The Fratellis: In Your Own Sweet Time (Cooking Vinyl) ****
Kim Wilde: Here Come The Aliens (Wildeflower Records) ***
Creep Show: My Dynamite (Bella Union) ***
Erasure: World Beyond (Mute) ***
In commercial and cultural terms, The Fratellis made an instant splash in 2006 with their debut album, Costello Music, and its sundry jabbering anthems. The Glasgow trio have, to a degree, been treading water ever since. But creatively, it’s a different story, as told by the confidence and quality of their fifth album, In Your Own Sweet Time.
Frontman Jon Lawler has always written for fun – it’s what established The Fratellis as such an indie party soundtrack in the first place. He continues to shoot from the hip as a songwriter but there is greater sophistication at play on this outing, expertly captured in all its natural momentum by their right hand man, producer Tony Hoffer.
In Your Own Sweet Time steps away from the strutting and stomping to a less frenetic, more assured melodic craft which allows more breathing space for the ragged soul of Lawler’s vocals. But that ruthless commitment to catchiness is there from the first few seconds of Stand Up Tragedy, a punchy glam pop riposte to a bad news relationship.
Starcrossed Lovers is an unlikely marriage of reggae bassline, blithe guitar melodies, country yodel and a choral breakdown with heady strings, but what could have been a dog’s breakfast of a track is skilfully marshalled by Hoffer.
There are shades of Lawler’s short-lived side project, Codeine Velvet Club, in the elegant melodrama of Sugartown. Elsewhere, the band deploy acid funk guitars on Told You So, pair a fast, skiffly rhythm with a freewheeling pop tune on Laughing Gas, deliver a soaring power pop highlight in I’ve Been Blind and follow the rock’n’roll raga Advaita Shuffle with the ZZ Top-style distorted boogie I Guess, I Suppose, before dropping the pace but not the quality for the expansive psych pop trip I Am That.
They’ve ditched the instant kicks of their biggest hits but there’s much to feast on in their most satisfying album to date.
Pop star turned celebrity gardener turned pop star Kim Wilde is a much loved 80s icon who will have to call on that affection for appreciation of her first UK album in 25 years. Behind its schlocky sleeve, Here Come The Aliens offers an unremarkable mix of streamlined pop rock numbers such as Addicted To You and a handful of lighter-waving ballads, mostly co-written with brother Ricky (who duets with her on the Buggles-referencing Pop Don’t Stop) and niece Scarlett. The sultry rock ballad Rosetta and meaty glam stomp of Different Story just about survive their swathing in maximalist 80s production.
Creep Show is a new collaboration between the brilliantly acidic troubadour John Grant and electronica outfit Wrangler, featuring former Cabaret Voltaire frontman Stephen Mallinder. Their debut album Mr Dynamite demonstrates a clear lineage from the Sheffield electronica pioneers, as an analogue armoury of vintage drum machines and synthesizers is used to create cut-and-paste robot funk which draws on vintage hip-hop soundscapes and also recalls 80s electro wags The Art of Noise. Mallinder’s reedy tones are deliberately warped in the mix but Grant’s warm baritone croon is left as is, suffusing the electro playground with more conventional but gratifying vocal melody.
Just because they can and why not anyway, Erasure have re-recorded their most recent album World Be Gone with Brussels-based string ensemble Echo Collective, whose arrangements provide a sombre, sensitive and sometimes sensual backdrop to one of the duo’s more downbeat collections, while bringing the socio-politically inclined lyrics to the fore and enhancing the intimacy and vulnerability of Andy Bell’s vocal performance.
Beethoven: Music for Winds (Linn) *****
There is something unquestionably operatic about Beethoven’s Sextet in E flat major for wind instruments. The themes sigh, dance, laugh and bicker like colourful characters on the stage. Some performances miss the point, others simply take it for granted, but this one by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists is a showstopper, where the very stuff of theatre – its tensions and releases, its compelling narrative vitality and emotional nuances – is played out in scintillating musical terms. Take the wit and bounce of the bassoons, the languid teasing of the clarinets, or the poignant knowingness of the horns. All have biting relevance in this delightful opener to a treasure trove of Music for Winds by Beethoven. The ensemble playing throughout is a magical mix of homogeneity and individuality. When the oboes enter for the Octet in E flat, the sound world both brightens and thickens: another delicious and virtuosic musical adventure.
John Surman: Invisible Threads (ECM) ****
The distinctively lyrical reed voice of saxophonist and clarinettist John Surman drifts effortlessly between his composed and improvised music in this collaboration with pianist Nelson Ayres and vibraphonist Rob Waring. From the instantly recognisable lilting of Surman’s soprano sax that opens At First Sight, the trio create a luscious sound world of contrasting timbres. Featuring almost entirely Surman’s compositions, the album’s vibe is often tranquil, though never lacking in cohesion, as in the quietude of Another Reflection, its hymn-like melody gradually elevating above gently chiming piano and vibes. Ayres’s whimsically strolling piano ushers the title track along, while his composition Summer Song leads the trio into a mercurial dance. The ringing of vibes and piano with sax murmurings open Concentric Circles like a tropical dawn chorus before their activity intensifies, all shimmers and darting phrasing. n