In the last few months Strictly has been taking it slow. Reading and Leeds 2013 is in the rear view mirror and next year’s announcements are still quite some way away – but we won’t let that deter us. There have been some hot albums dropped in the latest two months and it’s time to give them their due.
Kings Of Leon – Mechanical Bull
The Fallowhill brothers are quickly becoming the industries biggest teases. Mechanical Bull made all the right noises with its two lead singles “Supersoaker” and “Don’t Matter” proving rocky enough to entice the fans of old without alienating the arena friendly masses. The album starts on a dramatic bent with Caleb kicking out in every conceivable direction. He loves sentimental girls one moment and he’s unfeeling the next. He is tired of being a rock star, but he wants to fuck anyone (male or female) who can hold his attention. He’s all over the emotional map and it is, all to briefly, glorious.
The disillusioned bad ass soon gives way to the kind of endearing but mid-tempo balladry fans have come to expect from the post-Because Of The Times Kings. “Beautiful War” is fantastic arena fare and “On The Chin” sees the band finally squaring the circle and reconciling the dichotomy between deeply humble roots music and stadium-sized pathos. Unfortunately, these choice cuts feel like expectations and not the rule. Mechanical Bull, despite its flying start, is more professional than daring, Caleb and co. are drifting on the right track, but their ultimate destination remains illusive.
Drake – Nothing Was The Same
The cheers were deafening when the DJs on the NME and 1xtra stages dropped Drake’s records in 2013. Reading has official evolved. Hip Hop and Dance stars can headline, and Drake is no longer persona non grata. The Canadian former soap-star has overhauled his image so drastically that Nothing Was The Same, his most ambitious project to date, is being greeted like the work of a hall of famer in waiting. The album is not without it’s flaws, Drake is still a largely unlikeable figure more fixated on airing his dirty laundry and espousing his wealth than critical self evaluation, but the density and craftiness of his rhymes is now undeniable.
His laconic wounded drawl is at his most effective as he rides, seemingly free form, across a series of spacious barely held together songs. At its best Nothing Was The Same is the sound of a starchly hypnotic minimalist tripping on his own ego and bitterness. Each track lurches seamlessly into the next as Drake’s stream of consciousness unfurls at an easy enticing pace. Structurally fascinating, addictively pompous and strangely tuneful, Nothing Was The Same is the culmination of Drake’s hip hop of vision.
Haim – Days Are Gone
Handling the hype is never easy, but Haim appear to have their heads screwed on straight. Rather than attempting to recreate their ferocious live show on record or attempting to capture any fleeting trend, the Haim sisters simply stay true to themselves. Days Are Gone is full of unashamedly kitsch, mid-tempo, softly seductive pop music – and the album is all the better for it. Haim embrace their inner Phil Collins relying on the emotional depth of their lyrics, their tender mellifluous harmonies, and the fundamental strength of their hooks to not alone survive, but thrive. Don’t accuse the sisters of playing it safe, “My Song 5” is daring, channeling St. Vincent through thumping R’n’B punch and 80s quirk. It provides a wonderful contrast to intentionally cloying and sickly “Honey & I” and languid mid-afternoon FM radio shimmer of “Edge”. Days Are Gone is brazenly uncool: the work of three sisters who are entirely comfortable in their own skin.
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