Albums of the week: From Barbra Streisand to Belfast duo MMODE
Barbra Streisand entertains as only she can with new collection The Music...The Mem’ries...The Magic!, while brother-sister Belfast indie duo MMODE hope to impress with their self-titled debut record.
BARBRA STREISAND — THE MUSIC... THE MEM’RIES... THE MAGIC!
Have your tissues at the ready, because things are about to get emotional. For fans of Barbra Streisand past and present, this collection of classics, covers and show tunes is — as the title aptly suggests — a walk down memory lane. At 75, her stage voice is as rich and powerful as ever, while her witty quips and showbiz anecdotes in-between are a mesmerising purr that make you feel you are right there in that US tour audience.
While her topical mentions of how “music transcends politics” and “our beautiful butterflies are disappearing” add a thought-provoking edge, they do take a up a lot of track time, which may be a sticking point for musical fans. But the music — which includes guests as high-calibre as Jamie Foxx — is worth waiting for. Her cover of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory tune Pure Imagination will make you wonder why we have yet to see a Wilhelmina Wonka on the big screen.
MMODE — MMODE
In their previous guise as Southern, Belfast-based siblings Lucy and Thomas Gaffney were cool enough to get gigs appearing at fashion shows by some of the most exclusive labels. However, you shouldn’t hold this against them. Tiring of that and returning to their roots, they’ve reinvented themselves as a folky indie-pop duo making music with a distinctly Nineties vibe.
The pretty guitar arpeggios, dreamy vocals and insistent drumming of lead singles Waiting in the Desert and Gustav recall early Britpop, while album stand-out Sunrise in Belfast, with its lazy bass riff and chilled-out sax wouldn’t sound out of place on a Groove Armada record.
This might not be the sort of music that sells upmarket slacks, but it in an arena that puts such a premium on being cool, it’s nice to hear something so unashamedly earnest and sweet.
WALKER HAYES — BOOM
Walker Hayes is shaping up to be the classic American success story. After years of struggling and working at Costco to support a growing family, he’s pushed through to the public eye with a handsome cowboy face and handful of relatable country-infused pop songs. The path from hard-up hero to superstar is hallowed ground across the pond, with some of their biggest names, from Dolly Parton to Taylor Swift, treading its territory.
Hayes’ unfortunately-named album, Boom, (“it’s the first thing I say after I play an album from the song”) is one of conflicting tones. When earnest, it is pretty good and even hints at something great. You Broke Up With Me is a warm, well-produced future hit with hooks aplenty, and his more contemplative compositions (Beer in the Fridge’s insight to alcoholism, and his fun homage to his kids in Beckett) are thoughtful and endearing.
But with the hackneyed Dollar Store, which hunts shamelessly for lazy listeners, or his Sheeran-like spoken word in Mind Candy, you can feel the glint in a corporate eye hoping to add some edge to his high-fructose tracks and sell Hayes to a young demographic. The early-2000s squeaky-clean American dream image is losing currency, which is unfortunate: it’s the perfect place for Walker Hayes.
BELLE & SEBASTIAN — HOW TO SOLVE OUR HUMAN PROBLEMS — PART 1
This new release by the Scottish veterans takes the form of three EPs, to be released over successive months, and the first at least features just what fans have come to expect. We Were Beautiful, Stuart Murdoch sings on the track of the same name, the past tense proving unnecessary as B&S stick to the template for which they have long been adored. The Girl Doesn’t Get It starts out with its jaunty melody soundtracking a humdrum love story before shifting to a political gear with references to immigration and the phrase “make the country great again” and a note that with compassion, “all our dumb human problems would be long in the bin marked history”.
The EP closes with the largely instrumental Everything Is Now, while the single I’ll Be Your Pilot, a beautiful number written to Murdoch’s young son, is a promising taster for Part 2 next month.
NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC — NOW 98
Is 2017 the year of the genre-bending collaboration? Most certainly, judging by the volume of intriguing yet chart-friendly duets on the latest Now That’s What I Call Music compilation.
Highlights include former Fifth Harmony darling Camila Cabello’s smooth jam Havana with rapper Young Thug, Katy Perry’s sassy Swish Swish with Nicki Minaj, and the beautifully understated I Miss You by Clean Bandit featuring Julia Michaels.
There were also efforts by Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson to break free from their boyband box — they’ve both produced stylish singles a world away from their One Direction days: Payne’s Get Low with producer Zedd and Tomlinson’s Back to You with US singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha.
The charts have also been dominated by Latin-flavoured pop, dance-infused R&B tunes and unlikely breakout artists this year (hello viral star Michael Dapaah aka Big Shaq and Love Island heroes Chris & Kem), and this is an ample assortment of some of the finest hits of the last few months.
It’s a bit light on the rock/indie side of things though, but that’s the way the musical cookie crumbled this year.