Albums of the week: From Pet Shop Boys to Arcade Fire
This week there’s a host of erstwhile favourites returning to prove they can still make waves in the music charts.
PET SHOP BOYS — RELEASE, FUNDAMENTAL AND NIGHTLIFE
A Pet Shop Boys reissue would never fail to excite fans, but throw in some unreleased demos and you would be foolish not to expect a feeding frenzy.
As Neil Tennant has already expressed, buying the re-releases of their first six albums would be pretty pointless if you already did so when they reissued them in 2001.
Instead, focus on Nightlife, Release and Fundamental, which come with copious bonus tracks.
The intriguing One Way Street demo — originally written for Bananarama, who turned it down — is catchy, and was inspired by philosopher Walter Benjamin’s book of the same name which Tennant admits to never actually reading.
Also on Fundamental is The Performance of My Life. Written for Shirley Bassey’s 2009 album The Performance, Tennant and Lowe also recorded their own version which offers the song a new-found emotional depth.
Other demos and unreleased tracks include Ring Road, Little Black Dress, Radiophonic and several more. So, if in doubt, take Tennant’s advice — ignore the remasters and aim for the newer (old) ones.
ARCADE FIRE — EVERYTHING NOW
Arcade Fire have always been fans of cryptic and creative album releases. With Everything Now, however, they have gone a step further than the interactive videos and guerrilla art of previous years: transforming into sycophantic corporate lackeys for Everything Now Corp, a capitalist behemoth for which culture is nothing and “content” is everything.
Yet in doing so, the band’s fifth studio album runs a gamut of styles and sounds without settling on one, or on anything that brought them global critical acclaim. Progress is vital for any artist, but the first 15 minutes run closer to Abba and Jungle in their disco beats, and later tracks swing between two-tone ska, ’80s hair rock and humdrum easy listening.
These homages to other genres are perfectly rendered and were hinted at on 2013’s Reflektor, but again the stand-out tracks are those which do not overly commit to any sound other than their own. It is only the synth-pop of Creature Comforts, Electric Blue and We Don’t Deserve Love which embodies anything that feels like the band’s natural, comfortable progression, and not simply a derivative of something else.
As a statement on the homogenisation of music under the crushing force of corporatism it is powerful but, with Everything Now, Arcade Fire risk losing themselves to the cause.
ALICE COOPER — PARANORMAL
Almost 30 years after tantalising the tastebuds of mainstream metal with Poison, Alice Cooper shows no signs of slowing down in Paranormal.
While he has softened his signature snarl, the 69-year-old still delivers rip-roaring tracks that stay true to both his anarchic and fun-loving sides as he pulls together half a century of influences.
Kicking off with an operatic overture in the title track, we are updated on Alice’s feelings about everything from falling in love when you “can’t get up”, to the lies of religion (Dead Flies), to his Cadillac (Dynamite Road).
With bonus tracks, including Genuine American Girl, freshly recorded with his 1970s band, Paranormal is an ode to the Alice Cooper legacy, offering something for the die-hard fan and the first-time listener. Or, as he described the record himself: “My definition of paranormal is something other than normal... you could say my whole career has been that.”
THE FALL — NEW FACTS EMERGE
As he ages, Mark E Smith’s rants might sound to the untrained ear like the Wealdstone Raider put to post-punk —nonetheless the rabid energy remains unchanged and New Facts Emerge is certainly a relentless ride.
Second and third tracks Fol De Rol and Brillo De Facto find Smith and the band as stinging and hefty as they have ever been. While there are some dips — the meandering eight minutes 44 seconds of Couples v Jobless Mid 30s being something of a slog by the end — New Facts Emerge feels as consistent as it is possible for a Fall album to be nowadays.
For fans who have stuck with the band through more than 100 LPs, EPs and live albums, there remains some reward for the patience. Their latest — like last two studio albums Re-Mit and Sub-Lingual Tablet — offers glimmers of the band in their fearsome prime.
One bizarre footnote that should be addressed is the unfortunately titled Victoria Train Station Massacre. The band insists the track was recorded and sent off for pressing “long before” the bombing at Manchester Arena, which adjoins the station.
It is not the first time that Smith has eerily “predicted” a tragic event — this reviewer recommends googling the story behind Disney’s Dream Debased from The Weird and Frightening World of The Fall if you want to feel seriously freaked out.
ARTHUR ALEXANDER — ARTHUR ALEXANDER
Proof that talent is sadly no guarantee of success, Arthur Alexander wrote and performed songs that would inspire covers from icons including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, yet spent the later years of his life working as an anonymous bus driver.
For those in the know, however, his brief career provides a treasure trove of lost classics.
This 1972 release, reissued with six bonus tracks, including two that were previously unreleased, is a light-footed soul record, characterised by funky bass lines and electric piano.
Songs such as I’m Coming Home and Down The Backroads have a laid-back charm, while Burning Love would, in typical fashion, go on to be a major hit for Elvis. Worth revisiting.