THIS week’s album reviews from The Courier-Mail (ratings out of five stars):
Games of the XXI Olympiad (Inertia/Remote Control)
YOU know you are in for an adventure when Australian band Black Cab release a record. They haven’t let us down so far, from the hazy, ’60s guitar-psych of 2004 debut Altamont Diary (themed around the disastrous 1969 Rolling Stones gig) to the more austere Bowie-goes-Berlin wonders of 2009’s Call Signs (theme: East Germany under the Stasi).
They are the kind of band that always keep moving, evolving. And with Games they’ve got another historical world they want to introduce you to: an album that sweeps across the history of electronic music, from the glory years of German bands such as Kraftwerk, Harmonia and Cluster, through the post-punk synth bands, to the present and electronic dance music.
It’s not music that will sell in large quantities. Many of the Krautrock bands didn’t either, yet their music is as relevant today as when it was released.
Like them, Black Cab make music for repeated listening, for now and in the future.
And that’s before you even start to consider the theme, the controversial 1976 Montreal Olympics. There’s even a song called Kornelia Ender, who was the first woman swimmer to win four gold medals at a summer Games, when the East German drug-assisted athletic program was at its peak. It was also, perhaps not coincidentally, the first time Australia did not win a gold medal at an Olympics.
The album comes in a striking fold-out cover with photos from the Games and an inner sleeve with a logo suitably retro/futurist design influenced.
But you don’t have to care or know about any of this to enjoy the music, an almost 70-minute headphone trip that begins with Opening Ceremony, with voices apparently from that ceremony prefacing a cascade of synthesisers and drum machine rhythm.
The 10-minute Supermadchen is a head-spinning monster, with glitchy metronomic beat and hypnotic Kraftwerkian syntherama. It’s music as a dominating force, rather like the state-sponsored drug program undertaken by the communist controlled European nations.
German voices filter through the ominous drone of Performance Center Obertauren, while Kornelia Ender is inexorable, like the rhythm of a swimmer in training.
Black Cab are a tight ship, Andrew Coates and James Lee, with a cast of helpers including drummer Wes Holland. Coates adds vocals to Go Slow, which throbs along like some great lost synth epic from ’81, while Combat Boots is almost funky in a you-will-take-this-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you kind of way. And that sits beside the ominous textures of Little Blue Ones, music perhaps suggesting some drug-fuelled state.
Synthesisers and synth beats dominate, but this is music that acknowledges the adventurous spirit of Krautrock in the ’70s, when pre-set synth sounds didn’t exist (and synthesisers capable of playing more than one note at a time didn’t either).
Nothing was given on a plate or at the click of a mouse to those musical pioneers.
The effort that went into the creation, and for the listener, the effort that went into finding the music and exploring it, seemed to increase the reward, somehow.
It’s a different world now, more convenient, more instant. But no pain, no gain, as the coaches always say.
For those who like to work for it, Black Cab’s Olympic odyssey is recommended.
Nothing Ever Really Stays the Same (Independent)
AN INTERESTING debut album from this band from Adelaide, now based in Melbourne, with folk and alt country flavours and a stirring rock pulse to songs such as the title tune, which opens out from rumbling bass and piano to searing electric guitar break. Hilary, Come On Home has more of a country-rock backwoods flavour with its harmonica and sweet harmony vocals; Riddles is a sunny,
wind-in-your-hair kind of song, even if singer Ryan Oliver is struggling with another freezing winter’s day. These tunes have a way of gently sneaking up on you, like the easy, backporch folk-rock of Cradle of Wood
and the silky groove of Ghost. But Olivers Army have some surprises in store, the Paul Simon-esque melancholy of
Let Her Go and the sublime NYC, with vocals shared between Oliver and keyboard player Gina Somfleth. This and Liquor Store are pop-rock treats that reveal the depth in a band with songs that tend to the wistful … but with a sting in
Man Against Machine (Sony)
YOU would think when someone takes a 13-year break, as country superstar Brooks did while his children were young, something would have changed on return. No. He even looks like he hasn’t aged a day. The album opens with some steroid-injected stadium fodder in the title tune, part work song, part Lynyrd Skynyrd. But as with most Brooks albums, it’s mostly country rather than rock and he even dabbles in old-timey western swing on Rodeo and Juliet, with some hot fiddle and pedal steel. All-American Kid (“Welcome home All-American kid/This song’s for those who never did’’) is one of those story songs he loves. As ever, the fact that Brooks voice resembles Glen Campbell’s makes up for songwriting sins. He co-writes a couple of tunes but generally has his pick of Nashville Row songwriters. Some of these are pretty good, like Midnight Train, the fatherhood story Send ’Em Down the Road and the R & B-injectedTacoma, but there’s not a note here his fans weren’t expecting.
The Veronicas (Sony)
YOU can’t blame ’em for being excited. Few pop acts survive 10 years, much less a record company fight that created a seven-year break between albums. The new album from the Brisbane twins Jess and Lisa Origliasso sits between their more guitar-driven first and synth-pop second efforts. Opener Sanctified is massive, like one of Prince’s anthems from the ’80s; Cruel is upbeat guitar-pop and a hit single in waiting; Line of Fire sits atop a monster beat and burbling synth bass; the only cover, the Emile Sunde-penned Always, is a mix of old-school melodic richness and modern pop. Cold is a self-penned tune of heartache revelation: “At least be a man and lie to my face/So you can watch my tears turn to blood …” At 14 tracks the album is too long but there is a lot to sing about, from business blues to boy trouble. And You and Me is a lovely autobiographical song backed by acoustic guitar about growing up together. They should do an album of those one day.
THE DELTA RIGGS
Dipz Zebazioz (Inertia)
FOLLOWING last year’s arresting debut Hex. Lover. Killer, Melbourne four-piece the Delta Riggs have amped up the psychedelia for their second effort. From its Dali-esque sleeve art to the band’s trippy videos, chemical enhancement is the running gag as they layer their heavy Britpop influences with softer, more playful Sgt. Pepper’s-era whimsy. As on the first album, there’s a rock swagger worthy of mid-period Stones and their latter-day clones the Black Crowes, though the Delta Riggs are now moving toward something uniquely their own. Fully formed examples include the hallucinatory Supersonic Casualties, its surreal imagery sharpened by melodic smarts, and the vintage Chili Peppers drive of The Record’s Flawed. Vocalist Elliott Hammond pushes his falsetto on Ornate Delicate Creatures and Star-Eyed Families, then flirts with Beastie Boys-style hip hop on No Friends, but the song where all these disparate elements coalesce is the simple For Tonight (Live Forever). It’ll be interesting to see how the Riggs pull it all off live next Saturday at Brisbane’s The Triffid.
FOUR albums in four years, all released in the lead-up to Christmas. They’ve got the marketing schedule down pat and they mostly stick with the same songwriting/production team from last year’s Midnight Memories. So, you ask yourself, does anyone really need four One Direction records, given that they are all filled with the similar gleaming pop tunes that sound like you’ve heard ‘em all before the first time around? Anything different this time? Well there’s Girl Almighty, bright, bouncy, catchy (of course) that bucks the mould somewhat, while Where Do Broken Hearts Go sports a shouty stadium rock chorus that will be ringing from the rafters at Suncorp when they play there in February. Mid-tempo scarfwaver Night Changes is a song even the mums will love. Clouds is the best track and three members get the co-writing credits, which
suggests a future even when the boy-band audience moves on to fresher faces. Dads better retreat to the basement to find something to blot it all out, however. Pantera would probably do the trick.
Voice of an Angel (Decca)
ALONG with Maria Callas (Greece) and Leontyne Price (US), Renata Tebaldi (Italy) brought sophisticated vocal substance to post-World War II opera performance; each singer individual, each powerful. Aristocratic. Tebaldi’s gifts of rich vocal warmth and detailed interpretative depths are manifest in this 66-CD collection of 27 complete operas, studio recitals and other rarities, compulsive holiday fare to ponder a glorious operatic heritage. Tebaldi is regal as Aida from 1959 (a 1952 recording is also included) with Giulietta Simionato and Carlo Bergonzi, Herbert von Karajan conducting. So are her dignified readings in the 1959 Tosca with Mario del Monaco and George London, and her splendid La Forza del Destino with Ettore Bastianini, Simionato, del Monaco. As Santuzza in a Cavalleria rusticana, she stars with Jussi Björling and Bastianini and contributes significant solo work in Verdi’s Requiem. Italian songs, some conducted by Richard Bonynge, and Tebaldi’s Christmas Festival including two Ave Maria settings, Adeste Fideles, O Holy Night, offer a seasonal feast.