The week's new tunes to try and be inspired by - or not
1/5 Raditude You know what? Raditude’s the greatest Weezer album in years. And do you know why we can make that claim? Because we don’t expect them to do anything worth listening to any more. Thanks to the diminishing returns of the previous four albums, any residual hope for the return of the band of Weezer (aka ‘The Blue Album’) and Pinkerton has long since burned away. Just in case the joke title doesn’t give it away, Raditude is the work of a band who write third-rate songs with infantile lyrics and derivative chord progressions, and by that standard – treating the album as though it was a late-period Blink 182 disc, in other words – Raditude is thoroughly, magnificently tolerable.
That’s at least partially because it’s an exceptionally unmemorable album. At no point is there a riff in danger of getting stuck in your head or a lyric that’s going to make you stop what you’re doing. First single ‘(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To’ manages to take the lively Motown beat that powered Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ and The Jam’s ‘A Town Called Malice’ while being 10 per cent as memorable as either. ‘Trippin’ Down the Freeway’ will disappear from your mind before you’re even done thinking about it and the quasi-electro ‘Can’t Stop Partying’ would be hilarious if one could be sure that Rivers was actually joking – and if it wasn’t one riff away from being MGMT’s ‘Kids’. And, illuminatingly, ‘Put Me Back Together’ draws on the co-writing prowess of guests Tyson Ritter and Nick Wheeler of the All American Rejects: that decision speaks volumes about the album’s quality. In a nutshell, if you hate music but are still desperate to buy a record, Raditude is tailor-made for you. Andrew P Street Available to buy online.
The Very Best
4/5 Warm Heart of Africa Serendipity in a used-furniture shop has led to a modern Afro-pop gem. A few years ago, Malawi expat Esau Mwamwaya was working in a London thrift store when he befriended two local DJs, Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg. The pan-cultural clash makes for a wonderful platter of tropical synth-pop on their new LP, Warm Heart of Africa.
Tron and Karlberg craft surprisingly gentle beats, meeting halfway between UK pop and funky highlife. Sunny keyboards burst through twinkling percussion. Cheerful new-wave cuts such as ‘Chalo’ and ‘Mfumu’ could pass for diced-and-spliced Bruce Hornsby or U2 hits. Heck, even sonic agitator MIA is reined in to near Paul Simon-like threat levels on the drum-heavy ‘Rain Dance’. Detours into trance (‘Nsokoto’) and hip-hop (‘Julia’) underline this seamlessly eclectic record’s strength: pop-music fusion can still serve up something fresh. Collaboration (and possibly old sofas) is key. Brent DiCriscenzo Available to buy online.
5/5 The Rise & Fall of EMI Records (book) Given the parlous state of the music industry, it’s no surprise that Brian Southall’s excellent The Rise and Fall of EMI Records occasionally reads like Stan Cornyn’s similarly-fascinating Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group. But while Cornyn’s viewpoint was from the lofty vistas of LA, Brian Southall is as Brit-centric as the label he’s writing about.
The lesson of this book is the same lesson that every other record company has learned: a badly run label with a great roster of artists can prosper in spite of itself (UK indie Creation Records survived founder Alan McGee’s drug-fuelled lunacy through the ’80s and ’90s purely because of the fortunately timed successes by Ride, Primal Scream and Oasis), but the best managed, most economically responsible label won’t make money if it doesn’t have the tunes. And according to Southall, that’s been EMI’s greatest problem for the past 10 years, especially in the US. By 2008 most of the big names had left (Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead), ceased to record (Blur, The Spice Girls), slipped commercially (Robbie Williams, KT Tunstall) or were in the process of finishing off their contract (Coldplay). And while the label has consistently boasted huge UK acts, they’ve consistently underperformed in the US. They also haven’t had a significant American star on the roster in the past 20 years. That is, aside from the multi-million-dollar signing and almost immediate multi-million-dollar dropping of Mariah Carey – a story that really deserves a book in itself.
We learn of the (flawed) personalities in EMI’s management, watch the never-to-be-consummated romance between EMI and Warners (even as Universal buys up everything that moves and Sony and BMG get the nod for their merger) and generally watch the music industry fall to pieces. There’s also an excellent potted history of the label, from its inception to the modern day. Did you know that EMI developed – and was nearly bankrupted by – the CAT Scanner? How many other labels even had a medical electronics division? None, that’s how many.
Southall stops short of suggesting any solutions. He sticks to reporting the story, not editorialising, although you can feel the distaste with which he observes the way that the home of The Beatles became a content house for its current owners, investment house Terra Firma. While things have moved even further since publication (goodbye, SonyBMG; hello again, Sony) The Rise and Fall of EMI Records is full of valuable insights for anyone interested in the inner workings of the music biz, as well as a sobering experience for anyone hoping for easy answers to the complex questions currently facing the entertainment industry. Andrew P Street Available to buy online.
Kings of Convenience
4/5 Declaration of Dependence It’s been five years since the duo’s last album, Riot on an Empty Street, and a lot has changed. Erlend Øye has been fronting the faintly funky The Whitest Boy Alive, while Eirik Bøe has completed an architecture and psychology degree and become a dad. However, in terms of musical development, for Norway’s answer to Simon and Garfunkel, time is at an standstill. Hushed and delicate, the vocals still complement each other beautifully (particularly on ‘Me in You’), but it’s nothing fans haven’t heard before. Kim Taylor Bennett Available to buy online.