Albums of the week: From Bryan Adams to Hozier
The debut from Self Esteem, aka Rebecca Taylor, is the strongest of the week, despite going up against highly-praised new records from the likes of Bryan Adams, Hozier and fellow newcomer Tom Walker.
SELF ESTEEM - COMPLIMENTS PLEASE
Rebecca Taylor has come a long way from playing a wooden chair with some drum sticks during her days as one-half of quietly popular indie duo Slow Club. Zip forward to 2019 and the Sheffield multi-instrumentalist has escaped from her musical cocoon to deliver a debut solo record drenched in attitude previously withheld.
This manifests itself in 16 tracks, each wildly different from the one preceding it. The searing guitar on She Reigns is the closest thing there's been to Purple Rain in 30 years and is begging to be heard live, while the rousing singles Rollout and The Best ensure mainstream success beckons.
HOZIER - WASTELAND, BABY!
"It's not the waking/ it's the rising" - there may be no more spine-tingling way to begin a record. A tribute to musicians who championed civil rights in their work, Nina Cried Power made Obama's 2018 playlist. Mavis Staples guests, leaving her indelible mark and providing that past-present link... Can the whole album be this, please?
Our opening trio is certainly strong - singles Almost (Sweet Music) and Movement follow, the latter making a romance sound like it moves the very earth. The album's second half offers a much-needed intensity break - a folk detour culminates in Shrike, which most radiantly flaunts its Celtic DNA.
This record should secure his stardom - and though a couple of tracks could be jettisoned, Mr Hozier-Byrne has the passion, musicality and respect to show that he deserves it.
TOM WALKER - WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE
To describe What A Time To Be Alive as 'highly anticipated' would be to undersell the glorious cyclone of hype around this 27-year-old.
His rise came fast. A single with chart-topping producer Naughty Boy, slots supporting George Ezra and The Script, and an undeniable earworm in Leave A Light On. Now a Brit for best breakthrough act. And all this without an album to his name.
It's fair to say the stakes were high. But despite the pressure, the Scottish troubadour has pulled through. With the help of some industry veterans (Rudimental, Zara Larsson, Steve Mac) he's crafted an album certain to please.
The key to his success? His unique voice. It's what caught the eye of the nation and it will be the reason What A Time To Be Alive captures their hearts.
BRYAN ADAMS - SHINE A LIGHT
Bryan Adams duetting with Jennifer Lopez is one of the most left-field, but brilliant musical moves of 2019.
Who'd have ever dreamt up such a thing?
Their voices work in harmonious glory together on jubilant up-tempo ballad That's How Strong Our Love Is, the second track of Adams' 14th album.
The record is a summery ode to the kind of music that made him a household name.
Shine A Light could have been released in the early 1990s when Adams was at his peak - and that's absolutely fine in this case.
Filled to the brim with rocky ballads and fast-paced pop-rock belters, Adams' recognisable form is unchanged and as catchy as ever, particularly on opener and title track Shine A Light (a collaboration with Ed Sheeran) and the jukebox-friendly No Time For Love.
SKINNY LISTER - THE STORY IS
Folk-rock, particularly folk punk-rock, can be a bit of hard sell. As a genre it conjures up images of crusty hippy types in cargo pants being tiresomely political.
The Story Is..., the fourth album from cult folk-rock band Skinny Lister, threatens to head into the heart of that territory with the Ska-infused opener Second Amendment, which takes an askance look at the American attitude to gun control.
Thankfully it then swerves into much more unexpectedly everyday subject matter; any album featuring a love song with the chorus "I put unleaded in my diesel vehicle" is some kind of work of genius.
Other intriguing subjects include being wary about sinister neighbours (Artist Arsonist) or being so infatuated with someone you can't concentrate (the fantastically new-wave My Distraction).
And when they manage to combine these two instincts, such as on the ethereal Stop and Breathe, the outcome is quite captivating.