Franz Ferdinad: Tonight

“Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” is a concept album, but in the loosest possible definition of the term. It has no clear narrative and you’d be completely excused for failing to pick up on the tale that enfolds throughout the 12 tracks on the standard album release.

The concept is based around the premise of a debauched night out and the subsequent events. “Ulysses” is the first single and the album opener that reintroduces us to a distinctive Franz Ferdinand vibe and anticipates the evening ahead. The habitual Franz Ferdinand sound is slightly distorted with perhaps a little more dance and a little less rock. Keyboards and synthesisers are cranked up a notch and guitars slightly reduced. “Ulysses” builds up to distinctive pounding drum cue that leads into a fast-paced bouncy chorus with refrains of “I found a new way” and familiar “la-la-la-la’s” before finally concluding with a bizarre sound evocative of the death of an early 80’s video game character.

The production is a little different from previous Franz Ferdinand albums, providing an open and crisp sound. The band interviews I have read reveal that the intention was for a heavy dub Jamaican feel, which I picked up on “Send Him Away” but I probably wouldn’t have mentioned otherwise. “Turn It On” and “No You Girls” are the closest things to the first two albums and none the worse for it. “What She Came For” has a rolling bass loop that could have come from Moby’s “Play” before concluding with a grinding, fuzzy and chaotic guitar climax.

“Lucid Dreams” is where things start to get a little weird and halfway through the almost 8 minute long track, things descend into disjointed heavy dance thingy with synthesisers and beats before we slowly pass out and come around to the trippy and psychedelic “Dream Again”. “Katherine Kiss me” is a gentle acoustic postscript of a sobering morning after. I’m assuming Katherine must be the lady our protagonist first hooked up with at the start of the night during track 3’s “No You Girls”.

Maybe I’ve been sold a dummy, with this “night out” concept. Maybe these are just 12 new random songs from a bunch of Scottish rockers, although I think I prefer the more pretentious interpretation. The heavy dub ambition is more fully realised on the second disc, if you’re prepared to splash out on the more expensive special edition version. After living with the album for a week I’m certainly enjoying it, but all this thought and planning on the third album are still not much competition for their sparkling debut.

[click album for video]

Bruce Springsteen: Working On A Dream

Recoded mainly during the gaps of the 2007-2008 “Magic” world tour, “Working On A Dream” will be the last Springsteen album to feature original E-Street band member, Danny Federici, who died last April.

I’m not a natural Springsteen fan, but I keep buying his albums because I think I should like them, but seldom ever do. Well either my persistence is starting to pay off, or Springsteen’s stepped up a few gears since 2007's “Magic” which I found a little dull. After the first couple of listens this album seems to be gaining a little resonance with me, and some of the tracks are starting to stand out from the more generic Springsteen drone.

“Outlaw Pete” is an eight-minute trek through the Wild West with a train like thumping rhythm, strong but not overpowering orchestration and a harmonica straight out of Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon A Time In The West”. A good album opener that inspired me to keep listening. “Life Itself” features the jangling guitar sound reminiscent of the Byrds and “What Love Can Do” is an upbeat little ditty with some great overlaid sharp guitars, a mid song instrumental break that could fit into a late 60’s British top 10 single and an ending that could work well on an early Beatles song. Positioned at the arse end of the album is “The Wrestler”, an acoustic and poignant conclusion to a Springsteen album that managed to keep my hopes alive in the Boss.

In between there is some more standard fare, such as “Queen Of The Supermarket” which is one of Springsteen’s characteristic blue-collar love songs. “Working On A Dream” seems a strange choice for the title track, as I found it one of the least compelling songs on the album. However, in the absence of getting the copyright deal for the Bob the Builder song, the title did fit quite well for President Obama’s campaign trail, on which the song made it’s début.

[click album artwork for video]

White Lies: To Loose My Life

As I’m reviewing this album on the 20th January 2009, the claim that this is my favourite album so far of 2009 may seem dubiously puerile. I’ll guess I’ll just have to wait and see how long it can hold on to that claim. For this particular review I have decided to adopt the Oz Clarke wine tasting technique and apply the same principles to album reviews. So after swirling the title track around my aural receptors I’m getting, a crisp Sisters of Mercy drum beat with Billy Idol guitars and early Duran Duran keyboards with a slight hint of something a little fresher, modern and fruitier. “A Place to Hide” has a quick Joy Division explosion of flavour followed by a bright and breezy kick of guitars and vocals with a distinctive 80’s aftertaste. I could go on in a similar manner for each track, but it’s not big and it’s not clever and I’m sure you’re not impressed, but simply describing this album as Indie Rock would be a bit like saying that wine tastes of grapes.
[Click album cover for video]

Saxon: Into The Labyrinth

Despite working their way through more line-ups than a clumsy and incompetent kleptomaniac, Saxon remain unhampered by the tedious process of evolution They choose instead to stick to their beloved sound distinctive of the NWOBHM. (That’s the early 80’s genre known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal for the uninitiated). Vocalist Biff Byford provides the only consistency in the bands 30+ year history. I muss confess after their success in the early 80’s my attention drifted and I didn’t realise that they were still toiling away. It’s therefore hard to knock “Into the Labyrinth” because the quality hasn’t dipped and they’re still delivering on their original mission statement. But I’m not sure if it’s for me anymore. I’m sorry lads its not you, its me, we’re just not the same people as we used to be, we’ve grown apart. You’ll just have to move on, find yourselves a younger audience but I’ll never forget you, I’ll always remember the good times, nobody can take those memories away from me. Au revoir mon cher. Take care.

Alestorm: Leviathan

Shivers me timbers, adjust your eye patch, polish your wooden leg, give your parrot a piece of eight and prepare yourself for Pirate Rock. Avast, Alestorm are a pirate metal band of four scurvy Glaswegian land-lubbers. “Leviathan” is an EP of 4 sea shanties, featuring classic styled British heavy metal, with a bit of prog rock and pirate singing thrown in for good measure. Imagine Iron Maiden performing a version of “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor” and you wont be too far off the mark. I’m not sure whether they can make a whole career by continuing this amusing pirate gimmick as they could relegate themselves to a specialist audience of unsophisticated teenage boys. Well, high brow, its not, but it is quite fun and I actually rather like it.

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion

The first new album of original material for 2009 to enter my music collection is by Animal Collective. “Merriweather Post Pavilion” is the Eighth studio offering from these busy Baltimore boys and the first to come to my attention. It contains eleven avant-garde sonic compositions of noise rock, each consisting of a thickly layered tapestry of industrial beats, synthesised loops, sound effects and a rich topping of beach boy styled harmonic vocals. Occasional interest is supplied by the stripping away of some of the layers to reveal the tracks composite undercurrents and provide variety. However after eleven variations of this technique I was left with a deep yearning for a simple melody or riff played on a conventional instrument. As I downloaded this particular album, one essential aspect of the album that could easily be overlooked is the cover art. The small thumbnail on this blog doesn’t really do the optical illusion justice, so try finding a higher resolution version of the image and stare at it for a while. What appears to be a uniform pattern turns out to be a shifting complex image that actually seems rather apt for the contents of the album. Professional reviewers have been fairly united in their praise for this new album so I’m going to keep listening, to see if a deeper appreciation materialises. I’ll post an update in the comments field if I capriciously get the urge to elevate my opinion. In the meantime, I’m very much looking forward to what the music industry has in store for us in the first part of 2009 spearheaded by new albums from Franz Ferdinand and U2. Rest assured they are all pre-ordered from my favourite on-line South American river and will appear in this blog shortly.