Album reviews roundup

The Killers. Picture: Getty
The Killers. Picture: Getty
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The Killers: Battle Born | ZZ Top: La Futura | P!nk: The Truth About Love


the killers: Battle born

VERTIGO, £12.99

* *

ONE thing you can say for The Killers: they know how to rock an aesthetic. Shame it has to be such an empty, bombastic conflation of the gaudy glitz of their native Vegas and the romance of the open road which lies just beyond Sin City. Were you to judge this album by its cover – majestic Nevada desertscape rendered as Athena poster art – you would have a fair measure of Battle Born.

Much of the album could have been lifted from the soundtrack to a 1980s romcom – all big hair and shoulderpads or, in musical terms, Fairlight synthesizers and sterile drums.

Brandon Flowers marshals a certain lyricism on Miss Atomic Bomb but there’s only so often you can hear the same boy-meets-waitress vignette, especially when delivered as a plasticky affectation of Bowie/Reed wasted cool.


ZZ Top: La Futura

american recordings, £13.99

* * * *

La Futura may sound much like the past but ZZ Top belong to that elite band of if-it-ain’t-broke rockers – along with Motorhead, AC/DC and, in their day, The Ramones – who can repeatedly imbue their signature sound with a hungry attitude and fresh impetus.

With 42 years of sterling service to beardy blues behind them, why change the record now? Their first studio album in nine years, co-produced by Rick Rubin and singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons, shows ’em how it’s done with its vibrant mix of nasty blues, meaty boogie and hangdog laments, the most trenchant of which is the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings-penned It’s Too Easy Mañana.

P!NK: THe truth about love

RCA, £12.99

* * *

According to P!nk, the truth about love is that it sucks, except when it doesn’t, which seems to have been the message behind her last three or four albums.

This time round the fire has partly gone out of her bratty pop/rock schtick – Slut Like You just sounds like Ke$ha covering Blur’s Song 2 – while the ballads are among the most insipid songs that she has ever put her name to.

Though she makes the most of other opportunities to vent her considerable lungpower, she no longer sounds like the leader of the pack, the bitter bubblegum of the title track being the only notable addition to her catalogue.


Brad Mehldau Trio: Where Do You Start


* * * *

There was a time when jazz artists such as John Coltrane or Miles Davis could release two or even three records in a year, but that is rare now. The American pianist flouts convention with this second trio disc – a ‘companion to the earlier’ – in a matter of months

The ‘earlier’ consisted entirely of his own compositions, while this one returns to a familar pattern of contemporary interpretations of a spread of material, from jazz standards and tunes by Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown to songs by such as Sufjan Stevens and Elvis Costello. As ever, the pianist and his collaborators, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, deliver another masterclass in invention and group interaction in the process.


Schubert: String Quintet in C


* * * * *

This is exquisite chamber music from an ensemble – the quality-stocked Arcanto Quartet plus cellist Olivier Marron – that is more than up to the task, hardly surprising when such solo stars as violist Tabea Zimmermann or violinist Antje Weithaas rank among their number.

And in this wonderful string quintet – one of the prized jewels of the genre – it is the magical combination of characterful individualism versus seamless teamwork that makes this recording so immediately compelling. The opening movement is gutsy, yet refined; the famous adagio a triumph of lyrical beauty; the scherzo bristles with rustic heat; the finale laced with graceful Viennese humour. 


James Findlay: Another Day, Another Story

Fellside Recordings, £12.99

* * * *

The young West Country singer and instrumentalist James Findlay really knows how to tell a song. His second album, of mainly traditional material, once again demonstrates a nicely seasoned ability to spin out a song with clarity, passion or sensitivity, either unaccompanied or with a guitar style which doesn’t over-lead the song.

In the opening Rounding of the Horn, for instance, his guitar gently sets the scene for a melodious interpretation of this old mariner’s song, with effective background vocals from Beth Orrell and Linda Adams, who play their part, too, in the jubilant a cappella rusticity of The Ox Plough Song, with its ritual naming of working oxen going back generations. Findlay also brings a sensitive regard to songs such as the unaccompanied naval widow’s lament The Victory and The Rosebuds in June and he recounts the sanguinary Scots ballad Long Lamkin with tightly-reined tension.


Krar Collective: Ethiopia Super Krar

riverboat, £11.99

* * *

This group takes its name from an instrument which some people think is descended from the lyre of King David. It’s related to the Greek kithara, and to the Egyptian simsimiyya, as well as to other forms of the lyre to be found across North Africa and it carries this CD superbly with its penetratingly expressive sound.

With singer Genet Assefa and percussionist Robel ‘Grum’ Taye, this trio reflects a long and gradual gestation. They knew each other in Ethiopia, then as exiles in London, where over the past five years they have steadily been making a name for themselves by performing not only in festivals but also for the large Ethiopian diaspora with its hotspots in Finsbury Park, Shepherds Bush, and Brixton.

Weddings are their staple fare, with songs naming not only bride and groom but also family and friends. But the songs on this CD reach further back: one is an arrangement by the jazzman Mulatu Astatke, who initially encouraged Temesgen to turn professional, while another was a song by the Ethiopian actress Asnakech Worku, who first brought the krar to a wider public in the 1960s.

The songs here represent Ethiopia’s cultural diversity and, if this music feels fresh, that’s because it is: adding in fiddle and flute to enrich the mix, they recorded it on a 1960s analogue machine without any pre-arranged plan, and if something had to be redone, then the previous take was wiped.

As Sebastian Merrick – the author of the liner note –observes, this is rural music in 
an urban garb.