Albums of the week: Kaiser Chiefs to Solange Knowles
Kaiser Chiefs return with Stay Together, Solange Knowles presents the evocative A Seat At The Table, and poet and spoken word artist Kate Tempest shares Let Them Eat Chaos. We catch up with the week’s CD releases.
SOLANGE — A SEAT AT THE TABLE
Solange Knowles, Beyonce’s younger sister, has spent four years crafting a winding, graceful, tender record that’s wired with emotion, but tough with it. A Seat At The Table can’t be listened to without the framing context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and awareness of the fatal shootings of black civilians in the US, but that’s not to say it isn’t laced with beauty and wonder.
In fact, it’s crammed with artistry, blazing with detail and thought. Anchored by a series of spoken interludes — including from Solange’s mum, Tina, who talks about black pride, and her father, Matthew, who recalls being young and scared — it flows and sways as a whole, tracks bleeding into one another. There’s a spare lustrousness to it, with tinkling piano glimmering on F. U. B. U., Solange’s muted vocals bringing a restrained bass to the finespun Don’t Touch My Hair, while Mad arcs and cascades, before Lil Wayne cuts through: “Let it go, let it go.”
A Seat At The Table is powerful and compelling, and it’ll still make you want to dance.
SEASICK STEVE — KEEPIN’ THE HORSE BETWEEN ME AND THE GROUND
There may have been recent doubt cast on the veracity of Seasick Steve’s pre-fame years as a homeless troubadour, but his new double album, Keepin’ The Horse Between You And The Ground, is full of authentic roots Americana. It is released to coincide with the 10th anniversary of his British TV debut, bringing him instant success which, depending on which story you believe, finally put a roof over his head, or complemented an already comfortable existence as a session musician. Apart from the White Stripes-like searing guitar riffs and brutal blues minimalism of the title track, there is little here to remind you of the three-stringed foot-stompin’ boogie of the Later... With Jools Holland debut.
Instead, these tracks — in double figures — are an unplugged and wistful collection of lived-in blues. There are some surprises, such as the jaunty bluegrass country of Grass Is Greener and he has a stab at Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me, which is a little straight and has little of the otherworldly beautiful of the original. A more successful version is his spare cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My Mind, which has a gruff, heartfelt charm. There is a nod to 10 years ago, with the Oakland native including a stripped-down version of one of his best-loved songs, Walkin’ Man. Forget the doubt over his early years, this 75-year-old has plenty of life ahead of him, and it is sounding good.
KAISER CHIEFS — STAY TOGETHER
Kaiser Chiefs’ sixth studio album Stay Together is certainly nostalgic. For me it felt like I was sitting in the back of my parents’ car listening to my Now That’s What I Call Music! 3 cassette. You can hear the band taking inspiration from Eighties electropop, due in part to them pairing with writer and producer Brian Higgins. Stay Together is a dance-tinged ditty, with Hole In My Soul, a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Hughes film soundtrack (Breakfast Club anyone?) with echoes of Marc Almond’s Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.
Frontman Ricky Wilson sounds like he’s at home, performing in his comfy chair. The northern tinge to his voice is welcoming yet anthemic. The catchiest track has to be Good Clean Fun, a great sing-a-long ear worm that will stay with you all day. What Kaiser Chiefs have done is embrace a new sound whole-heartedly, but without losing who they are as a group.
KATE TEMPEST — LET THEM EAT CHAOS
Kate Tempest has a knack for quietly, insistently, scratching away at your brain, the rapper and poet’s words landing heroically, yet straightforwardly in your ears. Let Them Eat Chaos is her follow up to 2014’s Mercury Music Prize nominated debut, Everybody Down, and it’s equally deserving of attention. She spouts dark, angry and twisting ideas with a simplicity and catchiness, so the bleakness (“Is anybody else awake?”) of the estate streets of Lionmouth Door Knocker instantly materialise before your eyes. Ketamine For Breakfast races sweatily, breathlessly, hunting down new ways to escape the past with every line, while there are stories about a carer making sandwiches (Europe Is Lost), getting wasted on payday (Whoops) and “living the dream/paying the mortgage” (Pictures On A Screen). Let Them Eat Chaos is all sharp edges and big questions, although not something to dance and grin to, but it’s stunning nevertheless.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL — NO EXIT
No Exit is recordings from Marianne Faithfull’s recent European tour. Given Faithfull’s recent illnesses, existence must be a struggle. Eh well, she continues. Her voice always had enough power to erode a mountain, and it only cracks a few times in these recordings. Sister Morphine has a great piano solo that shows the quality of Faithfull’s accompaniment.
Roger Waters penned Sparrows Will Sing, which counterpoints a Lewis Carroll reference with an equally fantastical desire to see the corridors of power walked by thoughtful people. Late Victorian Holocaust is full of opiate imagery and memories of a sweet little sleep. While all this could be construed as resignation, there is some fight left — Mother Wolf is brimming with threat. No Exit shows Marianne Faithfull is still quite capable of delivering her songs. It is, however, for the completists, and serves to highlight the power she possessed in former years.