Album reviews: Arcade Fire | The Fall | Alice Cooper
Arcade Fire: Everything Now Columbia ****
The Fall: New Facts Emerge Cherry Red ****
Alice Cooper: Paranormal earMUSIC ***
The mighty Montreal collective Arcade Fire have made a glorious career of carving uplifting anthems out of dark lyrical places, starting with their 2005 debut album Funeral, inspired by the deaths of loved ones around the time of recording.
But never have they sounded so playful around serious subject matter as on fifth album Everything Now. Its effervescent, Abba-tastic title track bursts into disco life as if resolved to dance itself dizzy around the information overload of the digital age where “every song I’ve ever heard is playing at the same time, it’s absurd”.
There are two additional alternative iterations of the song, as if to drive home the theme, and further ambivalence on Signs of Life which celebrates/censures the pursuit of hedonistic oblivion through the medium of finger-popping 70s street funk, with needling disco strings, sirens, a rhythmic vocal delivery and a couple of Michael Jackson-like gasps.
The most uncomfortable juxtaposition comes on Creature Comfort where crunchy new romantic synths nuzzle up against lyrics about suicidal intent to create one of the strongest earworm hooks in their catalogue, with Win Butler in declamatory mode and Regine Chassagne cheerleading “on and on, I don’t know what I want” at his side.
The nosebleed new wave of Infinite Content barrels along at the speed of social media before breaking into Infinite_Content, a laidback twanging country version of the same song. There are less successful excursions into juddery dub (Peter Pan) and a double whammy of ska and 80s power rock on the non-compatible Chemistry, but the neon motorik odyssey Put Your Money On Me, with its earnest offer of succour, is what all the coolest car stereos will be wearing this summer. For an album about the perils of instant and constant gratification, Everything Now is perversely moreish.
Few bands – in fact, no bands – can equal The Fall for sheer ruthless consistency over a 40-year career span. Linchpin Mark E Smith turned 60 earlier this year and appears to have entered a period of relative line-up stability, all the better to rip in to a 32nd studio offering which opens with the forceful, metallic repetition of Fol De Rol.
Smith sounds hoarier than ever, almost demonic as he cackles and snarls over the punk regimentation of his crack team, switching between upbeat guitar riffing and garage metal on Brillo de Facto and the Sabbath-like stoner rock and gonzo rockabilly swagger of the nine-minute Couples Vs Jobless Mid 30s. The brief but unsettling Victoria Train Station Massacre has caught some heat, but was written and recorded long before the terror attack on Manchester Arena, and there is even some humorous respite. Second House Now goofs around before hitting its heat-seeking stride, while the rest of the band cameo as a cowboy chorus on Groundsboy.
Alice Cooper has built a career on rock mischief – little wonder that U2’s Larry Mullen, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover want to join the party on his first album of original material in six years. Paranormal is, ironically, business as per ghoulish usual for the cartoonish, almost cuddly Cooper, from the efficient power pop rock of Paranoiac Personality via the rollicking blues boogie of Fallen In Love to the Rocky Horror glam of Dynamite Road.
The veteran shock rocker has also reunited with original Alice Cooper Band members Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce for two new songs – Genuine American Girl (Alice has always been gender fluid) and the Who-influenced You and All of Your Friends – which kicks off a bonus CD of live hits.
Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera Nos 1-6 Delphian ****
Like so many talented Italian musicians of his generation, Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli settled in London where, around the same time as Handel, he made his mark as a performer on the city’s vibrant concert life. He also became highly successful as a wine merchant, boasting the King among his regular customers. But as a composer, his music went quickly out of favour, rather undeservedly as this attractive set of Sonata Da Camera (Nos 1-6) proves. Each has a unique energy and invention, their exhilarating freshness and virtuosic writing convincing testimony to the belief that Carbonelli studied in Italy with the great Corelli.
This is an impressive debut disc by the lustrous Illyria Consort, playing under its founder and violinist director Bojan Čičić, whose vision is to bring rare Baroque repertoire back into circulation. They’ve struck gold with Carbonelli.
Alan Skidmore: After the Rain Miles Music ****
The jazz-with-strings cocktail hasn’t always gone down too well. However, this re-issued collection of ballads, first released in 1998, sees tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore team up with two full orchestras, the Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR and Colin Towns’s Mask Symphonic, to often beguiling effect. A long-respected figure on the UK jazz scene, Skidmore sounds unconstrained by the orchestrations, letting the melodies sing out eloquently and effortlessly in such great American songbook favourites as Nature Boy, his saxophone heralded by a magical flurry of woodwind and strings, while in the Rogers and Hart number It’s Easy to Remember, Skidmore enters the arrangement like a man coming through a door and bursting into song. Three numbers by Skidmore’s hero, John Coltrane, include the inevitable Naima, as well as the album’s title track, in both of which Skidmore dwells on every note with fond consideration. ■