Album reviews: James Blunt | Duran Duran | OMD | The Kills
James Blunt: Who We Used To Be (Atlantic Records) **
Duran Duran: Danse Macabre (BMG) **
OMD: Bauhaus Staircase (100% Records) ***
The Kills: God Games (Domino) ***
James Blunt returns in relatively perky mode with his seventh album – an easy mix of all the tried-and-tested pop flavours, with a couple of earworms and a lot of bland filler, not least the airbrushed mid-paced pop of Some Kind of Beautiful and middle of the road rumination All the Love That I Ever Needed, two of several tracks inspired by his wife – the best of which is the moderately catchy dance pop number Beside You.
Elsewhere, he moons from the sidelines at someone else’s wedding on Confetti and Roses and applies some cosmetic trip-hop beats to the otherwise standard issue mawkish ballad Last Dance. Both are laments for missed opportunities he sees around him, even as Saving A Life accepts that you can’t fix other people’s issues.
He says goodbye to his longtime pal Carrie Fisher on Dark Thought but arguably the album’s most bittersweet moment comes on I Won’t Die With You as he tries to convince a friend that life begins rather than ends at 40 with the sad admission that “I can’t quite put my finger on the time that you went missing”.
Two titans of Eighties electro pop return in the same week, with varying levels of credibility. Fresh from their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the ever confident Duran Duran have learned no lessons from previous misadventures in cover version land, with fans still scarred by their rendition of Public Enemy’s 911 Is a Joke.
The vaguely Hallowe’en themed Danse Macabre ploughs ahead in the same awkward ballpark with an overegged rocker take on Billy Eilish’s Bury a Friend. Their versions of The Specials’ Ghost Town and The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black are as bad as one might fear, fine for the 2022 party set which inspired the album but not for recorded immortalisation.
Siouxsie & the Banshees’ Spellbound is given a beefy Eighties rock makeover, more in keeping with Siouxsie’s Bromley punk peer Billy Idol, while a faithful take on the baroque disco of Cerrone’s Supernature is more in their lane.
Super Lonely Freak is an eccentric mash-up of their own Lonely In My Nightmare and Rick James’s Super Freak, and they revisit more of their back catalogue with new recordings of slick disco-infused torch song Love Voudou and Secret Oktober 31st, a luminous Duran ballad with a touch of pomp and eerie music box sonics.
As for a trio of new originals, the title track marries bad rap and John Carpenter-style synths, dreamy ballad Confession in the Afterlife raises the low bar and Simon Le Bon attempts to access his inner Kylie on the space funk of Black Moonlight, spinning around with old pals Nile Rodgers and Andy Taylor joining him on the dancefloor.
OMD play it safer with superior results on Bauhaus Staircase, a comically pretentious title for an album which sounds, at points, like it has been unearthed from their own archives, with their signature cool synths married to slightly punky vocals on the title track and baroque pop straight outta 1981 on Anthropocene. Hauling themselves into the 21st century, the slinky glam electro of Slow Train carries shades of Goldfrapp, while retro-futuristic space opera Evolution of Species and the pacey protest of Kleptocracy would not be entirely out of place on a Muse album.
Electro punk duo The Kills cool their boots somewhat on their streamlined sixth album. God Games is less industrial blues and more slinky alt pop, characterised by the languorous title track and stealthy, seductive and sleek 103. The wittily named single Wasterpiece is a standout, with a grit and momentum missing elsewhere, but Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince still go all out on haunted piano ballad Blank.
Bob Chilcott: Christmas Oratorio (Delphian) ****
Bob Chilcott remains one of those unpretentious choral composers who has eschewed austere modernism to concentrate on a crafted, homely eloquence charmed into life by sweet-scented melody and fluid, inoffensive harmony. Such smooth sincerity is again borne out in his Christmas Oratorio, written in 2019 for the Three Choirs Festival and featuring the original performance team in this premiere recording. As with his earlier St John Passion the structural influence of Bach’s precursors is self-evident: the narrative thread of the harp-accompanied Evangelist (Nick Pritchard), key solo characters sung by Sarah Connolly (Mary) and Neal Davies (Herod and Simeon), among others, all cushioned by a peppering of hymns and canticles sung by the Choir of Merton College, Oxford. A mixed instrumental ensemble adds a rich hue to the seasonal mix. Under Benjamin Nicholas’ silken direction, the music glows with the cosiest of sentiments. Break out the mulled wine. Ken Walton
John Donegan: The Irish Sextet: Light Streams (Jayde records) ****
UK-based Corkonian pianist John Donegan and his Irish Sextet follow up their well-received Shadows Linger album with this conversely titled Light Streams. Donegan assembles the classic format of trumpet (Linley Hamilton), alto (Michael Buckley) and tenor (Richie Buckley) saxes with bassist Dan Bodwell and drummer John Daly. Their satisfying, well-structured straight-ahead is shot through with excitement and lyricism – not least in the no-nonsense opener, What’s This?, with trumpeter Hamilton and Michael Buckley both stepping up to the plate with panache. Michael deploys elegant soprano sax on the smartly paced ballad Close Nearby and leads with flute on the beautifully gliding title track, accompaniment stripped down to Donegan’s always well-considered piano, bass and shushing cymbals. Sinto-me Bem is a carnivalesque big-band flourish, Sonorial a thoughtful solo cameo from Donegan, while Richie lets rip on tenor in the loping swing of Blues for KJ. Jim Gilchrist