Album reviews: The Jesus and Mary Chain | Kim Gordon | Norah Jones | Alston/Kirk Overdrive

The Jesus and Mary Chain mark their 40th anniversary with an album that wades into new musical territory, writes Fiona Shepherd

The Jesus & Mary Chain: Glasgow Eyes (Fuzz Club) ***

Kim Gordon: The Collective (Matador) ***

Norah Jones: Visions (Blue Note Records) ****

Alston/Kirk Overdrive: Broadside Ballads Reconfigured (Velvet Coast Recordings) ****

There was a time in The Jesus and Mary Chain’s early days when few would have bet on the band lasting more than 40 weeks, yet here are the brothers Reid marking 40 years since the release of their debut single Upside Down. Just don’t come to their latest album expecting a nostalgic celebration. Glasgow Eyes looks backwards in some regards, with themes inspired by the writing of their autobiography, shout-outs to Lou Reed and the Stones and the blatant ongoing musical inspiration of Suicide but musically they do wade into new territory, treating Mogwai’s Castle of Doom studio as a sonic playground to dress up a piecemeal collection of songs in experimental robes.

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Venal Joy is the Mary Chain in nasty mode, with Jim Reid hissing in your ear against a relentless electro punk pulse before the track stutters to a stop. In the absence of general tuneage, Reid sings in a dread whisper over foreboding guitar picking on Mediterranean X Film. Discotheque is another malevolent mantra with curt twanging guitar, while the distorted blues crawl of Pure Poor picks at old scabs.

Recent single jamcod rakes over the 1998 LA gig which hastened the band’s demise first time round, with the withering, Dylan-referencing line “best notify the other brother, there’s no place to go”, while Jim Reid is so pleased with the lyric “you’ve got a world of shiny things, I got six dirty silver strings” that he repeats it ad infinitum over the inexorable prowling rhythm of Silver Strings.

The Jesus and Mary Chain PIC: Mel Butler PhotographyThe Jesus and Mary Chain PIC: Mel Butler Photography
The Jesus and Mary Chain PIC: Mel Butler Photography

The Eagles and The Beatles is a glam punk stomp which owes nothing to the titular artists but declares “I’ve been rolling with the stones” like a throwaway playground rhyme. The dark confessional Chemical Animal riffs lyrically on the Stones (“I’m not pleased to meet you”) in its portrayal of drug dependency and finally there is some blessed hint of tunefulness on the garage strut of Girl 71.

Kim Gordon is a fellow veteran of the noise/melody school, still unleashing uncompromising sounds at the age of 70. Her second solo album, following the demise of her band Sonic Youth, teams her beseeching drawl with the distorted sound design of producer Justin Raisen to sometimes cacophonous and frequently witty effect, as Gordon details her packing list over the low-slung noise pop of Bye Bye, asks “so what if I like a big truck?” on I’m A Man and offers some “motivational” insights on I Don’t Miss My Mind. The whole dissonant trawl sounds like a cross between Throbbing Gristle and Kendrick Lamar with the occasional throwback to Sonic Youth’s post-punk demolition of the American dream.

After the pandemic purging of 2020’s Pick Me Up Off the Floor, Norah Jones sounds liberated on her latest album, rocking the rapturous retro soul of All This Time, the woozy psychedelic rootsiness of Staring at the Wall and the twinkling, coquettish soul jazz of Paradise. The romantic sway of Queen of the Sea is toughened up with earthy guitar and growling saxophone while gentle mariachi brass and banjo back the title track of this balmy album.

Orange Juice guitarist James Kirk and Del Amitri keyboard player Andy Alston have worked together before as Crooked Timbers. Reconvening as the wryly named Alston/Kirk Overdrive for Broadside Ballads Reconfigured, they recruit the likes of Trashcan Sinatras frontman Frank Reader, chanteuse Christine Bovill and American-Scottish singer/songwriter Marilyn Carino to embellish their silken, fragrant pop take on a batch of traditional ballads. Trembling Bells frontwoman Lavinia Blackwall is generally all over this stuff but elsewhere these olden lyrics are reborn as blue-eyed soul, luscious pop funk and even an Arab Strap-like odyssey narrated by Alston and dated only the anachronistic reference to “blunderbusses”.

Norah JonesNorah Jones
Norah Jones


The Sixteen: Masters of Imitation (CORO) *****

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” goes the common misquote from Oscar Wilde, given he went on to add “….that mediocrity can pay to greatness”. In this latest a cappella release by Harry Christophers and his impeccable choir The Sixteen, Wilde’s deflating qualification can be dispensed with. Masters of Imitation celebrates the art of musical parody prevalent in Renaissance Europe, where composers borrowed fragments of existing works to model entire new pieces. The key flatterer here is Orlande de Lassus, whose own sumptuous motet Osculetur me osculo iris sui is later viewed through the magnifying lens of the Credo from his Mass of the same name, just as he transforms Josquin’s Benedicta es caelorum Regina into a dizzyingly splendid Magnificat. Music by Casulana and Châtelet explore similar grounds before Lassus himself is parodied in Bob Chilcott’s Lauda Jerusalem Dominum, a refreshingly contemporary example of this historical phenomenon. Ken Walton


Kim GordonKim Gordon
Kim Gordon

Far Flung Collective: To a Sea Cliff (Own Label) ****

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The third album by this enterprising collaboration spanning the British Isles, from the Hebrides to Dorset, starts travelling right from the glitter and shimmer of the opening Durdle Door, propelled on its way by strings, percussion and wordless vocals. The collective’s core of Uist-based fiddler and composer Anna-Wendy Stevenson, singer Mabel Duncan, multi-instrumentalist Dan Somogyi and Dorset singer-guitarist Alex Roberts is joined by numerous guests, creating genre-crossing arrangements which occasionally verge on overblown but are frequently beguiling. There’s potent atmosphere, as in the title track, its otherworldly synths framing a poem by Thomas Hardy, while Dorset’s Jurassic Coast informs The Sea, The Sea, with Duncan’s incantation of deep time. Traditional-style jigs from Stevenson contrast with the closing Avian Migration, an inarguably migratory treatment of the reel Steàman Beag (Little Tern) as the venturesome bird rides a beefy dub beat far beyond the Hebrides. Jim Gilchrist

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