Albums of the week: Jessie Ware to Tegan and Sara
British singer-songwriter Jessie Ware is releasing her third studio album, Glasshouse, while reissues from Eighties icons George Michael and The Smiths will please fans new and old.
GEORGE MICHAEL — LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE/MTV UNPLUGGED (RE-ISSUE)
Listen Without Prejudice (Volume One) showcases George Michael at his very best. You get the to-die-for pop hooks alongside his more reflective soul and jazz cuts, all written straight from Michael’s often troubled heart.
The confident strut of Freedom 90, with one of the Nineties most recognisable call to the dance floor intros, is the pop high (although, bafflingly, the single only got to number 28).
The majority of the album is at more of a mid-pace as Michael strove to create something more personal and break away from his Eighties pop persona. The re-issue includes the first ever release of his stunning 1996 MTV Unplugged performance, taking the best songs from this album and his masterpiece Older, and he proves he really was the real deal live.
Michael truly was one of kind and this is essential.
JESSIE WARE — GLASSHOUSE
Five years have skipped by since Jessie Ware emerged from post-dubstep fringes with the sublime Devotion LP. Its full-bodied heft drew comparisons to Sade and Whitney Houston, and instantly the Londoner stood out, not destined for great things but already achieving them. Throughout Devotion and its follow-up Tough Love, Ware wrote of soaring thrills and bitter endings of love affairs, never ringing anything but true.
The familiar cadence of Ware’s classically soulful voice dominates Glasshouse, from soft swing to moments of cascading drama. She recorded this album soon after the birth of her daughter, and if recent motherhood and marriage have been major life milestones, the performer in Ware has remained firmly in her stride.
Opener Midnight is a classic Ware ballad, tip-toeing a slinky line before blossoming into something greater. Alone, the touchstone torch song, meditates on the imperfections that define our relationships but cannot destroy them, before Selfish Love almost echoes Madonna’s La Isla Bonita. Ed Sheeran co-wrote the closer Sam, but this is Ware’s show.
TEGAN AND SARA — THE CON X: COVERS
Think of this as Tegan, Sara and friends, on this celebration of 10 years since the identical twin sisters released their album, The Con.
Their favourite artists were invited to record versions of the album tracks, adding their own unique touches. The general feel is laidback and atmospheric but Back In Your Head, covered twice here by Ryan Adams and Cyndi Lauper, ramps up the energy. Mykki Blanco’s cover of Knife Going In is spine-chilling and best listened to with the lights on.
Highlights also include Muna, Shura and Sara Bareilles, who stamp their identities on the songs. The album’s proceeds go towards the Tegan and Sara Foundation, which raises money for self-identified women and girls in the LGBTQ community.
HOGNI — TWO TRAINS
Previously seen as one of the twin synth-wielding forces behind GusGus and as an avant-garde indie-rocker with Hjaltalin, this debut solo release finds Hogni Egilsson mixing his forward-thinking style with a nod to the history of his native Iceland.
The Two Trains of the title are Minor and Pioner, which played a central role in the development of the capital city Reykjavik a century ago and are the only two ever to travel within the country, and the album blends Iceland’s choral traditions into a sound drawing on the electronica of GusGus.
Crash is an early highlight while Break-up shares its ominous pounding instrumentation. Loved-up Moon Pitcher is a striking contrast and Enn Naeda Ord brings proceedings to a tranquil and beautiful conclusion.
THE SMITHS — THE QUEEN IS DEAD (DELUXE EDITION)
When Morrissey lamented the ‘Re-issue! Re-package!’ culture of the music industry on The Smiths’ swansong album Strangeways Here We Come three decades ago, he perhaps did not anticipate one day staring down the barrel of, erm, a 31st anniversary pressing of his band’s seminal work, The Queen Is Dead.
In short, this deluxe edition reissue comes with plenty of extra tracks — no ‘tacky badge’, at least not this time — 13 of which feature on the sonically delightful addition Live In Boston.
Elsewhere, demos and alternate versions offer the musical equivalent of seeing before-they-were-famous shots of a celebrity crush — interesting, but not what you originally fell for. Some might wonder whether they will live to hear the end of the extended opening title track and others will rejoice at the unpolished glimpses of genius at work.
Make no mistake, that scraping noise is The Smiths’ barrel being taken round the back for another extraction. But this re-release proves the cult four-piece is the gift that keeps giving.