Our critics take a look at some of this week’s new releases...
POP - reviews by Colin Somerville
Lana Del Rey - Born To Die, Polydor £12.99 ***
Some critics are outraged that Lana Del Rey has changed her name in the pursuit of fame, which is ridiculous in an industry primarily about smoke and mirrors. Del Rey is a singer of modest sultry abilities, a songwriter savvy enough to glide through the lyrical cliché that litters songs like Blue Jeans, and to make something with the nerdy associations of Video Games a palatable hit.
Her look is Joan As Policewoman meets Veronica Lake in high heels, and the sound is pouting diva trapped in a studio compressor. As for the songs, this was always going to be about the marketing more than that, but she sells them very well.
Calling a song Radio is inevitably a cynical appeal to egotistical programmers and DJs alike, and the result lacks the anthemic surge of Queen’s Radio Ga Ga or Elvis Costello’s bilious blast which reckoned it to be in the hands of mindless fools trying to anaesthetise the way that we feel. Del Rey may be more about soothing than stimulating, but the closing This Is What Makes Us Girls suggests there is hope that she might progress beyond this pretty calling card.
Download this: Video Games, Dark Paradise
Django Django - Django Django, Because Music, £10.99 ****
Formed at Edinburgh School Of Art, and now based in East London, this quartet boast the organic qualities of Steve Mason, the Beta Band or the Phantom Band. Songs like the rockabilly-tinged WOR, the quirky Love’s Dart and Life’s A Beach or the silly North African nonsense in Skies Over Cairo lend the album considerable breadth without ever taking themselves too seriously. All the rock and pop basics are gleefully deployed throughout, with DIY percussion and other delights, and the result is hard to resist, ancient harmonies sparkling like new on the glistening Silver Rays, while Waveforms stirs like early Moody Blues.
Download this: WOR, Silver Rays
Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas, Columbia, £12.99 ****
The more he slows it down and strips it back, the fuller and faster Cohen seems to become. He does not need a younger producer’s reinvention, already having a sense of self and worldly wisdom that is both calm and caustic.
Amen is a long overdue companion to Hallelujah, cautionary yet strangely comforting; Lullaby, a sinister nursery tale, extending his experimentation with the Greek Chorus. Old Ideas has been eight years in the making, and is worth every second’s wait.
Download this: Darkness, Amen
JAZZ - review by Alison Kerr
Nigel Clark - Under The Stars, Circular Records CR1038, £12.99 *****
While some solo guitar players seem to sap the life out of their material by picking it apart, stretching it out and extemporising ad infinitum, Glasgow-based guitar star Clark brings colour, energy and lyricism to whatever he plays – as effectively as if a whole band was performing. On the 16 eclectic tracks included on this, his first solo album, his classy taste and love of (and respect for) a beautiful melody shine through.
Download this: All the Things You Are, Samba Pa Ti
FOLK - review by Norman Chalmers
Annie Grace - The Bell, Gracie Records GRACIECD010, £13.99 ****
This solo album from the Lochaber singer, piper and actress took her from her Glasgow base to the rural Aberdeenshire studio and home of Jonny Hardie, along with his Old Blind Dogs bandmate Aaron Jones and multi-instrumentalist Aly Macrae. Apart from one appealingly contemporary pipes-led instrumental set, it’s a song-filled delight with gently understated and lovingly careful production. The powerful ballad High The Laverock Sings, where the false lover meets his end at the hands of his spurned partner, is a beauty, and was written by Macrae himself. All in all, a lovely creation from Annie and her harmonious boys.
Download this: Sandman
CLASSICAL - review by Alexander Bryce
Somervell and Cowen - The Romantic Piano Concerto, Hyperion CDA67837, £12.99 ****
As a civil servant, Sir Arthur Somervell was responsible for establishing music as a school subject (and knighted for his work as principal inspector); his compositions varied from songs to choral works and one-act operas for children. Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen once ranked in Britain’s top five composers, alongside Sullivan, Sanford, Parry and Mackenzie, and was responsible for gaining British music a European reputation before Elgar’s arrival. Like Somervell, his music has been almost wholly forgotten.
The neglect is understandable, given changing public moods in the wake of the horrors of the Great War, but Martin Roscoe, Martyn Brabbins and the BBC SSO show why both men’s works deserve a hearing. This is lush, sweeping music, full of tuneful melodies. If not world class, it is nevertheless given the grandstanding, hugely enjoyable performance it deserves.
Download this: Adagio