Digital life may fascinate The 1975, but this calculated collection of songs fails to spark much interest
The 1975: A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (Dirty Hit/Polydor) **
Willard Grant Conspiracy: Untethered (Loose Music) ***
Jah Wobble: The Butterfly Effect (Jah Wobble Records) ***
In lean times for commercial guitar bands, The 1975 have emerged over the last few years as the Millennials’ choice. Like Bastille before them, this Manchester four-piece talk left but walk right…down the middle of the road.
Unlike Bastille, they have a mildly gothic dreamboat singer/songwriter in Matt Healy, who is so in thrall to the cult of the rock frontman that he landed himself a nasty drug addiction and follow-up sojourn in rehab, and it is through this ultimate rock’n’roll cliché prism that we are invited to regard the band’s third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
Having previously co-opted 80s pop stylings and then indie rock atmospherics, they now add manicured elements of hip-hop and R&B to their superficial smorgasbord, giving the impression of a band in search of an identity, while leaving the listener in search of a song.
Healy at least can pen a pithy lyric. “You learn a couple of things at my age,” he divulges on Give Yourself a Try, possibly idly swirling a glass of brandy as he reels off a checklist of the good, the bad and the quirky.
He picks at wounds over strings and guitar distortion on Inside Your Mind, reflects on the loneliness of the long distance touring musician and sad groupie encounters on breathy acoustic confessional Be My Mistake, tries to access his inner Chet Baker on Mine – a loungey jazz effort decorated with a few electronic baubles and a lovely muted trumpet solo – and addresses his addiction on lightweight pop ditty It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You), whose title, like the entire The 1975 package, promises greater depth than it delivers.
But a couple of moments stick. The Man Who Married A Robot is a droll cautionary fable about a life lived online, set against a romantic string arrangement and delivered in the halting digital tones of voice assistant Siri, while Healy waits until almost the last gasp to drop the pretention and deliver soft rock ballad I Couldn’t Be More In Love with a passion which is missing from the rest of this rather calculated album.
Untethered is the tenth and final testament of cult alt.country outfit Willard Grant Conspiracy following the death of frontman and founder member Robert Fisher in early 2017. The title track is Fisher’s rapid response to his cancer diagnosis, and there is beauty and sadness throughout the album in keeping with their lugubrious Americana peers Low, Red House Painters and Lambchop.
They recall a moody noir folk version of The Velvet Underground on the southern gothic instrumental All We Have Left, and the crooning softness to Fisher’s drawl on the spectral 26 Turns is reminiscent of Lou Reed in his more ruminative moments, a connection they make explicit with references to a “perfect day” on Chasing Rabbits.
Gentleman bassist Jah Wobble follows up his recent Invaders of the Heart album with a punkier solo offering. The Butterfly Effect started life as a series of poems written in response to the financial crash of 2008, and are now delivered as deceptively genial spoken word over a stormy rock backdrop.
The grungey title track contemplates science on a micro and macro level to a soundtrack of skittering drums, fluid bass and metallic guitar chords. The Iron Lady Got Rust is a suitably economical tale of fiscal woe from the deregulation of the banks (“only the fittest and sociopaths would prosper and survive”) through to ongoing austerity, and Wobble returns to his native east end of London to find it much changed on twinkling cocktail jazz-meets-math rock number I Love Your Accent. - Fiona Shepherd
Cecilia Bartoli Sings Vivaldi (Decca) *****
Some 30 years after signing for Decca, and 20 years since her landmark Vivaldi album, Cecilia Bartoli returns to the operatic arias of the fiery Venetian for her latest release. It’s a firebrand performance from start to finish. Bartoli’s programming alternates between the fast and furious and the languid and sensuous. That way, the excitement generated from such exuberant shows of virtuosity as Ah fuggi rapido (Orlando furioso) or the red hot martialism of Combatta un gentil cor (Tito Malio) is successively soothed by ravishing delicacies, including Se mai senti spirarti sul volto (Catone in Utica). But it is Bartoli’s unique blend of sensuality (those velvety deep notes) and her electrifying virtuosic precision, not to mention the sizzling sounds of Ensemble Matheus under Jean-Christophe Spinosi, that colours these performances with irresistible and unique charm. She oozes musicality. Every note tells a story of its own. - Ken Walton
Helena Kay’s KIM Trio: Moon Palace (Ubuntu Music) ****
Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year in 2015, two years later tenor saxophonist Helena Kay scooped the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, the prize helping to fund this impressive debut, with fellow Guildhall student David Ingamells on drums and double bassist Ferg Ireland. Five of the seven tracks are composed by Kay, including the opening L and D, which establishes the lithe dynamic within the trio, as well as the Jobim-inspired and elegantly unhurried Feijão, the expansive saunter of Strawberry Terrace and the inexorable development of the title track, richly toned by Kay and with well-pointed bass work from Ireland over flickering cymbals and drums. The two covers are a tersely bustling account of Charlie Parker’s Kim, with sax and drums bickering energetically, while she forsakes her rhythm section for an affectionately considered solo deliberation on Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. - Jim Gilchrist