I feel like the Sergeant in Hong Kong Phooey as I write, out of breath and full of "ooh! Ooh! OOH!" Work has been lousy of late so I went on a music shopping spree. Thankfully I seem to have pulled five plums out of the pie. Allons-y:
Last of the Shadow Puppets - Age of the Understatement
Finally the boy Turner catches my eye. I love the idea of the Arctic Monkeys and I'm delighted that a young band utterly lacking in pretension and still marvelously gifted have been taken to the world's bosom. It's just that the odd single aside they've never really won my heart. Maybe its no surprise that a deliberate move to emulate Scott Walker was all it took, but The Age of the Understatement is more than that. On first lesson I was picking up Lee Mavers, Serge Gainsbourg, Walker (especially the "cute-cute-in-a-stupid-ass way" of Jackie), Ennio Morricone and former flavours of the decade the Coral. I'm sure there's even more in there for when I go back. Great haircuts and jackets too.
The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing
Oh yes yes yes. Ludicrously described by the NME as the future of British Music (yawn - somebody buy some more superlatives) this is another case of make your own way through the hype. Like knowingly arch and fantastic pop records that make you want to sing on the bus? Would you rather be on the dance floor than being chatted up by blokes in Ralph Lauren shirts? Then you'll like the Ting Tings. Someone told me they were on an i-Pod advert so it's safe to say they don't need my endorsement or advertising, but pop doesn't come this well formed very often and they should be celebrated. Coming across like a female-voiced Franz Ferdinand (Shut Up And Let Me Go is like Take Me Out crossed with Chic and covered by Blondie) Katie White is the big sister you want to have/be. It's like they have hit that mark that bands like Kenickie and (sorry about this) Shampoo aimed for to varying degrees of success. I haven't read any interviews or seen them live so they might be w*nkers (something you could never say about the Kenicks) but for now I'm just going to enjoy.
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Sunday at Devil Dirt
The world of boy-girl cooler-than-thou call-and-response is not new, as we know. I'm talking gravel-voiced battle hardened men waltzing with beautiful angelic ingénues here as opposed to your standard male-female duet. Everyone seems agreed that Nancy (Sinatra) & Lee (Hazelwood) kicked this thing off in the English speaking world (Serge Gainsbourg dead-panned against a host of Gallic beauties throughout his life, including his daughter). Despite his current status I always thought that Johnny Cash and June Carter's duets were a little wholesome to qualify. Johnny Thunders and Patty Paladin's 1988 Copy Cats offered a mixed bag of nuts, Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham (Luna alumni) showed they can write a good tune but not lyrics, Jarvis did a so-so turn with Lush at the height of Britpop and of course Nick Cave famously bludgeoned Kylie to death on Murder Ballads. But until Campbell and Lanegan's 2005 Ballad of The Broken Seas, N&L were still the quality benchmark for this kind of thing. The acclaim and sales of that album alone probably prompted this reunion but is it worth it? The western-shirted Campbell on the front cover of Sunday at Devil Dirt seems older and wiser than the Sixties-style coquette she portrayed on the cover of BOTBS. Yet for the first few tracks, such is her lack of aural presence, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was a Lanegan solo effort, with Isobel hiding from her moody beau in the shadows or worse in the kitchen. Things get more collaborative (and saucy) on Come on Over (Turn Me On) which is Agent Provocateur to Belle and Sebastian's M&S knickers version of sexy and does a solo turn on Shotgun Blues but overall despite at least co-writing every song Campbell seems content to play wispy second fiddle to Lanegan's best Leonard Cohen impression. So is this a bad thing? Not at all. It's a great late night album, ladened with smoky Americana and genuine beauty. I guess I just like Isobel's voice more than she does...
Neon Neon - Stainless Style
No great surprises here. Mint Custard likes Super Furry Animals-related project shocker. But still hats off to the indomitable Gruff Rhys for what is his third great album in 18 months and represents another 180 degree change of style. This time he's reunited with American producer Boom Bip (check out their track Do's and Don'ts from 2005's Blue Eyed in the Red Room) to make a concept album about John Delorean, the mogul behind the Delorean Motor Company which is basically only famous to most of us for making the car in Back to the Future. If you shivered in horror reading that then don't fret pet; the album is a tight mix of pop, eighties tinged synth rock and bleeps and beats. It's got some strong cameos including the Pharcyde's Fat Lip (recently heard on the Chemical Brothers' Salmon Dance - but don't hold that against him) and Har Mar Superstar. It also features some funny references with lines like "You'll see my reflection in Michael Douglas's mirror sunglasses." My favourite story about the album is from when they debuted at SXSW last year, Gruff introduced the song Raquel with "this is a song about what would have happened if Delorean had had an affair with Raquel Welch. Which he didn't." Gruff Rhys - international treasure.
Robert Forster - The Evangelist
I once played Grant McLennan at Space Invaders after a gig at the Metro in Sydney. I was kicking his arse on the early levels until he called his friend over to join us. McLennan deliberately used his friend to distract me and ended up winning the game. He was really nice about it though... lovely bloke. Robert Forster doesn't mention this incident on his new album but he does take time to write some beautiful songs about his late-partner and mate who died of a heart attack two years ago. The first thing about putting the album on was just what a great thing it is to hear Robert's voice again. He has a presence (if not a sound) like Johnny Cash; sage yet warm, not a perfect singer but that's what makes him perfect. His voice fills this album and the hurt shared by Go-Betweens fans the world over feels slightly soothed. It's all great but given the context it's hard to avoid focussing on the songs that seems specifically about McLennan; It Ain't Easy and From Ghost Town. The latter is (ahem) haunting and gorgeous and whether Grant-directed or not, lyrics like 'what we made for a thousand years it will not fade' just choke you. It Ain't Easy has a jaunty breezy melody (written by McLennan) on top of which Forster has painted a bright and bold portrait of his friend of whom he says "And a river ran, and a train ran, and a dream ran through everything that he did" which seems to evoke every Go-Betweens song recorded in just 17 words. Mourn the loss, yes, but celebrate those still here. Ace.