Album Reviews: Slow-burner makes for intense album
The Afghan Whigs - Do to the Beast (Sub Pop) 4 Stars
Latest releases from The Afghan Whigs, Paulo Nutini, Eels and Todd Terje are reviewed by John Meagher.
The Cincinnati sextet, who never became quite as big as they should have, return after a 16-year gap with an album that fuses much of what they did so well before – muscular rock, classic soul and dark, intoxicating words and vocals from outsider frontman Greg Dulli.
Something of a slow-burner, it's an album with comparatively little filler. And the good songs really are worth investigation: The Lottery bears the sort of arena-baiting intensity of The National – a band who have more successfully covered the sort of ground once traversed by The Afghan Whigs – while the stirring Matamoros, with Dulli adopting a falsetto, is among their most compelling songs to date.
All does not appear to be well in The Afghan Whigs' world – no surprise to anyone who's tracked their career to date – and there are emotional scars everywhere, not least on the self-loathing Lost in the Woods, which appears to be about a man stalking an old flame as she visits a new lover.
As comebacks albums go, this is a winner.
Key Tracks: The Lottery; Lost in the Woods
Terje's mish-mash album is absorbing
Todd Terje - It's Album Time (Olsen Records) - 4 Stars
Along with thriller writer Jo Nesbo, Todd Terje is arguably Norway's most significant cultural export of the past ten years. Born Todd Olsen, but adopting a stage name inspired by the house DJ Todd Terry, he has delivered some of the most striking club tracks around. Inspector Norse from 2012 and Strandbar from 2013 are exemplary slices of modern-day electronica.
Of late, he's been showing that he's more than just a superstar DJ and remix guru – he helped produce last year's excellent Franz Ferdinand album and now, finally, he's got around to releasing his first album proper.
It's Album Time, an eclectic offering that showcases Terje's left-field electronic music, his commercial nous and a willingness to embrace all manner of genres – from indie to lounge to Latin. Listen to the pristine production and it's easy to see why he's a collaborator in high demand.
But what makes the album rewarding is how eclectic the music is – from upbeat party tunes to chill-out compositions through to atmospheric and cinematic tracks.
And there's an inspired collaboration with Bryan Ferry in which the Roxy Music icon offers a beguiling, slowed down cover of Robert Palmer's least representative big hit, Johnny and Mary.
Terje himself has apologised for including a track as comparatively old as Inspector Norse on the album and, in places it feels more like a mish-mash best-of, rather than a cohesive album. Still, it's a clever, absorbing collection likely to appeal to dance devotees and the more casual music listener.
Key Tracks: Johnny and Mary; Inspector Norse
Eels play it safe on cautious love song
Eels - The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett (E works) - 3 Stars
Mark Oliver Everett, aka E, is a prolific soul: this is his 11th album in 18 years. But while his music enjoyed crossover appeal in the late 1990s, he seems to have retreated further and further into the underground in recent years.
Certainly, there are few songs here that will enjoy the sort of wall-to-wall airplay achieved by Novocaine for the Soul and Susan's House way back when.
Instead, these are subdued, introspective songs laced with E's wry observations. There's much to admire – including the self-questioning Now that I'm 50, Where I'm At and the brutally forthright Mistakes of My Youth.
But even the most committed Eels fan might suspect that he's stuck in first gear here and there and there's an unavoidable sense that he's playing it safe on the likes of Agatha Chan – his attempt to write a love song, a la Leonard Cohen's Suzanne.
Key Tracks: Mistakes of My Youth; Where I'm At
Paolo's patchy mix baffles
Paolo Nutini - Caustic Love (Warner Music) - 2 Stars
Much like Susan Boyle stepping in front of Piers Morgan on Britain's Got Talent and delivering her memorable take on Les Mis, Paolo Nutini proves appearances can be deceptive. Take one look at him and most people would think boyband frontman or the singer in an inoffensive indie band rather than a young man in possession of a wonderfully gravelly, soulful voice.
The Scot has shown there's nothing gimmicky about his vocals but this patchy album is unlikely to attract a new legion of fans.
As the title suggests, Nutini takes a jaundiced look at love and its repercussions and yet his words don't hit home as well as they might – his delivery and the safe, lush accompaniment are just too pretty.
Other moments – whether its splicing Martin Luther King's voice onto one track or singing in high-pitched, helium tones the next – are more baffling than daring.
He's in a happier place when he quits striving for profundity and delivers a throwaway slice of doo-wop fun in the form of Someone Like You. While in those moments when his voice is allowed to shine, one feels he is capable of greatness.
Key Tracks: Iron Sky; Someone Like You
Day & Night