Albums of the week: From Panic! At The Disco to Nine Inch Nails
American rockers Panic! At The Disco return with a highly pleasing new album, while award-winning singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha finally unleashes her debut — and there’s no doubt it was worth the wait.
PANIC! AT THE DISCO — PRAY FOR THE WICKED
After a short break, Brendon Urie and his ever-changing line-up are back with their sixth studio album. The rich tones that Urie has been sharing on Broadway in the musical Kinky Boots are welcoming from the first bar of the first song. Overall, Pray For The Wicked has a very retro feel, retreading the footsteps left by I Write Sins Not Tragedies, but expanding with a rounder production.
High Hopes is about aiming to be the best you can be, while Roaring 20s is a satirical look at fame’s fickle nature (a similar feel to Fall Out Boy’s Arms Race with a souk-style paso doble).
On the outside Panic! At The Disco have a bloody good pop record, but with continued listening it becomes a layered discussion on life in your 30s — questioning if your life is everything you expected it to be as the world around us changes.
NINE INCH NAILS — BAD WITCH
Nine Inch Nails conclude their experimental trilogy that began with EPs Not The Actual Events in 2016 and ADD VIOLENCE in 2017 with what Trent Reznor insists is a full-length album, but at a svelte six tracks and 30 minutes in length is somewhere in between.
Nevertheless, not a second is wasted in this pulsating handful of brooding soundscapes. Even after 30 years in the business, Reznor maintains his place at the cutting edge. Bad Witch features tracks as weird and atonal as Ahead Of Ourselves, which sounds like dance music as imagined by a Dalek, and Play The Goddamned Part, which combines a nightmarish bass riff with jazz saxophone.
Like everything NIN produces, Bad Witch is packed with confrontational and not entirely pleasant music, but makes for compelling, if uneasy, listening.
BEBE REXHA — EXPECTATIONS
It’s hard to believe that someone as accomplished as Bebe Rexha is only just releasing her debut album.
The US singer-songwriter found fame in 2013 when she wrote the Grammy-winning Eminem and Rihanna hit Monster, and since then she has collaborated with Louis Tomlinson, Nicki Minaj, David Guetta and Rita Ora among many, many others. The 28-year-old diva-in-the-making has a voice that ventures into Britney Spears-esque territory, and the song writing skill and musicality of someone with decades in the industry. The album feels refreshingly authentic, and is characterised by how unashamedly pop it is while being strikingly forward-thinking.
From Don’t Get Any Closer, best described as a haunting, rock/electro-tainted pop ballad-lite, to her catchy hit with country duo Florida Georgia Line, Meant To Be, and the funky yet melodic Self Control, Rexha has clearly worked hard, and the result has the desired effect.
MIKE SHINODA — POST TRAUMATIC
In July it will be a year since Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington died, and bandmate Shinoda’s album Post Traumatic is a fitting tribute.
Shinoda has said the 16-track album is “a journey out of grief and darkness, not into grief and darkness”. And listening from beginning to end is like going on that journey with him.
There is the rawness of the opening track, Place To Start, with excerpts of voice messages of support left for Shinoda after Bennington’s death, and the potency of the lyrics in Over Again: “You say goodbye over and over again”. Those distinctive Linkin Park rhythms and melodies, the ebb and flow of their songs that fans have come to know, are still there throughout the album. But Shinoda has added a new dimension — a mix of his musical talents and searing honesty that make this album poignant and oh-so powerful.
GIRLS NAMES — STAINS ON SILENCE
Girls Names venture into darker territory with their fourth album, a minimalist, gothic, synth-heavy effort recalling early PIL and the Banshees as well as the more modern sounds of bands on the Blackest Ever Black label such as Tropic of Cancer.
Shorn of the urgency of previous efforts, the four-piece Belfast band’s sound is improved with more space to play with. Waves of 80s synth, drum machines, and angular guitars are dominated by Claire Miskimmin’s monotonous, brilliant bass-playing. Girls Names improve with every record. The first song, 25, is as miserably beautiful an opener as you could ever hope for from any record. The chord changes move from sad to sadder — perfection.