Lost in Music, John Meagher
Music critic John Meagher's exclusive weekly online column with his top album, best gig, classic album and competition of the week.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Coldplay – Ghost Stories (Parlophone)
Some weeks ago, I wrote in defence of Coldplay and attracted the sort of opprobrium that would have been appropriate for an article espousing the virtues of Jimmy Savile.
Hands up – I get it: A lot of people hate the band. And yet, many of those I know who loathe them most used to rate them when they first emerged. They just don’t like to be reminded of this fact.
Ghost Stories is their sixth album and perhaps the one that’s closest in spirit to their debut album, Parachutes – which remains their most complete and absorbing work.
As anyone even faintly interested in the world of celebrity will know, Chris Martin and his A-list actress wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, split up some time ago. This “conscious uncoupling” – to use their much lampooned phrase – has provided inspiration for what is comfortably the most personal Coldplay album to date. It’s a break-up album that’s shot through with regret, sadness, despair and hope for the future.
Those who abhor the thoughts of Martin laying his soul bare should probably give the album a wide berth, but to do so would mean missing out on songs as lovely as the delicate ‘Magic’ and the Bon Iver-esque ‘Midnight’. The latter was produced by Jon Hopkins and the electronica-inflected ballad is a very pleasant antidote to the over-wrought bluster that marred albums like Mylo Xyloto and X&Y. Yes, I’m looking at you Brian Eno.
Ghost Stories is let down by some cookie-cutter Coldplay moments – the aspiration to ape U2 does them no favours. And the collaboration with the ghastly Swedish EDM DJ, Avicii, wrecks an otherwise decent lighters-in-the-air anthem (‘A Sky Full of Stars’). And here and there the sheer volume of contributors – at least five producers are involved – lends the recordings a by-committee feel.
Ultimately though, the naked emotion captured by Martin in the album’s most understated moments will resonate powerfully.
Key tracks: ‘Magic’; ‘Midnight’; ‘Oceans’
I have three copies of Ghost Stories to give away courtesy of Warner Music Ireland. To be in with a chance of winning, simply email me – email@example.com – with the name of Coldplay’s drummer. I’ll tweet the names of the winners this evening.
CLASSIC ALBUM REVISITED
Grace Jones – Nightclubbing (1981)
It’s not often that an album mainly comprised of covers is hailed as a classic, but that’s certainly the case with this arresting and visionary fifth long player from model-turned-pop star Grace Jones.
It helps that her choice of covers is wonderfully diverse – from the Iggy Pop-David Bowie title track to Sting’s ‘Demolition Man’ (The Police would release their version just months later on their Ghosts of the Machine album).
Then there’s the inventive and sometimes exuberant backing from fellow Jamaican expats Sly & Robbie, who pepper Jones’s skewed pop with reggae flourishes and intoxicating grooves.
Island has just brought out an remastered Deluxe version of the album which features a handful of rarities including a strikingly reinvented cover of the Tubeway Army song ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’. Quite why this compelling track didn’t make the original album’s final cut is anyone’s guess.
The album’s cover artwork, meanwhile, is up there with the very best of the 1980s. It was created by her then partner, the French graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude. Has a cigarette image ever looked as sexy as this?
Listen to ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ here: here
GIG OF THE WEEK
Neutral Milk Hotel, Vicar Street, Dublin, tonight (€25)
The term ‘cult album’ is bandied about way to often and it’s frequently applied to albums that are far too popular or ordinary. But one 1990s release that deserves the accolade is the singular In An Aeroplane Over the Sea from US indie also-rans Neutral Milk Hotel.
Loosely inspired by the story of Anne Frank, what initially sounds like a lo-fi oddity blossoms into something truly special on repeat listen. And much of what makes the horn-led tunes so beguiling is centred on the talents of the eccentric frontman Jeff Magnum whose Marmite-singing leaves quite an impression.
Listen to one of album’s essential track, Holland 1945, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLaFLztnL84
Damien Rice played his first Irish headline show in seven years on Tuesday night. His comeback gig served as both a thank-you to Whelan’s – which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and was pivotal in the singer’s early days as a solo performer – and an opportunity to unveil new songs from a long-anticipated album, which will finally be unveiled this autumn.
Over the course of a stripped back two-and-a-half hour set, he flitted from brilliance to self-indulgence. Old favourites from his two albums to date, O and 9, were very well received – ‘9 Crimes’ from the latter was especially good – and of the new material, The Box really stood out.
The man from Celbridge, Co Kildare, may not play that often but he is in action again tomorrow night. One would have to travel quite a way to see him, though: he plays Seoul Jazz Festival, South Korea.