There are those albums that sort of slip through the cracks, your consciousness, your interest or, sometimes, your wallet. There are those that are released in other demographic jurisdictions earlier in the year, never finding their way to your area code. And then there are those pieces of music that quietly slide their way into stores at the end of the year – during days that are best set aside for holiday shopping and nights best reserved for Jingle Bells and Little Drummer Boy listening.
That’s what happened with the three aural samples listed below. But it’s December 30th and we’re all caught up now.
The Charlatans – Who We Touch
I had tickets to see The Charlatans, one of my long-standing favourite “Madchester” bands at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace this past September 17. I always try to catch them when they’re in town as a sort of return to my well-spent club-going youth, each time wondering who from my past I might run into at the show. Two days before the scheduled concert, disappointment and concern flooded over the tour as drummer Jon Brookes collapsed on stage during a show in New York. The tour was quickly cancelled with the band later revealing that Brookes had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
The album’s first track, single Love is Ending, starts with a bang: the immediate smashing of drum kit and flourish of hard hit symbols before driving bass pushes all aside to lead the way. It’s an auspicious sound for the album – The Charlatans, after a few lackluster offerings the past few years, lashing out and begging to be heard again. And really, Who We Touch is a return to form, albeit a more tempered one. The members of the group are, after all, now in their early forties. Surely, this rock and roll stadium pace couldn’t continue for long?
My Foolish Pride is a shimmering beauty, a song that encapsulates all of the best elements that have made The Charlatans who they are: groovy bass, Hammond organ and plucky guitars – as well as those sugary vocals from Tim Burgess, seemingly one of Peter Pan’s “Lost Boys,” never growing old, just as energized as he was when he first sang The Only One I Know all those years ago.
But the band is cleverer now than they were in those bygone days, they’re stronger musicians and more fearless artists. They’re merging acoustic with electronic music seamlessly now. They’re raising the stakes of the listener in songs like Intimacy, inducing more energetic fist-pumps and stadium-sized sing-alongs in the instant live classic Sincerity while showing a beat-poet, anarchistic-glam side in the thirteen minute closing track, the compelling You Can Swim/On The Threshold/I Sing The Body Eclectic, a poem performed to music by Penny Rimbaud.
Who We Touch, for listeners, lives up to its promise.
Rest well and make a full recovery, Jon. Toronto and all Charlatan fans, look forward to hearing you smash the drums on this rocking album live soon.
Manic Street Preachers – Postcards From A Young Man
In some parts of the world, namely the United Kingdom, Postcards From A Young Man was released in early September. The rest of us are still waiting on it. The same thing happened with their acclaimed 2009 release, Journal For Plague Lovers – which eventually received a North American release nearly six months after the UK, coinciding, incidentally, with a tour on this side of the ocean. Expect the same thing with Postcards.
Kicking off with the sweeping single (It’s Not War) Just The End of Love, all rousing strings and amped up electric guitar, James Dean Bradfield sings, “To feel forgiveness you’ve got to forgive, it’s lost on me I believe in revenge”. The line is a perfect testament to both the Manic Street Preachers slash-and-burn-with-love philosophy and the oeuvre on the rest of the album. Postcards is wonderfully poppy and mainstream for the glam rockers, a “last shot at mass communication” as bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire put it earlier this year but it still retains that old Manics snarl – a perfect remembrance of a youthful vigor, a literal postcard from when these men were younger.
Even with the heavy use of strings, Motown beats and gospel choirs on many of the songs found on the album, Manic Street Preachers never forget their rock roots. And they’ve got a little help from their circle of friends here too.
Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch features on Some Kind of Nothingness while fellow Welshman John Cale of The Velvet Underground lends himself to Auto-Intoxication. Longtime fans of Guns n Roses, the Manics also recruit Duff McKagan on bass for A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun. Yes, it sounds exactly as you’d expect: immediate, thumping and powerful – a stadium-sized effigy to rock and roll containing multiple guitar solos.
On the other side of the rock dial, All We Make Is Entertainment is joyously Fleetwood Mac even amidst its despairing lyrics while album closer Don’t Be Evil (a nod to Google’s corporate mantra) is perhaps the most Manics track on Postcards From A Young Man – fuzzed out guitars and deep bass drum comingled with the biting lyric “as corporate as the suits you won’t wear, as stupid as the jeans you tear”. It’s sheer bliss for any fan of the band.
Still, North American audiences might have to wait a while for a domestic release of this album. The Manic Street Preachers are already at work on their follow-up, tentatively titled “70 Songs of Hatred and Failure” – an album, they tells us, that will be “pure indulgence”. Perhaps a tour and a release of both albums will coincide for Canadian and Stateside fans.
Until then, there are always import CD’s, iTunes and my word for it. Postcards From A Young Man is joyous, stadium rock and should not be missed by any lover of guitar-driven, big beat, sweaty but tight, bombastic music.
Ryan Adams And The Cardinals – III/IV
What’s a year without another double album by Ryan Adams and his band The Cardinals? In 2003, the artist released the, well rocking, Rock N Roll. In 2004, he submitted the delicately textured, Smiths inspired, Love Is Hell. 2005 saw the release of three albums worth of alternative country material: the brilliant double album Cold Roses, alongside follow-ups Jacksonville City Nights and 29.
This short history of Ryan Adams continues with2007’s Easy Tiger, an important album in the context of III/IV since the songs on this latest release were created during those sessions.
So, Adams kept a pace of at least an album a year – except in the last few. After 2008’s Cardinology release, Ryan Adams retired from music in order to write books. Two of them as a matter of fact. Oh. And he got married. To actress/singer Mandy Moore. So, you know, he kept busy, as one might expect. Easy, tiger! indeed.
The opening track to new double album III/IV, Breakdown Into The Resolve begins with the statement “Hi, hello, it’s me again, don’t worry I’ll talk slow, so you probably heard I went away, where do we start?” It’s am ominous beginning considering that the two years since his last release is more akin to a decade in Adams-time. Still, as mentioned earlier, these songs are the tunes that didn’t make it onto an album back during those Easy Tiger sessions. Perhaps he was prognosticating?
Formally with The Cardinals again, III/IV, released only a few weeks ago, has left any country aspirations behind in favor of straightforward arena rock and roll. As a matter of fact, this latest release is very close to his Rock N Roll offerings of days done by: Adams, his ripping guitar, his plaintive voice, his affecting lyrics, all ably assisted by the strongest set of musicians he’s ever been happily paired with.
There is a marked absence of genuine singles here but Ultraviolet Light is a strong contender. It’s a melancholy song with a sing-along chorus of “Come on, come on, come on let’s go it’s getting darker” amidst a playful guitar riff that sends shivers down the spine. Of course, there’s the playful Adams at work here, too, what with songs like Star Wars wherein amidst rolling drums and start/stop guitar licks, he pleads to find “Someone that loves me the way I love Star Wars, Wizards and Ninja Wars”.
Even the word “Wookie” makes an appearance on this album and I’m thinking that any fan of Biff Bam Pop! Would be a fan of III/IV. Adams himself would surely find comfort surfing the articles presented here. Hell, he’d probably be a regular commenter on them.
All songs on III/IV sort of blur into each other, but the album is definitely a grower, a worthy addition to any rock music collection, let alone a fan of Ryan Adams’ specific kind of rock and roll.
The music world is lucky to have had these songs released and we’re lucky to hear all of them.