Biffy Clyro: The Myth of The Happily Ever After (14thFloor/Warner Records) ****
Coldplay: Higher Power (Parlophone) ***
Duran Duran: Future Past (BMG) ****
Lola In Slacks: Moon Moth (Last Night From Glasgow) ****
After the party, the hangover. When Biffy Clyro recorded their eighth album, A Celebration of Endings, the intention was to emphasize the positive elements of that title. Along with the rest of the world, they didn’t reckon on a global pandemic mucking up the fiesta. Speedy follow-up and sister album The Myth of the Happily Ever After is the cathartic reaction to the turbulence, conceived and recorded quickly and close to home but with no loss of intensity, dynamism or creative confidence. In short, it is Biffy as we know and love them.
Witness the signature blend of a mighty, catchy chorus, involved metal riffola and salvos of punky rage which make up A Hunger In Your Haunt or the careful layering of plangent electric guitar over the acoustic foundations of Holy Water, the taut, headlong gallop of Denier breaking out into widescreen territory or the chunky bassline and top line of keening synths which accompany Simon Neil’s beguiling vocal melody on Separate Missions.
Lyrically, they move fluidly from empathy with friends who have taken their own lives on Unknown Male 1 to the gleefully anthemic Witches Cup and the impish Slurpy Slurpy Sleep Sleep which loops Neil’s vocals over nosebleed speed metal before being released into an ocean of synths. As hangovers go, it’s worth the pain.
Coldplay have devised a whole solar system for their ninth album with a song to represent every fictional planet and an involved interstellar launch campaign. However, a few spacey synth sounds do not an out-of-this-world album make. Far from being some cosmic concept album, Music of the Spheres treads safe ground, typified by the power riffs and stadium synths of Humankind, with commercial production by Britney wingman Max Martin and a couple of high profile collaborations.
Selena Gomez duet Let Somebody Go is the kind of love lullaby Chris Martin can write in his sleep, while the blandly uplifting My Universe, featuring K-Pop superstars BTS, sounds like a marriage of convenience rather than a creative meeting of minds.
Lesser known R&B duo We Are King add celestial harmonies to the spacious a capella Human Heart, and there are further vocal effects on the bittersweet shuffle Biutyful. In contrast, the processed glam stomp of People of the Pride sounds like a neutered Muse. At least the album is bookended by stronger fare. Higher Power is a blithe pop throwback to the power production of the eighties while the closing Coloratura is an extended piano ballad with a power pop foundation and twinkling embellishments.
Actual Eighties pop stars Duran Duran celebrate their 40th anniversary and 15th album in the company of a deluxe guestlist, comprising production royalty Giorgio Moroder, Mark Ronson and Erol Alkan, plus Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, Bowie’s favourite pianist Mike Garson, who provides elegant, epic flourishes to Flourish, and Swedish singer/songwriter Tove Lo, who joins the party for the intoxicating disco torch tune Give It All Up.
The Moroder collaboration Tonight United is a disappointing banal shout-out to come together post-pandemic but the playful Anniversary references their early eighties heyday with callbacks to older songs, while Beautiful Lies is an the electro melodrama worthy of their fellow New Romantic Marc Almond.
Like their peers Free Love and Siobhan Wilson, Glaswegian quintet Lola In Slacks infuse their music with Francophile influences picked up from singer Louise Reid’s time busking in Paris. There is an earthiness to her vocal delivery, like a Caledonian Piaf, on the piano reveries of debut album Moon Moth, but her band also recall the acid jamming of the Velvet Underground and the luscious guitar twang of their home city’s urban romantics.
Oliver Iredale Searle: Pilgrim of Curiosity (Delphian) *****
Oliver Iredale Searle runs the composition department at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. That he can practise what he preaches is on full display in this exciting album of his wind music, performed by the RSNO Wind Ensemble with Baroque flautist Carla Rees. Pilgrim of Curiosity refers to Searle’s penchant for travelling, then reflecting his experiences in music that combines characterful allusion, crystalline textures and quirky humour. They are also flights of fancy, so a movement in the title piece – an eight-movement wind quintet – might open with the honking horn of a Clyde paddle steamer, but the fantasy trip soon takes us to an amalgam of New York’s Staten Island Ferry and Millport’s Cathedral of the Isles. Such juxtapositions abound, expressed in performances that ooze personality and snappy precision. Other works – from Dalriada (An Argyll Suite) to Faith, Hopes and Charity for solo flute – equally define Searle’s compositional exactitude. Ken Walton
Ballad of the Banffies: Hamish Henderson Tribute Vol. 2 (Greentrax) ****
An alarming 18 years on from Greentrax’s first Hamish Henderson tribute album, this follow-up, produced by Fred Freeman, is an intriguing assemblage of previously unreleased material and new settings of more familiar songs, interspersed with archive snippets of the folklorist, poet and songwriter himself declaiming with characteristic smeddum. Singers Cameron Nixon, John Morran, Fiona Hunter, accompanied by Frank McLaughlin and Marc Duff among others, plus South Africa’s Atte, perform songs such as the title track, Banks of Sicily, Rivonia and that dark miniature masterpiece, The Speaking Heart. Freeman’s extensive sleeve notes explore Henderson’s synthesis of elevated and vernacular Scots, as exemplified by a striking wartime poem, En Marche. There are lyrics, too, by Henderson’s friend, the late Stuart MacGregor, Hunter singing his moving The Presence (to Archie Fisher’s tune), and the revelation of a hitherto unrecorded song by MacGregor, Blossom in the Spring. Jim Gilchrist
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