Albums of the week: from The Carpenters to Clean Bandit
Orchestral reworkings of hits by The Carpenters are truly beautiful, while Clean Bandit’s singles are cloyingly predictable when heard together.
Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Who knew all we needed to heal our hurting hearts at the end of this somewhat dire year was the music of the Carpenters, reworked with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra?
Listening to these reworkings, it’s almost baffling that the US duo’s original music was not recorded this way. It just seems right.
The Carpenters’ greatest masterpieces are reimagined, with Richard Carpenter conducting his new arrangements along with late sister Karen’s immortal vocals. Richard was also the album’s producer and arranger, and his involvement in every single piece is distinct.
There has been a swathe of Royal Philharmonic collaborations lately, including with Roy Orbison and The Beach Boys, but this stands head and shoulders above the lot, thanks to Richard having a key role.
It’s a reminder of the beauty of their music, and it is only heightened by the rather restrained accompaniment of a 70-plus piece orchestra.
Standouts include Yesterday Once More, the jaw-dropping I Just Fall In Love Again, and Goodbye To Love. A must-have for Carpenters fans, or anyone who enjoys music.
Clean Bandit — What Is Love?
Clean Bandit have morphed into the UK’s dominant power in Latin-inspired pop hits, but it hasn’t always been this way.
When the Cambridge-educated trio met, the focus was on alchemising classical with the thump of house music.
That combination worked well, with their Jess Glynne-featuring single Rather Be spending four weeks at number one. But then their attentions turned to Latin pop and watered-down dancehall.
What Is Love? sees them follow this to its natural conclusion, and it’s not a road you will want to travel with them.
While it might have earned an abundance of hits (three of the album’s singles went to number one), it’s left them in something of a creative rut.
Over 12 tracks, it becomes clear that songs which sounded perfectly serviceable as singles cloy when heard together. They begin to bleed, revealing an approach that’s at best predictable, at worst formulaic.
And a crowd of high-profile guests can’t save the day. Powerful vocalists like Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora and Marina Diamandis fail to lift their collaborations above general pop fodder.
It’s a shame, because Clean Bandit’s debut showed them at their best, playing by the rules of pop to create shimmering hits. Now they’re just playing by the rules.
LP — Heart To Mouth
LP, aka New York singer-songwriter Laura Pergolizzi, goes full-pop on her fifth album, demonstrating the ear for a great hook that has brought her gainful employment from the likes of Cher and Christina Aguilera while maintaining the idiosyncratic style — think Kate Bush meets John Cooper Clarke — that has made her a cult sensation.
The smart lyrics that characterised previous releases are all intact, delivered in her Roy Orbison-on-helium tones, matched with an appealing electro-pop backing.
Opener Dreamcatcher has a soaring chorus that offsets a distinctly alt-country vibe. One Night in the Sun is an engagingly sinister take on the power-ballad format, while House on Fire is a Latin-beat barnstormer that employs the unusual combination of hand-claps, pounding drums and Roger Whittaker-style whistling to mesmerising effect.
LP may yet steal Lady Gaga’s crown as the world’s strangest, most versatile hit-maker.
Night Flight - Night Flight
New kids on the block Night Flight previously told the NME they can become “one of our generation’s great bands”. A somewhat conceited sentiment to some, but this London indie-folk quartet have something going on. After a couple of EPs that went down a storm with their growing fanbase, they have now reached their debut album.
It must be clarified early on that Night Flight are not the second coming of Mumford and Sons. Think less animated, rocky bluegrass and more pared-back, subtle, mid-tempo indie folk-rock.
From the opening bars of first track Departure — a simple guitar riff with Holmes’ exquisite vocal — through bigger, euphoric tracks like God Knows and Medicine, and the poetic Death Rattle, the record is a joy.
Some moments may sway into ‘haven’t we heard this before?' territory, but it’s pretty near-perfect.