Paul McCartney’s still rocking out on “New”

NewThere’s just no slowing 71 year old Sir Paul McCartney down. You could forgive him if he felt he was done – after all, he is considered to be the most successful composer and songwriter of all time, selling hundreds of millions of albums and singles (literally), dozens of number one hits, and holding the record for the most covered song of all time (Yesterday, which has officially been covered over 2200 times).

But as a recent Rolling Stone article pointed out, the man churns out music so fast even in his 70s that he puts musicians a quarter of his age to shame. And when the first single of his album, the title-track New, was released a couple of months ago it became clear he still had plenty of energy.

The album itself was released a couple of weeks ago now, and it turns out most of the album has a similar feel. It kicks off with the downright electric song Save Us, before moving onto an urgent and quirky sounding Alligator which dives into a darker atmosphere which keeps resurfacing throughout the record. After the rather typical acoustic number, On My Way To Work, it moves onto the second single, Queenie Eye – a song which has grown on me through subsequent listens. Check it out here (you’ll recognise a number of faces in the clip):

After this, it slows down again for the acoustic and nostalgic Early Days, moves on to the title-track and then onto the weird, slightly funky number AppreciateEverybody Out There is a loud rock song with a perfect chanting part that I imagine will go down well live, and after the slower Hosanna the album springs back with I Can Bet. Looking at Her is sweet and a little bluesy, but then Road ends up being one of the darkest, most unusual ways McCartney has ever finished an album. Unless you have the deluxe version with two more tracks…and then another bonus track. So the album will have either 12, 14 or 15 songs – my one has 15 and while I do like the three extra songs, the album definitely feels like it ended properly back with Road.

This is McCartney’s 24th post-Beatles album, but somehow he has managed to keep the music interesting, different, relevant and yet still very much the same style of songwriting which has made people fall in love with him for over half a century. While some artists desperately need to stop embarrassing themselves as they age (especially certain bands), McCartney can keep on making music and we’ll keep listening to it. The Queenie Eye clip I posted above has shot over a million views in 3 days, and while it’s not as big as other songs these days it’s not bad for an old rocker.

If you missed my last post when I showed it, here is the clip for his first single, New:

What are your thoughts on Paul McCartney’s new music?

From Here To Now To You – Why I was always going to like Jack Johnson’s latest album

From Here To Now To YouI’ve always thought it must be really difficult for a lot of songwriters out there. If they try to do something different and unexpected with their music, they lose a lot of fans who claim “they sold out”, and if they try to sound the same every time they get told they need to do something different – it’s a lose-lose situation.

But some artists seem to find a way to get past such criticism, and Jack Johnson is one such musician. Sure, over his six albums his style has changed a little, with the addition of a keys player, the introduction of playing the electric guitar from time to time, and a more mature songwriting style overall. But really, he has released pretty much the same kind of music every time, and has only gone from strength to strength – I know I will continue to buy every album he ever makes.

From Here To Now To You is his 6th studio album (not counting all his soundtracks and live albums of course), and was released about a week ago around most of the world (and a week and a half ago in Australia and New Zealand, because we’re special). The album opener is also the first single, “I Got You”, released a couple of months ago, and is a typically chilled out Jack Johnson song with a slow acoustic melody, sweet lyrics and whistling to match.

From here, the album becomes a lot louder and more pop-oriented with the songs “Washing Dishes” (which should definitely be a single) and “Shot Reverse Shot”, both of which make me think of the upbeat sort of stuff he was writing back around the In Between Dreams period. This album then slows a little with “Never Fade” before a very fun, entertaining and foot stomping song, “Tape Deck”, which tells of a group of young musicians trying to form a punk band with little money or talent. It then slows a little for a couple of songs, before the cute “You Remind Me Of You”, clearly about his child, and the very upbeat song “Radiate” which is one of my favourites and which is, so I have heard, the second single off the album (as soon as I find a more official video, I’ll replace this upcoming video with that one, but for now listen to the song anyway):

After that, the album finishes off with the darker sounding “Ones and Zeros” and “Change” (which features Ben Harper), before ending, somewhat oddly, on a newly recorded version of his classic song “Home” (which featured as a bonus track on some versions of the Sleep Through The Static album and has been a regular live song). At only 12 tracks, this album might feel a little short compared to some of his others, but it is more than a full enough album in my opinion.

So what can I say? If you like Jack Johnson, you’ll probably like this album. There’s a few new sounds, but nothing ground-breaking – and that’s why I like him so much! This will definitely be on my spring and summer playlist over the next few months!

Are you a fan of Jack Johnson? If so, what’s your favourite song/album? What are your thoughts of his new material so far?

Creativity by creative starvation

No, I’m not talking about starvation by not eating – that is just silly and I like food much too much to even consider that.

I’m talking about creative starvation. Last night I was at a friends bucks’ party in a German pub at the Rocks in Sydney (I’m sure locals will know exactly where I am talking about), and at some point a conversation with a friend there stumbled onto the topic of song writing processes of different artists and bands, as he himself plays in a band. During this, we were discussing another local band who I have followed for a few years as I used to work with their guitarist at my old retail job, and I remember him telling me about the process the singer of that band went through building up to writing the songs for one of their more successful albums.

To cut a long story short, this singer stopped listening to music for 6 months before he started writing any songs for their album. He only cheated once, listening to a Crowded House song (Weather With You, if my memory serves me correct, but it’s been a long time since I heard this story). His thoughts behind doing this was that he wanted to strip himself of any potential influences from stuff he would be listening to, so that he would write music that was more unique, distinctly his own. Interestingly enough, that particular album that resulted does stand out from their catalogue as their most unique work.

This conversation last night took a few turns from here though, as we ventured into this idea on a more general creative level. I explained to my friend how for me, as a writer, this sort of goes against everything we’re ever told – if you don’t read, you don’t have the tools, the fuel, to write stories and books. And surely listening to music is much the equivalent when it comes to writing songs, much as I imagine looking at art would be for a painter, and so on.

I think it is pretty unusual to hear anybody in any creative field try anything like this, but a part of me does wonder if there is some potential benefit to starving oneself of creative fuel, if only for a very short period. Could it cause a writer, musician,  or artist to create something entirely new, or would that person still somehow use influences perhaps locked further away in their minds and memories? Or would it just cause a creative block?

What are your thoughts on this approach? Do you think it could work, or is it nonsense? Be completely honest, as I have no specific opinion here – I am just curious to see what everybody else thinks!

Paul McCartney’s ‘New’ Song

As many of my long time followers will know (and newer followers will now find out), The Beatles have long been and will long be my favourite band. So naturally, when I hear news of a new Paul McCartney album, I get quite excited.

Although McCartney has done an album with his side project The Fireman, a ballet (Ocean’s Kingdom), and a brilliant covers album (Kisses On The Bottom), it’s been six long years since he released an album of his own original pop songs. And it seems he has titled this new album, and song, “New”.

The song has been on Youtube for a week and has garnered almost a million views, which isn’t too bad for someone in their seventies. The thing that always amazes me with McCartney is that his voice is exactly the same now as it was 50 years ago when the world first heard it. His song writing style hasn’t changed much, but who says that’s a bad thing?

Anyway, here’s the song – let me know your thoughts on it in the comments section! I myself am very excited for the new album, which is due out next month.

High Fidelity (and why I preferred it to Juliet, Naked)

High FidelityAs many of you know, a few months ago I read a more recent novel by Nick Hornby called Juliet, Naked. It has often been compared to his classic 1995 novel High Fidelity due to its themes of music obsession and the typically dysfunctional characters that we have all come to expect from Hornby in any of his novels, and that, strangely and a little alarmingly, most readers find they can relate to with great ease.

But, as many of you might remember, I had some issues with Juliet, Naked. The characters were a little too dysfunctional in places, one of them so much so that I just wanted to attack him in the face with bees or a refrigerator or something else exceedingly painful. While I myself am a bit of a music obsessive, I found myself repulsed by the arrogance of that particular character, and it left a bit of a dirty taste in my mouth as I read the book. I liked it, but it disappointed me a bit. 

So I came to High Fidelity with high expectations, stemming from many reviews and recommendations from fellow bloggers and other critics. I wanted to know why people preferred this novel written so much earlier in Hornby’s career, what exactly it got right and whether I agreed or not.

The story is based around Rob, a mid-30s record shop owner who is obsessed with music and making lists. When his girlfriend Laura dumps him, he finds himself questioning his life and identity. To help with his reflections, he decides to contact all the ex-girlfriends who broke his heart through his life (whom he introduces briefly at the start of the novel, along with the circumstances of each relationship’s demise). All the while, Laura is never fully extricated from his life, as Rob questions why that relationship didn’t work, what is really important to him, and why.

It’s a simple premise, but it works surprisingly well and remains entertaining up until the end. Although Rob is quite sulky and pathetic at many points in the story, he is still quite likeable, and as a reader you keep wanting him to pick up the pieces of his life and just sort himself out already. It soon becomes clear that Laura is not as together as Rob thinks she is, either, and neither are many of the people around Rob who have been or are in his life, past and present, and that’s kind of the point of the novel, I feel – we’re all trying to figure ourselves out, most of the time, even if we seem like we know what we’re doing. I also think that’s why the characters in this book are so much easier to relate to, because while they are flawed, they are believably flawed and not caught up in their own pretentiousness. 

The writing style is inimitably Nick Hornby, but is also perhaps the best of his writing out of his novels I’ve read so far. It’s easy to read, light-hearted and funny, yet tinged with melancholy and just enough philosophical reflection to keep it thought provoking throughout. The chapters are short and sharp, making it annoyingly hard to put down once you get into it, and at just under 250 pages you could knock this one out on a rainy afternoon if you felt so inclined.

With High Fidelity, Hornby has managed to write a great book about love, music, and life that is appealing to many people, and its greatest strength lies in its very imperfections of character and story. It isn’t a perfect story, just a very good one. If you read just one Nick Hornby novel, make it this one.

Have you read High Fidelity before? What are your thoughts?

Have you read any other good books with music as a major theme?

A quick update: An impending holiday, and other tales

Hello to all my awesome readers out there!

As you may have noticed, things have been pretty quiet on here these past couple of weeks. This trend is going to continue for the next month or so as well, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I’ve been going through a few health issues lately (again…oh, what it is to be young – wait a minute, that’s not right!), although these are almost sorted and now it’s just a matter of adapting to new situations, diagnoses, and medications.

But, more importantly, I’m travelling overseas again in less than 2 weeks time, this time to the beautiful Sweden, where I will spend the first two weeks of July. I am looking immensely forward to this trip, for many many reasons (which some of you have figured out, you perceptive people you!), and it has been many months in the works. It is also the beginning of something much bigger…but more on that later in the year.

So I’m not going to say I’m going on hiatus entirely just yet – if I have time, I might pop up one or two more posts before I fly out, and there is a possibility that I might do some quick photo posts while I’m in Sweden, if time and technology permit. I guess I just won’t guarantee there’s going to be much happening either, and if I seem to take forever in replying, don’t worry I will get around to it eventually I promise!

Once I have recovered from the jet lag in later July, I will try to build the blog back up to three posts a week again, including regular book and writing posts, as well as the regular music posts (which oddly have become easier to maintain)! Until then, keep reading, writing, and some other third thing!

Bernard Fanning returns with “Departures”

DeparturesBernard Fanning is an Australian singer and songwriter who is mostly known for being the front man of Powderfinger, who are one of the most popular Australian bands on our shores over the last twenty years, with huge commercial success and a string of awards to back them up (including winning Album Of The Year at the ARIAs three times). He did, however, dabble in solo work with his folk-music album Tea & Sympathy back in 2005 (and this also won Album Of The Year), and since his old band broke up a few years ago, Fanning has slowly been writing his second solo work.

One thing that struck me immediately with this album was the lack of any singular sound or theme running through it (although there are some running themes with the lyrics). In fact, some people may remember the Powderfinger of the 1990s (think Double Allergic and Internationalist) and the way those albums would jump between genres and styles, long before the band developed their trademark sound – well, this album is very much the same.

The first song, Tell Me How It Ends, comes out swinging with an upbeat rock feel that sounds all too familiar, and while it is a good song I did worry briefly that the whole album was going to be like this. Then the second song starts up, Limbo Stick, with its funky basslines and jazzy instrumentation (especially towards the end of the song), and it becomes very clear that Fanning is moving in a very different direction. The third song, the keys-driven lead single Battleships, consolidates this well:

After this the album seems to jump around between three main styles: the upbeat rockers like the opener, Inside Track and Drake, quirky and sometimes jazzy songs like Here Comes The Sadist, Call You Home, Zero Sum Game, and slower more melancholy tracks like Grow Around You and the hauntingly beautiful Departures (Blue Toowong Skies). On his Youtube channel he explains this song:

“My Dad died at the beginning of 2011 which coincided with the biggest floods Brisbane has seen. This was something that loomed pretty large for me over the whole writing period of ‘Departures’ and I suppose a song like this was bound to come out. The lyric is talking about the place in Brisbane where I grew up, Toowong, a near city suburb that my Dad also spent his childhood in and ended up being buried in, along with my older brother, who I now happen to be older than. “

If you were a fan of Powderfinger, definitely get this album. If you weren’t a fan of Powderfinger, give this a listen anyway – you might be pleasantly surprised. It’s not a life changing album, but it’s a solid return to solo work for Bernard Fanning, and it is great to see him dabble out of his comfort zone.

As I mentioned it earlier, I’ll end this post with the clip for the song Departures (Blue Toowong Skies):

Laura Marling’s “Once I Was An Eagle”

Once I Was An EagleAt the age of just 23, Laura Marling has unleashed her fourth (yes, fourth) album upon the world. And it is her most ambitious, mature and most powerful work yet, a record which I have spent the last week listening to and slowly absorbing while coming to realise that this is one of the best albums of the year.

The first thing I noticed about Once I Was An Eagle was its length – at 16 tracks and 63 minutes, it is substantially longer than her previous work, which filled me with concern. Then I noticed that in the middle of the album was an interlude track, which I found rather curious. Then I figured I should stop looking at the cover and just put it on already, and I must say I wasn’t quite ready for what I heard (but this is a good thing).

The album has a strong narrative running through it, of a character who in the first half of the album shuns love and speaks of the naivety that comes with such feelings (and it is clear that this character is coming out of a poisonous relationship which fuels her anger), but who by the second half suddenly yearns for this vulnerable state of opening up to someone else again. The music works well with the lyrics – the first half is dark and melancholy, with the sad sound of a cello (which combined with her voice reminds me a lot of Nick Drake) on most songs, a strong eastern sound, and blues riffs very reminiscent of the acoustic side of Led Zeppelin, but the second half is more upbeat, with a sense of hopefulness stemming from the ascending strumming of the guitar. What is really impressive is that she recorded all the vocals and guitars live in single takes, which is incredible when you listen to how fiery her performances are throughout this piece.

To see what I mean about some of the sounds that come through in the first half of the album, listen to this first single off the album, the song “Master Hunter”:

The lyrics are both deeply intelligent and utterly fascinating, and I probably should never have listened to this album in the car as I found myself trying to decode the imagery in the songs. She constantly refers to the devil throughout the album, particularly in the first half as she tries to suggest emotional isolation, a sense of toughening oneself up against such feelings. She speaks of hunters and hunted, of making love both a predator and a saviour. By the final song, “Saved These Words”, she finds a balance between the two sides of the album, by suggesting that love with due caution is the way to go, and the music matches this perfectly as it reaches a fusion of the darker first half and lighter second half, and ends the whole thing on a slow-building and almost triumphant note.

I refused to read any reviews or look at what any critics had to say about this album until I started to write this review, as I wanted to build up my own opinion free from the thoughts of others, but I have found that the critical reception to this album has been much the same as my own – overwhelmingly positive. Most critics love it, and even those who don’t like it as much are admitting it is a very clever work of art. This was a very daring move by Laura Marling, but she’s pulled it off amazingly and deserves full recognition for her incredible talent and creativity. If you don’t listen to this album, you are missing out on one of the most intelligent pieces of music that will be released this year.

I’m finishing this review off with the short film, “When Brave Bird Saved”, that goes with the four-song suite that opens the album, including the songs “Take The Night Off”, “I Was An Eagle”, “You Know” and “Breathe”. I would love to hear people’s thoughts of the film, the songs I’ve linked to, and the whole album for those who have heard it!

The Cat Empire strikes back with “Steal The Light”

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this awesome Australian band before, and if I haven’t it is well overdue. The Cat Empire, who formed in 1999 and have released six albums over the last decade and performed hundreds of amazing shows, are a hard band to define – a blend of latin music, jazz, ska, reggae, funk and rock. Though a six-piece band, they are regularly joined by other musicians, including extra brass sections, string sections, and more.

Since bursting onto the scene a decade ago, they’ve gone through quite a few changes in sound. With their latest album, Steal The Light, it feels they have finally gone full circle and ended up back where they started, releasing an album that is full of energy, very latin, loud and upbeat, and incredibly good for dancing. As trumpeter Harry says on their website:

“In many ways this record is a return to our original aesthetic, a very simple thing; that the music is for dancing and feeling good; and that the beat of the record belongs to all nations. It should make people smile, make people dance. That’s all we want.” 

The album does have a very worldly feel to it, and I must admit the first time I heard the song above I just broke into a great big smile. There is something so upbeat about this album, an element which I felt was missing off their last album, and it’s so good to hear these guys back making the music they make best. Sometimes when bands return to their roots, so to speak, it comes across as forced, but with Steal The Light it seems the most natural thing possible.

There are a couple of softer sounding songs, particularly the album closer All Night Loud, but even this feels like a sort of triumphant way to end the record, still remaining positive even if it’s not as energetic as the rest. Most of the songs are bound to get you moving, with some of the heaviest latin influence to date on a Cat Empire work.  I hope this very infectious album performs well because it most certainly deserves to, and if you don’t hear it in full you really are missing out.

I’m going to end with my favourite song from it, “Prophets In The Sky”. Sadly there are only film clips for the first two songs I’ve already included, but you can look at the awesome album artwork on this one, by Graeme Base (the album comes with a big fold out poster of this, too). Enjoy!

What do you think of this music and this band?

Hugh Laurie returns with his second album, “Didn’t It Rain”

Didn't It RainI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Hugh Laurie is a ridiculously talented man. While famous around the world for playing the much loved doctor in the television series House, in which he also put on a quite convincing American accent (he’s British), he started off his career in the world of comedy, often alongside Stephen Fry in such shows as Blackadder, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, and Jeeves and Wooster. Top all this off with several movie appearances, and even the novel he wrote, The Gun Seller, and the fact that he has now turned to music and released his second album kind of makes him seem like a show off. But, with talent like this, he’s allowed to show off.

His first album, Let Them Talk, ventured into the New Orleans style of blues music, as he covered many of his lifelong favourite songs with musicians who he has always looked up to. With his follow up album, Didn’t It Rain, he continues this bluesy sound but explores music from the rest of America from this same time period. The main album has thirteen tracks, though there is a deluxe version with an extra five track disc that is worth getting if only for this song, “Unchain My Heart” (and his little talk at the start of the clip is quite funny – you’ll see why):

There are some definite differences between this new album and his first. While he took lead vocals on almost all of the tracks on his first album, this time around he shares lead vocal duties with the incredibly talented Jean McClain and Gaby Moreno on three tracks each, and Taj Mahal sings lead vocals on another song. The extra voices, particularly the strong female vocals, really add a lot to this album, giving it a very different mood to the first. There’s a lot of slower or quieter songs near the start too, although it starts to liven up a bit in the second half, which I quite like.

Reading through the liner notes, Hugh Laurie is very modest about playing these songs, and makes it clear that he does it because he loves the music so much, and they clearly mean so much to him. He brings each and every song to life in his own unique way, with that surprisingly strong and crisp voice of his, and he explains the story behind each song in the album notes as well – he hasn’t just chosen a bunch of songs at random but has very carefully selected what he wants to sing and perform.

After a few listens, I find myself almost as impressed with this new album as I was with his first, which is saying a lot. If you haven’t heard Hugh Laurie’s music yet, you really are missing out – it’s a lot of fun, and very addictive to listen to. I’ll finish off with another of my favourite tracks, “Wild Honey”:

What are your thoughts on Hugh Laurie as a musician and singer?