Album reviews: The Libertines | A-Ha | Public Image Ltd
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
The Libertines: Anthems for Doomed Youth
Star rating: ****
Many of the most mythologised bands don’t live long enough to tell the tale – that, naturally, is part of the appeal. The Libertines managed two albums before things fell apart spectacularly ten years ago, thanks to Pete Doherty’s heroin habit. Since then, there has been nothing but hunger among their passionate – and patient – fanbase for resurrecting his remarkable chemistry with co-frontman Carl Barat.
Like Morrissey and Marr, these star-crossed music lovers were never as effective apart as they are together. They have reunited with their rock solid rhythm section, John Hassall and Gary Powell, a couple of times since, but nothing says commitment like writing and recording a whole album.
This first new Libertines album in a decade was recorded in Thailand, scene of Doherty’s latest rehabilitation, referenced in the gnarled, punky Fury of Chonburi, but is set mainly in their own eloquently captured but somewhat idealised past. Barat and Doherty have never so much reflected their environment as heightened and romanticised it with their references to Albion and Arcadia, and now they have their own musical history to add to the allusions.
The album title reflects Doherty’s love of war poetry, but he offers his own nugget of prison poetry – “you collect your food in 4/4 time” – on opening track Barbarians, a Jam-like jam with some urgent post-punk guitar chivvying along this ode to escapism: “all I want is to scream out loud and have it up with a mental crowd”.
The reasonably rollicking indie knees-up Fame and Fortune has the pair recalling the good old indie clubs of London town as they prepare to go once more into the breach: “to Camden we will crawl, one and all”.
The Kipling-referencing single Gunga Din is a low-slung crusty reggae scowl of disaffection, which picks up with some laddish la-las towards the end, while the title track features Barat in baritone indie balladeer mode, with the McCartneyesque melodic flourishes almost making up for the self-conscious rhyming of “Cromwell”, “Orwell” and “stairwell”.
No one comes to The Libertines for musical originality. As well as regularly recalling their London punk forebears, there is also a distinct dash of Ray Davies whimsy on Iceman, an acoustic ballad which builds to a cautionary crescendo.
Glasgow Coma Scale Blues is a title to conjure with – the music is an entertaining mix of lairy and lightly tuneful, driven along by a chunky riff, while the lyrics comprise a baleful dialogue between Doherty and Barat, lamenting their lost years of friendship.
There is evidently a lot of pain being worked through even in the jauntiest songs, but the album’s quieter moments – vulnerable ballad You’re My Waterloo and impassioned torch song Dead For Love – emerge as the strongest pieces of songwriting on this diverse collection. Maybe next time – if there is a next time – they might even look to the future.
A-Ha: Cast In Steel
Star rating: ***
The Norwegian trio with the portraits withering away in the attic make a “temporary return” with their first new material in six years, to be followed by a tour next year and that’s quite possibly yer lot. Despite the title, there is no iron man posturing on Cast In Steel. This is slick but sensitive synth pop music. The banal titles – Door Ajar, She’s Humming a Tune – mask a certain sadness in the content, while the latter track has a complementary noirish atmosphere. If Morten Harket’s doe-eyed delivery wasn’t enough to make you swoon, they layer on the sweeping strings on Under the Makeup. It’s all strangely alluring, like a finely honed piece of furniture.
Public Image Ltd: What The World Needs Now…
Star rating: ***
John Lydon and crew play a game of steady darts on their latest album – which is to say that Lydon spits invective over a tightly coiled punk maelstrom or a low-slung slightly sinister dub rock backing for close to an hour. He hits the ground running with a mix of bitter, witty numbers, reins back slightly on the relatively blithe Spice of Choice and poppy The One and intones ominously over the brooding, proggy epic Big Blue Sky. You can just imagine the wrath he unleashes on a song titled Corporate, and how he proposes to complete that album title. Not Lydon’s most inventive musical outpouring, but still pregnant with personality.
Rose Consort of Viols: Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds
Star rating: ****
The years around 1500 were critical in both the emergence of the viol consort and its distinctive autumnal quality, and as a springboard to the repertoire set to emerge as the instruments themselves became more readily available. In this luxuriant survey of the period – music by such illustrious European names as Joaquin des Prez, Johannes Martini, Heinrich Isaac and others, as well as the inevitable “anons” – the Rose Consort of Viols capture the explorative virtues of the music, as composers wrestled with the idea of extended structures free of textual framework. The players are joined in many of the tracks by mezzo soprano Clare Wilkinson, whose clean, unaffected singing adds the necessary contrast to the consort-only numbers. KEN WALTON
Marie Fielding: An Seisiún
Star rating: ****
Falkirk-based fiddler Marie Fielding straddles the worlds of Scottish country dance music and Celtic folk and here she pulls off what sounds like a highly agreeable instrumental session, although studio recorded in Dingle, Co Kerry, rather than in one of the town’s hostelries, as the sounds of conviviality on the first track might suggest.
She’s joined, among others, by her dance band colleague, accordionist and pianist Tom Orr and Irish guitarist (and producer) Donogh Hennessy, formerly of Lúnasa, whose bassist, Trevor Hutchinson, underpins much tight and vivacious ensemble playing. Fielding’s own compositions include her lightsome Christmas Eve Waltz and Lazy Dayz, which switches into the fine old slip jig Andrew Carr.
The only song is Pauline Scanlon’s pleasant enough rendition of The Parting Glass, but here, surrounded by tunes, sounding distinctly out of context. There’s a nicely driving set of jigs in The Honesty Bar, but what sticks in the mind is Fielding’s beautifully measured treatment of Martyn Bennett’s Polly Rhythm. JIM GILCHRIST
Cécile Mclorin Salvant: For One To Love
Mack Avenue Records
Star rating: *****
Cécile McLorin Salvant – the name comes from her French-Haitian parentage – has picked up numerous awards and a Grammy nomination since she won the 2010 Thelonious Monk international Jazz competition. Her second album is a more personal collection of songs than its predecessor, WomanChild, preoccupied as it is with love, loneliness and gender inequality, but it maintains the vocal power that has established her as a star.
In the opening Fog, impressionistic piano chords usher in vocals that glide, hover and release a long burst of vibrato before shifting into sassy swing mode, while the marvellously knowing waspishness of Growlin’ Dan subversively channels familiar blues tropes.
She can do a convincing line in forlorn melancholy, as in Look at Me, before switching to the gloriously catty squall of What’s the Matter Now? JIM GILCHRIST