Albums of the week: From Lady Gaga to Marching Church
Lady Gaga returns with Joanne, indie kids Courteeners release Mapping The Rendezvous and Marching Church are Telling It Like It Is with their latest record. We round up this week’s best releases.
LADY GAGA — JOANNE
Lady Gaga might be going for a more stripped back sound on Joanne, but she’s still got flair. Chameleon-like, she plunders America’s traditions of country twang, rockabilly and Detroit’s finest, although there’s a significant lack of bona fide pop hits. On Grigio Girls she could have swapped places with an early Taylor Swift. Not to say that’s a bad thing, it’s just we’re missing the Technicolor bite of Bad Romance. Just Another Day has musical theatre writ all over it, while Come To Mama blurs the line between rollicking rock ‘n’ roll and Motown and wouldn’t make a bad festive tune (no, really, it’s got horns that Eighties Christmas classics would be proud of). On Hey Girl, Gaga teams up with Florence Welch of Florence And The Machine; it’s not stunning, in fact it’s rather repetitive, but it has a gliding quality that means you find yourself listening to the end without meaning to, waiting for a finale that doesn’t come. On Angel Down, Gaga has a raspy edginess to her voice that could have been borrowed directly from The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, while the title track has a surprising gentleness to it. The flair is all in the detail, not knockout choruses we’re used to. Not so much fun as you’d hope as a record from the woman who brought us Poker Face, but considered, precise and touching nonetheless.
MARCHING CHURCH — TELLING IT LIKE IT IS
Elias Bender Ronnenfelt first captured the attention as frontman of Icelandic punks Iceage, whose nihilistic New Brigade LP surfaced before his 19th birthday, five years ago. Blessed/burdened with River Phoenix good looks, Ronnenfelt has been portrayed as complicated, with New York’s Fader magazine titling one 2014 interview ‘A cheerless weekend with rock’s most difficult frontman’. Lou Reed and David Bowie were trying characters at times, but they had irrefutable magnetism and Ronnenfelt might be cribbing from their playbooks on this second record from the Marching Church ‘side project’, a bleak but utterly gripping baroque and roll work. Opener Let It Come Down is a fatalistic hymn to a doomed present, Up For Days a jumpy journey into a troubled state of mind. Heart Of Life is different, starting with a hip-shaking swagger and lurching into darker realms while retaining its sense of knotted urgency. Elsewhere Ronnenfelt attacks US police shootings, slays societies that enforce refugee camps and, on the closing Calenture, offers an apocalyptic vision. A terrific, timely record.
COURTEENERS — MAPPING THE RENDEZVOUS
Frontman Liam Fray claimed the Courteeners’ fifth studio album would “unleash your inner Danny Zuko” and he’s not wrong. Mapping The Rendezvous has all the swagger you would expect from the Manchester four-piece, and is a return to form. Fray feels the band have made a “party album” and with tunes such as Tip Toes, The Dilettante and Modern Love, he is again true to his word. Lucifer’s Dreams is a thumping opener, The 17th is a slow-burner, while the band throw everything bar the sink at the riff-heavy Kitchen. There are still mellow moments, such as the string-laden De La Salle and Finest Hour, but there is a good balance on another strong release that is also available with a DVD of the band’s headline gig at Heaton Park.
DTCV — CONFUSION MODERNE
DTCV’s fifth album marries breezy vocals with scuzzy guitars. Confusion Moderne was released back in April, however, the duo is embarking on a UK tour at the end of October and is seeing a re-release. Histoire Seule channels Scottish band The Jesus And Mary Chain with its mellifluous vocals. Capital Ennui has something of Light My Fire to it. All the songs, save one, are in French, the mother tongue of vocalist and songwriter Lola. The keystone is in Conformiste, with its repeated refrain of ‘Je Ne Sais Pas’, a phrase anyone who scraped through French in school should understand. There is definite substance beneath the sunshine pop veneer. We Aren’t The Champions has guitarist and literary polymath James Greer snarling through a megaphone, fairly cutting through the sweetness. Try to seek out DTCV if they are in your area. The tunes in Confusion Moderne are well-crafted and worth a listen.
MOBY & THE VOID PACIFIC CHOIR — THESE SYSTEMS ARE FAILING
Richard Melville Hall — the artist better known as Moby — is enlisting help on his latest offering. Any visions of the bald one frantically conducting a massive gospel choir are soon dispelled. This album is relentless. There are no moments of quiet reflection, barely any ambient tracks. It is filled with sequencers firing staccato beats at the listener, which is a bit of a shame, as there is no equivalent to Porcelain on this album. Moby still has an ear for a tune, but here they’re drowned beneath repetition. The closest to the bluesy samples of 1999’s Play is the introduction to Don’t Leave Me, but this is soon engulfed by more gnashing techno. The Light Is Clear In My Eyes quotes Moby’s earlier track Extreme Ways and there are other nods to Kraftwerk and chiptune music along the way. The lyrics are earnest, even though the titular Failing Systems are never specified. Far from mellowing out, at 51, Moby is railing against anything he can find.