Albums of the week: From The Amazons to Frankie Lee
Both Reading rockers The Amazons and adventurous five-piece Plastic Mermaids have delivered top-notch new releases, both worthy of a space on any playlist.
THE AMAZONS - FUTURE DUST
My goodness, The Amazons - come at me with all your swaggering heavy rock, unapologetic explosiveness, whiny guitars and euphoric belter anthems.
The perfect follow-up to their 2017 debut album, Future Dust is the Reading rockers' second chance to prove their worth as a legitimate group worthy of any festival stage.
Lead singer Matt Thomson and his band-mates were aiming for a heavier sound and they've certainly got it, without having sacrificed their artistry.
Right from opening track Mother, with its almost threatening creeping crawl of an intro that booms into a monstrous song of defiance, to the intriguing End Of Wonder, the album is a riff-led, guttural pleasure. A true testament to the work these BBC Sound Of 2017 nominees have put in over the past few years trying to refine and sharpen their sound. This band will be up there with the likes of Arctic Monkeys within a few years, you just wait.
PLASTIC MERMAIDS - SUDDENLY EVERYONE EXPLODES
You can tell that summer is just around the corner when tripped-out festival feels hit the airwaves. Isle of Wight natives Plastic Mermaids have created a tripped-out psychedelic pop masterpiece that ebbs and flows like the current I fully expect them to ride this year.
What is hard to get over is the enormity of the sounds they have created. There is a tendency to compare them to Mercury Rev and Arcade Fire, however, the fact that Plastic Mermaids are totally homegrown sparks hope for a new wave of psychedelia in the future.
Suddenly Everyone Explodes is on the money from Glow to Luliuli. There isn't a bad track, so whack it up and tune out from life with this multi-layered and faceted group.
FRANKIE LEE - STILLWATER
American singer-songwriter Frankie Lee follows in the footsteps of fellow Minnesotan Bob Dylan with his second album. Wearing a Dylanish hat and adopting a Dylanish croon, Stillwater has an easy going, Nashville Skyline sound, complete with slide guitar and harmonica, but it avoids ever descending into pastiche.
Lee uses a traditional veneer to disguise darker, more contemporary themes, his intriguingly lyrics adding a dark edge to the sunny arrangements, with (I Don't Want to Know) John channelling the blue-collar storytelling that marked out early Springsteen, and melancholy In the Blue concealing an elegiac theme of ageing and loss beneath lush piano chords.
STING - MY SONGS
An album described as a collection of re-worked or re-imagined versions of an artist's biggest hits can often only fill anyone with a set of working ears with dread. It can feel laboured and unnecessary; a vanity project.
But, against all odds, Sting has kind of pulled it off. In My Songs, the singer-songwriter takes a walk down memory lane through his career, splashing his tracks with a light contemporary coating, all the while staying faithful to their original arrangements.
His fresh approach to hits such as Shape Of My Heart, Fields Of Gold and Desert Rose, which all sound crisper and cleaner, are particularly worth listening to. Not much has been done, but just enough to hear the difference.
Some might argue it's a bit of a pointless release, but I'd argue that this is better than a complete overhaul. His hits are hits because they were pretty darn good the way they were; why muck it all up?
MORRISSEY - CALIFORNIA SON
Little man, what now? Having long been one of my musical heroes, I know I'm not the only one who struggles these days to listen to the music of Morrissey.
Of course, we should be able to separate the art from the artist, but the former frontman of the Smiths' obsession with upsetting his former fans by extolling the virtues of the far right has been sad to watch.
So I approached his new album of covers with some trepidation. I can confirm that Springtime For Hitler isn't among the choices, thankfully.
None of the tracks are obvious, but they do feature songs by legends such as Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. The latter's downbeat It's Over particularly suits Morrissey and his voice is in fine form (the only thing about the singer that gets better with age). But nothing stands out or makes you particularly grateful for this collection.