The Scotsman’s music critics review the best of this week’s releases, including new albums by Coldplay and Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes
Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams | Rating: *** | Parlophone
Touted by the band as the second part of an unofficial diptych that began with last year’s Ghost Stories, Coldplay’s seventh album replaces the melancholy of that record (which was understandable, as Chris Martin wrote it in the aftermath of his “conscious uncoupling” from Gwyneth Paltrow) with an upbeat, life-must-go-on sensibility.
It should be no surprise to regular Coldplay listeners, then, to find this is much more like their usual output; epic, anthemic and with a saccharine flavour which occasionally offers a little bittersweetness. There’s an impressive supporting cast of truly A-list names, too, with even hugely popular EDM producer Avicii (who produced Ghost Stories’ standout A Sky Full of Stars) and British rock royalty Noel Gallagher overshadowed by a top table featuring Beyoncé Knowles and Barack Obama, the latter singing Amazing Grace in a found recording amidst the two-minute atmospheric interlude Kaleidoscope.
Head Full of Dreams is a pure pop record not just in point of fact, due to the group’s huge commercial popularity, but in terms of the clear commitment they seem to have made to combine the best of what they do with a convincing approximation of the sound of the pop charts as they are just now, all icy beats and dramatic electronic artifice. With its airy guitar and shuffling analogue rhythm, comeback track Amazing Day doesn’t really demonstrate this; more typical is the record’s other full-length precursor, Adventure of a Lifetime, a strutting, synthesised manband funk of the kind present-day Take That would kill for.
The album begins with the title track, a positive, aspirational introduction featuring U2-style pealing guitars and choral “oh-oh-oh”s towards its finale. “You can see the change you wanted / be what you want to be,” hollers Martin in motivational fashion, and the mood persists into the similar second track Birds. Hymn for the Weekend is where the group’s current style really takes over, though, with Avicii providing laid-back, almost hip-hop beats as Martin and Beyoncé – the latter soulful and clearly restraining her vocal power so as not to show up her host – deliver the unlikely choral line “I’m feeling drunk and high / so high / I will shoot across the sky.” Jay-Z fans will approve.
The no-hard-feelings ballad Everglow apparently features Paltrow’s voice somewhere deep in the mix, while the glossy synthpop of Fun is a more typical duet, this time with Swedish singer Tove Lo. In Army of One there are more of those icy hip-hop beats, ultra-contemporary but so unexpected on a Coldplay song, and the closing Up and Up is healing pop-gospel on which Gallagher’s affirmational guitar makes a late appearance. This willingness to marry traditionally white, male, British indie-rock with pop which is often the preserve of a black female American like Knowles is expansive and admirable, but they can’t quite escape the sense of play-it-safe sonic comfort which being Coldplay entails. David Pollock
POP: Boots for Dancing: The Undisco Kids | Rating: **** | Athens of the North
The early 1980s was a fertile time for Edinburgh’s music scene, and Boots For Dancing were a group formed from the sense of cross-pollination that characterised the age. In three years they cycled through a dozen members, including players from the Rezillos, Josef K, the Skids and the Human League (the latter was Jo Callis), and their combustible nature meant they split up with this debut album still unreleased. Its belated unearthing is cause for celebration, revealing a group fluent in urgent, careening guitar lines, dancefloor-ready rhythmic intensity and lyrics filled with wry humour. Discover them at your earliest convenience. DP
POP: Sarah Hayes: Woven | Rating: **** | Night Vad
Sarah Hayes is best-known as a member of Glasgow group Admiral Fallow, and her debut album inverts that band’s indie-rock-with-a-touch-of-folk dynamic. A work of pure folk – after all, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland-educated musician from Northumberland is a former BBC Young Folk award finalist – the record takes advantage of a certain facility for pop songwriting amidst its instrumentals and reinterpretations of traditional songs. Hayes’ voice is warm, the dance songs she has composed fresh and urgent, and her songwriting blessed with a sense of natural intimacy. Composed as a Celtic Connections commission, this record reveals much about a boldly emerging new talent. DP
CLASSICAL: Granados & Turina: Piano Quartets | Rating: **** | Harmonia Mundi
It’s strange that the piano quintets by fellow Spanish composers Enrique Granados and Joaquin Turina have only now been brought together on a single disc. Written 12 years apart, they are typical of their time and place – late 19th and early 20th century in Spain – in that the liquid influences of French chamber music are set alight by a charismatic Andalusian fire. These performances by pianist Javier Perianes and the Cuarteto Quiroga opt more for poetry than passion. Ken Walton
FOLK: Amy Duncan: Undercurrents | Rating: **** | Filly Records
A crystalline sound world, with confidently poised delivery and bittersweet delicacy, emerges from this fifth album from singer-songwriter Amy Duncan. She delivers her thoughtful, delicately yet purposefully voiced songs over her own arrangements, which involve some nicely textured accompaniments, her multi-tracking on guitars, double bass, piano and keyboard augmented by harpist Fiona Rutherford, bassist Lawrie Macmillan, drummer Liam Bradley and a string trio.
Listen to the curl of her voice and her multi-tracked harmonies over a steamy growl of electric guitar in No Harvest, or Lights in Houses, in which her voice soars over pulses and drifts of piano and strings, cello singing yearningly. Her lyrics have a deftness of their own, declaring over breathy, multi-tracked vocalising in The Truth Never Changes, “I balance on the endless unbending line of truth that stretches like a tightrope through life,” while she cranks up the tension in the title track with edgy acoustic guitar drones and chimes and north African-sounding drums. Jim Gilchrist
JAZZ: Oran Etkin: What’s new? Reimagining Benny Goodman? | Rating: **** | Motema Music
Israeli-born New York clarinettist Oran Etkin gives the music of that other US-Jewish clarinettist and band leader an intriguing but hugely engaging makeover which pays tribute to Goodman’s innovative quartets of the 1930s, this time around in the fine company of pianist Sullivan Fortner, drummer Matt Wilson and Steve Nelson on vibes.
Statedly “reimagining, not just recreating”, Etkin does so with immense brio, supported by sparkling work from Fortner and Nelson. Lady Be Good is well and truly klezmerised into Be Good Lady, and two numbers feature singer Charenee Wade, the slinkily paced Why Don’t You Do Right? becoming a theatrical dialogue between singer and clarinet, with piano adding terse interjections of its own.
Goodman’s classic Sing, Sing, Sing, already referenced in the album’s prelude, emerges from a cascading delicacy as Wilson works up the stomp of the original, clarinet squalling wildly over churning piano and vibes – if not the big beast we’re used to, a startling creation in its own right. JG