Thursday, March 29, 2007

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank by Modest Mouse

Even if this record contained only the lead single, the stunningly radio-friendly, bounce-rock-with-horn-section behemoth 'Dashboard', it would still be worth the price of purchase. A perfect sequel to the radio-friendly crossover hit of 2005, 'Float On', from Good News for People who Love bad News, 'Dashboard' proves, as if there were any doubt, that Modest Mouse are as capable of making music commercially viable and totally awesome at the same time as anyone going around today. And that song isn't alone. 'Florida', with booming drums and crunching guitars becomes suddenly beautiful during the chorus. The addition of 80' music iconJohny Marr (The The, The Smiths) is a welcome, if subtle, change to an already fluid and dynamic band. In fact, if it weren't already common knowledge, Marr's influence would probably be put down to a change in producer, rather than the inclusion of a legendary musician.
Singer Isaac Brock's wildly varied vocals, from barking scream to soothing coo manage to co-exist, sometimes within one line of a song, without grating, and is once again a major factor in distinguishing Modest Mouse from the plethora of indie-rock impersonators that sprund up at about the same time.
If 'Dashboard' doesn't achieve the success it deserves, the record is hardly out of ammo. 'Missed the Boat' is a gently triumphant mid-tempo rock number, 'We've Got Everything' builds on 'Dashboard's' bouncy rhythms, while 'Invisible' is a pounding closer. MM virgins who think all of this sounds like a demanding listen would not be wrong, but, in the end, this is good news for people who loved Good News for People who Love Bad News.
4 stars


Friday, March 23, 2007


It all looked pretty normal at first. Grinderman. New Cave et al. side project. Nick Cave, with regular collaborators Warren Ellis on bouzouki, fendocaster, violin, viola etc., Marty P Casey on bass and Jim Sclavunos on percussion. Nick Cave on vocals and, hang on, Nick Cave on electric guitar? What the hell's happening? Has the world gone topsy turvy? Not even the reassuring note that Mr Cave had not abandoned his ivory tinkling was enough to shake the nagging feeling that something odd was afoot.
Apparently, he decided to pick up and learn the instrument a few weeks before entering the studio with this particular half of the Bad Seeds with no material ready. And the record begins on an appropriate atonal note, Cave striking a nothing note on his new strat, before launching into 'Get it On', cave booming 'Kick those baboons and other motherfuckers out, and GET IT ON!', with a thumping, grinding (sorry) exhiliration not heard on a Cave record for over a decade, with the possible exceptions of 'Babe, I'm on Fire' from 2003s Nocturama and 'Get Ready for Love' from 2005s Abattoir Blues. These old men, replete with awe-inspiring facial hair and suitably dishevelled demeanour are a great and clearly intentional step away from the growing maturity and sophistication of the Bad Seeds. This is men well into middle age reclaiming their youth. And loving every second. And we're invited for the ride.
And what a ride.
This is not to say that these blokes are in any way deluding themselves into believing that they can reclaim lost years. On the frankly amazing 'No Pussy Blues', happily married Cave laments the lack of sexual attention received from the younger generation, bemoaning 'I changed the sheets on my bed/I combed the hair across my head/I sucked in my gut and still she said/that she just didn't want to', revealing an awareness of the ravages of age that some bands seem to struggle with (and yes, I'm referring mainly to the Rolling Stones). Not only that, but it reveals Cave in fine form lyrically. Ironically, this acknowledgement of age and the desire to be younger is conveyed with a wit and lyricism that seems unreachable by that younger bunch of bands; there's no 'lady/maybe/baby' rhymes here. Try 'flower/hour/chihuahua'. The growing influence of Cave's regular Bad Seeds collaborators is clear to see, adding a subtle new edge to the now trademark cave vigour and gothic humour. This is not to say that this newfound vim comes mutually exclusive of maturity and tenderness, as evidenced on 'When my ove Comes Down' and the woozy bar-room blues of 'Go Tell the Woman' and 'I Don't Need You (to Set Me Free)'.
Closing on first single 'Love Bomb', Grinderman is reassuringly chaotic, yet cohesive and, most importantly, awesome, to warrant inclusion in the growing pantheon of Cave-related classics.
4 stars

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Neon Bible by The Arcade Fire

After releasing a record (2005's astonishing Funeral) that, despite some positively macabre subject matter (see the title), managed to resolutely hold its head high, uttering consistent refrains of hope and love springing eternally from fountains of pain and death, it's a little surprising that while the deaths of several family members wasn't enough to drag the Arcade Fire's spirits down, 18 months of relentless touring and examination does.

If Neon Bible is, perhaps inevitably, a little world-weary, it is probably a little understandable, after all, making the second album for a band hailed as all conquering heroes not two years ago would rest heavily on anyone's shoulders, it's certainly not cause for dismay. Opening with an ominous rumble of thunder and an insistent, yet strangely inconspicuous beat, album starter 'Black Mirror' sets the equally ominous tone, singer Win Butler intoning is his own inimitable way "I will walk down to the ocean/After waking from the nightmare/No moon, no pale reflection". What is perhaps most notable on Neon Bible is the presence of restraint that was perhaps lacking on Funeral. Where, on 'The Well and the Lighthouse', one would have previously expected a joyously uplifting final chorus to rapidly dispel any morbid feelings one might be suffering, the song shifts gear into a wonderful 3/4 time ramble.

It is this tendency to cover some palpably dire subject matter with some wonderfully upbeat music that defines Neon Bible from its predecessor. Where Funeral was, well, funereal, while singing songs of hope and joy, Neon Bible is replete with lyrics like "I don't know what I'm gonna do/Cause the planes keep crashing always two by two/Don't wanna work in a building downtown/No, I don't wanna see it when the planes hit the ground" on 'Antichrist Television Blues', while being set to what could possibly be described as the Arcade Fire doing their own 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'.

However, the clear highlight is the showstopping 'Keep the Car Running', possibly the most perfect three and a half minute pop song ever recorded. Set to gentle, pulsing mandolin, Butler sings of what seems to be the pressures of recording this oh-so-difficult second album ("There's a weight that's pressing down", "can't climb across a mountain so high") and makes magic.

On this, a fine sophomore effort, the Arcade Fire almost manage to live up to the impossible expectations set by their debut. But certainly, it is a more mature and balanced, if occasionally wilfully adult - lacking the spontaneous flights of fancy of Funeral - effort, and will certainly see the band once again resume their place atop many a best-of-2007 podiums come December. Quite possibly this one, too.

4 1/2 stars

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