Johnny Marr mines his past with decent results, but Kanye West’s brief offering falls rather short
Johnny Marr: Call the Comet (Warner Bros) ***
Kanye West: ye (Def Jam) ***
John Parish: Bird Dog Dante (Thrill Jockey) ****
Apostille: Choose Life (Upset the Rhythm) ****
Like his modfather mate Paul Weller, Johnny Marr could so easily make a killing off nostalgia for his back catalogue but prefers to forge forward with new material. So much so that, on his third solo album, he looks to a utopian future.
Inspired equally by political developments in the western world and by the writing of HG Wells, Call the Comet imagines an alternative society emerging on Earth after a comet strike. But fear not – indie rock survives to soundtrack proceedings in slick, streamlined style.
Indeed, this version of the future sounds very much like Marr’s past, mining that brooding but soulful strain of northern industrial melancholia which informed much of the landscape of post-punk Britain.
The headlong rush of The Tracers sounds like a rocket-propelled New Order overlaid with superfluous whoops. New Dominion is a more stripped-back affair, driven along by that relentless Joy Division pulse, and there is blatant reference to The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out in the chord progression and synth refrain of Hi Hello – which is entirely fair enough, given that Marr was the architect of that distinctive chiming blend of acoustic and electric guitar.
Marr also nods to the moody synth pop of Depeche Mode and the nascent stadium rock of Simple Minds circa New Gold Dream on Actor Attractor and Spiral Cities respectively. While it is fun to play 80s indie bingo, Call the Comet is another solid rather than inspired offering.
It’s been another eventful year in the Kanye West soap opera, one littered with cancelled concerts, controversial pronouncements and mental health issues. Even the egomaniac rapper himself concedes that “it’s been a shaky-ass year” on his new album ye, which exhibits uncharacteristic brevity – its seven tracks clock in at just 24 minutes.
That is still time enough for big statements, not least I Thought About Killing You, a grim diary entry on a bed of pitchshifted vocals. The dark thoughts (“sometimes I scare myself”) persist on Yikes and he addresses the personal fallout from his “slavery is a choice” remarks on Wouldn’t Leave. The sunshine soul samples on No Mistakes provide a short-lived musical lift, while Ghost Town seems destined to be the track with the longest shelf life.
The striking sleeve, with the soundbite “I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome” scribbled over a beautiful West snap of mountains, is more impactful than the music contained within, which leaves ample room
for a deeper, more considered rap album on mental health to emerge.
Best known as PJ Harvey’s most trusted sideman, John Parish is also a respected producer and soundtrack composer. He brings those skills to bear on the atmospheric songs and soundscapes which populate Bird Dog Dante, from the dread drone of Kireru to the dolorous piano instrumental Carver’s House.
Harvey is instantly recognisable on the haunting folk duet Sorry For Your Loss about their late friend and associate Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, while Aldous Harding adds similarly ethereal soprano colouring to the backdrop of the engaging, languorous Rachel.
Michael Kasparis runs Glasgow indie label Night School Records but is also enshrined in Scottish pop lore as the inspiration for Franz Ferdinand’s Michael. He lives up to his reputation on the dancefloor with his latest incarnation, Apostille.
Choose Life is an infectious collection of fidgety, slightly noirish crossover electro in the vein of LCD Soundsystem. Disco meets mournful indie on Hanging On and the stabbing synths, percussive breaks and vocal samples on the title track impishly hark back to early Prodigy rave anthems.
Wagner: Das Rheingold (Hallé Label) ****
At a point when Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra is completing its live Manchester cycle of Wagner’s Ring operas – strangely, with the penultimate one, Siegfried, which also comes to the Edinburgh Festival this summer – the latest CD release of that series takes us back to the start, Das Rheingold, in a recording made in 2016. There is, as always, much to admire in Sir Mark Elder’s large scale mastery of the form, and in the juicy playing he elicits from his ensemble. Is it the most exciting Rheingold in a vast catalogue? In many ways it occupies the top tier, but not every moment is as riveting as, say, recent Edinburgh performances by this team. The Scots in the cast are among the many highlights. Iain Paterson offers a commanding Wotan, softened now and again by a palpable, almost comforting vulnerability. Nicky Spence finds natural effervescence in the role of Mime, and there are characterful performances, too, from Susan Bickley (Fricka) and Will Hartmann (Loge). But the real heroes are the orchestra.
Jamie MacDonald & Christian Gamauf: The Pipe Slang (Pipe Slang Records) ****
Worthy products of the UHI BA Applied Music course on Uist, fiddler MacDonald and piper Gamauf make an auspicious debut, ranging through repertoire from their music’s Hebridean heartland to the traditions of Cape Breton and Asturias. Guests include guitarist Jack McRobbie and Anna-Wendy Stevenson on viola, while dancer Sophie Stevenson brings brisk syncopation to The Step Dancer Reels and MacDonald’s sister, Anna Rachel, provides clarsach and some delicate Gaelic singing on the waulking song Mo Nighean Donn à Cornaig – a tragic tale gently spun out. At the core, however, is the lithe, tightly knit pairing of Gamauf’s pipes – Border, Highland and smallpipes – and MacDonald’s fiddle, not least in the splendid opening jig set, while Macdonald’s winsome fiddle introduces a trio of tunes from his native Tiree and Cape Breton pianist Adam Young cranks up a typically rumbustious native accompaniment for A Few More Jigs and The End of the Road set. n