Album reviews: Gorillaz | Tide Lines | Philip Selway | Free Love

Gorillaz are as cartoony as ever on their new album, but the music is seriously good, writes Fiona Shepherd

Gorillaz: Cracker Island (Parlophone) ****

Tide Lines: An Ocean Full of Islands (Self-released) ***

Philip Selway: Strange Dance (Bella Union) ***

Free Love: Inside (Lost Map) ****

Fair play to Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett for maintaining the distinctive animated universe of Gorillaz, the cartoon band with the human puppeteers and a lot of famous friends queuing up to contribute to their albums.

This time round, guitarist Noodle is all grown up, singer 2D has changed eye colour, bassist Murdoc is getting on a bit, drummer Russel Hobbs is still a badass and they’ve all set sale for Cracker Island, established on the sleek disco funk-infused shimmy of the title track as a cultish place “where the truth was auto-tuned”. Ace bassist Thundercat brings the supplementary funkiness and, not for the last time, the backing vocals function like a Greek chorus.

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Albarn has always been good at evoking a sense of place in his music. In contrast to the post-Brexit Englandshire landscapes of one of his other bands, The Good, The Bad & the Queen, Cracker Island is redolent of east LA heat haze, night time neon driving and Black Mirror techno paranoia, from the wistful Tired Influencer to the endless scrolling of Silent Running with its sumptuous Eighties synths and soulful backing vocals from Adeleye Omotayo.

Tide LinesTide Lines
Tide Lines

Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker has already successfully occupied this dreamy electro pop territory, so he’s a keen choice of collaborator on New Gold, where he is joined by rapper Bootie Brown of The Pharcyde, riffing on former Gorillaz guest Shaun Ryder. Beck is also on familiar ground, through his collaboration is a more conventional piano ballad, Possession Island, gussied up with some mariachi brass.

Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny brings the Caribbean reggaeton vibes on Tormenta but, given the overall attention to detail, Stevie Nicks, the queen of Californian MOR, is somewhat wasted on the digital unease of the slick Oil.

Tide Lines evoke an entirely different mood and landscape – that of a Visit Scotland advert, glossily encapsulating the breathtaking natural beauty of the Highlands. An Ocean Full of Islands is the say-what-you-see response to the view from their studio, a converted church on Mull, and builds on their burgeoning reputation as likely successors to the Runrig mantle. Where their peers Peat and Diesel are the raucous punk boys, Tide Lines are brazenly sentimental, injecting their breezy, catchy tunes with a dash of Springsteenesque romance.

Despite their relatively young years, they are already nostalgic for carefree youth on These Days, while Colour Scheme is a gentle, rather old-fashioned portrait of the relationship interactions of ordinary folks. They go big on Like a Soldier, a propulsive rocker with synth embellishments, dial it down on the dewy-eyed Last Song and ramp up Maybe Everyone Knows into a festival-ready lighter-waving swayalong.

Radiohead drummer Philip Selway also conveys a sense of scale alongside intimacy on this third solo album, where fragile songs are beefed up with creative arrangements from forward-thinking musicians such as Hannah Peel and Adrian Utley. Selway relinquishes the drumstool to Valentina Magaletti and the London Chamber Orchestra are on hand to realise the glistening chimes, scraping strings and repetitive patterns of What Keeps You Awake At Night and the unsettling percussion and shifting sands of the title track.

Lewis and Suzi Cook, aka Glasgow’s Free Love, are more than capable of whipping up an arty party but their latest album is a softer, meditative missive, completed during lockdown shortly before the birth of their son and informed by their yoga practise. Inside seduces steadily with the trippy psychedelic electro of Le Mirage, beatific chimes and bonus oscillation of Open the Door, pitch-shifted mantra Golden Goose and the fuzzy funk rhythm and proper Parisian club nirvana of “slow NRG” highlight Dans Le Noir.


Esther Yoo: Barber and Bruch (Deutsche Grammophon) ****

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There’s no doubting the passion and certitude that lights up these solo performances by violinist Esther Yoo, nor the potent supporting presence of the RPO and its conductor Vasily Petrenko. The partnership is vigorous and rigorous, notable from the very start of Bruch’s Violin Concerto, though it’s a little too stop-and-go for my liking. In the Adagio, Yoo’s countenance remains earthy, but is now filled with directional eloquence and tenderness. The finale is grand and ecstatic. Bruch’s lesser-known Adagio Appassionato offers a searing, elegiac postscript before Yoo turns to the succulent flavourings of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. She pitches this one perfectly, the soft-scented playfulness of the opening Allegro, the melting lyricism of the Andante, the racy unstoppability of the Presto finale, then signs off with Vieuxtemps offbeat Souvenir d'Amerique, a flamboyant, appropriately hammy, confection of variations on the popular tune Yankee Doodle. Ken Walton


Firelight Trio: Firelight Trio (Proper Music) *****

An inspired alliance of fiddler Gavin Marwick, nyckelharpa player Ruth Morris and Phil Alexander on accordion and piano, this accomplished debut does indeed glow. Their blend of string, reed and joyfully eclectic repertoire makes for a rich-toned, pan-European excursion, ranging from an 18th-century Scots strathspey by “Red Rob” Mackintosh, to much self-composed material steeped in klezmer, Balkan and other influences. The opening set – the stately klezmer glide of Chasen Senem plus two animated, reel-time Marwick compositions – gives way to the tarantella-like En Charrette then much more, such as two fine polskas. There’s the roistering pairing of Schicki Micki and Acrobat’s Bridge, both by Alexander, but as well as all this pan-European high energy, there are lovely moments, as in the Satie-esque pacing of The Radical Road and the similarly piano-led and winsome Rooftop Chorale. Jim Gilchrist