There may be bigger bands in the rock stratosphere but few who command as much respect and demand to be listened to as Arctic Monkeys, with their dream cocktail of accessibility, energy, creativity and charisma. New tracks are devoured hungrily amid speculation about where they will roam next.
Arctic Monkeys: AM
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Geographically, they have come to rest in Los Angeles, where all four band members now live, but the Sheffield roots are still showing. When Alex Turner sings of a rainy Tuesday night, he is probably not referring to East Hollywood, where AM was recorded. With a wealth of sun-kissed glamour at his fingertips, he still chooses to borrow words from John Cooper Clarke and home in on kitchen-sink details such as a “cough drop coloured tongue”.
Their fifth album begins with a chunky slap of a beat, brooding, twanging guitar and Turner as self-possessed as he has ever sounded on Do I Wanna Know? Lyrically, however, he is following an uncertain line of romantic inquiry and he sounds dishevelled and demanding as he makes the more trenchant appeal of R U Mine?
Both tracks are nicely embellished with falsetto harmony backing vocals from mighty Matt Helders on the drumkit and Nick O’Malley, the quiet man on bass, a signature sound on this album which has given rise to talk of an R&B influence. You can hear a bit of that in the sultry prowl of One For The Road but Arctic Monkeys cherrypick for their own ends without resorting to pastiche. The glam-rock stomp and shimmy of I Want It All suggests they have been taking notes from tourmates The Black Keys while Snap Out Of It has the strut of Queens of the Stone Age. Lyrically, it appears that the band have cultivated an appetite for those California girls. Turner’s tongue is hanging out for Arabella but, despite the heavy 1970s riffing and drumming, he’s no caveman rocker, but a poet in awe of his quarry.
Then, with typical Turner perversity, No.1 Party Anthem slows the pace to a cabaret croon while Mad Sounds turns out to be a lovely mellow ballad with a touch of the Lou Reed-via-Lloyd Cole louche.
If not quite subverting expectations, this winsome interlude serves as a reminder, before they head back to rocksville for the remainder of the ride, that Arctic Monkeys won’t be tethered to a particular style.
Goldfrapp: Tales Of Us
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Although Goldfrapp have enjoyed their greatest success with a brace of audacious electro pop stompers, the Bristolian duo could never be accused of cashing in on a sound. Their sixth album moves the creative goalposts again, resulting in their most mellow and restrained collection yet. Tales Of Us comprises ten delicate character studies inspired by books and correspondence, only one of which – Thea – varies the wistful pastoral mood with a touch of electro throb. The entire collection is exquisitely hewn, with Will Gregory’s acoustic guitar supplemented by subtle synths and strings and Alison Goldfrapp’s lovely wispy vocals floating and soaring over the top.
Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady
Bad Boy / Atlantic, £12.99
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When we first encountered tiny dynamo Janelle Monae, she was referencing James Brown all over the place. On her much-anticipated second full-length set, she fearlessly gives the nod to Jimi Hendrix. The Electric Lady is the latest instalment of Monae’s cyborg concept odyssey, Metropolis. Or simply another audacious, eclectic update of old-school, funk-soul style, which dives confidently into sassy disco on We Were Rock & Roll and bubblegum pop on taster number Dance Apocalyptic before gliding into dreamy, easy listening jazz territory. The album is frontloaded with guest spots from Monae’s spiritual siblings Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange Knowles and Miguel, but there is no doubt who is in charge of the overall vision.
Elgar: Cello Concerto
Harmonia Mundi, £15.99
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Just when you thought you’d heard every possible interpretation of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, along comes Jean-Guihen Queyras, long-time soloist with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, with a version that is stunningly original from the word go. The rich, golden sonority of the opening chords, the plaintive innocence of the first main melody, the breathless, polished quality of the phrase endings, and an ensuing performance, free of sentimentality, that touches the soul at every level, mark this out as a must-buy disc. There’s lots more besides in two exquisite Dvorak works – the airborne Rondo, Op 94 and Klid – and in Tchaikovsky’s effervescent Rococo Variations. Queyras is beautifully supported all the way by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiri Belohlavek.
Dizzy Gillespie and Hans Koller: Dizzy Gillespie Quintet and Hans Koller New Jazz Stars
Moosicus Records, £14.99
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This shared session from 1953 marks the beginning of an extensive project to release previously unissued music from the vaults of the Hamburg radio station NDR. Gillespie’s set with a quintet that includes baritone saxophonist Bill Graham and pianist Wade Legge is solid rather than revelatory, but the trumpeter is in fine form on three familiar standards and two of his most famous Latin-jazz pieces, Manteca and Tin Tin Deo.
The final four tracks feature a band led by saxophonist Hans Koller with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and pianist Jutta Hip. The selection of standards is conventional enough, but their approach already has a slightly different feel to that of the Americans, something that would develop to much greater lengths in Europe in the decades to come. An intriguing start to the series.
Mick West & Muldoon’s Picnic: A Scots Chorus
Mick West, Web Only
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One of Glasgow’s foremost traditional singers joins forces with five-part harmony group Muldoon’s Chorus for a warm-hearted wander through Scots song repertoire, augmented considerately by the album’s producers, Stewart Hardy and Frank McLaughlin, on fiddle and guitar, plus Angus Lyon on piano and accordion and cellist Penny Callow.
Their approach particularly suits such anthems of conviviality as In Freenship’s Name and Sae Will We Yet, while The Athole Gathering comes over with appropriate smeddum and Will ye Go to Flanders enjoys a poised cappella delivery.
One or two additional basses wouldn’t have gone amiss in the well-loved Bonnie Glenshee or Tatties and Herrin, to provide the kind of surging vocal responses I’ve heard in many a session. And on another old favourite, I’ll Lay Ye Doon, Love, the harmonies,
plus Hardy’s blue-grassy fiddle interjections, didn’t hang together
It’s impossible, however, not to enjoy this album, and good to hear West singing with clarity and heart.
Orchestra Super Mazembe: Mazembe@ 45Rpm Vol1
Sterns Africa, £12.99
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The title of this CD speaks volumes: it’s a homage to the dominant art-form in East Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.While a whole album cost 55 shillings, a single which cost five or ten
was the usual purchase, and each recording was made with this fact
This orchestra originated in Zaire but settled in Nairobi, where they became local superstars. Their songs were recorded in single sessions, and listeners will notice that at the five-minute point there’s a fade-out, to allow the switch to side B.