Here’s our second round-up of 2016 of four current, recent and forthcoming record releases worth a listen.
Suede: Night Thoughts
The very thought of a concept album can be enough to deter many otherwise open-minded music fans – and in the case of the likes of Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII or Triumvirat’s Spartacus, that’s probably reasonable enough – but Suede’s first attempt at the genre is a different cup of tea altogether.
It helps that it’s only a sort-of concept album. It’s also a sort-of soundtrack, but seeing as it’s only the score for a film made to accompany it, directed by Roger Sargent, that doesn’t really count either.
What Suede’s seventh album definitely is is an excellent set of songs, one of the strongest collections of a career stretching back to 1989, though interrupted by a seven-year break only ending in 2010.
It might lack the irresistible hooks and soaring choruses of the likes of It Starts and Ends With You, Hit Me and For the Strangers on its predecessor, their 2013 comeback album, Bloodsports, a No 10 hit, an achievement about to be bettered by Night Thoughts today, but it’s every bit its equal, and that’s no mean feat.
This one’s slightly less immediate than Bloodsports but ultimately every bit as rewarding, in much the same way that 1994’s Dog Man Star saw the band – then featuring Bernard Butler on guitar, rather than his replacement, Richard Oakes – following up the hit parade that was their self-titled 1993 debut by stretching their musical boundaries.
Pretty much every single one of its dozen tracks is a winner, its bookends, the slow-burning opener When You Are Young and the musical theatre-like closing number The Fur and the Feathers being the closest it gets to having any weak links, not that they come particularly close to fitting that description.
In between are 10 fine songs exploring the sorts of thoughts that keep people awake at nights, in keeping with the album’s semi-concept and along similar lines to the reflections on mortality inspiring the 1995 Martin Amis novel The Information, all delivered with the swagger and deserved confidence of a band in peak form.
Many of the lyrical reference points of old are present and correct, but frontman Brett Anderson now being 48, they’re now approached from a different, more world-weary perspective, not unlike that offered by the four solo albums he put out between 2007 and 2011.
Suede might still be shaking their bits to the hits, as they put it on their 1996 single Beautiful Ones, but they appear to be left with aches, pains and regrets afterwards these days, and, though that might be a mixed blessing for them, it’s undoubtedly good news for their listeners.
Buddy Miller and Friends: Cayamo Sessions at Sea
Think of cruise ship music, and among the first songs to spring to mind will be the Jack Jones theme song to the 1970s and 1980s TV series The Love Boat or the Hues Corporation’s 1973 single Rock the Boat.
US singer-songwriter Buddy Miller has different ideas, however, regularly taking part in, and holding recording sessions aboard, the annual Cayamo cruise for musicians and fans held annually since 2008 from Miami in Florida.
Indeed, he’s on the ninth such cruise right now, due to return on Sunday, bound for Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and Saint-Martin in the Caribbean, alongside the likes of Steve Earle, John Prine, John Hiatt and Lucinda Williams.
The results of some of those seaborne sessions on the last two trips can be heard on this enjoyable new album by the 63-year-old, a former member of one of Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant’s backing bands, and some of his celebrity chums.
The big names he’s assembled include Kris Kristofferson, revisiting his old song Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down, and Britain’s Richard Thompson, covering the Hank Williams classic Wedding Bells.
Better still, though, are Lucinda Williams’ take on the Gram Parsons track Hickory Wind and Shawn Colvin’s beautiful rendition of the 1971 Rolling Stones hit Wild Horses, possibly the best cover of it yet and certainly a damned sight better than Susan Boyle’s 2009 version.
Phil Collins: Face Value
He might lack the credibility and cachet of other rock veterans of similar vintage such as the late David Bowie, but Phil Collins was, for a while, one of the biggest names in the business, being deemed so indispensable that his services were required at both of 1985’s Live Aid concerts, in London and in Philadelphia in the US, for several sets, an honour not afforded to anyone else – not Mick Jagger, not Bowie, not U2, not Queen and not even Led Zeppelin, for whom, somewhat controversially, he thumped the tubs on that occasion.
His chart-topping 1981 solo debut is probably the album that best explains why Collins, 65 tomorrow, was so in demand back then, including classics such as In the Air Tonight, recently revived as part of an advertising campaign for chocolate.
It’s being reissued, alongside 1993’s Both Sides, as part of a campaign that will see all eight of the Genesis drummer’s solo albums remastered and expanded in due course, and it’s not only face value that is on offer here as it comes with a bonus disc offering a dozen rarities and live tracks.
Sia: This is Acting
Whether this is acting, as its title suggests, or material written straight from the heart I have no idea, but if you like big, booming songs sung in a big, booming voice and given big, booming production, Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler’s seventh album won’t disappoint you.
Though only 40, Furler has written or co-written songs with more of her peers than you could shake a stick at, if you felt so inclined, as well as producing seven albums in her own right, so she more than knows her way around a tune, and, in most cases, you’ll know your way around more of her songs than you suspect, and that tally of memorable music will only be enhanced by this latest offering, despite its terrible, terrible cover.