Sunday 25 February 2018

Music: Sunny tunes to light up summer

Grower: The 1975's second album was released in February, yet it offered the promise of the summer to come.
Grower: The 1975's second album was released in February, yet it offered the promise of the summer to come.
John Meagher

John Meagher

If you thought it would be fun to be married to a music critic, think again. "What's that miserable indie rubbish you're playing now?" says my missus all too frequently. She loves her music but doesn't share my daily need to hear introspective, heartbroken, everything's lost songs from people who are gifted at sharing their pain with the world.

Why is it I'm drawn more to Dylan's 1975 break-up album Blood on the Tracks than any of that freewheelin' magic he was releasing a decade earlier, or to Beck's gut-wrenching Sea Change, than his outré, experimental and proudly playful fare?

But when summer comes around, even this curmudgeonly sod likes to lay off the heartbreak and embrace songs that aren't just half-full, but are positively brimming over with energy and enthusiasm and love of the world.

I'm talking about songs that have a hefty dose of serotonin coursing through their veins - 'God is a DJ' from Faithless, for example. They're not a band that excites me at all, but that's a tune made to be heard en masse in the open air on a sunny Saturday evening - and no doubt it will get an airing when the reformed electro-pop outfit plays Dublin's Royal Hospital Kilmainham tonight.

But that song was released in 1998. What about summer tunes of a much more recent vintage? Well, the past 12 month have seen a rich deluge of tunes to evoke hot days, smoking barbecues, the inevitable sunburn and that gorgeous moment at half-time last Sunday when we allowed ourselves to dream that Ireland's Euro adventure was going to continue to the quarter-finals.

And, of all the albums released in the past year, they don't come more summery than Tame Impala's Currents - one of the great albums of 2015 - and a consistently excellent collection whose psychedelic-tinged electro pop just gets better on each listen. Listen to opening song 'This is Happening' and just try not to be seduced by its bewitching, hypnotic power.

Granted, a cursory inspection of the lyrics will reveal Kevin Parker to be moping about a broken relationship, but the bulk of the songs are so euphoric and joyous, it defies you not to get up and shake it all about. Tame Impala have become one of the must-see festival bands of the past while, and this modern masterpiece of an album is one of the reasons why.

Speaking of festivals, the superlatives were being lined up for New Order's Glastonbury set at the weekend. Watching on TV is hardly the same as being in a muddy Somerset field, but Bernard Sumner and friends rolled back the years quite spectacularly and played as though their lives depended on it. Their cause was certainly helped by the fact that their latest album, Music Complete, is their best in more than two decades and boasts such thrilling summer songs as 'Tutti Frutti'. It's a banger that sums up the joie de vivre of the feel-good season.

The 1975's unwieldy titled second album I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It was released in February, yet it offered the promise of the summer to come. I quite liked the album on first acquaintance, but it's really grown on me in the last few months. What I originally considered to be ersatz pop is actually the real thing - clever, super-catchy tunes like 'Love Me' that boast quirky arrangements that have made the English quartet stars of the arena circuit. And they're not bad as a festival band either - expect Matt Healy and friends to be among the acts everyone is talking about when Electric Picnic rolls around in two months' time.

Summer '16 has thrown up some great pop music too. The past couple of months have, for many of us, been chiefly soundtracked by Beyoncé and she brings her Formation tour to Croke Park next Saturday (and will be the subject of this column next week), and anyone who's digging her latest music would surely appreciate the latest superlative effort from Canada's premier pop siblings, identical twins Tegan and Sara.

Love You to Death, their eighth studio album, boasts more insidiously catchy songs than most pop acts can muster in a lifetime and there's nothing throwaway about their smartly observed songs.

It's a broadly similar story on This is Acting, the most recent album from Aussie songsmith-for-hire turned performer, Sia. It's a work that boasts the usual glut of songwriters and producers, yet doesn't sound homogeneous at all. Sia's vision comes through and her pop instincts are present and correct.

*  An album that hasn't been soundtracking summer 2016 for me is Kanye West's bloated and hugely disappointing Life of Pablo. West, himself, appears to have misgivings about the album he originally released on the Tidal music service earlier this year, because he continues to tinker with it.

Now, though, he's determined to wring as much controversy as possible from his newly released video for 'Famous' and he's succeeded. The most eloquent response came from Lena Dunham, creator of the acclaimed HBO series Girls, who described it as "sickening" while calling out the rapper for his misogynistic portrayal of women.

In a lengthy post on Facebook, the writer and producer calls the provocative video "one of the more disturbing 'artistic' efforts in recent memory". Dunham slammed West's representation of women juxtaposed against the recent controversial Stanford rape case and the ongoing sexual assault case against Bill Cosby, whose likeness also appears in the video, and whom West has seemingly defended in the past.

"Now I have to see the prone, unconscious, waxy bodies of famous women, twisted like they've been drugged and chucked aside at a rager?" Dunham wrote. "It gives me such a sickening sense of dis-ease. I know that art's job is to make us think in ways that aren't always tidy or comfortable. But this feels different."

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