This week on the RW/FF round-up: many of the legendary musicians who soundtracked my youth seem to be returning at the same time with incredible new music, giving me back the buzz I had when I was a teenager. I'll be welcoming back the mighty Blur, reviewing the new Idlewild album and looking at fresh tunes from Ash, The Charlatans, Paul Weller, The Supernaturals and The Prodigy. As well as all that, there's something new from post-punk legends Wire, the debut album from Spectres, plus a look back at the songs making the charts 20 years ago in 1995 (which includes Supergrass) and a pair of classics from the Manic Street Preachers and Nirvana.
Absolutely incredible news. After years of teasing us, Blur have finally announced that they are releasing a brand new album, their first in over a decade. 'The Magic Whip' is out on April 27, and the first single from it is the raucous 'Go Out'.
I was only 14 years old when 1999's '13' was released. It turned out to be the last proper Blur album, since guitarist Graham Coxon had left before the band released 2003's disappointing 'Think Tank'. Despite never officially announcing a split, the three remaining members of Blur gradually drifted off their separate ways. In 2009 they announced that they would be reuniting with Graham, and played an astonishing Glastonbury headline set as well as a few other shows. In 2010 they released a new song 'Fool's Day' as a limited edition 7" single, and 2012 saw them return with the single 'Under The Westway and its b side 'The Puritan', which coincided with a triumphant series of UK shows.
Since reforming, the band have constantly been questioned about the possibility of a new album. It became quite a saga in fact. "Every now and then we like to meet up and record a few things," Coxon told NME back in 2011. "Maybe turning the tape recorder on and jamming around a few ideas ... I suppose it might turn into an LP in six years or something ... We just do stuff when we feel like it." In 2012, '13' producer William Orbit claimed that Damon Albarn halted some “amazing” recording sessions to the dismay of the rest of the band. During a 2013 gig in Hong Kong, Damon told the crowd: "We were supposed to be playing in Japan next week," said Albarn on stage during a live show in Hong Kong. "Due to unforeseen circumstances we were unable to go there, although we will go there at some point. So we have a week in Hong Kong, and we thought it would be a good time to try to record another record, so we're going to make one here in Hong Kong." However, fans were left disappointed when Damon sad in a 2014 interview that “I just haven’t got the time,” to make a new Blur album, and that the other members were “just all doing other stuff”, adding that "There is material, but I can’t foresee us in the near future being in a position to finish it." In July 2014 he claimed that the album "may just be one of those records that never comes out", blaming the Hong Kong heat for the band returning home before work could be finished on the record. “If I’d been able to write the lyrics there and then about being there, we’d have finished the record,” he said. “I like making records in short periods of time… Sometimes, if you can’t do it all at once, it dissipates…”
I had given up hope on Blur ever releasing another record. Some fans were getting sick of the constant "will they, won't they" and worried that these British legends were becoming a nostalgia act. 'Black Book' author Drew was one of them: "if you're not going to make a legitimate attempt at making new music, please call it a day. I couldn't bear to see your legacy get chipped away bit by bit any more." That full article can be seen HERE. With Damon announcing his involvement in a new stage musical, and the news that he has reactivated Gorillaz, everyone assumed that any more Blur activity would be a while away. So today's news has thrilled me like no other news ever has before.
Earlier today The Sun carried a mysterious advert, showing an ice-cream cone and Chinese symbols lit up in neon. After the NME translated the text, they reported that it read "Blur: The Magic Whip", prompting rumours of an album announcement. Surely enough, a press conference took place at a restaurant in London's Chinatown, where the band confirmed the release of the new record, along with a massive Hyde Park show that will take place in June. While the rest of the world thought that we'd never hear a new Blur album, it turns out that Coxon revisited the Hong Kong sessions and presented them to long-time producer Stephen Street, who went on to develop them with the guitarist. Albarn explained that while he was touring and promoting his solo album 'Everyday Robots' last year, he was approached by Graham to see if anything could be salvaged from the recordings. "It was something we did off our own backs," Coxon explained. "It was quite an overwhelming project. There was jamming and sonic landscaping. I said, 'Damon, can I have a little chat? I said, 'Do you mind if I have a look at this music and see if there's anything worth pursuing. Id compare it to someone's notes, scrawling all over the page. We slung it over to Stephen [Street] and he looked through bits of it." Damon and Graham returned to the studio in December to write lyrics and complete the record.
“They did some editing and some production work and sent around the initial tracks and we all realised we’d done something quite special there,” said drummer Dave Rowntree. “There was 18 months [in-between recording the songs] which allowed us to have a bit of perspective on it. When they played it back, that was the time everyone got very excited.” Since the album’s completion last year, the band have kept information about the new record under wraps. “We had a blood pact between us about who we were allowed to tell and who we weren’t so I’ve had to do a lot of catch up phone calling today!” said Rowntree. “A fair few angry people going ‘Why wasn’t I in the circle of trust!” The songs featured on "The Magic Whip' were influenced by their surroundings in Hong Kong. “There’s nothing pastoral about it - it’s very urban,” said Albarn. “It wasn’t a flash studio, it was pretty claustrophobic and hot. We went in and knocked about loads of ideas.” One track, Ong Ong, was described by bassist Alex James as a “banger”, while 'Pyongyang' is said to describe Albarn’s thoughts on North Korea. “It’s my impression of the place, in an abstract, veiled way,” he said. You can watch a video of the press conference HERE.
I'm both excited and very nervous about what 'The Magic Whip' is going to sound like. This is the band that soundtracked my youth, and because of that it's inevitable that nothing is ever going to live up to the songs they released during those years. Although I have longed for a new Blur record for years, the last thing I'd want would be for them to record songs because they felt forced. To make a great record, you often need to be inspired. I just hope that this album is more than a load of recordings made under pressure. It's also a bit odd that this seminal band are releasing a comeback album comprised of songs that have been put together in such an unorthodox and non-organic way. But it's a relief to report that the abrasive 'Go Out' is a very promising taste of what's to come, and comes complete with some superb guitar noise from Graham, something that 'Think Tank' was missing.
Welcome back boys, we've missed you.
This exciting news has confirmed something that I suspected a while: that 2015 is going to be an amazing year for music. Not only are Blur properly back, but Noel Gallagher is about to unleash a superb album that will surprise many people. Both are acts who had the biggest impact on me when I was growing up, and for them to both be returning at the same time is like a dream come true. Along with that, Suede are due to bring out a new LP this year, as are Teenage Fanclub and Dodgy. Also, if what Mani says is right, we may even finally see the third Stone Roses record. Rather thrillingly, Pulp have also talked about the possibility of new material soon. Please! Add to those 'Matador' the excellent new album from ex Supergrass man Gaz Coombes, which I reviewed HERE. The best record that man has made in years.
When I was young, I always thought that the bands and artists I was obsessed with at the time would continue to guide me through life and that in years to come I would still be listening to them. All of them have had patchy periods over the years, and there were a few who fell off my radar for a while, but in 2015 many of them seem to be in rich musical form and have given me back the buzz that I had as a teenager.
Scottish indie legends Idlewild return after a six year hiatus with their seventh studio album, and it doesn't disappoint. Sturdy opening track 'Collect Yourself' bursts in with hungry vigour, matching the slinky groove of its verse with a joyous chorus and a fattened riff that packs one hell of a punch. But don't let it fool you into thinking that the band have returned to the heavier sound of their early days, as the remainder of 'Everything Ever Written' demonstrates the sort of wisdom that comes with natural maturity. The steady 'Come On Ghost' is an effective marriage of folk and classic rock, 'So Many Things To Decide' evokes the sleepy charm of remote Scottish countryside, and the brilliant 'Nothing I Can Do About It' mixes melancholy with infectious resonance to provide one of the highlights of not just this album, but the group's career.
The reflective 'Every Little Means Trust' is the record's lighters-in-the-air moment, while centrepiece '(Use It) If You Can Use It' is a bright grower that develops into a surprising, almost Krautrock-esque jam before breaking the volume levels towards its massive climax. After the gracefully decorated 'Like A Clown', another one of the record's best tracks arrives with the excellent 'On Another Planet', an uptempo blast of much-needed energy that's more reminiscent of early Idlewild than anything else here. 'All Things Different' brings unexpected spells of saxophone and rich piano to compliment its endearing lyrical imagery, and the lovely 'Radium Girl' thrives with some nice melotron, another bold uplifting chorus and effortlessly brilliant basslines from new recruit Andrew Mitchell. With its fine instrumentation and dark elegance, 'Left Like Roses' is another treat, and the sparse, beautifully arranged closer 'Utopia' bathes in a wondrous ambience which frames Roddy Woomble's glorious voice so well.
'Eveything Ever Written' is possibly a couple of tracks too long, and could have made more of an impression as a slightly shorter album, however its high points are marvellous. Listeners will need a patient ear to fully appreciate this alluring piece of work which combines the wistful quality of Woomble's solo work with the power of vintage Idlewild, but such patience will be rewarded. 8/10
Another band who I was a huge fan of during my teens are The Charlatans, who have also recently returned with the wonderful 'Modern Nature' album. Their first album in five years and the first since the sad death of drummer Jon Brookes, the band have once again triumphed over tragedy with a stellar set of tracks coloured with melancholic sunshine, soul vibes and subtle shades of funk. A full (and rather belated) review will be on the RW/FF site very soon, and will probably form part of next week's round-up. In the meantime I'll leave you with this absolute stunner.
Last year during RW/FF and God Is In The TV's Britpop month, I featured Scottish combo The Supernaturals, presuming that they had no plans to reform. So imagine my surprise when a little while ago I found out that the band have new album out in April, and that they'd been playing together again since 2012. I'd refer to The Supernaturals as more of a "post-Britpop" group, as they fitted in with the style and sound but arrived on the scene too late. They were bloody good too, taking inspiration from Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys rather than The Beatles or The Kinks. A five piece from Glasgow, the band were signed to Parlophone Records in 1996, scoring five Top 40 entries in the UK Singles Chart between '96 and '98. Best known for their hit 'Smile', in May of 1997 they released their debut LP 'It Doesn't Matter Anymore', (a Number 9 chart entry) but personally I prefer the 1998 follow-up 'A Tune A Day'. It was released during the same week that I went to see the band at the Fleece And Firkin in Bristol where they were supported by Carrie. Great days. After that album only reached #21 following a lack of promotion, they were dropped by their label before re-emerging four years later with their third, synth-flavoured effort 'What We Did Last Summer'. The band soon split after that. '360' will be their first new material in over a decade, and sees the original line-up returning to their original sound and style, as reflected by the album's title.
A press release states: "The band hark back to their Sixties roots in what is a resounding return to form with their knack for offbeat, wry story telling welded to classic melodies. The cover of the album, the shoreline of the Firth of Clyde, refers to the sea journey undertaken in the last song on the album, 360." More details can be found at their website and Facebook page, which are both linked below. In the meantime, HERE is a review of the album from the highly recommended blog A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed, and below is the new track 'Born Again'.
After the 'A-Z Series' from a few years ago turned out to be a disappointment, I wasn't expecting much from the new single from Northern Irish indie rock heroes Ash. But it's turned out to be an impressive thing that suggests something of a return to form from the trio. Their last proper album was 2007's 'Twilight Of The Innocents', making it 8 years since their previous full-length. 'Kablammo!' will be the band's sixth album, and is released at some point over the next few months. Drummer Rick McMurray has described 'Cocoon' as "Ash at their frenetic best: a wall of guitars and a shot of adrenaline with a sweet melodic chaser... Having this much fun crammed into two and a half minutes is probably illegal." Rick also spoke about the album: "After a wait of eight years, and a long string of singles, we've gone on to do what we said we would never do again: we've only gone and recorded a brand new album! We set out to capture the live essence of Ash, the closest sonic predecessor would be 2004's 'Meltdown', with the songwriting of the Free All Angels singles."
"We've stripped away the electronic overtones of the A-Z Series and made a streamlined blazing guitar record. On every song you can hear what makes this band tick, our beating (atomic) heart. It's a visceral expression of what has driven us since 1992. Passion, melody and Ash."
The Modfather himself Paul Weller returns with his brand new album 'Saturn's Pattern' on May 11. It will be his 12th studio album and the first since 2012's 'Sonik Kicks'. It will comprise of nine tracks, including this heaving blast of space-age blues-rock that Weller has unveiled as the first taste of the LP.
"I think it's one of the best things I've done. And it's been a pleasure doing it. There's been no headaches," Weller said. "I can't compare it to any of my other albums. I think it's different not just for me, but different from what else is around. It's been pretty quick, really. We did a bit of work before the summer, then I took a break because I was out on the road. We started back in October. It's taken us a couple of months, maybe." Excitingly, 'Saturn’s Pattern' features a “kazoo through a fuzzbox” and was recorded with his usual bandmates Steve Cradock and Andy Lewis, as well as members of psychedelic jazz group Syd Arthur. Weller has said that the album is "certainly progressive in the literal sense of the word. It's defiantly 21st Century music."
The Prodigy have returned after a very lengthy break, six years in fact. Their new album is called 'The Day Is My Enemy', and comes out on March 30. A few weeks ago the band released the first single from the album, a rather underwhelming track by the name of 'Nasty'. Luckily the title track from their sixth full-length effort is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to hear from Liam Howlett and co, a raging brute that could flatten anything in its path. The album title has an unlikely origin, it is in fact a reference to the Cole Porter song 'All Through the Night', in particular its lyrics "the day is my enemy, the night my friend", Liam Howlett has said of the album: "I can’t tell you why this record came out so angry, I think it’s just in-built in me, It’s more about what I like music to do. I’ve always seen music I like as a form of attack. That’s what I use music for, it’s an attack. I didn’t plan this album to sound violent, it’s just the sound that came out of the studio, a kind of build-up over the last four years. ‘Anger is an energy’, that’s a lyric which always resonated with me. The tension is buried deep in the music right from the first drop. It’s all about the sound having that sense of danger. That’s what The Prodigy sound is about."
This track features vocals by Martina Toppley-Bird, who is best known for her work with Tricky.
Post-punk legends Wire have announced the release of their brand new album. The self-titled record will be their 14th full-length release since their formation in 1976. Recorded at the famed Rockfield studios in Monmouth, the album will comprise of material that has featured in the band's most recent live shows, as well as songs that frontman Colin Newman introduced to the group just prior to recording. It's out on April 13 via the band's own Pink Flag label, and the first music to be unveiled from it is this fine new track entitled 'Joust And Jostle'. Wire will be touring the UK in April to support the LP, and tour dates can be found HERE.
Apologies to the readers who are wondering where all the new bands are this week, but this should please... It'll please some anyway. Spectres are a band from Bristol who are releasing their debut album 'Dying' tomorrow (February 23). It's a very dark beast indeed, full of forceful blasts of noise and decay, hallucinogenic passages and characterised by some hugely impressive dynamics. Those who like lots of reverb, distorted guitars and far-away vocals will love it, those who don;t like those things won't. The album is streaming in full below. Have a listen.
Time once again to have a look at the songs making the singles charts 20 years ago this week. This chart can be found HERE and is from February 18 1995. Every week a Twitter account called @ThisIsMyJam95 invites followers to pick their favourite new entry of the week, and I have decided to take it a step further by listening to ALL of the new entries before picking the best of the bunch.
There were no less than fifteen new entries in the Top 40 in this particular week. No wonder there was so much variety at the time. As usual, we'll get the bad eggs out of the basket first... Despite some tasty house piano, Lovehappy's number 37 'Message Of Love' comes across as insignificance, while Garth Brookes enters at 36 with a re-release of two tracks from 1990. At 28 we have Melanie Williams and Joe Roberts with a pointless cover of 'You Are Everything'... That's the same Melanie Williams who sang on SubSub's classic 'Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use)'. I expected better from her. The American dance/hip hop flavoured pop act C+C Music Factory went in at 26 with 'Take A Toke', easily the blandest song about puffin' da herb that I've ever heard. And even though the intentions of BMU (Black Men United) and their number 23 charity single 'U Will Know' were decent enough, the song itself is a stinker. The fact that Gloria Estefan's dreadful 'Everlasting Love' cover entered the chart at #19 above Supergrass well and truly defies decency, and Annie Lennox's 'No More 'I Love You's' was another new entry that reached an undeservedly high position, number 2 in fact.
Aswad's number 35 'You're No Good' is a pretty neat bit of dancefloor-flavoured reggae that I hadn't heard for years, and at number 29 were reformed five piece The Go-Go's with the brilliant 'The Whole World Lost Its Head', a single I bought on cassette from the Woolworths bargain bin a few weeks later. It was the band's only Top 40 hit in the UK. The group are notable for being the first, and to date only, all-female band that both wrote their own songs and played their own instruments to top the Billboard album charts.
At number 27 is Jon Of The Pleased Wimmin with the enjoyable housey club hit 'Passion', which was remixed by Tin Tin Out and released on the legendary Perfecto label. Taken from their album 'Twisted', the lovely 'Here And Now' provided the fondly remembered Del Amitri with a number 25 hit. I can recall my mum being very keen on them. The blonde punk-pop duo Shampoo were best known for 'Trouble', but the classic rock orientated 'Delicious' was equally fantastic, and went in at 21. Alex Party's floorfiller 'Don't Give Me Your Life' was an incredibly infectious tune that I used to play to death during my DJ sets at my Dad's old club. Landing at number 10, it was their biggest hit and the week's second highest new entry.
But this week's winner can only be the mighty Supergrass. Like a lot of people who got into indie music via Britpop, 'Alright' was the first Supergrass track I ever heard, but it's the awesome 'Mansize Rooster' that I will be featuring today. When I talk about the era I often refer to the excitement and positivity of the times... Well, this storming track has it all: a combination of jaunty Blur/Madness music hall bounce and a blast of British punk fury during the chorus. Thrilling indeed.
'Mansize Rooster' was released as the second single from 'I Should Coco'. It went in at #20 in the UK Singles Chart, remaining on the chart for three weeks. According to Wikipedia: "The song, although this not necessarily obvious from the lyrics, is said to be about someone who has a large penis despite their young age." Well I never. It was played as Supergrass' first ever live television performance on The Word in 1995 (which can be seen below).
Yesterday (February 21) was the 46th birthday of Manic Street Preachers legend James Dean Bradfield. To celebrate, here is a magnificent track from the 1998 album 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours', which stands as a very underrated piece of work. 'Ready For Drowning' was inspired by the Welsh village of Treweryn, a village in North Wales that was evacuated and drowned in 1965 in order to supply water to Liverpool and Birmingham... Powerful and astonishing...
Had he still been alive, yesterday would have also been the birthday of Kurt Cobain. He would have been 48 years old. Last year I picked my 12 favourite Nirvana songs to mark the 20th anniversary of Kurt's death. You can find it HERE, and listen to the playlist below, along with the superb 'All Apologies'...
Back next week. See ya.