Pop

Let the Lemon Twigs pour warm syrup into your ears

Grade: A If you enjoy the sensation of having warm, jangly syrup poured directly into your ear, then this is probably the summer album for you. You might think that syrup cannot, by definition, be jangly. But imagine treacle with popping candy in it – poured into your ear in a kindly manner by a smiling young man. This Long Island sibling duo have been honing their pastiche for eight years or so and here reference almost every power-pop band that ever existed, from the Byrds via the dB’s to Teenage Fanclub, but also taking in the winsome pop which dominated our charts before the Beatles came along (but post

Nickelback may not be cool but they are very good at what they do

In May 2013, Rolling Stone polled its readers in an attempt to discover which band might be crowned the worst of the 1990s. The winners – or losers, depending on how you look at it – were Creed, trailed in second place by Nickelback. Eleven years on and Creed appear to have turned that status around, in America at least – Vanity Fair, Vice and Slate have noticed that they have, whisper it, become cool. And Nickelback? Well, no one’s claiming coolness for them: last year they released a documentary called Hate to Love: Nickelback, a recognition of the fact that, outside their fanbase, they are usually mentioned only as

The unstoppable rise of country music

When a major artist releases a new album, the first thing to follow is the onslaught of think pieces. And when Beyoncé released Cowboy Carter earlier this year, the tone of these think pieces – especially on this side of the Atlantic – was one of slightly baffled congratulation. Here, at last, was a pioneer who might drag this hidebound genre – of sequins and satin, of lachrymose, middle-aged songs about drink and divorce – into the modern age. ‘Modern country is like punk for the Hannah Montana generation’ The only problem is that Beyoncé was not leading; she was following. Beyoncé pivoted to country not to make it cool,

Nowhere near as miserable as I remember it: The Beatles – Let It Be reviewed

Beatles lore has long held that the film Let It Be was a depressing portrait of the band falling apart. According to the same lore, that’s why Peter Jackson’s Get Back was such a revelation. Revisiting Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s footage of the group at work in January 1969, Jackson discovered there was far more joy around than anyone suspected – including the surviving Beatles. Yoko remains a darkly brooding presence (the revisionism that sees her as benign needs its own revision) All of which, it now turns out, only goes to prove the ever-reliable power of suggestion. I vaguely remember seeing Let It Be on TV in the 1970s, before it

Lovely slice of Cosmic Scouse: Michael Head & the Red Elastic, at EartH, reviewed

One of the more bizarre but recurring tales about how the music of Liverpool has been shaped over these past 45 years concerns Courtney Love, the American musician famed, music aside, for being married to Kurt Cobain, and for being wildly unpredictable. This story claims the 17-year-old Love, who had travelled across the Atlantic to be near the bands she loved, introduced Liverpudlian musicians to LSD, setting in train a decades-long phenomenon known as ‘Cosmic Scouse’. The slight problem with this is that Love only came to Liverpool in 1982, by which point the musicians she had come to celebrate – Echo & the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes among

Dense, melancholic, hypnotic: Brighde Chaimbeul, at Summerhall, reviewed

The hip end of the folk spectrum is in rude health right now. Dublin’s mighty Lankum lead the way, but plenty of other interesting artists are following in their wake, Brighde Chaimbeul among them. If a Gaelic-speaking trad musician from Skye reinterpreting Philip Glass for the small pipes sounds like your thing – and why on earth wouldn’t it? – then Chaimbeul is worthy of exploration. At 17 she won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. Her 2019 debut, The Reeling, released via Rough Trade, cross-pollinated traditional with experimental electronic music. More recently, and still in her early twenties, she has collaborated with American avant-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson on

Adrianne Lenker is a treasure for the ages 

You could very well sum up their differing approaches to American roots music from how they were dressed. Both wore cowboy hats and both wore trousers, but Adrianne Lenker’s were faded denim, while Lainey Wilson went with shiny brown leather. Lenker, looking austere and speaking and singing softly, played music plucked from eternity, demanding you concentrate on her stillness. Wilson, on the other hand, was here to make the crowd feel good; a little melancholy on the big ballads, sure, but she’s an entertainer in the grand tradition of country music. Wilson’s set was divided between bangers and ballads, and the best of them were very good You might draw

Taylor Swift’s new album is exhausting

How to explain the supercharged star power of Taylor Swift? An undeniably gifted artist, Swift’s albums 1989, Folklore and Evermore, in particular, are excellent. She has written a battery of terrific pop songs. She is a generous and skilled performer. To suggest she is overrated is not an insult, therefore, but simply a comment on the absurd critical mass of her popularity, in which every lyric, scrap of artwork, cultural reference and personal tit-bit is weighted with a monumental significance which, it is becoming apparent, does her work few favours. Anybody listening to Swift’s new album without prior knowledge of the layers of gossipy context surrounding it might well wonder

Why garage punk is plainly the apogee of human achievement

How is it that a group that sounds like the Hives are selling out the Apollo? In a world configured according to expectation, the highlight of their year would be an appearance at the Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool, probably high up the bill on the second stage. They’d headline their own shows at places like the Dome in Tufnell Park to an audience made up of three-quarters old blokes and a quarter skinny young kids, suited and booted like it’s 1966 and Antonioni’s about to shout ‘Action!’. Afterwards, a DJ would play the Sonics and the Electric Prunes and the Chocolate Watchband. Garage punk tends to be of niche

Better than expected (but my expectations were low): Back to Black reviewed

When the trailer for Sam Taylor-Johnson’s biopic of Amy Winehouse, Back to Black, first landed, her fans were gracious. ‘This,’ they said, ‘is going to be terrific.’ I’m winding you up. They were horrified. It’s too soon, they said. It’s exploitative and trashes her legacy, they concluded, from having watched two minutes of footage. I can only say that, one, fanatical fans are like that whatever you do, and two, this is better than I expected (although my expectations were low). It does seem softened at the edges, and one can never forgive a falling-in-love montage set at London Zoo – ever – butI (mostly) didn’t cringe and it is

The mayhem ‘Born Slippy’ provoked felt both poignant and cathartic: Underworld, at Usher Hall, reviewed

On the same night Underworld played the second of two shows at the Usher Hall, next door at the Traverse Theatre, This is Memorial Device was midway through a short run. Seeing both within a matter of hours, I felt an exchange of currents, a renewed awareness of the short distance we travel between euphoria and sorrow when we start mixing music and memory. The short play, adapted and directed by Graham Eatough from the novel by David Keenan, concerns the brief, wayward life of a (fictional) 1980s cult band from Airdrie. We see how the group’s complicated yet charismatic personal dynamic, intense improvised music and quasi-occult power was once

Never admit that your band is prog – it’s the kiss of death

Sensible prog-rock bands try to ensure no one ever realises they play prog. What happens when you are deemed a prog band is that you are condemned to the margins – little radio airtime, few TV appearances, barely any coverage in the mainstream press – because it has been decided you exist solely for the delectation of a tribe that baffles the rest of the world. Once non-proggers have decided you are prog, that’s it. There is no way back for you. Just collect your Campaign for Real Ale membership card, go home and practise your drum solos. Once non-proggers have decided you are prog, that’s it. There is no

Rod Liddle

Clever, beautiful and sonically witty: Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter album reviewed

Grade: A+ Carter is a useful surname to have if you’re making a country album. So it is with Beyoncé: she married into the name when she got hitched to Jay-Z, but he is from New York, not Poor Valley, VA. Helps if you’re from Texas too – just to convince folks that this bit of genre-hopping is rooted in authenticity. It isn’t – but who cares? This is a clever, beautiful and sonically witty album. Country music’s conventions draw out of Beyoncé perhaps the most sublime melodies she has written, or part-written. There are cameos from Dolly Parton, half-forgotten black sharecropper’s daughter Linda Martell, Willie Nelson and the ghost

Cheekface are uplifting and witty but also very punchable: It’s Sorted reviewed

Grade: B+ Cheekface are apt to divide opinion rather sharply. There are those who believe that the Los Angeles indie nerd-rock three-piece dissect late capitalism and the American psyche with an uplifting and insightful laconic wit. And then there are those who want to punch them repeatedly in the face, especially the singer Greg Katz – punch them and punch them until there is nothing left but broken teeth. I get that. I swing between both camps. In this respect, and several others, they are rather like Weezer, except a little less cute. In the end people decided that a punching was probably the right option for Weezer and they

Albums should be forced by law to reveal where each song was written

Bob Dylan is heading into the new year with a reduced property portfolio, having sold his Scottish bolthole, Aultmore House in Speyside, for a shade over four million quid. Though the spec looks grand – 16 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a folly (to complement his Christmas album, presumably) – only one aspect interests me: did Dylan ever write anything notable there? Is some piece of the Cairngorms National Park forever preserved in a line – perhaps the one he cribbed from Robbie Burns about his heart being in the Highlands – that came to him while gazing out enigmatically over the croquet lawn? Where musicians wrote their songs remains a crucially

Small moments vs Big Ideas: Peter Gabriel’s i/o reviewed

Peter Gabriel is terribly fond of a Big Idea. With Genesis he would sing in character as a lawnmower, a fox and as ‘Slipperman’. His final work with the band, in 1974, was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a double album driven by what we might kindly describe as a ‘kaleidoscopic’ narrative involving a Puerto-Rican protagonist on a voyage of self-discovery in New York City. Since going solo there has always been plenty of stuff whirling around each new Gabriel project. His Real World HQ in the West Country is part recording studio, part hi-tech hippie lab, encompassing conceptual technological probing, multimedia collaborations, NGOs and various foundations. i/o is

Spellbinding performance of a career-defining record: Corinne Rae Bailey, at Ladbroke Hall, reviewed

You won’t see two more contrasting shows this year than Corinne Bailey Rae performing her album Black Rainbows and Brian Eno presenting work with a symphony orchestra. One had music that did everything; one had music that did very little. But both were overwhelming and filled with joy of rather different kinds. When Bailey Rae last made an album, in 2016, it was gentle, tasteful, soulful R&B, the kind the young professional couple in a prestige Netflix drama listen to before their lives are overturned by a vengeful nanny. Black Rainbows,by contrast, from earlier this year, was an abrupt embrace of everything: from scuzzy garage punk to psychedelic soul to

The case against re-recording albums 

In 2012, Jeff Lynne released Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra. Except it wasn’t. It was 11 new re-recordings of classic ELO songs – which isn’t the same thing at all. Lynne, bless him, believed that having gained more experience as a producer, he could now improve the songs that made him famous. ‘You know how to make it sound better than it did before,’ he said, ‘Because I have more knowledge… and technology.’ Sheesh. How wrong can one man be? Pop music is all about the definitivearticle. Not only the bold prefix attached to its greatest practitioners – Beatles, Byrds, Wailers, Temptations, Fall, et al

Virgin on the astonishing: Madonna, at The O2, reviewed

When I was a kid listening obsessively to AC/DC and Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, I despaired of music writers. How come none of them – except the staff of Kerrang! magazine and a couple of writers on Sounds – could see the majesty and splendour of this music? Why were they always banging on about flipping Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division, or harking back to old man Dylan? These days, all three of those bands are to some degree or another as revered. Not everyone loves them, but you won’t find many serious critics – even those who don’t personally care for ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, ‘The Number

New Order’s oldies still sound like the future

The intimate acoustic show can denote many things for an established artist. One is that, in the infamous euphemism coined by Spinal Tap, their audience has become more ‘selective’. Attempting to make the best of a bad job, the artist shifts down a gear while aiming upmarket, much in the manner of a balding man cultivating a fancy moustache. The cosy concert is also favoured by pop stars craving some old fashioned string-and-wire authenticity. Occasionally, the urge is a creative one, propelled by the sense that the material being promoted lends itself to a less triumphalist approach. ‘My Love Mine All Mine’ is, thanks to the ludic powers of TikTok,