Album reviews: Elbow | The Black Crowes | Gossip | Starless

Elbow seem to have recovered their sense of scale on new album Audio Vertigo, writes Fiona Shepherd

Elbow: Audio Vertigo (Polydor) ****

The Black Crowes: Happiness Bastards (Silver Arrow Records) ***

Gossip: Real Power (Sony) ***

Starless: Returning Home (Last Night From Glasgow) ***

“Cool, really cool,” opines Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, overheard on an admittedly non-cool musical interlude on his band’s tenth album. It’s a fair assessment of the rest of Audio Vertigo, a sonically audacious contrast to its wistful, pandemic-inspired predecessor Flying Dream 1. If that album was a self-comforting retreat, this is the veteran band coming out swinging into the light, recovering their sense of scale without the bland quasi-anthemic fare on which they built their reputation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Arguably, Audio Vertigo is not more than the sum of its parts, but its parts are pretty engaging, with an emphasis on rhythm, such as the shifting, swaying Afrobeat elements of previous single Lovers’ Leap, which are paired with exultant blasts of brass, before the track blisses out in prog style, moving from Peter Gabriel to Pink Floyd in the last thirty seconds.

Things I’ve Been Telling Myself For Years is a big, sweeping, swaggering opener with poetic kitchen sink lyrics, gospelly backing vocals, bassy keyboard chords and burnished guitar licks, while Balu is built on fuzz bass, epic synth shards, shuffling drums and beefy brass band heft.


The Picture is the paciest number of the batch, its taut rhythm supplemented by handclaps, blunt rock guitar and twinkling synth arpeggios. New single Good Blood Mexico City is a fleet air-puncher and, in contrast, closing track From the River is a cleansing, invigorating dip.

Atlanta rockers The Black Crowes mark 40 years since their formation with their first new album in 15 years. No radical rebranding here, just the usual infectious blend of roots rock and rhythm’n’blues starring the mighty pipes of Chris Robinson, who shows off his vocal chops on the soulful comeback single Wanting and Waiting and starts out as a throaty balladeer before developing into a blues shouter on Cross Your Fingers.

Wilted Rose is a dusky duet with Grammy-winning country singer Lainey Wilson which whips up a storm, Bleed It Dry a clamorous blues with some Dylan swagger, while Flesh Wound is heads-down tub thumping, a right rumble of a relationship viewed in the rearview mirror, and the closing Kindred Friend is a shout-out to their loyal fanbase, with lashings of George Harrison-style guitar.

Indie rock trio Gossip return with similar vitality after a decade of silence with their new Rick Rubin-produced album Real Power. How welcome it is to hear the mighty soul power of Beth Ditto backed by her compadres Hannah Blilie and Brace Paine on the indie disco title track, which is another danceable protest song in the vein of Standing in the Way of Control, this one inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black CrowesBlack Crowes
Black Crowes

But Ditto also exercises her softer side on Peace and Quiet against acoustic guitars and choral keyboards, flirts with the pretty pop of Light It Up and bites into Don’t Be Afraid, a luscious slice of smooth Eightles soul with playful synth embellishments. There are some vanilla moments too but Ditto is always a pleasure to behold.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Returning Home is the third part of a loose trilogy of Starless albums, each helmed by former Friends Again/Love and Money keyboard player Paul McGeechan, working with an impressive roll call of guest vocalists. On this occasion, his collaborators represent the cream of Scottish folk singing – Kathleen McInnes, Maeve McKinnon – as well as his Eighties Scotpop peers – Jerry Burns, Hipsway’s Skin – and the magnificent Phil Campbell, while the material glides from the symphonic folk of High Tide, featuring Emily Smith, via restful instrumental Spiral to the filmic melodrama of Together. Chris Thomson’s breathy baritone croon envelops Elektra In Blue and Roddy Hart is well matched to the swirling, romantic Scotpop of Suffocate.


Tchaikovsky: Orchestral Works, Vol 2 (Chandos) ***


It’s only a couple of weeks since Alpesh Chauhan conducted the BBC SSO live in Tchaikovsky’s little-known symphonic poem Fatum, a work the composer doubted and ditched, but which posthumous restoration has preserved. The charm of this second Tchaikovsky volume – the first was also with the SSO – is that we learn a little more about the composer, even in works that have their shortcomings. Fatum itself is stylistically imperfect, more influenced than influential, yet marked by genuine Russian fire. Dances from the earliest surviving opera, The Oprichnik, are flirtatiously exciting, countered by the brooding fantasy overture Hamlet. Chauhan makes occasional heavy weather of these, though applying greater driven fluency to the more familiar Introduction to The Queen of Spades and the popular Capriccio Italien. The SSO are resilient throughout, not least in the final contrasting excerpts from the 1873 incidental music to Alexander Ostrovsky’s play, The Snow Maiden. Ken Walton


Session A9: The Magic Roundabout (RAJ Records) ****

No Dougal or Zebedee on this Magic Roundabout but plenty of joyously spinning music, courtesy of this seasoned assembly of fiddlers Kevin Henderson, Adam Sutherland, Charlie Mckerron and Gordon Gunn, with singer-guitarist Marc Clement, percussionist David “Chimp” Robertson and pianist Brian McAlpine. The album opens with an uncompromising stomp introducing Inspector John Duff of Braemar Police Mountain Rescue, a slick new strathspey by Sutherland, before collective fiddles dart into nimble reels by Mckerron and Gunn. There are gently rollicking waltzes and a warm, dance-band feel to Rachel’s Graduation Day. Clements gives robust voice to Tom Waits’s Heart of Saturday Night and Robbie Robertson’s Twilight, but it is the combination of drive and nimble bowing that defines the album, not least its title track, a Henderson composition which celebrates a chaotic roundabout in Swindon, fiddles flickering over pizzicato before the band works up a jubilant climax. Jim Gilchrist