May Album Review – Arctic Monkeys, the Manics, Blossoms, Peace and Audio-Tonic

It is Bank Holiday Monday in the UK today, so no procurement content from us, but a music review instead.

And after some female US artists have starred recently (Mary Gauthier, Kasey Musgraves, and Janelle Monae amongst them), this time it is very much UK “indie” type bands plus a bit of reggae/ska thrown in for luck.

Two legendary bands to start with. The Arctic Monkeys are the biggest UK guitar band of the last decade, their last album AM being a huge success worldwide with a more “rock” attitude than their scrappy-indie early days. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino will confuse, baffle and delight fans and non-fans in equal measure. Songs that meander, many at a pretty laid-back pace, little in the way of strong tunes or hooks, a musical style that recalls 60s film music, very Bowie-like vocals (some musical influences too from the great man), on a “concept album” about a settlement in space.  What’s not to like?!  I really wasn’t sure at first, but after a few listens, it may just be a classic. Alex Turner is a brilliant lyricist, and this comes over a bit like a solo album, with little in the way of an indie-band feel to it. But give it time, and the wit and originality of music and words shine through. The track below is the most “traditional” Monkeys track on the album, by the way, so don’t be fooled!  8.5/10

 

We’re not big fans usually of long-lasting bands, the risk being that they outstay their welcome and start sounding like their own tribute bands. So the Manic Street Preachers, great though they were at their peak, have not really featured too much with us more recently. But Resistance Is Futile is a real surprise, a big success, and sounds as fresh as any indie / rock album in recent times. There are some huge tunes, songs like International Blue that are rowdy instant classics; it is a sister song to their classic Motorcycle Emptiness apparently, and is just as good. More considered songs such as Liverpool Revisited carry real emotional power, and a duet with female singer Catherine Anne Davies (“the Anchoress”) is  a lovely mid-tempo pop gem. If you haven’t listened to the Manics for a while, do give this a try – it’s an object lesson in how bands can keep the energy and imagination going and produce strong work even after 30 (yes, thirty) years!  8.5/10

 

My wife and more than one music-loving close friend think Blossoms are great, but despite their relative youth, their second album Cool Like You for me fails to show the energy of the Manics, or indeed the song writing skills (sorry Paul and Jane …)  Their 2016 debut was huge and made them one of the biggest of the younger indie bands in the UK. This time around, there is more keyboard and synth, less guitar – but having the keyboard simultaneously playing the vocal melody, which they do on several songs, is hardly pushing the boundaries of musical arrangement, and there is a sameness to many of the songs. Oddly, the album gets better as it progresses (unlike many these days) with a bit more variety as we get into it, and the final track Love Talk is probably my favourite. It’s not unpleasant, I should stress, and if you like classic indie -  Oasis, Killers, even a bit of Blondie and New Order in there, with accessible lyrics and naggingly catchy tunes, you’ll enjoy this. But for me, whilst it is all absolutely fine, it doesn’t live up to some of the our other albums this month. 7/10

 

Audio-Tonic is a ska / reggae / rock band from Berkshire, with (to declare an interest) a vocalist whose father is an ex-colleague of mine from Mars days. But luckily, there is no need to come up with polite half-hearted praise – Dreamland is just a really good debut. They’re not young kids, but accomplished musicians and songwriters, who have been around a while, and they play atmospheric reggae / ska, with just a hint of rock (think of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in their more reggae influenced moments).  It is tuneful while keeping a distinct edge at times, (less “pop” than UB40 for instance) and they sound potentially like a great live act.  If there is one small criticism, it is that the production is very polished – while that is admirable generally, at times, it is perhaps a little too slick – it would be good to hear a little more rawness (from the horns for instance). But an unexpected treat really and a comfortable  8/10.

Peace burst onto the scene with In Love, one of our favourite albums of 2013.  Happy People, the 2015 follow up was a bit of a disappointment, without the indie energy or big tunes of the debut.  Kindness is the New Rock and Roll is make or break really, and I’m not sure which it will be.  The messages in the lyrics are more prominent (including mental health issues), and the music has a bit more “swing” than the Blossoms, with bands like Stone Roses and Primal Scream as clear influences. There are retro touches as well – got some Mott the Hoople channeling on a couple of tracks, rather weirdly! While there is nothing here that stands out as a game-changer or a lasting classic, there’s more variation than last time, with some slower songs - From Under Liquid Glass is a highlight and different to anything they’ve done before. While I need a few more listens to be sure, it feels like it has stronger tunes and is generally a better album than last time, without being a real game-changer -  7.5/10

First Voice

  1. Paul Howard:

    Peter, I do think that Blossoms are good however Slow Readers Club are better. I’m surprised you didn’t mention their recent top 20 album, some absolutely belting tunes on there!!

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