The Kings of Leon story is one of classic rock biography – a tight band of brothers (and their cousin) who arrived with swagger and potential, rose swiftly through the ranks to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world and then responded to the pressures of life at the top with addictions, erratic behaviour, cancelled tours and fractured relationships.
According to that well-worn narrative, their seventh album WALLS (an acronym of We Are Like Love Songs) is the point where they recover their mojo and return to rule the world once more. Instead, it’s strictly business as usual, the sound of a band in a comfortable rut while insisting that they are taking creative chances.
Opening track and first single Waste A Moment has a watered-down Sex On Fire vibe, combining a blandly driving rhythm, twanging loop of guitars and frontman Caleb Followill’s odd, strangulated vocal uttering the greeting card aphorism “take the time to waste a moment”. The following Reverend is a half-hearted attempt to rev up proceedings and there are a couple of surrogate U2 moments, so often the go-to sound for arena rockers.
Kings of Leon: WALLS **
Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos ****
Jazzateers: Don’t Let Your Son Grow Up To Be A Cowboy ***
The title track is a functional doe-eyed rocker ballad, lacking in character, while the tasteful, mid-paced Over, about the frontman’s alcoholism, at least packs a certain romance and the potential to sound epic live.
The ringing guitars on Eyes On You are a reminder of why this band were once dubbed “the southern Strokes” but with a hearty roots vocal in place of a punky drawl, more Bruce Springsteen than Lou Reed.
From here, they unleash their inner wedding band with some cheesy synth percussion on Muchacho. It’s none the worse for it, and at least a glimpse of a slightly different approach. The Afrobeat-flavoured jangle of Around the World provides a hook to hang something on, and there is a sense of shooting from the hip with the greater urgency of Find Me.
There is a kind of wooing on twinkling torch song Conversation Piece and a similar degree of soul invested into Wild – which is to say, enough to pass the time happily enough but hardly the stuff to constitute a renaissance.
South London performance poet Kate Tempest, on the other hand, is a true 21st century renaissance woman, moving fluidly and eloquently between media. Her second album Let Them Eat Chaos projects snapshot portraits of “seven perfect strangers” – their habits, neuroses, even the décor of their houses – as they all lie awake at 4.18am mere doors away from each other, against a much wider backdrop of social malaise and neon loneliness. Tempest is a magnetic storyteller – clear, calm, economic, poetic, with great rhythmic delivery, a knack for the theatrical, cinematic image and the soundtrack to convey that. The dreamy electro backing of Pictures On A Screen really captures the woozy somnambulance of night in the city.
Jazzateers were part of Glasgow’s early 80s “nouvelle vague” of bands inspired by Roddy Frame’s jazz-influenced guitar playing and the balmy breeze of bossa nova, who would play gigs in the city’s restaurants rather than grubby pubs. Don’t Let Your Son Grow Up To Be A Cowboy is a vinyl-only release of an album originally recorded for legendary indie label Postcard Records which neatly showcases their lo-fi loungey exoticism and languid indie jangle and is packaged up with six bonus live tracks from what sounds like the world’s roughest bootleg.
Martin Green: Flit ***
With its tapestry of grinding electronica, song and monologue, Martin Green’s Flit, commissioned as a staged event for this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, may sound as far from traditional music that you can imagine, yet its preoccupations are the all-too-topical “folk” themes of inhumanity and displacement. Green, wielding accordion, mellotron, synthesisers and samplers, is joined by Adam Holmes and Becky Unthank on vocals and Portishead’s Adrian Utley on guitars and synths, plus guests.
Holmes’s opening Living Wind monologue (written by Aidan Moffat) sets the grim tone, leading on to Unthank’s forlorn singing in Strange Sky, over shifting waves of mellotron evoking bird (or is it?) migration. Elsewhere, Holmes gives stirring voice to the shanty-styled Roll Away. The album obviously misses the animated visuals of the stage show, but remains a powerful, if gloomy meditation on deeply troubled times.
Robert Irvine: Songs and Lullabies ****
As a cellist, Robert Irvine ploughs a very individual furrow, not least in his commitment to new music, and particularly in inspiring new works for his own instrument. Songs and Lullabies is a super compendium of 19 short works for solo cello, with proceeds going to Unicef.
The disc features music from such well-known composers as James MacMillan, Edward McGuire and Irvine’s former wife Sally Bemish, as well as a few lesser-known ones, including Roland Roberts and Jane Stanley. Irvine’s performances have a soulful breadth to them, whether in Beamish’s opulent Miranda Dreaming, the moody lilt of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Amelia’s Tango, the frenetic playfulness of MacMillan’s Knock Knock, or in the languid poetry of McGuire’s Elegiac Lullaby or ruminative Imagined Child by Irvine himself. This is a miscellany of connected miniature musical gems – and all for a good cause.