Album reviews: Leonard Cohen | U2 | Martin Duffy

Leonard Cohen. Picture: Getty
Leonard Cohen. Picture: Getty
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TO many listeners in possession of an iTunes account, the unsolicited depositing of a new album’s worth of U2 material on their playlist was never going to seem like anything less than an affront.

U2

Songs Of Innocence

Island

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Yet it’s true to say, despite the indignant and in some cases amusing reaction to the free flash release of U2’s 13th record to half a billion Apple customers to tie in with the company’s latest product launch, it’s given artists and supplier a huge amount of what advertisers call “visibility” over the past few days.

It seems fair to speculate, though, that the unprecedented global nature of the William Blake-referencing Songs Of Innocence’s release may have led to its artistic deficiencies. This is a record which has been presented – prior to a “proper” physical release in October – before the ears of young and old members of cultures and religions around the world, and it lacks even the slightest politically responsive bite, instead dealing in the overarching platitudes which Bono and company have become ever more used to in recent years. All this despite the professed biographical element – witness The Troubles, which sidesteps the benchmark set by Sunday Bloody Sunday in favour of a sleep-inducing croon about “the trouble inside your soul” from guest vocalist Lykke Li.

With lyrical intrigue planed down to the nub, what we’re left with is the music, and it’s a record which producer Brian Burton has made sound clean and pleasant, although fans may be dismayed by the relative lack of trademark Edge guitar. There are standouts in the stadium rocker Volcano and Sleep Like A Baby Tonight’s electro pulse, but more often the bland reigns, like Song For Someone (a parodically noncommittal title) and The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), a nadir for the Ramones tie-in industry. Download: Volcano, Sleep Like A Baby Tonight

Leonard Cohen

Popular Problems

Columbia

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“You got me singin’ / even though the news is bad,” rumbles Leonard Cohen on the final track of this 13th studio album of his, a strong entry in his canon made even more admirable by the fact he’s a year off his 80th birthday. Produced and largely

co-written with Patrick Leonard, who also contributed to 2012’s Old Ideas, the record is a festival of song and bad news. The sleek production of, for example, swampy groove Slow, bubbling country number Did I Ever Love You and understated piano hymnal Born In Chains supports a voice whose spine-tingling baritone and sense for the lyrically dramatic renders it ageless. Download: Born In Chains, You Got Me Singing

Martin Duffy

Assorted Promenades

O Genesis

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For three decades, Birmingham musician Martin Duffy has wound his way through the heart of British rock, mainly as the keyboard player for Primal Scream, Felt before them, the Charlatans briefly in the mid-90s, and a couple of years back alongside Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess, his new label boss. For his debut solo record Duffy plays to strengths

which have previously remained submerged, crafting a dense and rewarding set of understated instrumentals, laden with effects and strings, which at once call to mind classic mid-20th century Hollywood film scoring and the Eastern-influenced psychedelic rock experiments of the 1960s and 70s. Download: Promenading, Newmoania

DAVID POLLOCK

JAZZ

Mark Jennett

Everybody Says Don’t

Jazzizit Records JITCD1462

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Mark Jennett is a London-based singer with a clear yet soulful voice, a refreshingly unfussy style and a knack for telling a story in his songs. On this CD – his second – he presents an eclectic mix of show tunes, standards and pop numbers, all delivered in his pared-back, cool manner, but often in unusual, occasionally wacky, small group arrangements (by Geoff Gascoyne). It’s a bit hit-or-miss but the hits include a gently swinging version of Simon Smith And His Amazing Dancing Bear – and that’s something no jazz reviewer ever expects to write. Download: Some People

ALISON KERR

FOLK

Ewan McLennan

Stories Still Untold

Fellside Recordings FECD265

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Forget about the title, you’ll have heard most of the traditional songs before, if not in this manner. There is The Shearing and The Beggar, plus two from the hand of Burns in Aye Waulkin O and Rattlin’ Roarin Willie. But the stand-out ballad is the setting, to an Irish tune, of Prince Robert, collected around the end of the 18th century. McLennan’s own songs are here too; tales of his youthful freedom in Out On The Banks or the tragic life in the Ballad Of Amy Nielson. The singer’s guitar, with viola, accordion, cello, whistle, and backing vocals, all perform very well. Download: Prince Robert

NORMAN CHARMERS

CLASSICAL

York Bowen

24 Preludes

Grand Piano GP637

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The name of the English composer and teacher York Bowen will be unfamiliar to many. Although a prolific composer and virtuoso pianist many of his compositions remained unpublished until after his death (many remain so today). This charming recording by Cristina Ortiz features one late work with others dating from the early 20th century. Bowen’s Second Suite in G major, represented by its third movement Barcarolle, and Suite for Piano No 4 are set firmly in the Romantic mode. His 24 Preludes follow in the tradition of works by Bach, Chopin and Rachmaninov, among others. However, Bowen’s approach is to create what are essentially two dozen brief, stand-alone pieces, without that organic sense of continuous development explored by other composers. Download: Berceuse in D major

ALEXANDER BRYCE