record reviews march 2013


EASE SPRINGS

Who Is Leonard Bopper? (Own Label)

ease springs

Their name’s an old military term for emptying the bowels, which leaves them wide open for reviews about producing a shit album, but, while hardly ‘single-handedly resurrecting and reinventing the sounds and attitudes of hard rock for an unsuspecting generation’, the Essex trio’s debut is a competent and at times quite good affair. Opening tracks No Sleep Tonight and Swayze come with generic riffs, a basic rock drum rhythm and a pretty basic heavy rock melody line that calls to mind the lesser lights of the NWOBHM.

However, while Legalised, Controlled and Sold is solid enough blues rock things pick up with the arrival of Night Like These when they dispense with the off the shelf headbanging, pick up an acoustic guitar and actually sing. Transparent and Last in Line are above average uptempo rock numbers that would sound better were it not for a production that makes the drums sound like they’ve been covered with damp proofing to deaden the sound. And that’s what really stops the album from catching fire as you suspect the band might live with numbers like the poppy chorus driven Travelling Girl.

Rather late in the day, Playing Games with its reverb guitar twang, tribal rhythm and a Morricone touched melody that recalls Survivor, lifts the standard and both it and the last two tracks, The Fungus Gardens with its galloping drums, dramatic guitars and soaring vocals and There’s No Way’s hints of 60s psychedelic garage rock and jazzy percussion, are actually very good indeed. They must know the rest of album isn’t anywhere near the same standard and it might have been a better idea to wait until their songwriting had had a good colonic irrigation and they could ease out more of that quality.

Mike Davies

POST WAR YEARS

Galapagos (Chess Club)

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The recent 80s synth-pop fad seeming to have run its course, those not wishing to become relics are having to expand their horizons. PWY have opted to get a bit darker and colder, sounding closer to early Gary Numan or pre-Ure Ultravox with Mellatron, lacing The Bell with industrial Krautrock and playing around with prog for All Eyes although Volcano lets in a little light with its Euro dance beats.

It’s all technically polished and meticulously crafted, the closing track, God, is a multi-layered, expansive number full of varied electronic colours and their interweaving harmonies, but like pretty much everything else it’s easier to stand back and appreciate than be affected by it. There’s a lot of sonic depth but it’s all somehow remote, offering an atmospheric backdrop without anything truly memorable to the front of its musical frame. The Galapagos, you may recall, were the islands that provided Darwin with the material that led to his theory of evolution by natural selection. Whether this proves the band’s next step up the chain or their extinction, remains to be seen.

Mike Davies

TEGAN AND SARA

Heartthrob (Warner)

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After a fistful of lo-fi folk rock albums flirting with the indie wallflowers, the identical gay Quin twins have decided to stop being coy and made an album that sashays up to mainstream pop audiences and sticks its tongue down their throat. Opening with Closer where they weld together ABBA and Fleetwood Mac, there’s no doubting their intention to compete for the Katy and Gaga coin as they unleash uptempo melodic dance floor friendly numbers like the staccato Goodbye, Goodbye, cascading pop strut Drove Me Wild and the tick tock like clockwork I Couldn’t Be Your Friend, balancing these with such arena sized heartbreak ballads as I Was A Fool, How Come You Don’t Want Me and the acoustic based Love They Say, a song that’ll have you checking the writing credits for the names Ulvaeus and Andersson.

With its unabashed 80s and 90s influences, it would be easy to file it under retro (I’m Not Your Hero even has a touch of The Bangles and Go Gos), but there’s a 21st century punch and sparkle, particularly on the soul-veined Now I’m All Messed Up, that feels precisely now. The album ends on the dance beat Shock To The System, a title that their core fan base may take to heart, but this is exactly the sort of defibrillator today’s pop music needs.

Mike Davies

THE PLEA

The Dreamers Stadium (Planet Function)

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Do you fondly remember those early U2 days of I Will Follow, Stories For Boys, 11 O Clock Tick Tock and New Year’s Day, but you still haven’t found what you’re looking for then the search ends in Co. Donegal with this debut album by the Ballyliffin quartet.

The title gives a pretty good idea of the ambitions it harbours, but were there any doubts magnificent opening track Stagger s Anthem brushes them away from its first notes, its urgent melodic swell, passionate guitars, Denis Doherty’s vocal quiver and lyrical theme of seizing the day recalling not just Bono and co but the glory days of fellow Irish outfits Cactus World News and Ruefrex.

Starting at the mountain summit, their footing rarely slips and their oxygen never fails. Taking the tempo down, guitars chiming The Odyssey sticks the knife into a wounded relationship (‘I hear you lost your mind, small things are hard to find’) before the rock swagger returns for Praise Be, bringing with it echoes of vintage Verve. These continue to resonate through Feel It Ticking while I Am The Miracle reprises the atmospherics and urgent power of U2’s Boy album, a mood that equally pervades the Mexican wave bounce and crowd engulfing hooks of Oh Ah Yay and a rousingly euphoric Send It Out with its nods to New Year’s Day.

It goes without saying that the album comes with a full powder keg of emotion charged stadium ballads: the piano backed slow building Windchime with its lines about writing love songs about suicide, arms in the air swayer Out Like A Light and impassioned, epic closing track Too Young To Die. Then, hidden away at the end, comes the Lennon-influenced acoustic guitar and organ When The Boat Comes Home with its la la la singalong chorus to prove they don’t have to rip open their chests to release the emotion,

It’s not totally flawless, Praise Be is fairly generic swagger as Doherty sneers out the lyrics and Glass Waltz feels as much filler here as With A Shout did on October or Shadows And Tall Trees on Boy, but as with those it doesn’t take away from the overall blistering. They fully warrant and deserve the stadiums to which they aspire and would be a real injustice if this plea fell on deaf ears.

Mike Davies

BUSH

Live! Sea Of Memories (Zuma Rock)

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Inexplicably massive in America, they had four Top 20 albums, with Razorblade Suitcase making #1. Back home, where they were not undeservedly dismissed as a wannabe Nirvana, it was their only real success, peaking at No 4 and yielding solitary Top 20 single, Swallowed. Today, unless you were a fan, you’d be hard pushed to name any of their other singles and if the name of singer Gavin Rossdale rings any bells at all, it’s probably because he’s married to Gwen Steffani. Certainly it won’t be for his solo album, WANDERlust, which failed to chart at all.

So, there’s unlikely to be a queue of punters lining up for this limited edition 2CD box set which features the deluxe version of 2011’s ‘comeback’ album, The Sea Of Memories (their most melodically accessible, it made #18 in the States and, er, #200 here) with three extra new numbers, a couple of remixes, an acoustic Float and a live version of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide. You might have expected them to throw in their all new Into The Blue though, otherwise only available on The Avengers soundtrack.

The other disc is a DVD of their 2012 Roseland Theatre show in Portland, their first ever recorded live performance, featuring new members Corey Britz and Chris Traynor and a set list ranging across a career of such fan favourites as Glycerine, Machinehead, and Everything Zen as well as tracks from the new album. In addition there’s five unplugged numbers from Tape.TV and videos for recentish singles Baby Come Home and The Sound of Winter. Probably essential if you’re a fan, otherwise it’ll be bargain bin business as usual.

Mike Davies

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