used the same producer Will Malone). It’s Malone’s orchestral arrangement on this number that ensures it will become a future classic the band will be remembered for.

Overall an excellent follow-up to CCTV! Difficult second album me b****x!

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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11

The Enemy - we will live and die in these townsReview Snapshot:
The Enemy is an anagram of The Jam.

The Cluas verdict? 3 out of 10

Full Review:
Did you know that The Enemy is an anagram of Paul Weller and The Jam? Nope, neither did I. When I first put on this album I must admit I thought I was going to love it especially when the first lyric I heard was, “Call the police, cos things are getting ugly”. At last a proper rock ‘n roll record, full of bile, anger and big guitars. But then, as I listened and listened again to this debut in my car, something strange started to happen. I began to hum along, but not to the actual songs on the record. Nope, I began to hum along to Jam classics such as ‘That’s Entertainment’, ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Town Called Malice’.

Something funny has happened in modern pop music, where once bands did everything in their power to create a unique sound quite unlike anyone else, now they strive to create a sound so similar to a famous classic group from days gone by as to be virtually indistinguishable. So prevalent has this movement become that it now has its own moniker; neo/retro. Amy Winehouse, Mika, Scissor Sisters, The Darkness, Jet, and Arctic Monkeys are just a few of the bands that sound similar to or exactly like big acts from previous eras. What’s more, they have been well rewarded for their efforts. Platinum discs, sell out tours and music industry gongs have flooded in for this type of ‘imitation is the best form of flattery’ music. It has been a slow process, preceded by the sound alike tribute band craze which spawned groups like Abbaesque who famously sold out the Point Depot, the sampling movement, which even U2 could not extinguish when they sued Negativland and the endless reunion/farewell tours of The Eagles. New music no longer means music that sounds new; it just means music that has the most recent release date. It sounds more like Dad spirit, if you will.

The Enemy are just the latest in a string of groups who are providing music to fans of previous generations of music industry legends that are now unable or unwilling to either tour or play the songs that made them famous. Bizarrely, it is bands such as Modest Mouse that, having signed up their hero Johnny Marr (nee Maher), are making music that is forward sounding and original whilst Arctic Monkeys, who sound so like 80s one hit wonder Jilted John that its no funny, find they have spawned their own, can’t even wait until the original have split, tribute band in Antarctic Monkeys.

As for The Enemy, well The Jam (minus Paul Weller) is presently on a reunion tour, your hard earned cash might be better spent on a ticket to see two thirds of the original of the species live instead.

Jules Jackson

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


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10
Happy Mondays 'Uncle Dysfunktional'
Review Snapshot: An interesting listen, though far from a masterpiece. Loose, funky and eclectic, the flaws are many but outnumbered by the positives. May not be destined for commercial success, but...

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Nuggets from our archive

2008 - A comprehensive guide to recording an album, written by Andy Knightly (the guide is spread over 4 parts).