Album reviews: Kaiser Chiefs | Mac DeMarco

Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs performs live on stage at Hyde Park last year.  Picture: Getty
Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs performs live on stage at Hyde Park last year. Picture: Getty
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Kaiser Chiefs were big fun for a few minutes back in 2005. A couple of zeitgeisty singles and exciting, chaotic performances were all it took for them to be anointed as the band of the moment.

KAISER CHIEFS: EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION & WAR

FICTION, £14.99

**

But sustaining that momentum is not an easy task and, likeable as they are, things have never been the same since the heady days of I Predict A Riot.

Frontman Ricky Wilson is currently enjoying a profile boost as a coach on The Voice, holding his own next to Kylie and Will.i.am. He has already admitted that he took the job for the exposure it would give this album, Kaiser Chiefs’ first musical utterance since the departure of drummer and chief songwriter Nick Hodgson. As if attempting to overcompensate for the loss of the guy who wrote all of their previous hits, the rambunctious charm of old goes out the window and the band go into attack mode on a succession of bullish indie bruisers. The album title riffs scornfully on Tony Blair’s 2005 speech on the importance of education and there’s a state of the nation thread running through the lyrics.

Wilson has also acknowledged the influence of the First World War centenary celebrations on this batch of songs, although I would wager that his role as the Artilleryman in the touring production and 2012 recording of Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds has probably had more bearing on his fighting vocal form here.

However, what the band end up communicating through the quasi-demonic laughter and sustained rock chords of Misery Company or the would-be anthemic Coming Home is not so much righteous anger as empty triumphalism. Education… is roundly lacking the earworm hooks attached to their best-loved songs and offers nothing to invite repeat visits.

Cannons best encapsulates the themes of the album and shows off a bit of genuine muscle, while closing ballad Roses makes a late bid for some much-needed poignancy but ends up smothered in stadium synths.

Sandwiched between these two tracks is a well-intentioned but somewhat hamfisted 21st century war poem, The Occupation, recited by Bill Nighy.

Far from providing a potential companion piece to PJ Harvey’s majestic war requiem Let England Shake, Education… Education, Education & War is the sound of indie foot soldiers charging blindly over the top, trying to hide the fear and trepidation in their eyes.

Jimi Goodwin: Odludek

Heavenly, £15.99

***

With Doves on hiatus, frontman Jimi Goodwin is pleasing himself with a debut solo album which draws on a variety of styles from folk to dance for its diverse kicks. The messy din of Man v Dingo is trying too hard to be eccentric but elsewhere the jazzy orchestration of Didsbury Girl shows off his arranging skills. However, Goodwin is generally on safer territory with one of his stealth melodies and, in the case of the chipper Panic Tree and booze ode Oh! Whiskey – both of which come across like a less sombre Elbow - the simpler and more direct he keeps the song, the better it translates.

Mac DeMarco: Salad Days

Captured Tracks, £15.99

****

Canadian troubadour Mac DeMarco gives the impression of being a man strolling absent-mindedly through life with the occasional bummer situation impinging on the daydream. “Acting like my life’s already over, oh dear…” he muses on the title track of his third album. This slacker soul saunter sounds at times like Orange Juice with the batteries running down. Even the synth power chords of single Passing Out Pieces communicate a certain lassitude. Imagine what he could do if he really applied himself. Actually, don’t. Like New Zealand weirdo Connan Mockasin, you can’t quite place DeMarco and that slightly warped dislocation is where the fascination lies.

FIONA SHEPHERD

CLASSICAL

Rachmaninov Songs

Delphian (3 CDs), £32.99

*****

The common element in this monumental 3-CD sweep through the 70-plus songs Rachmaninov wrote before leaving Russia is Scots pianist Iain Burnside. He is joined by seven Russian singers, all of whom issue distinctive interpretations – most prominently the poise and passion of Ekaterina Siurina, and the piecing versatility of Evelina Dobraceva – and who tune in perfectly to Burnside’s authoritative presence, whether in the derivative Tchaikovsky-like Op.4 Songs, or the more original and lustrous Op.38 Songs. This is the first complete set of Rachmaninov songs this century, and it will be hard to beat.

KEN WALTON

FOLK

THE FRIEL SISTERS: THE FRIEL SISTERS

OWN LABEL, WEB ONLY

****

These three siblings from the Glasgow-Donegal community offer honest-to-goodness and utterly rooted traditional playing and singing. Anna Friel plays flute and whistle, Sheila uilleann pipes and flute and Clare fiddle, and they’re accompanied by Gearoid Ó Maonaigh and Griogar Labhruidh on guitars and Seamus O’Kane on bodhran.

Recorded largely in the old family home in west Donegal, the album features classic and lesser known repertoire, some learned from family. It’s delivered in brisk Donegal style, with clipped fiddle tones sometimes diving an octave below and rolling flute and pipes. The songs, in English and Irish, are in unadorned unison style, with fiddle threading its way darkly through When My Love and I Parted.

Instrumentally, as well as such favourites as The Congress and Humours of Ballyloughlin, a sudden harmonica adds delightful fizz to a jig set while the marches, Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine and The Battle of Aughrim jog along with a swagger that belies the fact that the latter debacle was a defeat for the Jacobites.

JIM GILCHRIST

JAZZ

John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension: The Boston Record

ABSTRACT LOGIX, £14.99

****

The guitarist has been a towering figure in jazz-rock since emerging in the early 1970s with Miles Davis and then the Mahavishnu Orchestra. In recent years he has made some of the strongest music of his career with this band, and this disc captures them in full flow in a concert at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston last June. As ever, McLaughlin’s virtuoso guitar work is front and centre, soaring across the rich harmonic and rhythmic textures conjured up by Gary Husband on keyboards or drums, electric bassist Etienne M’Bappe, and drummer Ranjit Barot, who also contributes a vocal on Abbaji. McLaughlin practices his own vocal speciality, rapid-fire mnemonics derived from Indian music, on Echoes From Then, and they conclude a highly energised set by re-visiting an early Mahavishnu favourite, You Know You Know.

KENNY MATHIESON

WORLD

Zohreh Jooya: Journey to Persia

EUCD, £11.99

***

Archaeological finds show that Persian music shared roots with Arab music in pre-Biblical times, with love songs in common as well as many instruments. The salient quality of Persian music today lies in the way singers and instrumentalists share the melody, either in unison or by shadowing each other – echoing it phrase by phrase. To Western ears the effect sounds exotic, since the scales are microtonal, but no listener would have difficulty in appreciating the beauty of the songs and instrumental pieces here, as Zohreh sings accompanied by strings and drum.

MICHAEL CHURCH