Friday, October 1

Albums Of Last Month

Brandon Flowers 'Flamingo' (Island)

Brandon Flowers sure gets a lot of slack for one who bestowed us with two of the mightiest indie anthems from the past six years. Plainly, said-anthems have polluted our gray matters to the point where we might have to Perry Smith a country family at the glimpse of them again. And yes, there is the believing-in-Mormonism factor. But really, his The Killers have still churned out two highly passable endeavours following 2004's unerring 'Hot Fuss', human, dancer or a cross-breed of the two. So why he's determined to set out upon the solo dominion is open to debate, you only need to drop in on Robbie's rehab sittings to suss the viable side-effects. Yet meet 'Flamingo' - and it's here where we'll have to do away with you hoity-toity, anti-aspiring sorts - because this is BIG refrains and devout slushiness and pop-affable hooks and, like, really good.
Of course we encounter an incoming, flickering buzz of suspense to set things in motion, before 'Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas' - where "the house will always win" - powers into its march through adamant guitars and an indelible chorus. "Cameras on the ceiling tile, no place for you to hide; It's a hundred seven and you're looking for shade; That no palm tree can provide," Flowers howls of his hometown, downright ashamed by the degeneracy that helms the city's survival. Never has his bashfulness about Vegas been so apparent.
'Only The Young' - a keys-vesseled parade founded by a climate of near-hymning - speaks further on man's quest to be 'good'. "Nothing is easy, nothing is sacred, why? Where did the bow break?... Are you looking for a sign? Or are you caught up in a lie?" He's surely inquisitive, but of who? Possibly those in the Vegas houses, as Flowers too all but guides the next crop elsewhere with the line, "Only the young can break away".
It's in 'Playing With Fire' where a recognition of other notions bares itself - and, atop a warm, absorbing backdrop, finally 'Flamingo' appears not so sententious. "Perhaps his calling is the channel of invention, I will not blush if others see it as a crime... This church of mine may not be recognised by steeple, that doesn't mean that I will walk without a god," he tells, confirming his trust in one Joseph Smith, but recognising the outside's interpretation all the same. Previously, Flowers has struck home a tad preachy, yet he'd be so much less of a soul if he didn't once perceive the doubt in his own doctrine.
'Was It Something I Said?' lifts the temper up with a zippy beat and '75 Springsteen invigoration, though this motif of uncertainty won't go away. Flowers belts about a couple ready to wed on the Vegas strip, until "there was something gone... I hear church bells ringing in my head and I take them everywhere I go; Valentina met a dealer and I hear they had a baby five months ago", maybe suggesting that it was faith that was "gone" for Valentina. 'Heading down Tropicana' and 'getting a job at the Nugget', he continues to point out the haunts of Las Vegas, and in 'On The Floor', his distaste in its customs is on show again. "When the lights go down in the city something is roaring, I find myself waiting to believe; On the floor where the mice call shots, that's where I'll be... on my knees begging please." Joined by restful, tender piano and eventually a choir, Flowers seemingly prays for his fatherland to return from the Sin City it has become. A promo for Vegas tourism this is not.
You've no doubt heard 'Crossfire's bodacious thump all over everywhere of late, but there's no dismissing its sheer pop empathy, notably that gooey guitar solo which steals the close.
And 'Swallow It' at first looks like an odd choice to close the album, the tune itself not as noteworthy as what's come prior. Then Flowers calls: "Take your medicine and crawl before you walk, think it through before you open your mouth to talk; Be an advocate of joy, find your little heart's desire and follow it." This medicine we're asked to swallow could be worship, it could be truth - but it's a fitting finale because of its missive to take one's time and wander the trail one knows one should.
So, where does this all leave us? Well, if it wasn't clear before as to why a Brandon Flowers solo album exists, it sure as shootin' is now. You know those TV adverts that ask for a few £s a month to aid what they show are damaged, hard-up kids when you'd most likely be abetting right little brats? 'Flamingo' is nearly like that, only the damaged kids that yank at your heart in the ads are synth-pop'd gobbets of prowess, and the brats are holier-than-thou tactics to market, well, religion. Flowers's faith in you-know-what is self-evident, but he's still conscious of contrasting outlooks (see 'Playing With Fire' and hence the "nearly"). Plus he's not trying to sell what he's convinced of, but more confirm his own dogma - and it's that which is why this record is alive. And wouldn't it just be unchristian to cold-shoulder these tracks solely for their standpoints? Brandon Flowers has sussed who he wants to be - and 'Flamingo' is the finest way to celebrate.

Best Track
Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas

Weezer 'Hurley' (Epitaph)

The thing with the last three Weezer records ('Make Believe', 'Weezer' and 'Raditude') is that upon their first listen, one comes away feeling like the LA alt.legends have retorted to their former glory. Of course, only later were it the lead singles ('Beverly Hills, 'Pork And Beans' and '(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To') and a handful of others that exhibited any kind of resurgence. 'Hurley', however, named after the 'Lost' character of the same name - with darnright fantastic added face cover art to boot - is quite actually the nearest thing to the power-punk of 2002's 'Maladroit' since, well, 'Maladroit'. Here exists not only the cute nature of 'Island In The Sun', but also the wholesale guitar fathom of 'Keep Fishin'.
And 'Memories' is the most prudent way to get off the ground for any record, let alone this one. Almost like an antidote to Arcade Fire's whole don't-go-back-to-suburbia shtick, we're left screeching, "All the memories make me want to go back there," upon rock-ribbed energy chords and an as-zipping bass line. Rivers Cuomo, who's been uncomfortably affable of late, sings without an inkling that he's really not that much younger than your dad, too. 'Ruling Me' continues the happy-go-lucky dulcety, while 'Trainwrecks' is THE Weezer song - heck, anthem - of Weezer anthems. We're talking a leadoff hymn followed by a clobbering Fender-pluck followed by Cuomo chiming in, "We sleep all day and rock the night, we just get up to start another fight, we kiss and then we bite, we are traaaaaaaaiiiiiiiinwreeeeeeecks." Is he ragging on the grievous hoodies the West has come to known or chanting highly of his own alternative kingdom? You know, it's kind of hard to tell. But as the song - sorry, anthem - soldiers on into an all-out declaration of such dogma (whatever such may be), it's hard not lining 'Trainwrecks' up next to 'Buddy Holl', 'Undone - The Sweater Song', 'Say It Ain't So', et al. Yes, for real.
Those scouting around for Weezer's pulpier side will find soothe in 'Unspoken' and album ender 'Time Flies'. And though 'Run Away' jump-starts all gooey ("I thought you would always be my friend, now everything must end; And so the world moves on, and everything must change," Rivers whooshes with only an old-sounding piano for company), it takes to the air by virtue of a fearsome 'n' crunchy riff'd raw of a broken-love song. The Harvard grad has never been one for weighty libretto (despite his degree in English), but there's something charmingly straight about, "Sometimes I wish I was a house at the end of the block, you could smash all my windows with the throw of a rock." All this might come across a bit pensive if it wasn't for 'Hang On', which comes next and is high on ragged pop harmonies and one last yearning for romance. "Someday I'll be coming for you, you know what I'm wanting to do; I know the words to say to draw you in so close to me," could register a little freaky, but then it is the Ruler of Madcapness behind it.
The reality that this is Weezer's first venture since leaving Geffen for indie Epitaph might go some way to explaining their picking-up-where-'Maladroit'-left-off, much like Radiohead after departing EMI for XL. This really does have all the pop-punk, punk-pop'd flair of their early days - and why move forward when there's no-one in your way?

Best Track
Trainwrecks

Mark Ronson 'Record Collection' (Columbia)

Mark Ronson seems like a nice guy. In interviews, on TV, on the radio, he comes across funny, astute and also cutely bashful by his own self-consciousness. But he only has himself to accuse for the 'KILL MARK RONSON' propaganda that has branded the Shoreditch kids' tees in the last few. I mean, he did make a second album refashioning/kiboshing/transmogrifying some of the worthiest numbers from the past decade or so. Yes, Amy Winehouse meowed the heck outta 'Valerie', but he further touched up The Smiths, Coldplay and Radiohead... Like, how dare he? Yet surely Ronson was very much mindful of the to-do that potentially followed, that beneath the Brit Award and double-platinum sales disc would be an incessant wrathful gawk from the other side of the room, asking: 'Who is exactly are you and what have you done with my Morrissey?' Or maybe it was his duty all along to piss us real music fans off and then switch via a new album, not charged with others' ideas, but honest-to-goodness, intriguing creativeness, leading to an expression of regret from the ones that snubbed his initial coming-out party. If so, then I'm sorry Mr Ronson. 'Record Collection' is, like, holla good.
It is actually he and his Business Intl (no, not International) who have tailored this all together. In fact, you could very well, much like on 'Versions', go deep inside this record and wonder, 'But what does Mark Ronson actually do?' "I'm producing every song. On a couple I'm singing and I'm playing the guitar or keys on every song. There's certain songs where I wrote all the music and Jonathan Pierce (of the The Drums-fame) just wrote the lyrics," he said recently, confirming that if there was ever a clarification needed for 'music producer', he is most positively it.
And lead single 'Bang Bang Bang' is about the best place to start. Featuring the wordplay of Queens rapper Q-Tip ("We're never gonna believe in the stories that you're weavin', we're believin' in the proof, we're believin' in the truth") and the lesser-known Amanda Warner's vocals from synthpop duo MNDR, one can't help but sway to the peppy, feel-good throbs and thrashes pounding off into the sun. Sure, it's enough already with the '80s, but not before this leaked out.
The too-short 'Lose It (In The End)' has a horn 'n' whistle-fuelled fuzziness to it that coulda dripped off the last Kaiser Chiefs record, while some societal divergence on, well, heartbreak lobbies atop. "I know what way to go when it comes to the ladies... I'm still picking them crazies, you wanna battle a court, like Kim and Slim Shady," raps Ghostface Killah (he of Staten Island). "Yeah, I said too much again; Yeah, I pushed too hard again; And I wanna start but when? I always lose it in the end," sings Alex Greenwald (he of Phantom Planet, they of 'California', which of 'The O.C.'). It's an enchanting disparity Ronson has cast here, and as significant as it is fun to listen to.
'The Bike Song', however, now seems like a weak second single bearing in mind what else there is to choose from, such as 'You Gave Me Nothing' - a klaxon-muscling whish-whash of pop resulting from a Calvin Harris dominion. In sooth, it's like a less galling version of that Harris and Dizzee track last year, only with ex-Pipette Rose Dougall and Miike Snow's leader Andrew Wyatt holding down the fort.
Even the instrumentals - and there are about four of 'em - are righteous movements in their own right. The indelible bleepmospheric jungle of the 4 mins, 24 secs 'Circuit Breaker' especially.
And 'The Night Last Night', marking the finale, is where the disco slows down - although only slightly, as Greenwald and Dougall take it in turns to sing all sweet-tempered upon dreamy landscapes like nothing else could close this album.
So see, what Mark Ronson has displayed over these 14 tracks is that we need him now as much as he needed The Zutons then. The man plainly has one of the best tastes in music, in music, and, as 'Record Collection' makes clear, some majorly talented allies to boot. Sure, those 'Version' apologists will eat this up no end. But so will the haters, too.

Best Track
The Night Last Night