John Meagher reviews this week's big album releases...
Stephen Ryan is a significant figure in Irish rock, having fronted a pair of bands (The Stars of Heaven and The Revenants) who were adored by the critics and largely ignored by the public. Little has been heard of the Dubliner since the turn of the millennium but he has returned with a new band and album that suggests innate talent doesn't dry up with inactivity.
Jangle pop and alt-country meld together impressively on songs that largely retain the template of his old bands, while offering something new. And there's some truly special material here: both 'Queen of Time' and 'The Fourteenth Floor' are the match of anything on his greatest album, Stars of Heaven's bewitching debut Sacred Heart Hotel.
Although he is the chief songwriter and vocalist, The Drays is far more than just the Stephen Ryan show. Conor Brady's Byrdsian guitar helps elevate Ryan's mediative songs and he's also responsible for the smart production. Elsewhere, Eileen Gogan's vocals provide a beguiling counterpart to Ryan's singing and it's she who sprinkles goldust on the lovely 'Silver River'. Gogan, too, knows what it's like to sing in a band tipped for the big time but never quite made it (The Would Be's), but she's soaring here. A sublime return.
The disco production maven who reinvented Donna Summer and is adored by Daft Punk is dreadfully served by this album which pits his talents alongside a slew of contemporary names. Britney Spears doing Suzanne Vega on a dance version of 'Tom's Diner' is a low point, but there's worse: think bad Eurovision. Mercifully, the title track, featuring Sia, saves some of Moroder's dignity.
Mika's brief stint as pop's great hope has long passed but his glammed-up chart-friendly songs retain plenty of charm. 'Staring at the Sun' - not a cover of the U2 song - is an synth-led pop delight with a dark heart, while 'Rio' is a hook-heavy meditation on self-doubt. As always with Mika, some of the lyrics cloy badly, but his tunes are in the right place so to speak.
The veteran singer-songwriter returns after a 13-year sabbatical with an album that's both solid and slight. A highlight, 'Watchin' Over Me' details his tortuous recovery after years of drug addiction, but 'Angels of Fenway' - a love letter to the Boston Red Sox baseball team - is typical of the more forgettable fare. Sting and cello god Yo-Yo Ma both make an appearance.
The rising stars of 1980s US 'College Rock' tasted mainstream acclaim with this scintillating fifth album. It's as thrilling and urgent as anything in the rock canon and one of the great American guitar albums of the era. Co-vocalists (and then married couple) Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon gave it their all, with opening songs 'Teen Age Riot' and 'Silver Rocket' especially explosive.