Album reviews: Katy Perry | Beth Ditto | Fleet Foxes
Katy Perry: Witness Capitol **
Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar Virgin Records ***
Fleet Foxes: Crack-Up Nonesuch ****
Katy Perry’s gleeful, satirical performance depicting Donald Trump and Theresa May as giant skeletal mannequins was a talking point of this year’s Brit Awards, confirming that underneath all the candy-coloured froth of Perry’s pop output, there is a shrewd operator at work. Sadly, she hasn’t followed through on Witness, her latest album by committee, which has been hailed by Perry with the kind of vacuous psychobabble you might expect from Beyoncé but is seriously suffering from a pop personality bypass. Fellow singer/songwriter Sia and producer Max Martin emerge honorably from her blizzard of co-writers with the brazenly catchy Chained to the Rhythm but this sugary standout is a blip on a crowded dancefloor.
Much of Witness follows its club-friendly pop template but with less to catch the ear nor to mark this out as the work of Perry over any of her pop peers. The likes of Roulette and Déjà vu are aimed squarely at the dancefloor but not even the usually irresistible Hot Chip avoid the homogeneity on Into Me You See.
One-man-band Jack Garratt adds trebly sax and skittering syndrums to the processed R&B of Power, on which Perry contends, rather unconvincingly, that she is “a woman reborn”, while Hey Hey Hey offers a glossy distortion of female empowerment.
Swish Swish, livened by a Fatboy Slim sample and guest slot by Nicki Minaj, is said to be her retort to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood while Bigger Than Me is her banal post-mortem on the US presidential election, during which she was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton.
All of which leaves one overlooking the folksy wisdom to clutch at the power chords of Pendulum, an air-punching 80s AOR production with a gospel backing chorus and Perry’s best vocal of the set.
Regrettably, it looks like Beth Ditto, the powerhouse former frontwoman of The Gossip, is sliding in the same direction on her debut solo outing. The indie garage firebrand responsible for the LGBT rallying cry Standing In The Way Of Control is somewhat tamed and chastened on the slickly produced Fake Sugar, which offers little to serve her ballsy, belting blues voice.
Instead, she inhabits blandly bombastic Adele territory on Lover, surrenders to unbridled power balladry on Love in Real Life and blends country roots with subtle synths on the understated title track. Ditto has a pleasing pop tone but is a punk rocker at heart. A little of that spiky attitude shines through on Ooh La La, which is not to be confused with the superior Goldfrapp or Faces tracks of the same name.
Now that Fleet Foxes have returned from a six-year hiatus, we can thank/blame them personally for paving the way for Mumford & Sons but also for spawning the raffish Father John Misty from their ranks. Fleet Foxes land somewhere in the middle, between the former’s bland quasi-folk strummery and the latter’s acid-tongued MOR pop.
The Seattle-bred five-piece literally pick up where they left off on the same notes which ended 2011’s Helplessness Blues and there’s an instant frisson of recognition in the baroque folk pop, lush layers of 12-string guitar, symphonic strings, supple, silvery harmonies and Robin Pecknold’s clear voice cutting through on the soaring likes of Fool’s Errand.
This current single is one of the more conventionally structured songs here but elsewhere they embark on little minor key meanders and epic multi-part adventures, channelling the melodic spirit and musical questing of David Crosby via elements of psychedelic pop, prog rock and fusion jazz on the undulating Odaigahara and mini-symphony Cassius.
Jean-Marie Leclair: Violin Concertos Glossa ****
Jean-Marie Leclair combined the prevalent Italian lineage of string writing of Vivaldi and Corelli with that most cultural hallmark of his own French breeding, the dance.
He was writing at the same time as the slightly older Bach, but eschewing the intellectual dogma of the German High Baroque to allow his natural Gallic élan free and melodious flight.
Thus the beautiful cross currents that give his violin concertos – four of which (from the Op 7 set) are included in this stylish recording by soloist/director Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante – a delicious warmth and charm.
Bondi’s playing has a melting purity, and a precision offset ever so subtly by languid elasticity and nuance. His small band of strings and continuo find equal warmth in accompaniment, ever vital but luxurious in tone.
Colette Cassidy & Nigel Clark: Confetti Falling in the Rain CC Records ****
Dublin-based Glasgow guitarist Nigel Clark has demonstrated his peerless acoustic playing with everyone from Hue and Cry to Carol Kidd and Tim Kliphuis. Here he teams up with the lissom-voiced Irish singer-songwriter Colette Cassidy in these impeccably framed songs of life, love and loss. Not all of them stand out, but there is plenty to engage here, right from the opening After Hours, which sees the duo set out their stall with authoritative, bluesy style, Cassidy singing with slinky, Stormy-Weatherish languor. The title track, too, is slow and sinuous while Tales When We Were Young is a poised and richly voiced number reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s Blue period. Clark’s responsive accompaniments are masterly, rippling gently as Cassidy’s voice hangs effortlessly in the air in the lingering, bittersweet Maybe, strolling in the Satie-esque drift of Pumpkin Moon or breaking into snappy swing for Blue Gas Flame.