Albums of the week - from Willie Nelson to Blossoms
This week there’s a new offering from Willie Nelson, who at 84 is still giving fans the trademark sounds that have kept him at the top of his game. He’s joined by We Are Scientists, Dr Dog and Blossoms.
WILLIE NELSON — LAST MAN STANDING
He’s still performing at 84, so when Willie Nelson calls himself the last man standing, he isn’t joking. Nevertheless, there are plenty of laughs to be had on his latest album.
That knowing title is reflective of the morbid wit that peppers the lyrics, as is Bad Breath’s refrain that it’s “better than no breath at all”, or the kicker to She Made My Day — “but she ruined my life”. Nelson delivers these quotable songs in characteristically easygoing style.
In voice and manner, he could pass for someone 40 years younger. Musically, the sound is straight out of the Texas honky-tonks; barrel-roll piano, harmonica and Nelson’s distinctive guitar playing. It won’t win any prizes for innovation but, considering he helped invent this sort of music, that’s easily forgiven.
7/10: James Robinson
WE ARE SCIENTISTS — MEGAPLEX
The staccato synth that opens We Are Scientists’ seventh album initially signals a departure from the sharp guitar riffs that carved them a space among the wave of indie rock bands that flooded the UK in the mid-2000s.
The Americans do experiment with their sound during an unsubtle attempt to cram as many catchy pop songs as they can onto one breathless record. Matthew Cain’s jaunty basslines are the one constant element. However, it’s an approach that frequently blows up in their faces.
One In, One Out has a sickly chorus from singer Keith Murray and an auto-tune gloss which will repel many fans of their older material. The scuzzy torment of Your Light Has Changed provides a welcome antidote but, for the most part, Megaplex is unremarkable.
We Are Scientists never set out to establish innovative musical theories, but this album is a bad litmus test for explaining why they’ve endured.
5/10: Andrew Arthur
DR DOG — CRITICAL EQUATION
It is a testament to Dr Dog’s longevity that they have reached the 10th album mark, with Critical Equation their first since returning from a three-year hiatus.
The Philadelphia five-piece’s blend of 60s psychedelia and Americana has barely sent a ripple across the Atlantic, the band being almost completely ignored by mainstream radio in the UK. The arrival of Critical Equation is probably unlikely to change that.
The record itself is charming enough, although it plods a little with flourishes here and there, most notably on the rockabilly Under The Wheels.
Fans of The Lumineers and The Black Keys will definitely find something immensely pleasing in this record. But for those in search of a new Heart It Races, one of the few tracks in Dr Dog’s back catalogue to have garnered attention in the UK, and a cover version at that, will likely be left disappointed.
6/10: Ryan Hopper
BLOSSOMS — COOL LIKE YOU
Blossoms have released an album of extremes, with surefire synth-pop hits nestling among cookie-cutter 80s knock-offs that would make even George Michael say “this is too cheesy”.
Following up from their hit 2016 debut, Blossoms have leaned away from the guitar and towards the keyboards, proving both beneficial and detrimental. In songs like Unfaithful and I Just Imagined You, there’s cliche after cliche that reaches for Erasure and lands closer to a low-budget video game soundtrack.
But in their showstopper singles like I Can’t Stand It and Stranger Still, singer and writer Tom Ogden shows true songwriting chops, identifying himself as a master of hooks and earworms. With eminently relatable lyrics, “when I check my phone/ it’s always for you”, floating over a series of catchy and sensitive melodies, Blossoms’ finest work more than makes up for the filler.
7.5/10: Zander Sharp
SCOTT MATTHEWS — THE GREAT UNTOLD
While comparisons with Jeff Buckley must be pretty tiring to Matthews by now, 11 years on from his beautiful debut, Passing Strangers, they remain difficult to escape.
But whereas Buckley’s songs soar and challenge, Matthews’ similarly desolate vibrato brings with it more of a feeling of safety — like being wrapped in a warm blanket in front of your favourite black-and-white movie.
He now sounds like a man more comfortable in his skin, but a sad side-effect is the absence of the dark, brooding undertones that were so entrancing when he burst on to the scene.
Nonetheless, if breezy folk sounds are up your street, Song To A Wallflower is a good taster of what to expect, offering sweet and tender storytelling without reinventing the wheel.
5/10: Stephen Jones
Belfast Telegraph Digital