BMG Right's Management Released: Monday 4 June 2012
Once upon a time, there was a group called Dexys Midnight Runners, who had a couple of number one hits in the 1980s and recorded three top 30 albums full of uplifting and passionate songs which reflected the personality of frontman and leader, Kevin Rowland. Almost 27 years since the release of that third album, they're back (although the Midnight Runners part of the band's name has sped off into the distance) with a new collection, One Day I'm Going to Soar, that will surely be one of the albums of the year.
To say that Rowland wears his heart on his sleeve is an understatement, yet it is this perfectionism and passion which has always elevated his music to a level that is often sublime, and occasionally bemusing. One Day I'm Going to Soar's opening number, 'Now', sets the standard, opening with a strong Irish folk influence before progressing into an arrangement which tips its hat to Van Morrison. Six minutes later, Dexys have grabbed you by the lapels and you're hooked.
The opening of 'Lost' lowers the mood slightly, though it isn't too long before Rowland ups the tempo, maintaining the balance between contemplative verse and rousing chorus. 'She Got a Wiggle' was released as a single at the end of May. However, for this reviewer, the following track, 'You', is much more of a foot-tapper, and doesn't have the word "wiggle" in its title.
The album's centrepiece focuses on a couple of tracks, "I'm Always Going To Love You" and "Incapable Of Love." On the former track, Rowland engages in a mid-song dialogue with co-vocalist Madeleine Hyland, as he falls in and out of love. For anyone called Kevin, this is their moment in the spotlight, though they might want to close their ears to some of the lyrics that Hyland delivers. Also, like Martin Fry once did in ABC's "Look Of Love," Rowland is not afraid to namecheck himself in the thick of the lyrics.
'Incapable of Love' picks up the baton, with Rowland and Hyland exchanging verbal uppercuts on the subject of his quest for freedom and lack of commitment. Rowland's witty song writing is in evidence as he argues his corner with Hyland by asking her: "Do you have a view on open relationships? I don't mean that in a gay way," to which she responds that it has to be "all or nothing."
The album ends on an epic note with 'It's O.K. John Joe', with Rowland half-singing, half-talking the lyrics over a simple piano backing track. It is a message to the John Joe of the title that ruminates on isolation, love and regrets, seemingly ending on a contemplative note before the full band kicks in for a rousing last minute of the album. If this was any other artist, you could be excused for thinking it was there by mistake, but this is Dexys - expect the unexpected.
The intensity of One Day I'm Going to Soar is one reason why this album of uncompromising pop songs will appeal to listeners who are old enough to remember 'Geno' and 'Come on Eileen', as well as younger people who may have missed out on the quirky genius of Kevin Rowland. It is a collection which will uplift, amuse and inspire. More than 25 years since Don't Stand Me Down just about dented the UK top 30, One Day I'm Going to Soar has been well worth the wait.
Old Ideas, the latest release from Leonard Cohen, sees the Canadian singer-songwriter/poet/novelist/wise old sage (delete where necessary) in fine form on this 10-track collection that, at less than 45 minutes, is a throwback to the days when albums fitted neatly onto one side of a C90 cassette.
It's been more than seven years since Cohen put out a studio long-player, a period which has seen him become something of a household name through the dubious distinction of X Factor winner Alexandra Burke reaching the top of the UK charts in 2008 with 'Hallelujah', a song he originally wrote and recorded in 1984. But if it takes a popular talent show - or even the less commercial covers of 'Hallelujah' by Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainwright - to introduce Cohen to a wider audience, then it's still about time that one of rock's elder statesman is getting the recognition he deserves.
Cohen is happy to acknowledge that, with a recorded output of just 12 albums in 44 years, he is not exactly prolific, from the start of album opener, 'Going Home', in which he describes himself in the third person as "A lazy bastard living in a suit." 'Darkness' lives up to its name, with Cohen delving into the subject of his mortality, musing that "I got no future/ I know my days are few," a lyric which becomes all the more poignant when you consider that Old Ideas could well end up being our last chance to hear a new album by the 77-year-old.
Having said that, Cohen's recent interview with Jarvis Cocker on the BBC revealed a man who, I suspect, will be sticking around for a little bit longer. Let's hope that we don't have to wait until the end of the decade for album number 13.
Shonen Knife finally release a collection of Ramones covers, 13 years since I saw them perform as The Osaka Ramones at Tokyo's Club Quattro (supported by the quite magnificent 18.104.22.168's). At the time, I was quite perplexed, having seen The Ramones play in Rotterdam almost 20 years earlier, but came away from the gig with a big smile on my face, my faith in my favourite Japanese band intact.
Since that night in Shibuya, news of The Osaka Ramones spread, first across the Pacific and then over the Atlantic to Europe, with fans of the threesome anxious to see them don their motorbike jackets for more shows as Shonen Knife's alter ego. And now, we have Osaka Ramones - Tribute to Ramones, a collection of 13 numbers that will be familiar to any fans of the band that have come to personify the idea of American punk music.
The Osaka-based trio have remained faithful to the originals, yet there is a fresh energy to the covers which will be familiar to anyone fortunate enough to have seen Shonen Knife live. It's unmistakeably them, but there is a respect for the originals which shows how influential the music was on the band when Noako, Atsuko and Michie got together almost 30 years ago.
Opening with "Blitzkrieg Bop," the album touches base with many of The Ramones' finest moments. "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," "Rockaway Beach" and "Pinhead" are notable highs. However, for this reviewer, the pick of this baker's dozen is "The KKK Took My Baby Away," a track I first heard performed not by The Ramones, but by a rather less well-known band from Japan, gloriously named The Dogz Bollox, who used to include several Ramones covers in their live set.
And it is this raw power which will ensure that, whether it's Shonen Knife or a covers band in a bar, the legacy of The Ramones will never disappear. If you're a fan of The Ramones or Shonen Knife, you'll like Osaka Ramones - Tribute to Ramones. If you like both if them, you'll love it.
For Marvin Gaye, the end of the 1960s marked a period where any optimism which had spread through the United States earlier in the decade was fading. Civil rights were being eroded and visionaries such as Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinated. The escalation of war in southeast Asia resonated with each letter his brother, Frankie, sent from Vietnam, while the death of Terri Terrell, his musical partner, in early 1970 shocked Gaye into a pit of depression that threatened to end his career.
Out of this chaos emerged What's Going On, an album that redefined Gaye as a supreme musician and songwriter and would become one of the classic collections of the 20th entury. To mark the 40th anniversary of its release, a super deluxe edition will be in the shops from June 27, with masses of extras for anyone willing to part with a penny short of 50 quid.
Best known in the UK for the classic hit single 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' in 1968 and, for younger listeners, 'Sexual Healing' in late 1982, Gaye was shot dead by his father less than 18 months later, on the eve of his 45th birthday. As good as these tracks are, What's Going On remains Gaye's classic album and sounds just as immediate as it must have done all those years ago.
Gaye's lyrics are, if anything, even more poignant 40 years on, from the opening title track, with lines like "Brother, brother, brother/ There's far too many of you dying," and "War is not the answer/ For only love can conquer hate" sending as strong a message to those responsible for sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq as it did to the administration of US President Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War.
What's Going On is considered to be the first soul music concept album, in the way that it relates the plight of a soldier returning from Vietnam to a country without much money and little chance of getting a job. The title track sends a general message of disbelief, before seamlessly moving into 'What's Happening Brother', in which the plight of the returning GI is addressed. This merging of tracks, a la Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, did not go down well with Motown chief Berry Gordy, as there were (unnecessary, as it turned out) fears that the songs wouldn't get played on the radio.
'Flyin' High (in the Friendly Sky)' hints at the darker consequences facing returning Vietnam vets, with the lines "I know I'm hooked, my friend/ to the boy who makes slaves out of men" not leaving too much to the imagination. "God is Love" and this reviewer's standout track, 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)' tackle the wider issues of environmental pollution, with the latter track lamenting that "Things ain't what they used to be/ Radiation underground and in the sky." And four decades later, the words resonate even more than ever.
The album finishes on another high with "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," as our returning soldier has seemingly jumped from the frying pan into the fire, with the lines "Crime is increasing/ Trigger happy policing/ Panic is spreading/ God knows where we're heading" expressing the fears and futility of urban life. In spite of the serious lyrical content, What's Going On is not a depressing listen and can be enjoyed purely as a piece of beautiful music. Allow the album to wash over you from start to finish and you'll emerge from it refreshed and, believe it or not, feeling energised.
Apart from the original album, this two CD and 12in vinyl edition includes a remastered copy of the original album, mono versions of the singles off the album, out-takes and recordings made in Detroit before Gaye moved to Los Angeles. The vinyl extra contains the original 'Detroit Mix' of the album. Apart from the music, the set has lyrics, an explanation of how the album was conceived and images from the studio.
Now, for hardcore fans the extras may well be worth the money, and if your budget stretches that far, it's a well-packaged release. But if you have never heard What's Going On and can't spare 50 quid, get hold of the regular version of the album. Quality never diminishes and What's Going On is pure class.
Families! Who needs them? Well, in the case of Kitty Daisy & Lewis, a whole load of music festivals this summer. And after a pounding performance in north London recently, festival-goers have a lot to look forward to over the next few months.
As natives of Kentish Town, the return of the sisters and brother act to their home patch was always likely to have the sold out notices up at Dingwalls, and there can't have been many members of the audience who left without feeling better than when they went in.
On stage with the group were Ingrid Weiss and Daddy Grazz, aka mum and dad of the band, on stand-up bass and rhythm guitar, respectively, yet this family affair was as tightly knit as any get-together of the Waltons. And to add a little spice to proceedings, trumpet player Eddie 'Tan Tan' Thornton added a rumbling, earthy, ska feel to 'Tomorrow' and 'I'm So Sorry' that, like the man himself, could have come all the way from Jamaica.
The sound and look of Kitty, Daisy & Lewis harks back to an era when pop stars had movie star looks, and they definitely hit the mark sartorially on stage. Yet they have added a modern element that keeps it refreshing, which is not surprising when you consider that the oldest of the three is still only 22. While the multi-instrument virtuosity of all three members is impressive, Lewis was particularly impressive on 'I'm Coming Home', a bluesy number from the group's recent album, Smoking in Heaven.
Kitty Daisy & Lewis will play the Avalon Stage at Glastonbury on Sunday-directly before a bunch of men in costumes singing about cleaning up Wimbledon Common, and will continue to pound the festival circuit all summer, so are sure to be at a festival near you this summer. Now, where did I put that jester's hat?