Album reviews: Ed Sheeran | Diana Ross | Wet Wet Wet | Admiral Fallow
Chart-conquering Ed Sheeran oscillates between his Radio 1 and Radio 2 personas on his new album, writes Fiona Shepherd
Ed Sheeran: = (Equals) (Asylum/Atlantic) ***
Diana Ross: Thank You (Decca) ****
Wet Wet Wet: The Journey (Dry Records) ***
Admiral Fallow: The Idea of You (Chemikal Underground) ****
Ed Sheeran, the multi-millionaire young dad next door, enjoys such unassailable commercial success that there is literally no competition – he had to knock himself off the top of the singles chart this summer with his first everyman missives from fourth album = (Equals).
He’s getting pretty good at this mass appeal pop thing. Equals is slick, impressive, even admirable, oscillating smoothly between his Radio 1 and Radio 2 personas, from the amiable pop R&B of Stop the Rain straight into the James Blunt ballad territory of Love In Slow Motion. It may be predictable but there is an art to straddling markets and Sheeran has got it licked.
Equals is Sheeran’s millennial coming of age album, brimming with simple sentiments on marriage and fatherhood which are sure to win him brownie points with the wife. Tides is a pounding ode to changed priorities and parental responsibilities, Collide a “remember that time…?” bonding song and Sandman a cutesy lullaby for his daughter.
He keeps it autobiographical on the acoustic whimsy of First Times, counting off the identifiable life landmarks (apart from the bit about playing Wembley), while Visiting Hours, his requiem for his mentor, the Australian record executive Michael Gudinski, walks a fine line between sincerity and schmaltz (“I wish that heaven had visiting hours and I’d ask if I could take you home”), but will surely resonate with legions, especially after 18 months when quality time at end-of-life was at a premium.
Sheeran may have the ubiquity but Diana Ross hoards all the star quality pizazz on her first album of new original material in over 20 years. Thank You was recorded during lockdown in her home studio, mostly co-written by Ross, and produced by Jack Antonoff, who is best known for his work with Taylor Swift.
Ross is a different league of diva. Here be no collaborations with rappers or pop stars young enough to be her grandchildren, just a distilled audience with Diana, sounding fantastic. She twirls around the celebratory disco title track, reggaeton-infused If The World Just Danced and tango-inflected I Still Believe, offers twinkly encouragement over jazz pop chords on All Is Well and a conveyor belt of affirmation on the smooth R&B of In Your Heart.
Just In Case is a Bacharachian tender love declaration, with mellow trumpet and trembling strings. She tips over into schmaltz on the Siedah Garrett-penned The Answer’s Always Love but the melodramatic Beautiful Love is a mother’s pledge with sequins on. By the time she graciously imparts her favour on A Time to Call, it’s a pleasure simply to touch the hem of her garment.
Wet Wet Wet release the first album of their post-Marti Pellow life with eminently capable singer Kevin Sims. The Journey treads a familiar musical path from the smooth 80s soul pop of Back to Memphis to lounge bar ballad Northern Town and slinky late night croon Cold Black Coffee Blues. If I Don’t Have Luv is their patented Caledonian take on Stevie Wonder rapture, with carefree brass section and electro funk keyboard solo. There are clear echoes of Pellow’s style on the southern soul Americana of Colours but rootsy pop number Comin’ Around allows Simm to push his vocal and seal his role in the band.
Admiral Fallow’s fourth album – and first for Chemikal Underground – was completed way back in pre-pandemic 2019, but there is a timelessness baked into the grooves as the Glasgow band continue to develop their rich yet soft blend of pop, rock and roots. A warm confidence emanates from tracks such as Dragonfly and The Grand National, 1993, with its intoxicating male/female harmonies and gorgeous arrangement redolent of Deacon Blue or Gerry Rafferty.
The Myth of Venice (Delphian) ****
There’s something about the unique sound of Venice in the 16th century that emanates instant opulence, joy and utter self-confidence, even when presented, as here, by a simple duo of cornetto (just one!) and keyboards. Performers Gawain Glenton and Silas Wollston (operating variously on organ and virginals) explore works by the international set who found employment in and around the famous St Mark’s Cathedral, as well as composers whose music would have reached the city state via its adventurous musical appetite and prolific publishing industry, from Adrian Willaert, Andrea Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo to Claude Gervais and Palestrina. Glenton’s nimble and regal facility and Wollston’s crisp keyboard performances (given added piquancy by the organ’s unequal tuning system) give what could potentially have been a glut of similarity a freshness at every turn. Ken Walton
Old Blind Dogs: Knucklehead Circus (Own Label) ****
Celebrating their 30th anniversary next year, the Old Blind Dogs have undergone numerous personnel changes, with original founder member, fiddler Jonny Hardie now joined by piper Ali Hutton, guitarist-singer Aaron Jones and percussionist Donald Hay. They’ve lost none of their exuberance, however, as this 14th album suggests. Their take-no-prisoners side is exemplified by Hutton’s blistering pairing of Gordon Duncan’s reel The Thin Man with the traditional Hommage à Edmond Parizeau. In contrast, a sensitively played Gaelic song air from the Hardie fiddle gives way to the crisply syncopated Akins Reel, with fluid whistle from Hutton, and there’s an elegantly circling Breton set. Songs include a heartfelt rendering of the Davy Steele song Farewell tae the Haven and the bitter political broadside Here We Go Again, while Hardie’s earthy North-East tones lead John Barleycorn, the band driving that hoary old resurrection ballad with a vengeance. Jim Gilchrist
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