The New U2 Album, Robert Plant and Staying Relevant.


U2’s Songs of Inno­cence.

Vet­er­an U2 fans have long greet­ed the launch of a new album with increas­ing trep­i­da­tion. Last week was, alas, more of the same. Their lat­est, Songs Of Inno­cence, sounds like the album from a Broad­way musi­cal, cel­e­brat­ing the youth of a 90s rock band. The tracks might very well be, as the band keep telling us, a col­lec­tion of inti­mate, per­son­al songs, but they sound like they are being per­formed by a U2 trib­ute band. Some of the riffs have been lift­ed clean off of the Joshua Tree.

U2’s prob­lem has always been Achtung Baby (’91). Which wasn’t just a seis­mic leap for­ward for the band at the time, it was one of the sem­i­nal albums of the decade. The prob­lem then is, how on earth do you fol­low it?

Achtung Baby!

Achtung Baby!

Zooropa (’93) and Pas­sen­gers (’95) was the sound of band grap­pling with what to do now that they’d become the glob­al phe­nom­e­non they’d always dreamt of. You could hear them intent­ly lis­ten­ing to what was going on around them try­ing to feel their way for­ward. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (‘00) was a very pleas­ing col­lec­tion of con­ven­tion­al sin­gles, but was tac­it­ly under­stood as a brief hiatus.

But the three albums over the 14 years that have fol­lowed have proved whol­ly unre­mark­able and have mere­ly pro­vid­ed the band with more-of-the-same to per­form live with. So why not be done with stu­dio albums for good? Because a live band is essen­tial­ly what they’ve become.

It’s per­fect­ly accept­able in the worlds of RnB, blues and jazz to stop fever­ish­ly pro­duc­ing new mate­r­i­al, and to spend your lat­ter years re-exam­in­ing your can­non, con­cen­trat­ing instead on pro­duc­ing the kinds of live per­for­mances that only come with age and expe­ri­ence. What’s the point of fur­ther adding to an already impres­sive back cat­a­logue with mass pro­duced, sub-stan­dard, repli­ca copies?

Robert Plant.

Robert Plant.

Incred­i­bly few bands man­age that per­ilous bal­anc­ing act of fill­ing vast sta­di­ums and of pro­duc­ing qual­i­ty albums of gen­uine sub­stance. U2 were one, Led Zep­pelin were anoth­er. Amaz­ing­ly, Robert Plant turned his back on the peer­less 70s hell-rais­ers in 1980, and has been qui­et­ly plough­ing his own fur­row ever since.

His musi­cal wan­der­lust has seen him explor­ing the roots Amer­i­cana of the deep south, and of where all that came from in the music of west Africa. Unex­pect­ed­ly, if quite cor­rect­ly, he burst into pub­lic view again in 2007 with his Ali­son Krauss col­lab­o­ra­tion Rais­ing Sand, which won the Gram­my for Album of The Year in 2008 and sold by the tonne.

Lullaby… And the Ceaseless Roar.

Lul­la­by and… The Cease­less Roar.

Band of Joy fol­lowed in 2010, prov­ing for those not in the know that Rais­ing Sand wasn’t a blip but part of a ful­ly formed renais­sance. And now he’s back with anoth­er new band (part of an old one actu­al­ly), with his lat­est album, Lul­la­by and… The Cease­less Roar.

The Sen­sa­tion­al Space Shifters include mem­bers of the Strange Sen­sa­tion which he formed over a decade ago. He’s joined by both the key­boardist and bassist from Por­tishead, as well as Justin Adams, a pro­duc­er who’s worked with Bri­an Eno and, more recent­ly, the blues Tuareg band, Tinawiren. That’s how you stay rel­e­vant. Musi­cal­ly inquis­i­tive, reveal­ing, prob­ing and plain­tive, it gets an approv­ing 7.0 from the boys from Pitch­fork here. And could eas­i­ly have got more.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

The Lion’s Roar” From First Aid Kit, Sweden’s Answer To Emmylou And Alison Krauss.

first-aid-kit-lions-roarThe Lion’s Roar is the sec­ond album from Swe­den’s First Aid Kit, com­pris­ing of sis­ters Klara and Johan­na Söder­berg, both of whom are bare­ly into their 20s. After their debut The Big Black And The Blue from 2010, they nat­u­ral­ly grav­i­tat­ed to Amer­i­ca to record their sopho­more effort, turn­ing to Mike Mogis to pro­duce it.

As well as being one of the three core mem­bers of Nebraska’s stel­lar Bright Eyes, where he serves as pro­duc­er and mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist, Mogis has also worked on albums by the likes of Jen­ny Lewis and her band Rilo Kiley, and M Ward and his, She And Him.

While there are clear echoes of Jen­ny Lewis through­out The Lion’s Roar, it’s Nashville’s Caitlin Rose that most read­i­ly springs to mind, whose debut Own Side Now I reviewed here earlier.

As with Rose, there’s a world weari­ness to the songs here that some­how man­ages to be cred­i­ble, not with­stand­ing the unlike­li­hood that either of the man­i­fest­ly jejune sib­lings could ever have grav­i­tat­ed beyond mere mis­chief in their brief lives. And if the songs here sound ever so slight­ly less lived-in that those on Own Side Now, that can prob­a­bly be put down to the added dif­fi­cul­ty of hav­ing to pen them in a for­eign language.

What’s so beguil­ing about this album, as with Rose’s, is the alchem­i­cal mar­riage of a time­less musi­cal tra­di­tion, with a vocal deliv­ery that rings of unblem­ished inno­cence and, there’s no oth­er word for it, puri­ty. This potent com­bi­na­tion is then deployed to lament a pre­ma­ture­ly crushed spir­it and a per­ma­nent­ly bro­ken heart. It’s a heady mix.

The boys from Prav­da gave it an impressed 7.6

And the per­cep­tive review there remarked with qui­et sur­prise, that there aren’t too many girls who would try ref­er­enc­ing Emmy­lou Har­ris and Gram Par­sons as the basis for a chat up line, as they do here on the sec­ond track, Emmy­lou. It’s not so much that there aren’t too many who’d get away with it. There aren’t too many who would try it, full stop. But they do, and it’s bewitching.

Sign up right or below for a sub­scrip­tion and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music.