By Jim Eaton-Terry
After a few months of listening mostly to old hacks returning to form, I’m deeply tempted to devote this whole entry to Kitty Pryde, who takes the recent trend of soft-focus hip-hop somewhere really new and rather wonderful, but as everything she’s recorded is available free here why not head over, listen to it all, then pop back?
I’ll start, instead, with the return of reclusive leaders of cult soul bands of the 1980s. I never discovered Paul Buchanan’s Blue Nile at the time and, listening to them now, I can’t really hear what makes them so desperately important to a whole generation of lachrymose, drunken men obsessed with hifi equipment . However, Buchanan’s new solo album Standing in midair is a gorgeous collection of song fragments, placing his voice against a background of simple piano melodies.
Kevin Rowland, on the other hand, has been part of my life since the early ‘90s, when I wore out a tape of the first 2 Dexys albums while working in a warehouse. I was far too young to really understand them at the time – and I never really got on with Don’t Stand Me Down – but ever since that summer I’ve loved Rowland’s combination of utter seriousness, lacerating introspection and the exhilarating ridiculousness that I can still never tell is self-parody or self-belief. All of which would be theory if it weren’t for the fact that, in all their incarnations, Dexys produced physical, moving, exciting and tender music or Kevin Rowland’s wonderful, expressive voice.
The runup to the release of One Day I’m Going to Soar was a process of lowering expectation as fifty-something man after forty-something man exploded onto Twitter raving about live shows or previews. The overwhelming impression was of the triumph of loyalty over judgment familiar to a reader of a Woody Allen or Prince review in the past 20 years.
All of which preamble is an attempt to convince you when I say that I’m enjoying One Day I’m Going to Soar more than anything else I’ve heard in months. Though the production is oddly flat and characterless the band sound punchy and crisp, Kevin’s voice – though he can’t hit many of the higher notes these days – is still as fierce and tender as on Dance Stance. The album’s vague concept has attracted a lot of attention though it’s essentially the same concept as every other Dexy’s record; the inside of Rowland’s head. The centrepiece of the album, the 11-minute duet that spans I’m always going to love you and Incapable of Love (the only let-down on the album being that title – who can read it and not boggle at the idea of Dexys taking on erectile dysfunction?), is as funny, propulsive, and exciting as anything they’ve ever produced, but it’s the smaller songs scattered around that show that they’ve lost nothing of the fire that always drove them. I can’t think of another band whose return has better transcended nostalgia and affection.
Standing at the Sky’s Edge, in which Richard Hawley salutes the magic of Wayne Hussey, is far more fun than it has any right to be, the perfect soundtrack to a grey and rainy summer’s day.
I always like Saint Etienne better when they’re the poppiest indie band in London, rather than the indiest pop group, so Words and Music by.. is never going to matter to me as much as Tales from Turnpike House or Tiger Bay, but the least exciting Saint Etienne album is still gorgeous, funny, tender and wistful.
There’s a lot of nostalgia and affection around this month. Bobby Womack’s first album of new material since 1994 follows the well-established formula for resurrecting a legend; mix new songs and standards, emphasise the scratch and the grain of the voice, set the whole thing against a production as stripped down and modern as you can. At its best this approach buffs away the slickness that most hardened professionals get to after a certain point and reveals something completely new. At its worst it’s nastily exploitative, buying gravitas by wheeling out an old name. The Bravest Man in the Universe carries the trick off better than anything since the 1990s Johnny Cash American Recordings albums that defined the genre. Womack’s voice is still rich, the songs are great, and the production combines simplicity and modern flourishes to devastating effect.
I’m not only listening to elder statesmen, though. The debut by the amazingly badly-named Alt-J (∆) sounds somewhere between mid-period Cure, the later Underworld records, and Gomez. Doesn’t that sound just irresistible? In fact the songs are great and Matilda is even about Natalie Portman’s character in Leon.
Finally, my favourite song of the year so far. Most of Rufus Wainwright’s Out of the Game is lovely in one way or another, but Jericho is just an absolutely perfect pop record. It’s also crucial to listen to before someone realises its value as an X-Factor audition song.Jim Eaton-Terry tweets now and then, and is somewhat surprised to have got away with being this ambivalent about Paul Buchanan.