Album reviews: Kings of Leon | Chvrches | Jessie J

Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon. Picture: Getty
Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon. Picture: Getty
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The Kings of Leon story follows a classic rock’n’roll trajectory – a fraternal gang of hungry young bucks turn heads, build a following, party hard, release a couple of big crossover hits which catapult them to international festival headliner status, then take it to the natural next level by embracing a bloated stadium sound so far from their roots that their credibility crashes.


RCA, £14.99

Star rating: * *

Meanwhile, family arguments and excesses lead to cancelled tours and a hiatus to deal with their “internal sickness”. Fade to black…

Three years on, the dust has settled and the lights go up on a band who say they have swapped beer bottles for baby bottles. Mechanical Bull, written in their studio for a change, rather than out on the road, could be considered their Youth & Young Fatherhood album in as much as it initially strains against responsibility before succumbing to cosy musical domesticity.

First, the band go back to rocking basics, sounding more like a “southern Strokes” than ever on Supersoaker. The comeback single barrels along in agreeably tuneful indie roots style with a degree more soul than they have mustered in some time, and Caleb Followill, inset, is fit to burst about “good vibrations all over you”. The lothario image persists through Rock City, a southern rock paean to their Nashville home. It’s hardly an original thought but at least there is some intent to the lines, “I was looking for a bad girl, looking for a bad boy” followed by the assurance that Caleb Followill can “shake it”, “take it” and “break down” like a woman. The band as a whole sound pretty highly charged on Don’t Matter, a decent bash at a Queens of the Stone Age-type headlong punk number.

However, any further rocking intentions come unstuck the moment they loosen their belts. Stadium ballad Beautiful War sounds like a lethargic U2, while Comeback Story begs the question that if Kings of Leon are based in the country music capital of the world, why do they need to import this pale pseudo-Mumfords imitation?

Periodically, they succeed in picking up the pace again, even displaying some mischievous mojo on the funky swagger of Family Tree before they round off with On The Chin, a sentimental country lighter-waver which wouldn’t appear out of place in a Kenny Rogers set but makes Kings of Leon sound prematurely aged.



Chvrches: The Bones Of What You Believe


Star rating: * * *

There is no shortage of synth-pop acts doing the rounds just now but Chvrches approach from a slightly more disarming angle, cloaking often cutting lyrics in cutesy bubblegum brightness and girlish vocals. If the sound of Lauren Mayberry sweetly cooing, “I’ll be a thorn in your side for always” or “I am going to come for you with all that I have” doesn’t unsettle, then be aware that she has two musical brothers with a lot of analogue hardware to back her up, and a handful of broodier numbers, such as the gothic Euro trance of Science/Visions, to darken the palette.


Jessie J: Alive

Lava/Island, £14.99

Star rating; * *

With her core message that it’s OK to be yourself, Jessie J is the female pop star young girls can take home to meet their parents. But that empowerment message is less memorably reiterated on this brutally formulaic album. Alive is still partly about boys and how to impress them – Katy Perry having already covered the firework angle, Jessie goes for thunder and earthquakes as her family-friendly sexual metaphors of choice – but in the absence of strong hooklines, she seeks to overcompensate with a gaudy vocal display. Her strong R&B voice suits 1980s funk jam Daydreaming but elsewhere she overdoes the delivery so desperately that she chokes all emotion out of the songs.


Elton John: The Diving Board

Mercury, £14.99

Star rating: * * *

Sir Elton’s first new album in seven years is being touted as a return to his piano/bass/drums set-up of the early 1970s – minus, it transpires, the songs and the lean intimacy. The Diving Board makes for pleasant enough listening but, even with T Bone Burnett on production duties and his trusted sessioneers providing the live accompaniment, there is a tendency to trowel on the arrangements to match Elton’s increasingly hoary vocal style. It is hard to get excited about the mid-paced rhythm’n’blues numbers though the title track has some jazz swagger.



Britten: War Requiem

Signum, £12.99

Star rating: * * * *

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, with its massed array of performers and harrowing juxtaposition of texts from the Latin Mass and the poetry of Wilfred Owen, is a colossal undertaking. That poses few problems for Paul McCreesh, whose latest large oratorio recording project with his Gabrieli Consort and Players, the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir and many more, is a pungent expression of Britten’s trenchant masterpiece. The gnawing intensity of the opening Requiem, leading into the fearful flourishes and incantations of the Dies Irae are just for starters in a performance that captures the music’s telling message. Fine solos from Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman.





Star rating: * * * *

The award-winning West Country duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin have come up with a beguiling second album of finely arranged and potently atmospheric contemporary and traditional material. Martin’s voice is lithe and full-toned while Henry’s keen slide guitar can sigh with a transatlantic or an Indian accent. Their songs are threaded with sheer humanity as much as by that sinuous slide and Martin’s fiddle and viola.

The haunting opener, Silbury Hill, demands attention straight away, while an adaptation of the traditional Nailmakers’ Strike lopes into its stride with streetwise harmonica squalling over melancholy drifts of fiddle. Affairs are brought up to date with a diaphanous setting of Last Broadcast, in memory of Marie Colvin, the journalist killed last year in Syria.

Henry’s solo Elegy for dobro inclines beautifully eastward, but most riveting is their Song for Caroline Herschel, a tribute to the first woman to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s gold medal, evoking stellar awe and human transcendence.



Brass Jaw: Minted

Keywork Records, web only

Star rating: * * * *

The Glasgow-based quartet placed their own unique stamp on the classic saxophone quartet format by including trumpeter Ryan Quigley alongside Paul Towndrow’s alto, Konrad Wiszniewski’s tenor and Allon Beauvoisin’s baritone saxophones from early in their existence.

The signature sound they created has developed in leaps and bounds through their scintillating live performances, and this fourth recording provides irrefutable evidence of that progress.

While Beauvoisin generally holds down the rhythmic anchor, this is the most flexible of units, and everyone bears responsibility for everything – soloing, melody, their intricate interweaving of instrumental lines and their often complex rhythmic figures and time signatures.

Most of the 15 tracks are by band members, with a couple of familiar covers from their live set thrown in, and the disc ends with a new take on Towndrow’s previously recorded Charles Franklin Blues, with SNJO colleague Michael Owers added on trombone.



Kayhan Kalhor/Erdal Erzincan: Kula Kulluk Yakisir Mi

ECM, £15.99

Star rating: * * * *

Nine years ago the Iranian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor and the Turkish baglama master Erdal Erzincan produced a fascinating collaborative CD entitled The Wind, to which this is the equally interesting sequel. The kamancheh is a spike-fiddle, the baglama a deep-toned lute, and they meld vividly.

Kalhor’s background is in Western classical music as well as its Persian equivalent; Erzincan’s background is strictly Turkish, but he has chosen to finger-pick rather than use a plectrum, which leads to a much more flexible sound. They deliver traditional songs, and improvise with eloquent force.