IN a mutually beneficial meeting of megabrands, U2’s much delayed new album Songs Of Innocence was abruptly unveiled at Apple’s iPhone 6 launch earlier this week and given away free to iTunes account holders – whether they want it or not – a clear month before its official release in October, while its companion album, Songs Of Experience, is apparently also on its way to round off the William Blake reference nicely.
U2: SONGS OF INNOCENCE
Star rating: * *
Like the poetry collection after which it is named, Songs Of Innocence reflects on childhood, particularly the events and encounters which can shape an individual into adulthood. In that respect alone, it breaks new ground for U2, being properly personal in places. Iris (Hold Me Close) is about Bono’s late mother, while Raised By Wolves, with its recollections of a spate of car bombings, and Cedarwood Road, named after a street where Bono lived, are snapshots of his formative years in Dublin.
A couple of adolescent vignettes celebrate the liberating influence of music. On The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), Bono records the impact of hearing The Ramones for the first time, while This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now is dedicated to Joe Strummer and inspired by The Clash, and California (There Is No End To Love) is brazen in its Beach Boys referencing.
Ironic then, that at this point in their career U2 have started imitating their imitators, from Coldplay and The Killers down through various dilutions of their rousing, uplifting sound to arrive at a mediocre mix of the ubiquitous “ohs-ohs” and manicured “rock” guitars.
Each band member sounds diminished as a result, The Edge fated to roll out the same glistening but now rather emasculated riff over and over again, Bono lacking his incision of old and Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton belying their power as a rhythm section. Even the feistier, funkier likes of Volcano sound highly processed. Arguably, this is what an excess of producers does for you. Songs Of Innocence credits five, including old mucker Flood and longtime engineer Declan Gaffney, plus OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and Adele’s producer Paul Epworth.
At least Danger Mouse brings some class to bear on Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, its electronic pulse and gorgeous, resonant, distorted guitar sounding something like new territory, while the swooning strings and Lykke Li’s guest vocals on The Troubles make for an elegant coda to a pedestrian effort. Let’s hope experience wins out over innocence. FIONA SHEPHERD
Erasure: The Violet Flame
Star ratign: * *
Following their patchy Christmas album Snow Globe and frontman Andy Bell’s Fringe adventures in theatrical song cycle Torsten the Bareback Saint, Erasure return to regular business with this no-surprises electro pop collection aimed squarely at the dancefloor. The Violet Flame has been polished up by producer Richard X to coast like Kylie rather than work up a lather. The likes of hands-in-the-air Eurobanger Sacred, sleek electro torch song Stayed A Little Late Tonight and semi-yearning ballad Under The Wave are all executed with a bland efficiency which fails to tease out the potential for light and shade. FS
Star rating: * * * *
A second psychedelic summons from the masked Swedish collective who hail from Gothenburg but are drawn more to the far-out freakery of George Clinton, the Afro funk grooves of Fela Kuti and the ritualistic jams of the Grateful Dead. Like its predecessor, Commune is a heady concoction of intoxicating psychedelic guitar, Afrobeat rhythms, the clamorous incantations of their female singers, and songs with “goat” in the title. Goatchild is a late Sixties West Coast shamanic timewarp which sounds like one of The Doors’ crazier trips, while Goatslaves is powered by a funky urgency which propels you to worship at their altar. FS
Robert Schumann: The Symphonies
Linn: CKD 450
Star rating: * * * *
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has played Schumann’s symphonies under several conductors. In this new recording of all four, under chief conductor Robin Ticciati, the emphasis is on freshness and clarity. The latter aspect hits you square in the face from the very opening of the First Symphony, a performance that lives on a knife edge, just like Schumann, rich in primary colours, fiery contrast and insatiable energy. Ticciati injects moments of considered reflection into the Second, a golden expansiveness into the Third, and injects the troublesome Fourth with delicious moments of personable charm. Aside from the occasional hard tone in the strings, this is a compelling set. KW
John Surman/ Bergen Big Band: Another Sky
Star rating: * * * *
The English baritone and soprano saxophonist John Surman lives in Norway, and has musical connections with that country which go back even further. He explains in the booklet for this fine release that he wanted to create a genuine collaboration rather than simply a band-with-soloist feel for this project, and that is very much what emerges. Six of the seven compositions are his own, including reworked versions of early material as well as new pieces, and he has involved another long-standing collaborator, John Warren, in some of the arrangements, including his lovely treatment of the only cover, Thelonious Monk’s elegant ballad Ruby My Dear. The soundscapes in Surman’s own tunes are entirely characteristic of the musical imagination that has shaped his work across five decades, whether in spacious folk-tinged or energised uptempo mood, and the playing is gorgeous all round. KM
Linsey Aitken & Glen Campbell: Kith & Kin
Star rating: * * *
Singer-songwriter and Northumbrian piper Ken Campbell is well known for his work with the Ideal Band and fellow-piper Chris Miller among others, while cellist-pianist Linsey Aitken comes from a classical background. This collection of their own songs and tunes intermingled with traditional material is warm-hearted and suffused with a sense of people and place.
There’s a string-driven urgency to songs like Island of Hope, which captures the rough passage of many an emigrant. Similarly robust is the opening Northern Winds, Campbell’s seasoned vocals accompanied by brisk cello. In contrast is the wistful Silent and Shy and the atmospheric instrumental Achnachrome with its pipe drones, lingering cello and guitar slides from Andy Shanks.
Ring of Aber is a tribute to their home village of Gartocharn on Loch Lomondside, concluding with a gentle waltz from guest melodeon player Frank Lee. Also straight from the heart is their evocation of native land, Where the Scots Pine Grow. Jim Gilchrist
Real World 25 (3CD Special Edition)
Star rating: * * * *
This remarkable three-CD box celebrates the first 25 years of the Real World label. When Peter Gabriel set it up after establishing WOMAD, it was with no limiting agenda – simply a desire to explore the possibilities in a relationship between western producers and non-western artists. Here we have some of the fruits which have resulted, some being forgotten gems, others being tracks chosen by listeners. From the Armenian Djivan Gasparian to the Sardinian Tenores Di Bitti, from the Creole Choir of Cuba to the Blind Boys of Alabama, it’s a real treasure trove. Michael Church