Album reviews: The Snuts | Pixies | Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Whitburn four-piece The Snuts get political on their second album, while Pixies’ dystopian visions seem to be catching up with them, writes Fiona Shepherd
The Snuts: Burn the Empire (Parlophone Records) ***
Pixies: Doggerel (Infectious) ****
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Cool It Down (Secretly Canadian) ****
Following the considerable coup of scoring a Number One with their debut album, WL, Whitburn quartet The Snuts continue their development as a Scottish Arctic Monkeys with this confident follow-up. No second album bloat here – Burn the Empire takes care of business with less look-what-we-can-do filler than its predecessor. All songs weigh in at around the three-minute mark or less, while lyrically frontman Jack Cochrane has moved well beyond the hometown exploits, characters and concerns of WL to address socio-political topics head-on.
His is not the first voice on the album – that accolade goes to a sample of the late Tony Benn warning against state control on the title track. While Cochrane’s contention that “the world is controlled by people controlling people… so come on people” is not quite as eloquent, it works well as a brattish call to action, while it’s not difficult to imagine their raucous fans having fun with the title chant.
Zuckerpunch is also about control – the stealth control of social media and, in a neat nod to the old C+C Music Factory hit, “all the things that make you go hmmm”, with Cochrane hankering for the simpler times “when the phone in your pocket only had a few games”.
Having hit the ground running, there is a brief sonic breather on twinkling indie ballad 13, though the lyrics remain hard-hitting in their indictment of poverty and provision of services as the song builds a head of steam.
The banal End of the Road, with the breathy guest vocals of their labelmate Rachel Chinouriri, sounds like a sop to radio programmers, while Cosmic Electronica is a not entirely successful experiment in tooled-up electro rock, though Cochrane delivers some of his most fluent vocals. Elsewhere, he conveys ragged fragility on acoustic ballad Yesterday and rasps effectively on the ringing momentum of Pigeons in New York before the whole band flex their muscles on the rocking blowout of Blah Blah Blah.
The Snuts would be the first to admit that they stand on the shoulders of indie giants who have gone before – and two such titans return this week to show how it’s done. Pixies’ dystopian visions are catching up with them – perhaps for the first time since they formed in the mid-Eighties, real life is stranger than their lyrics but there is still probably no other band on earth who would write a song called You’re Such a Sadducee, even if just to rhyme with “sad to see”, or pair “economy” with “Deutoronomy”.
While frontman Black Francis is on his best Ray Davies behaviour on acoustic guitar-led pop tracks Haunted House and The Lord Has Come Back Today, guitarist Joey Santiago gets his first Pixies songwriting credit on Dregs of the Wine and twists classic traditions with the gothic surf guitar of Vault of Heaven and mean lunatic rocker There’s a Moon On. The title track is more of a conventional rock epic, snapping at the five-minute mark – a wanton indulgence by trim Pixies standards.
New York trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs release their first new music in nine years, and they are in electro heaven and climate hell on Cool It Down.
Spitting Off the Edge of the World opens with a huge synthesizer riff, guest vocalist Perfume Genius adds a few tremulous line and frontwoman Karen O switches between commanding declamation and trilling sensitivity. The synthesizers are no outlier, also providing the lead instrumentation on the rapturous torch song Lovebomb, the sky-scraping jubilation of Wolf and the fun and funky electro R&B of Fleez before Nick Zinner finally lets rip with some fuzz guitar on Burning.
Spiritato: 17th-Century Sonatas for the Düben Collection (Delphian) ****
Just as the Bach family monopolised court music in the German regions of Thuringia and Saxony, so another German family, the Dübens, held sway over the Royal Court in Sweden where three successive generations acted as Capellmeisters between 1640 and 1720. Their forte appears to have been the collection, copying and performance of music widely representative of the period, rather than their own compositions. This rosy disc by early music ensemble Spiritato feeds off the legacy contained in the well-researched Düben Collection housed in Uppsala University, the fruits of which combine such known names as Buxtehude, but equally introduces us to such lesser-knowns as the smoothly efficient Clemens Thieme and Andreas Kirchhoff. The glossiest examples, however, are those pieces featuring trumpets – the Swedish Court had a separate trumpet core – by Albrici, Prentzel, Löwe and Melani. It’s in these that Spiritato’s easeful virtuosity under director Kinga Ujszászi gleams brightest. Ken Walton
Nicki Leighton-Thomas: One Good Scandal (33Jazz Records) ****
Nicki Leighton-Thomas gives supple, appropriately knowing voice to the worldly-wise lyrics of the late Fran Landesman – the “Godmother of Hip”, with music composed largely by long-time Landesman collaborator, pianist Simon Wallace. She’s accompanied by a choice ensemble including Wallace plus saxophonist Dave O’Higgins and trumpeter Steve Waterman. The purposefully swinging and waspish opener, Semi-Detached, with its Milesian rasp of trumpet, heralds some gloriously wanton outpourings. Leighton-Thomas oozes slinky menace in Overture to Corrupt and Deprave, while the luscious slow blues of Did We Have Any Fun? is spliced with Paul Stacey’s stingy guitar and rippling tenor sax. Another blues, The Hyde Side, is addressed coyly to Dr Jekyll’s eponymous other half. It’s Only a Movie, in contrast, is easefully accompanied simply by acoustic guitar, while the wry I’m the Girl You Can’t Forget, which Landesman wrote specifically for Leighton-Thomas, is sensitively escorted by Wallace’s piano. Jim Gilchrist