Albums of the week: From Robbie Williams to Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys is back with Here, crooner Robbie Williams presents Heavy Entertainment Show, and Martha Wainwright shares Goodnight City. A round up of this week’s best releases.
ALICIA KEYS — HERE
Alicia Keys has cut back on the piano, so don’t expect a follow up to Fallin’, or an epic equivalent to Empire State Of Mind, but on Here there’s still a whole lotta soul to blast yourself with.
It’s peppered with poetic interludes, a parallel echo to Solange’s A Seat At The Table, exploring violence, black oppression, pushing forward, believing in yourself and insecurities, but nestled between these spoken word sections are tracks brimming with emotion, strung along seemingly effortlessly on Keys’ voice, clear, strong and gorgeous.
Snare drums sputter and military parade march notes pace the beat on the powerful, wrenching Pawn It All, while Holy War is a delicate, thoughtful musing on fear, shot-through with guitar strings.
Single In Common ventures into synthy dance territory — not wholly successfully — and Girl Can’t Be Herself borders on saccharine, but The Gospel has an urgency and passion that pulls it through. There’s ambition and light here, and you can’t argue with the fact Keys can seriously, seriously sing.
MARTHA WAINWRIGHT — GOODNIGHT CITY
The cover of Martha Wainwright’s Goodnight City has the 40-year-old singer-songwriter looking sleekly glamorous, but with two faces, one looking left, the other right.
It’s as if this most mutable of singers cannot be captured in one position in the speed of a camera shutter click.
The chameleonic nature of Wainwright’s voice flies from the Kate Bush-like dramatic swoops of lead single Around The Bend, through to the Patti Smith snarl of So Down and even the tortured torch singing of Beth Gibbons on the baleful Portishead electronica of Take The Reins. On Window she seems determined to crack all the glass in a two-mile radius such are the throes of her emotion.
This is an adventurous album for all its lounge music and American Songbook moments, with a fragility and openness in its lyrics.
Wainwright has a reputation for caustic revelations of her personal life and the pressures of being brought up among musical royalty — folk singing parents Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright and singer and sometime opera writer brother Rufus — but here she can often be found trying to inhabit the character of others, such as Edith Piaf in the darkly humorous couplets of Around The Bend.
Whether singing her songs or others though, Wainwright confides such intimacy and emotion she is a singular talent, and that will never change.
ROBBIE WILLIAMS — THE HEAVY ENTERTAINMENT SHOW
The Robbie Williams who sang about wanting to ‘Feel real love’ and find the love Supreme is now happily married with two children, and his first album since 2013 reflects those changes.
Robbie the showman is still here and it’s easy to imagine him opening spectacular live shows with the title track, but it is the more emotional songs which stand out.
His latest single Love My Life, about overcoming life’s obstacles and accepting yourself, is a crowd pleaser and When You Know sounds like a love letter to his wife Ayda Field.
The honest emotions were what made Williams’ early solo albums so popular and his revived partnership with co-writer and producer Guy Chambers has rediscovered some of that magic, although a few of the offerings here are less memorable.