OUR music critics review the best of this week’s new releases, including new albums by Squeeze and dance duo Disclosure
Squeeze: Cradle to the Grave
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat may be the fabulous yet fractious songwriting duo who have hogged the headlines in recent months but the reunion of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford is a cause for celebration for a different generation of music lovers.
Like Pete and Carl, both Squeeze frontmen have pursued their solo careers but without the pop potency they achieve when they collaborate. For all the nostalgia in a greatest hits set, there is still a freshness to Squeeze songs which are pushing 40 years old – which may be why, having managed to keep the old personality clashes at bay in order to produce their first new collaborative material since 1998, they have looked to that period and further beyond for inspiration on this new album.
The title track of Cradle to the Grave is a high kicking raging against the dying of the light which would make a right jaunty TV theme tune – and, wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what happened when they presented the song to their old pal Danny Baker and his co-writer Jeff Pope while they were developing a sitcom based on Baker’s autobiography, Going to Sea in a Sieve.
Cradle to the Grave became the title of the show which, in turn, provided the thematic impetus for a whole collection of songs which rather romanticise their shared 1970s adolescence. According to Difford, they “went to the same school, wore the same uniform [and] fell in love with the same art teacher” as Baker, giving rise to an easy stream of references to Starsky & Hutch, duffel coats and the like.
Squeeze have always been loving chroniclers of their milieu, reflecting their environment through Difford’s storytelling lyrics. In the early days, this could be expressed with some dark wit, even a slight air of menace. Now that they are looking back on this past, rather than living it, the atmosphere is soothing and comfortable as they tick off the cosy childhood topics.
Open is a warm, gospelly evocation of family, Only 15 a pretty straightforward study of a frustrated teenager testing the parental boundaries, Top of the Form recalls school days as an extended charm offensive, while those adolescent urges are characterised as “covert operations” and “dangerous excursions” on Haywire, a gentle country waltz cousin to Madness’s House of Fun.
There is nothing especially revelatory in Happy Days’ evocation of summer holidays but its combination of light country shuffle, soulful backing vocals and Tilbrook’s sweet voice makes it a thoroughly pleasurable trip.
Beautiful Game’s fond celebration of the hypnotic allure of football stops just short of jumpers-for-goalposts nostalgia thanks to a subtle vein of melancholy, but this is definitely a sepia-tinted view of childhood, written from the comfortable perspective of an adult who has entirely come to terms with their teenage years. Fiona Shepherd
Ryan Adams: 1989
Teens, tweens and pop-loving adults the world over will already tell you that Taylor Swift’s 1989 is an album for the age.
Now alt.country troubadour Ryan Adams has covered the entire collection for the Swift skeptics (of which I am one) “like it was Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska”, entirely divesting the songs of Swift’s pop production bells and whistles.
Bad Blood is a bit of a bland drag and there’s not much he can do for Out of the Woods so he layers on some lush strings in the closing stages, but he ramps up the roots
rock strut on Style, mines the vulnerability on bare, tremulous versions of Blank Space and This Love and slows down Shake It Off to a brooding, burnished alt.country ballad. FS
For those who can’t tell their faceless dance acts apart, Disclosure are fraternal house duo Guy and Howard Lawrence, joined on their second album by a succession of modern soul vocalists – The Weeknd, Kwabs, Miguel and their old pal Sam Smith in addition to newcomers Brendan Reilly and Jordan Rakei.
All lend their smooth pipes to some classy, cool house tracks, including the outright smooch of Masterpiece and jazzy reverie of Moving Mountains.
The brothers keep the tone consistent, resisting the urge to throw in some crowd-pleasing bangers but, lacking the distinctive stylisation of their peers Jungle, they can’t quite sustain interest across the lengthy running time. FS
Schubert: Symphonies No 7 “Unfinished” & No 9 “The Great”
Wiener Symphoniker: WS009
In his first year with the Wiener Symphoniker, music director Philippe Jordan has placed a special focus on Schubert. As this live recording from Vienna’s Musikverein illustrates, he has an affinity with the composer, gleaning from both these performances – the popular “Unfinished” and “Great” symphonies – a silvery precision that encompasses both purity of sound and lyrical warmth.
The orchestral palate is as expansive as it is detailed, much of the cushioning warmth coming from the hall’s natural acoustical glow. Jordan may have nothing particularly new to say, but the genuine honesty of his interpretations makes them well worth a listen. Ken Walton
Julian Argüelles: Tetra
Having established his reputation with large ensembles such as Loose Tubes or the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, Julian Argüelles reminds us just how much he can shine in smaller settings. In the fine company of pianist Kit Downes, Sam Lasserson on double bass and James Maddren on drums, his playing is purposeful yet lyrical, not least in Yada Yada which, following the gentle bass and piano ascent of the brief opening prelude, Hugger Mugger, brings in his tenor sax with a vengeance, keening à la Garbarek.
Despite his tune titles’ penchant for alliterative clichés – Hurley Burley, Hocus Pocus, Nitty Gritty – there’s nothing casual about this music. Nitty Gritty, for instance sparkles with piano ripples before sax and bass sing out in unison. Hurley Burley generates a mercurially darting melody on tenor sax and piano, while, escaping from titular reduplication, Asturias, based on Spanish folk tunes, emerges unhurriedly and elegantly out of a busy Maddren drum solo and Iron Pyrite generates an expansive turbulence of its own. Jim Gilchrist
Rab Noakes: I’m Walkin’ Here
This zestful double album sees singer-songwriter Noakes hark back with worldly-wise warmth to the skiffle and other strands that have informed his music over five decades. Wielding his vintage guitars, he’s supported by a select bunch of musicians and singers including Roddy Hart and Emma Pollock, while longstanding pals Barbara Dickson and Jimmie Macgregor make guest appearances. It was mixed in mono, so you can’t get more authentic than that.
There’s a certain Stealer’s-Wheel-ish energy to the opening Slippin’ Away (Noakes co-founded the band with the late Gerry Rafferty), but Noakes is very much his own man, coming out with the gloriously Confucian shuffle of “One dog barks at a shadow / Many dogs bark at the sound”, while Where Dead Voices Gather sheds any morbidity with its guitar twanging rockabilly drive.
The second CD features fond renditions of songs ranging from Garbage’s Only Happy When It Rains to some wonderfully vintage sounding old chestnuts such
as Buttons and Bows and Freight Train. JC