John Meagher reviews this week's big album releases...
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (Island)
Album of the week
With two big-selling and critically acclaimed albums already to her name, can Florence Welch make it a hat-trick? She certainly can. Here is an album that looks at some of the grand themes of life and she's got some huge-sounding songs to help get noticed.
They don't come much more epic than the strident 'Queen of Peace' but what might have sounded overblown in another's hands manages to retain oodles of charm with Welch at the helm.
Elsewhere, a lovely ballad 'Various Storms & Saints' is one of several that allude to religion, but there's no overt Christian message.
As before, her vocals are a thing of beauty - whether delicate ('St Jude') or driven ('Third Eye'). And while some might argue that previous efforts have been guilty of bombast, she reigns in some of those excesses here. More quality songs than show-boating, if you will.
Sometime Arcade Fire and Coldplay collaborator Marcus Dravs is responsible for the restrained production, but her old sparring partner Paul Epworth helps out on the stunning, gospel-tinged closer, 'Mother'.
An uplifting collection from start to finish, it's an album to consolidate Welch's standing as an English national treasure.
Before We Forgot How to Dream (Rough Trade)
The eagerly awaited debut album from the Derry teen largely lives up the hype. Her songs are real and raw and powerfully capture the business of moving from youth to adulthood. 'Blud' ruminates on her parents' divorce, 'B a noBody' confronts her outsider status and 'Sea Creatures' (over-produced, sadly) concerns bullying.
85pc Proof (Island)
The original Pop Idol is back after a four-year hiatus with an album that plays to his strengths but also exposes long-known weaknesses. He shines in ballad-mode - 'Like A River' and 'Brave Man' work well - but he's on unsteady ground when trying on pure pop shapes. Justin Timberlake could coax magic from lead single 'Love Revolution', but Young fails badly.
English Graffiti (Columbia)
Hyped to ridiculous levels, and then dismissed as another buch of indie landfill chancers, The Vaccines have returned with a fine album that glories in great guitar riffs, a muscular rhythm section and a batch of emminently hummable tunes. Being out of the limelight has clearly done their craft some good with snappy single 'Handsome' typical of their new-found confidence.
Sticky Fingers (1971)
Classic album revisited
A newly remastered version (with bonus live tracks) of one of the Stones' most essential releases offers yet another reminder of its undimmed brilliance: 'Brown Sugar', 'Wild Horses' and 'Moonlight Mile' are such indellible parts of the rock canon, one almost forgets how special they are. And 'Sister Morphine' - with a co-write from Marianne Faithful - is seedy and seductive.