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Cast In Steel
Cast In Steel
Price: £5.99

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A largely decent return, but lacking quality control, 26 Sept. 2015
This review is from: Cast In Steel (Audio CD)
It was difficult to get too emotional once the last strains of 'Take On Me' had echoed around the Brighton Centre, one of the dates on a-ha's 'Ending On A High Note' UK tour in 2010. By their very nature, farewell tours generally attract a greater audience, and I always felt the so-called split was more a cynical marketing ploy rather than a desire to draw a permanent line under an extraordinary career. As guitarist and principal songwriter, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, confirmed to the band's official website: "The idea to end the band was forced. Not natural. It felt like a business decision to me. Just someone’s bright idea."

a-ha actually reformed less than a year later in August 2011, albeit in exceptional circumstances, performing 'Stay On These Roads' at the Oslo Spektrum, in remembrance of the victims of the Norway massacre the previous month. And, if there was ever a reminder needed of the band's enduring popularity in their native country, it came in November 2012 when they were awarded the Knights First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav for their outstanding contribution to music.

With an opportunity to perform again at 'Rock In Rio' (the scene of, arguably, their biggest triumph in 1991) too tempting to resist, the full scale of a-ha's reunion was eventually announced - somewhat nervously - at a press conference in March this year, with details of a 2-year plan encompassing a brand new studio album and tour.

During the conference, Paul flippantly observed that he'd been "super busy and released one song" (the excellent 'Manmade Lake') in five years. In fact, he'd also collaborated with Jimmy Gnecco on 'Weathervane' for the 'Headhunters' soundtrack in 2011, and contributed to albums by Linnea Dale and Hågen Rørmark. He also continued work on the next studio album for his other excellent band Savoy (who have to date released five studio albums and a retrospective), and other solo endeavours.

Magne Furuholmen, meanwhile, busied himself composing the soundtrack for last year's Norwegian film, 'Beatles', and also contributed to albums by Tini Flaat Mykland, Marius Beck, Martin Halla and the Backstreet Boys. In 2012, the 'supergroup' Mags formed with Coldplay's Guy Berryman, Apparatjik, released their second album, 'Square Peg In A Round Hole'. He has also continued his dual-career as a visual artist, and in 2013 released a compendium of his 20+ year career, titled 'In Transit.'

Morten Harket was equally as active, consolidating his career as a credible solo artist with a brace of fine albums. 'Out Of My Hands' (unfairly lambasted by the Norwegian media upon its release in 2011) picked up where 'Foot Of The Mountain' left off (retaining the core of its musicians and producers) and featured collaborations with Pet Shop Boys and Swedish band, Kent, By contrast, 2012's 'Brother' was a more organic and retrospective affair.

With the 30th anniversary of 'Take on Me' chart success fast approaching there is still plenty more to look forward to. Not only have fans been rather spoilt with a mouth-watering 5-disc edition of 'Hunting High and Low' , but there are also deluxe reissues of the band's mid-period albums, 'Stay On These Roads', 'East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon' and 'Memorial Beach' due for imminent release. A new biography of the band is also in the pipeline. And, of course, there's also a-ha's tenth studio release, 'Cast In Steel'...

Whilst the sun doesn't always shine on this new opus, it certainly glistens in places. Gone is the back-to-basics approach employed so successfully on the excellent 'Foot Of The Mountain' album, which - save for one Mags composition and a collaboration on the cut and paste title track - saw Paul restored as the primary songwriter. In its place is the more democratic template that fans have been accustomed to since their first reunion album in 2000 ('Minor Earth Minor Sky'), with each member making equal - though rather mixed - contributions to the new project.

The album starts in earnest with the excellent mid-tempo title track, surprisingly overlooked as a single in favour of the next track, the epic ballad, 'Under The Make-Up'. This was a brave choice of single, beautifully sung by Morten and effectively augmented by strings, but the chorus doesn't quite hit the mark for me. Arguably the biggest surprise of the album is the songwriting input from Morten - 'The Wake', already garnering heavy rotation on Radio 2, is a fine pop single with an excellent chorus, while the beautiful, shimmering 'Living At The End Of The World' is one of the highlights of the album. Mags' highlights include the full-on synthpop of 'Forest Fire' and the lyrically-biting 'Mythomania', ("You caught belief, like some disease/No words can save ya"), which has shades of De/Vision and some lovely OMD-esque choral flourishes. Somewhat surprisingly, the two weakest offerings come from Paul: There's the rather plodding 'Door Ajar' ("I hit my head on the pillow hard" - really?!) and the similarly over-produced 'Shadow Endeavours' which, though featuring a nice gliding Harket vocal, ultimately loses itself in its frenetic arrangement and fizzles out in the coda. Fortunately he redeems himself with the lovely Beatles-esque closing track, 'Goodbye Thompson'. And then there's the stunning 'She's Humming A Tune'. It's a track that dates to the band's early days - bookended by some vinyl crackles to emphasize its early 80s vintage - and seemingly cut from the same musical cloth as 'Scoundrel Days'.

Overall it's a worthy, if not entirely cohesive, addition to the catalogue; one that could have been tightened up with the loss of a couple of tracks. It's great to have them back. (7/10)
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 17, 2016 8:59 PM BST

Songs To Play
Songs To Play
Price: £9.99

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Return of the songwriter on the run, 18 Sept. 2015
This review is from: Songs To Play (Audio CD)
On the 18th September 2010 The Go-betweens' founder Robert Forster debuted a new song, "I'm So Happy For You", at the Brisbane Powerhouse. Unbeknownst to the audience enjoying his "15 Songs About Brisbane" show, it would be exactly five years until the release of his next solo album. The new album, simply titled "Songs to Play", is Forster's first release since 2008's largely sombre and cathartic collection, "The Evangelist", which was recorded following his friend and collaborator Grant McLennan's untimely death in 2006.

According to Forster: "The romantic plan was to stop when we were around the age of 60 and then come back at 70 and make our masterpiece. That was the plan - it didn't happen". In truth, before their premature demise, the Go-Betweens had already released at least three masterpieces - "Liberty Belle and the Diamond Express", "16 Lovers Lane" and their ARIA award-winning swansong, "Oceans Apart". And there's certainly a case for other albums being added to that list.

Whilst there was no urgency to record original material following The Evangelist, Forster has maintained a reasonably high profile since 2008. His undiminished zeal for music has been channelled in his Pascall prize-winning writings for The Monthly (some of which were later collected together and released as "The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll" book in 2010) and his production work for Brisbane bands Halfway (who have former Go-Between John Willsteed amongst their personnel) and, crucially, the John Steel Singers who would play a huge part in the next act of Forster's extraordinary career. Though never as prolific a writer as McLennan, Forster nevertheless managed to stockpile a reasonable number of songs during this hiatus - some of these were tested out on the road during occasional live performances, but the vast majority were whipped into shape at his Brisbane home.

In a press release, Forster said: "I had originally envisaged the gap between my last album and my new one as five years. I wanted time to pass, for there to be a cut-off. I knew what happened next would be the start of something new. Five years became seven." Forster's return to album recording was derailed by his revisiting of the Go-Betweens catalogue. Following 2012's "Quiet Heart" compilation Forster became heavily involved with the curation of the excellent "G is for Go-Betweens" box set, which was released by Domino to huge acclaim earlier this year - "it's a wonderful treasure box from another time and another place", Forster told Uncut magazine. Not only did he contribute 9000 words to the lavish booklet (intriguingly written in the third person), he has also been writing a memoir detailing his relationship with McLennan (titled "Grant and I") for release in the near future. And, such is the level of Forster and his former bands' popularity, the Go-Betweens actually had a Brisbane bridge named after them (opened in June 2010).

Former Go-Betweens members Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson (who both played on "The Evangelist") released a fine album, "Carrington Street", in 2012. Meanwhile, Thompson has recorded as Beachfield (see the excellent "Brighton Bothways") and reformed Custard (whose last album was released in 1999).

For the new album, Forster assembled a band featuring multi-instrumentalists Scott Bromiley and Luke McDonald from the John Steel Singers, drummer Matt Piele (who was part of Forster's touring band for "The Evangalist") and his wife Karen Bäumler who contributes violin and vocals. Bäumler had originally been part of the German band, Baby You Know, who had once supported the Go-Betweens in concert. Forster ended up guesting on their album, "To Live Is To Fly" and producing its follow-up, "Clear Water", in 1992. Bäumler reciprocated with vocals on his 1990 debut album, "Danger in the Past", and string arrangements on "The Friends of Rachel Worth". Bromiley and Bäumler also collaborated with Forster on an EP of covers, which was given away with limited copies of the "10 Rules of Rock and Roll" book in 2010.

The new album also features Forster's son Louis on guitar - his band, The Goon Sax, have themselves just released an excellent single, "Sometimes Accidentally".

Forster also made the decision to record the new album with analogue equipment, giving the album a real live feel - it was recorded at Wild Mountain Sound, Mount Nebo, a short drive from Forster's Queensland home. The result, "Songs to Play", is the sound of a man refreshed and reinvigorated after a lengthy absence. Forster told one journalist that: "It feels like my first album because seven years is such a long time. I find it enormously exciting to be recording again." Sound wise, it can be pitched somewhere between the elegant poetic pop of "Danger in the Past" and the more playful Edwyn Collins-produced "Warm Nights" - fascinatingly, "Warm Nights 2" had been considered as an album title.

Highlights include the opener, "Learn to Burn", with a memorable riff driving the song; its lyrics ostensibly dealing with Forster's impatience ("I've got no desire to be the fourth person in line"). It's the perfect opener and wonderfully augmented by Bäumler's violin (recalling "Tallulah"-period Go-Betweens). "Let Me Imagine You" is a beautifully played and well crafted pop song, and the perfect first single. "A Poet Walks" is arguably the centrepiece of the album, featuring some wonderful lyrics, great chord changes and mariachi horns - kind of like Arthur Lee's Love jamming with Bowie, but with a bit of Sparks thrown in!

Elsewhere there's the ephemeral "And I Knew", a beautifully plaintive song that follows a simple chord progression (G, D and C I think). And, consciously defying Forster's second rule of rock and roll ("The second-last song on every album is the weakest"), there's the brilliantly-titled "I Love Myself (And I Always Have)", which showcases another fine riff and some brilliantly whimsical lyrics, whilst sonically tipping its hat off to "Walk On The Wild Side".

Less immediate, musically speaking, is "Songwriters On The Run" which features a wonderful narrative from Forster, seemingly utilising jail-breaking songwriters as a metaphor for his and McLennan's post-Queensland musical adventures ("they both broke out of jail and walked quickly to the nearest hill...and they had their songs to play"). And then there's the quirky and experimental "Love Is Where It Is" which will no doubt divide fans with its bossa nova rhythms and jazz leanings.

Overall this is a confident and assured return; lyrically excellent and well performed by his new band who enrich the 10-song opus with a breadth of invention and texture. A poet walks and the path is bright.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 19, 2015 4:43 PM BST

World Peace Is None Of Your Business
World Peace Is None Of Your Business
Offered by MediaMerchants
Price: £10.35

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Human sewage swept inside, 25 July 2014
Since the solo career high of 1994's 'Vauxhall and I', Morrissey has been delighting and frustrating fans in equal measure; unnecessarily tampering with a rich back catalogue, in addition to releasing a slew of disjointed and - whisper it - over-rated albums. And now, five years on from the decidedly leaden 'Years of Refusal' comes the delightfully titled 'World Peace Is None Of Your Business', an album and a half's worth of new material. This is of course on the assumption that you opt for the deluxe edition, and I strongly recommend that you do - in my opinion, some of the best material from the bountiful sessions in France has been relegated to the second disc. Of course, this is something that Morrissey has been guilty of in the past, primarily his post-'Maladjusted' output ('Mexico', 'Ganglord', 'The Never-Played Symphonies', et al).

The standard 12-track album begins promisingly with the politically-charged title track, but is immediately followed by the disappointing 'Neal Cassady Drops Dead', which to my ears blots an otherwise reasonably sequenced album (maybe 'Scandinavia' could have slotted in more effectively here?). The album gets back on track with the epic 'I'm Not A Man', arguably the centrepiece of the album, and the brooding 'Istanbul'. 'Earth Is The Loneliest Planet', which to my ears contains some rather discordant drumming, is Morrissey-by-numbers and should have been relegated to the second disc. What follows is a triumvirate of classic Morrissey tracks: 'Staircase at the University', which boasts a delightful flamenco-fuelled coda; 'The Bullfighter Dies', an ephemeral blood-soaked slice of fun; and the radio-friendly 'Kiss Me A Lot', which has the potential to cross over to a wider audience. The tempo shifts with the excellent 'Smiler with Knife', before the album annoyingly loses its way again with 'Kick The Bride Down The Aisle', another track that could have been demoted to disc two. The plaintive 'Mountjoy', featuring some simple yet effective acoustic guitar, is one of the highlights of the album. 'Oboe Concerto', which musically recalls solo Neil Finn, closes the album. Of the bonus tracks, the beautiful 'Drag The River', the keyboard-heavy 'Forgive Someone' and the aforementioned 'Scandinavia' are the pick of the bunch and could have easily made it on to the standard album (thankfully the digital age allows us to do our own sequencing!).

There has been much criticism about the quality of Morrissey's lyric writing on his 10th solo album, particularly in the wake of last year's highly successful Autobiography, but what can't be overlooked is the quality of the production and musicianship on this album, the first since 'Kill Uncle' (1991) not to feature a songwriting credit from Alain Whyte. Morrissey's vocals in particular are stunning, but credit must also go to the players who have added a variety of textures to the tracks, making it one of Morrissey's most musically satisfying albums in years.

Moods, Memories and Other Manoeuvres
Moods, Memories and Other Manoeuvres
by Julia Kneale
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Writing down meaningful words, 25 July 2014
Julia Kneale was a key figure in the early history of Liverpudlian synthpop legends, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, who emerged in the late 1970s amidst a post-punk scene that included such luminaries as Ian McCulloch, Julian Cope, Pete Burns and Holly Johnson, all bustling for attention in the now iconic social hub known as Eric's in world famous Mathew Street. Julia vividly recalls her time in The Id (something of an embryonic OMD) and her courtship with moody front man Andy McCluskey, a fellow student at art college. She also discusses the inspiration for Julia's Song, which eventually appeared on OMD's debut album in 1980.

Elsewhere in this slight, but extremely engaging and honest memoir, Julia eloquently writes about her childhood and other key moments in her life, including the deeply affecting divorce of her parents, the tragic death of her brother and the sad decline of her mother, who eventually succumbed to dementia. Clearly something of a cathartic exercise, Julia lays many ghosts rest - some of them quite literally! Julia comes across as a compassionate and sensitive woman, but also witty, well read and slightly eccentric; her endearing personality permeating every page in this well written book. It is bookended by a foreword from Andy McCluskey and a selection of poems, including Julia's Song. Highly recommended.

Autobiography (Penguin Modern Classics)
Autobiography (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price: £3.99

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life within self-deprecating bones and skin, 19 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It was roughly a decade ago when Morrissey announced that he was writing his autobiography. As a Smiths/Morrissey fan of over 20 years I was excited to hear this news but the project was obviously put on the backburner as Morrissey was then in the throes of enjoying a second wave of success as a solo artist after a period of self-imposed exile.

Certainly much has been made of this tome's bitchy tone and Morrissey's eagerness to settle old scores. Yes, the section about `Joyce Iscariot''s lawsuit against Morrissey and Johnny Marr is lengthy, but is nonetheless extremely intriguing, and the erstwhile drummer emerges with little credit. Sure, Morrissey gives credit where credit is due when writing about the Smiths' rhythm section earlier in the book, but after reading about the 1996 court case in painstaking, unexpurgated detail, you come to the sad realisation that the Smiths featuring the classic line-up will never reform. Disappointingly, little is made of the band's serendipitous beginnings and creative processes; Morrissey instead uses the opportunity to admonish Geoff Travis and Rough Trade's general ineptitude during the band's short tenure.

Elsewhere, Morrissey berates the NME and their allegations of racism against him in the early 90s, writing in almost paranoid terms about the music weekly's erroneous accusations. But it's his utter contempt for the law and the `legalised theft' that fuels much of his vitriol, and you can understand why he eventually relocates to LA. Former managers, band mates and collaborators (particularly Siouxsie Sioux) do not escape his wrath, although, conversely, he does write affectionately about the late, great, Kirsty MacColl and fellow animal rights sympathiser Chrissie Hynde. Yes there's a certain degree of misanthropy permeating this book, but Morrissey's love of the arts certainly shines trough, particularly early on in the book when he fondly recalls his love of film and 45s in the 60s and, of course, his much-reported musical epiphany upon seeing the androgynous New York Dolls in the mid 70s. His writes less fondly - and rather candidly - about his childhood; highlighting in particular his contempt for the belligerent ghouls during his schooling. He also writes freely about the depression that has plagued him throughout his life, his social estrangement, loneliness and struggles on the dole.

If you're expecting revelations about Morrissey's sexuality, they are not to be found in this fascinating book; instead, like much of his songwriting, there are just teasing glimpses. Nothing in this book suggests that Morrissey is anything other than an extremely complex individual; at times deeply sensitive and perceptive, and frequently acerbic, self-deprecating, intelligent and witty. This is an extremely engaging, detailed and beautifully written autobiography, and fully deserving of its Penguin Classics tag.

Sick Seconds [Explicit]
Sick Seconds [Explicit]
Price: £7.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The triumphant return of Kon Kan's Barry Harris, 10 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Sick Seconds are a Canadian 5-piece alternative rock band fronted by the Juno Award winning Barry Harris, who is best remembered both as the man behind Kon Kan (who scored a huge international hit with the sample-heavy I Beg Your Pardon in 1989) and as one half of Thunderpuss who had a string of hit remixes on Billboard's dance chart in the late nineties and early noughties.

Harris effectively came out of retirement from the music business in 2011 and began jamming with his long time friend Anton Cook (formerly of King Apparatus), who had provided drums on Kon Kan's raw - and extremely rare - third album "Vida!..." in 1993. This eventually led to the formation of a fully-fledged band in 2012 - in their words, "an eclectic group of guys brought together by friends and a shared passion for music." Completing the line-up are Steve Wood (bass and vocals), Jesse Long (guitar and vocals) and Dan Volchok (vocals, keys and guitar). Also contributing vocals are Simone Denny and Kimberley Wetmore, two mainstays of the Toronto music scene who had previously worked with Harris on several post-Kon Kan projects (Outta Control, Killer Bunnies, etc)

This, their debut album, was recorded earlier this year at the world-famous Orange Lounge in Toronto and released independently. Indeed this is quite a low-key release, but it's certainly deserving of a far wider audience. Whilst there are a range of influences (blues, alternative rock, funk, etc) permeating this strong 8-track set, the real revelation here is the songwriting return of Barry Harris, who has penned 7 of its tracks. Significantly, 3 of these tracks were co-written by Bob Mitchell, his old writing partner during the Kon Kan era (Mitchell had also written Cheap Trick's number one hit, "The Flame" in the late 1980s). "Chain Me" is pure gold, with a memorable guitar refrain and huge chorus; and underpinned by some highly effective synth work that evokes early Gary Numan! "The Bus", meanwhile, sees Harris reflecting on his musical journey and being "lost in a land of make believe". It features some beautiful finger-picked guitar and, arguably, Harris's best-ever vocal performance.

Harris wears his heart on his sleeve throughout this highly reflective album. On "She Couldn't Help Herself", Harris pays tribute to a close friend who sadly succumbed to depression a few years ago, while "Life Beats Ya Up" sees Harris reflecting on the love that saved him during his self-imposed exile from the music industry. By contrast, "The Only Lonely One" is positively fuelled with vitriol (a stab at a former music executive, perhaps...?). "Headin' to LA", featuring a memorable Personal Jesus-esque guitar lick is more fun-filled, with Harris ruminating about his Thunderpuss days and West Coast adventure. And scene-setting opening track "Something From Nothing" clearly depicts Harris's new found optimism and zeal for life.

Sandwiched between the Harris tracks is Volchok's double-header of "Build A World" and "Hey Are You Listening", a neat slice of Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired funk. Overall, this is a highly enjoyable album - terrific musicianship and just the right balance of melancholia and positivity in the lyrics. (8/10)

English Electric (Deluxe)
English Electric (Deluxe)
Price: £9.99

53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful pop mosaic from the original Synth Britannia duo, 10 April 2013
Since Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys announced their reformation at a fan convention in 2005, OMD have enjoyed something of a career renaissance. Reunited along with Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes, the classic 4-piece performed their 1981 masterpiece, "Architecture & Morality", in full for the first time on 2007's highly successful tour. With the synthpop pioneers back in vogue, and with long overdue critical acclaim for the albums created during the band's Imperial phase in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was fresh impetus to deliver some new product, and this eventually materialised in 2010...

In truth, McCluskey had been stockpiling material since 1996's "Universal", the last of a trio of `solo' albums that McCluskey had recorded under the OMD moniker for Virgin Records. "History Of Modern" was essentially another solo work, with Humphreys committed to other projects (such as his work with partner Claudia Brucken in OneTwo). Disappointingly it was a rather unbalanced affair, with outtakes ("Sister Marie Says") nestling alongside Atomic Kitten rejects (see the rather strained "If You Want It") and a smattering of new compositions that had been written by McCluskey after his commitment to other girl acts such as The Genie Queen had lapsed. Significantly, however, Humphreys collaborated with McCluskey on the album's two best cuts - "Green" (originally demoed by McCluskey in the early 90s) and the enchanting "New Holy Ground", the track that came the closest to mirroring that classic OMD sound. Fast-forward 3 years and we have 12th album, "English Electric", with both McCluskey and Humphreys pulling the choral strings...

It is OMD's fourth album, "Dazzle Ships", that provides the blueprint for this lovingly crafted album, with sound tapestries interspersed throughout the assured 12-track set. "Please be Seated", the first of four sound collages, starts "English Electric", PA announcement style (with tantalising echoes of "Radio Waves" and "Introducing Radios") before the first song proper, "Metroland", begins its 7-minute-plus synthpop odyssey. Picking up where "The Right Side" left off on the previous album, it is another unashamed doffing of the cap to Kraftwerk (see "Europe Endless"). The track (much like The Human League's excellent "Night People") was cruelly edited and released as the album's first single in March this year. Third track "Night Café" maintains the momentum, with a teasing intro that evokes their first hit "Messages", with lyrics inspired by the work of American painter Edward Hopper (who had influenced the sleeve design for 1985's "Crush") and intriguingly described by Humphreys as "Souvenir meets She's Leaving".

With the previous tracks being steeped so evidently in the past, by contrast, "The Future Will Be Silent" is a more experimental affair, featuring a whispered vocal from McCluskey, robotic voices, Kraftwerk-like melodic interspersions and even a hint of dubstep, as if to emphasize that the 21st century version of OMD is much more than a nostalgia trip. "Helen of Troy", a collaboration with Greek act Fotonovella, is more traditional OMD fare, allowing former history student McCluskey to indulge the listener with a semi-sequel to OMD's classic brace of "Joan of Arc" tracks, with his paean to the mythological Greek warrior (previously immortalized in Icehouse's excellent "Trojan Blue" from 1982's "Primitive Man"). Bearing rhythmical similarities to the aforementioned "Joan of Arc", and containing the duo's trademark choral flourishes, this is classic OMD. Track six, the beautiful "Our System", continues in the same 'old school' vein; a slow building choral-heavy workout featuring samples of NASA Voyager recordings and some effective cascading drums from Mal Holmes in the coda.

While McCluskey's insistence on ostensibly using the previous album to 'clear the decks' rendered the project more OCD than OMD at times, "English Electric" benefits hugely from its compositions being conceived within a narrower timeframe, making it a far more cohesive affair. The one exception is "Kissing The Machine", a collaboration with former Kraftwerk meister Karl Bartos that was originally released under the guise of Elektric Music in 1993. Humphreys has transformed the electro ballad, giving it a more uptempo and contemporary sheen; even enlisting the services of partner Claudia Brucken to provide the spoken word vocal mid-song. While many fans have bemoaned the track's inclusion, it does fit the album's retro-modern template. And it's a great song that deserves a wider audience. Fans of Kraftwerk (and indeed this record) would also be advised to check out Karl Bartos's excellent new album, "Off The Record".

It was "Decimal", another musical mosaic that offered OMD fans their first taste of the new album earlier this year. Playing like a 21st Century "Time Zones", this curious soundbite perfectly bridges the gap between the previous track and the simply gorgeous ballad "Stay With Me", which features a rare Humphreys vocal (his first lead on an OMD album since "(Forever) Live And Die" in 1986). Another single contender.

"Dresden" (wisely chosen as the album's second single) is structurally similar to "Sister Marie Says" (itself something of a musical cousin of "Enola Gay"), and further enhances the album's classic OMD status, with its driving bass line and a monstrous synth motif that has the potential to be as ubiquitous as the one that permeates Muse's "Starlight".

Arguably the album's two strangest tracks are reserved for the climax. "Atomic Ranch", the penultimate track, boasts cacophonous sound effects and, ostensibly, a statement about modern consumerism. The ephemeral - and aptly titled - "Final Song" is further challenging. Sonically sounding like a revisit of old b-sides "Annex" and "Navigation", it features a typically abstract lyric from McCluskey, while some unexpected near-operatic female vocals add an unusual flavour to the mix.

Thirty-five years since their formation, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have crafted an album that comfortably nestles alongside the best work created by the core duo of McCluskey and Humphreys. Whilst it sometimes feels a bit clinical in its execution, this is a beautifully produced (and perfectly sequenced) set of songs, with an attention to detail lacking from previous albums. A real surprise in fact. (9/10)
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 24, 2013 5:51 PM BST

Price: £9.92

15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Credo-bility restored, 21 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Credo (Audio CD)
It has been ten years since the iconic Sheffield combo last blessed our airwaves with new material, but then The Human League have hardly been renowned for their productivity during their 30 year plus career. The last decade has seen mainstays Oakey, Catherall and Sulley content to pedal the lucrative nostalgia circuit, sharing stages with 80s embarrassments such as T'Pau and Curiosity Killed The Cat (see "Here and Now" franchise). It's only been in recent years that there appears to have been a conscious attempt to restore some credibility to the Synth Britannia legends' tarnished reputation, with the "Steel City" and "Dare" tours.

If "Credo" doesn't exactly match the pioneering heights of their opening salvo, the standard-setting "Reproduction-Travelogue-Dare" triumvirate, it does nevertheless complete another satisfying trilogy of albums that started with 1995's "Octopus." Arguably the triplet of albums released in between ("Hysteria", "Crash" and "Romantic") represent the synthpop outfits' critical and commercial nadir, despite heralding some rare moments of brilliance (see "Human" and "Heart Like a Wheel")

Incredibly, "Credo" could well be the League's most consistent and accessible album since the multi-selling "Dare". Gone are the ephemeral instrumentals and sound experiments that punctuated much of previous album "Secrets"; instead, this focused and assured opus contains 11 well produced and contemporary all-vocal tracks that will appeal to fans of every facet of the HL's decade-traversing career.

What the album does lack is a memorable and inspiring killer single - every HL album has one (or more) of these; from the ubiquitous cross-generational radio favourite "Don't You Want Me", to the political snapshots of "The Lebanon", through to the pure pop of "Tell Me When" and even "All I Ever Wanted" with its hilarious rhyming couplets. The extremely repetitive "Night People", though (particularly in its unforgivably butchered radio edit), is certainly no classic. However, the delightful elongated album version is a signposting encapsulation of the HL sound, a delightfully kooky concoction of multi-layered synthpop and, quite frankly, bonkers lyrics (only the idiosyncratic Phil Oakey could get away with such grammatical faux pas as the rhyming of houses with mouses!).

Whilst "Night People" is more in keeping with HL's trademark pop sensibilities, current single "Never Let Me Go", by contrast, has more in common with the funk leanings of 1986's ill-conceived "Crash" album. With its weak chorus and discordant vocal autotuning, it's a disappointing single choice, and not really representative of the album as a whole. In Germany the rather pedestrian "Egomaniac" has been released as a single, a rather lame track that, along with "Get Together," falls into a `League-by-numbers' category.

Whilst the singles have received mixed plaudits, elsewhere there is much to enjoy on "Credo." There are plenty of nods to the past, with "Single Minded" seemingly cut from the same cloth as "(Keep Feeling) Fascination", while album lengthy closer "When the Stars Start to Shine" ironically evokes some early Heaven 17. The transient "Into The Night" is a real grower, while "Electric Shock" and "Breaking the Chains" stand out as other highlights with their soaring choruses and inventive instrumentation. Elsewhere, fan favourite "Sky" and "Privilege" employ great narratives from Oakey; the latter the closest the group get to diverting from "Credo"'s formulaic pop sheen, with its grubbily rapped tale of avarice and rich salver of stuttering synths and bleeps.

As comebacks from the giants of a bygone era go, "Credo" sits somewhere in between OMD's disjointed "History of Modern" and Duran Duran's career-resurrecting "All You Need Is Now"; it's a cohesive, if slightly underwhelming, collection of songs that consolidate the HL's reputation for producing polished, catchy synthpop.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2011 8:51 PM GMT

Lights And Offerings
Lights And Offerings
Offered by DVDMAX-UK
Price: £10.11

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Washing over me now, the immaculate sound, 1 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Lights And Offerings (Audio CD)
Lights and Offerings is the excellent self-produced album by promising young Brighton synthpop quartet MIRRORS. In a modern era that has spawned the likes of HURTS, DELPHIC, WHITE LIES, LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX, MIRRORS are, contrary to some recent criticisms, much more than mere revivalists of the classic Synth Britannia period. Certainly this much revered epoch permeates much of this debut opus. "Searching In The Wilderness" breathes "New Life" into Vince Clarke-era DEPECHE MODE, the equally fast-paced "Somewhere Strange" evokes classic NEW ORDER, while "Hide and Seek", one of the best singles of 2010, recalls early OMD.

"Those who were disappointed by ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK's comeback album History Of Modern may find exactly what they are looking for in Lights and Offerings..." - The Electricity Club

While more vocally akin to the likes of THE CURE and THE WILD SWANS, the spirit of early OMD is infused in much of this album's 10 tracks, with its strong melodic dynamic, counteracted by a yearning melancholia that characterizes much of the aforementioned Wirral act's best work. But MIRRORS are more support act than tribute act and, following a support slot with DELPHIC early in their short career, were invited to open up for OMD on the European leg of the "History Of Modern" tour last year. Visually the suit-clad foursome depict the classic KRAFTWERK line-up, but live they are a different beast altogether, with frontmen James and Ally adding an uncomfortable yet compelling intensity to their rich cornucopia of electronic sounds.

Other highlights include the now familiar singles "Look at Me" and "Ways to an End", and there is no lack of ambition on the album's 10-minute closer, "Secrets" a 3-part fusion of melody, noise ambience and epic instrumentation. The only disappointment for me is "Something on your Mind", a cover of an obscure country song which doesn't quite hit the heights, but this doesn't spoil an otherwise very enjoyable collection of songs.

Savoy Songbook Vol. 1
Savoy Songbook Vol. 1
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paul Waaktaar-Savoy's 'other' band, 7 Sept. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Savoy is the band Paul Waaktaar-Savoy formed with his wife Lauren in the wake of a-ha's six-year recording hiatus in 1994. This 2007 double set comprises a disc of 7 re-recorded Savoy tracks from the period 1994-2004 and 3 new tracks, while the second disc is a straight `best of' covering the aforementioned 10-year period. During this period the band released 5 albums in their native country (Norway), winning critical acclaim as well as several awards. This long overdue set is an attempt to bring their blend of 60's-influenced indie rock to a wider audience.

I am a big fan of Savoy and Waaktaar-Savoy's songwriting, but this is a somewhat confused retrospective; the reworked tracks rarely improve on the original versions, and the track selection on the second disc isn't, in my opinion, an accurate representation of the band's back catalogue (where is "I Still Cry"?). Perhaps one disc (with the 3 new recordings) would have sufficed.

Whilst arguably it's been something of a missed opportunity, there are, however, some brilliant songs on this compilation. "Velvet" you will already know from its later incarnation on a-ha's comeback album, "Minor Earth Major Sky"; "Grind You Down" is an unashamed Beatles-esque pop song with a memorable guitar hook, while "You could've told me" is quite simply one of the most beautiful songs that Waaktaar-Savoy has written in his prolific 25-year career. Of the new songs, the gloriously catchy "Karma Boomerang" single is pick of the bunch.

a-ha fans will certainly find much to enjoy here. Waaktaar-Savoy is a more-than-capable singer, but opinion is divided on Lauren's sickly-sweet vocals. However, these can sometimes enrich certain compositions, particularly when used in tandem with Waaktaar-Savoy's rougher rock tones. "Whalebone", which lyrically recycles parts of the a-ha song "Locust", and the aforementioned "Karma Boomerang" are good examples of this.

If you like this 2-CD set, it's likely that you're going to enjoy the band's other 5 studio albums. If you're looking for a good place to start, I would highly recommend debut "Mary Is Coming" (1996) and "Mountains of Time" (1999).

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