ON THEIR 13th album, Depeche Mode have synthesized their already finely honed blend of bombastic electro-gothic industrial blues to the point where it is largely purged of feeling and melody.
Depeche Mode: Delta Machine
Dave Gahan stalks Martin Gore’s restrained, minimal, tastefully brooding electronic soundscape, analogous in places to Radiohead’s less engaging glitchy backdrops, like a dazed soul, scavenging old ideas to dredge up with an almost robotic melodrama. When he does rough up his delivery on the mundane Angel, he sounds like Nick Cave singing early Human League – not a happy marriage, it transpires. Broken contains glimpses of the old trademark twinkle, while Soft Touch/Raw Nerve has some steel, but these are mere scraps, hardly worth salvaging from the streamlined whole.
New Kids On The Block: 10
The Block/Boston Five
IF PJ & DUNCAN are once again ready to r(h)umble, then surely there is a place in the superannuated teenybop market for Middle Aged Men on the Block. The Boston-based five-piece are taking their comeback very seriously on this slick, generic album which all but airbrushes their pop R&B roots out of the picture in favour of insipid MOR, cut from the same mould as post-reunion Take That.
Overwrought electro pop number Wasted provides an opportunity for angsty air-clutching hand gestures. Elsewhere, on Crash, they demonstrate that age is no barrier to churning out the formulaic dance pap so popular with the young people of today. But only current single Remix (I Like The) actually brings the party.
Mudhoney: Vanishing Point
* * * *
WITH less than a month to go before the release of the new Iggy & the Stooges album, one might question the timing of this latest Mudhoney release. However, the Seattle-based wrecking crew and their label Sub Pop (once home to a little band called Nirvana) both celebrate their 25th anniversary this year, and is there ever really a bad time to hear from Mudhoney anyway?
Vanishing Point is another mean but never nasty, irreverent yet blessed (and Biblical on the playful Only Son Of The Widow From Nain) dispatch of garage rocking abandon, which doesn’t spare the distortion pedals, and even finds a space to slip in a cheeky Hendrix reference on its romp home.
JS BACH: Cantatas Vol 28 (Ascension Day)
* * * *
Today’s launch of the missing Bach Cantatas from John Eliot Gardiner’s mammoth and momentous Bach Cantata Pilgrimage of 2000 with his Monteverdi Choir is timed deliberately to coincide with the Easter Monday Bach Marathon at the Royal Albert Hall, broadcast live all day on Radio 3.
The missing Ascension Cantatas failed to make it to recording last time around because of noise issues, but this time the conditions were perfect, enabling Gardiner, the slick English Baroque Soloists, and the stylishness of his evergreen choir to capture Bach’s unlimited inventiveness with subtle and tasteful conviction. Of the soloists, both male voices – Andrew Tortise and Dietrich Henschel – are exceptional.
Beausoleil Avec Michael Doucet: From Bamako to Carencro
* * * *
ESTEEMED Cajun fiddler and bandleader Michael Doucet lets les bon temps rouler yet again with Beausoleil’s familiar, churning fiddle and accordion sound and his impassioned Acadian holler, in their first recording on the Nashville-based Compass label.
The title refers to ancestral migratory links between Mali (with tribute paid by jazz composer Roswell Rudd’s Bamako) and Louisiana, with the Lafayette suburb of Carencro inspiring a powerful song from Doucet about two murderous lovers. The Cajun ability to turn the most melancholy tale into a toe-tapper is also evident as Chanson de cinquante sous rolls on its way.
Stirring the ingredients of that steamy Cajun melting pot, they range from the perky Creole two-step of La douceur and the old gospel hymn You Got to Move, given the solemn strut of a New Orleans funeral, to less expected covers including a jump-jazz rendering of John Coltrane’s Bessie’s Blues which sees accordionist Cory Ledet really cut loose.
Martin Speake: Always a First Time
* * * *
Saxophonist Martin Speake shares billing on this two-disc set with his trio partners, guitarist Mike Outram and drummer Jeff Williams, and it is clear from their deft, complex and heartfelt interplay that this is indeed a collaboration. Speake remains a valued but rather underrated presence in the UK jazz scene – he doesn’t make the kind of music that is going to sell in barrowloads or catch the attention of the style media. His hallmarks are intricate, honest musicianship and a strong personal vision of where he wants go, and he has ideal companions for the journey here. Listening to both CDs in one session is probably overkill, but each selection – mainly Speake’s compositions, with a handful of standards – is dedicated to one of his heroes (musical and otherwise), and allows the musicians to explore freely through their unusual instrumentation.
Original Album Series: Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Elis Regina
* * *
THESE three multi-volume compilations bring a hot blast of popular music, much of it suited to big stadiums and the beach, all redolent of a culture refreshingly free from the pretentions and neuroses of its European counterpart. It all comes under the umbrella title of musica popular brasileira – invariably shortened to MPB – whose roots lie in the 1930s when the new national radio network first permitted the creation of a national audience. But what gave MPB its real impetus was the military coup of 1964 which initiated 20 years of military rule: since one of the military regime’s first acts was to impose direct censorship of song lyrics and radio playlists, followed by persecution of individual musicians, MPB became the rallying-point for dissent.
Gilberto Gil was the leader of the movement which became known as tropicalismo, in which regional genres were blended with the addition of rock influences, with lyrics whose obliqueness allowed them to push a subversive line. First booed off the stage for unpatriotically using electric instruments, Gil was soon accepted as a hero, and the five albums included here reflect the way his art developed over three decades, with Refazenda (country music), Refavela (with rhythms from Jamaica and Nigeria as well as from Rio and Bahia), and Realce (Los Angelino pop-inspired).
Meanwhile singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento is represented by a set of albums that reflect his more contemplative and spiritual art, fed as it was by collaborations with a roster of musicians including Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, and Peter Gabriel. The late Elis Regina was the queen of MPB: her feline and irresistibly mischievous style comes through on every track.