Music veterans Sir Paul McCartney and Lenny Kravitz are among the big names dropping new albums this week, as well as British space rock band Spiritualized, who release their eighth record, And Nothing Hurt.
PAUL MCCARTNEY — EGYPT STATION
Even though Sir Paul McCartney has absolutely nothing to prove, on Egypt Station he sometimes sounds like an older musician eager to compete with the young bucks.
Fuh You, in particular, a shamelessly upbeat party-starter, wouldn’t sound out of place being delivered by George Ezra.
The album’s best moments, however, come when he sticks to what he knows best: the descending chord structure of Dominoes and wistful lyrics of Confidante are vintage Macca, and demonstrate his unparalleled ear for the sweetest of melodies.
Most of the tracks, which are heavy with reverb, barrelling piano and unexpected sitar breaks, can’t help but recall the Beatles, and sometimes, such as on the messy Despite Repeated Warnings, McCartney flirts dangerously with self-parody.
But even when he does tend towards the self-indulgent, after 50-odd years as one of the most influential artists in the business, he’s earned a little indulgence.
PAUL SIMON — IN THE BLUE LIGHT
For his 14th solo album, Paul Simon has breathed new life into 10 of his favourite songs from his extensive back catalogue.
Some of the new versions have such wildly different arrangements they take on new character traits and are almost new songs in their own right.
A comforting source of familiarity comes from Simon’s unmistakable, near-spoken vocals. While still strong after all these years, they have subtly aged to add to the reflective mood of this album. The retrospective nature of this project seems poignant, given that Simon is set to finish his farewell tour. Interview, right.
LENNY KRAVITZ — RAISE VIBRATION
Contrary to popular belief and medical science, David Bowie and Prince did not actually die in the Great Talent Cull of 2016.
They have, instead, been locked away in Lenny Kravitz’s basement to collaborate on Raise Vibration, his 11th full-length album. The duo’s influence is no more keenly felt than on Who Really Are The Monsters?, a hybrid of their respective Fame and New Power Generation eras that sets the tone for the rest of the record.
Despite his undeniable talent as a rock guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Kravitz’s star has never quite recaptured the heights of 20 years ago, when hits Fly Away and American Woman were omnipresent.
Raise Vibration is classic Kravitz — funk, blues and power chords. There are a couple of dud turns (Here To Love and Johnny Cash do not sit kindly among the rip-roaring rock buffet), but the record — all 60-plus minutes of it — will please those already familiar both with his work and that of Kravitz’s idols.
PER GESSLE — SMALL TOWN TALK
Chances are that you know more Per Gessle songs than you realise. For any Gen X-er they were unavoidable, soundtracking era-defining movies, school discos, first snogs and forlorn crushes.
Gessle was the songwriting wizard behind Roxette, a shaggy-haired, guitar-toting sidekick to Marie Fredriksson. Fredriksson, with her unmistakable blonde crop and bombastic voice, caught much of the attention but Gessle crafted the Swedish band’s sound.
The hits have continued to flow in his native Sweden, and they largely now come under his own name.
Opener There’s A Place is full of charm, the title track is a tearjerker featuring Nick Lowe, and the highlight comes with the elegant The Finest Prize. Overall it’s less of an illicit joyride though, and more an album that plays by the rules.
SPIRITUALIZED — AND NOTHING HURT
It’s been six years since Spiritualized’s last album, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light.
While working on And Nothing Hurt, Jason Pierce hinted that this may be the group’s final fling. Since splitting up the influential Spacemen 3, Spiritualized have released some of my favourite music of all time, but even the most ardent fan would have to admit it’s been years since the last truly great album, 2001’s Let it Come Down. Is the new album a fitting epitaph? Sadly, no, it isn’t.
The cosmic soundscapes of those first few albums are still a distant memory, and And Nothing Hurt is in large part pretty MOR, featuring lots of mid-paced, slightly slushy ballads. Here’s to hoping Pierce can break out of the corner he’s painted himself into with Spiritualized and he can get back to making exciting music again.