Albums of the week: From At the Drive-in to Blondie
This week Canadian singer Mac DeMarco earns top trumps with his third album, while Blondie catch up with modern pop - or is it a case of modern pop catching up with them?
MAC DEMARCO — THIS OLD DOG
Despite being just 27 years of age, Mac DeMarco and his cheeky gap-toothed grin seem to have been around the indie music scene forever, and on his third album the Canadian jangle-pop connoisseur is nothing if not consistent. The lazy, afternoon-on-the-porch lilt of title track This Old Dog brings to the party everything fans have loved about Mac until now. But there is a newness too, and some real signs that the young joker has growing artistic aspirations: tracks like opener My Old Man — in which the singer reflects on growing older (“uh-oh, looks like I’m seeing more of my old man in me”) — and ballad One More Love Song — “One more love out to break your heart, set it up just to watch it fall apart” — add an emotional depth that hasn’t always been apparent in his work, and show there’s a lot more to this young man than his penchant for tomfoolery.
BLONDIE — POLLINATOR
Have Blondie caught up with modern pop or has modern pop caught up with Blondie? Certainly they’ve roped in all their hippest fans — including Charli XCX, Nick Valensi and Sia — to help ensure their new album has a contemporary gloss. However, it’s when the band are prepared to simply act as throwbacks to the New Wave they helped invent that Pollinator really sizzles. Opening trio Doom Or Destiny, Long Time and Already Naked could have been lifted from anything the band released in their late-Seventies heyday. Elsewhere, they veer a bit too far from the classic formula: funk-inflected Love Level, complete with quasi-rap interludes, is as bizarre as it is appalling, while electro-pop lead single Fun comes off a bit dad-dancing-at-the-disco. They’re fooling nobody but, if you squint, you can still make out the ghosts of those cool, skinny New Yorkers on the cover of Parallel Lines.
COVER STORIES: BRANDI CARLILE CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF THE STORY — AN ALBUM TO BENEFIT WAR CHILD
Brandi Carlile’s The Story was a fairly minor folk-rock record of 2007 but, 10 years on, she has gathered a star-studded line-up of cover versions to raise money for charity War Child. She even bagged Barack Obama to write the album’s foreword. It was Adele’s 2015 interpretation of Hiding My Heart that first inspired the project, and she joins other marquee names in Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam and Kris Kristofferson, alongside rising stars such as Torres, to rework the original tracks. But where the original treads a strong-but-staid path of a radio-friendly TV drama soundtrack, Cover Stories touches everything from country and bluegrass to prog-rock and experimental pop. They don’t always hit the mark but, more than anything, Cover Stories proves the strengths of Carlile’s songwriting, giving a broad range of artists the licence to experiment.
AT THE DRIVE-IN — INTERALIA
Seventeen years since trashing Jools Holland’s stage and releasing the seminal Relationship Of Command, post-hardcore luminaries At The Drive-In are back with new record Interalia. The title — Latin for “among other things” — is a fitting summation of an album by artists who may have passed their peak but still have a lot to offer. The departure of co-founder Jim Ward — so often the yin to the white-hot yang of singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez — means it takes a full eight tracks before the pace lets up. Yet Bixler’s vocals hit a middle ground between the hoarse roars of the band’s early years and the soulful croon-and-yelp of later projects and, similarly, guitarist Rodriguez seems to hit neither the burning abandon nor the virtuosity found elsewhere. Interalia is the sound of a band who know how to write a record without pushing themselves too hard. It’s not the heights of yesteryear, but there’s still a lot for fans to sink their teeth into.
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS — LOVELY CREATURES (THE BEST OF 1984-2014)
Australia’s foremost purveyor of erudite and twisted rock music belatedly celebrates 30 years in the industry with this collection. Distilling three decades of exceptional and prolific creativity down to 21 tracks may have been the toughest task, and perhaps a “sequel” of sorts to 1998’s previous Best Of would have been a more logical option — the two releases share 10 tracks, admittedly including such greats as Tupelo, Red Right Hand and The Mercy Seat. Cave’s quality has not dimmed since the turn of the century and 2013’s Push The Sky Away offers up Higgs Boson Blues and We No Who U R, while O Children from 2004’s Abattoir Blues and the Lyre Of Orpheus also stands comparison with anything here.