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March mini-rambles

24/03/2013

March has had its share of album releases, but none of them had such a huge amount of personal impact or importance that it would’ve warranted a full-on ramble attack. Not to mention that I’ve been so super-busy this month that any larger rambles have had to step aside in any case (such excuses can be forgiven, I hope, for a hobby blog like this). Thus, a set of short rambles is an appropriate way to cap off the month. Beneath the cut: Bowie, Depeche Mode, Sakanaction, Suede.

DAVID BOWIE – THE NEXT DAY

bowie_thenextdayIt’s commendable in a certain way that Bowie’s grand return comes with no agendas, concepts or overlying themes that you’d expect the unexpected return of an older artist be packed with. The Next Day sees Bowie simply letting his hair down and enjoying writing and performing music with no pressure from the outside world. The ten years between his last recording and this haven’t changed the old man one bit – Bowie is still very much Bowie and The Next Day slots naturally in his discography. However, this also means that it carries the same flaw Bowie’s albums have always had – a few great, iconic moments surrounded by a handful of okay album tracks. The glorious lead single “Where Are We Now” and its beautiful wistfulness is a complete red herring and a false first impression, with The Next Day’s material largely being comprised of Bowie rocking out with a carefree spirit and an upbeat tone, but it’s also the album’s greatest moment and the one song from it that really deserves all the hype. In addition, the aptly album-introducing title track and the second single “The Stars Are Out Tonight” walk alongside Where Are We Now as The Next Day’s token handful of hindlights, while the rest of the songs work pleasantly enough but never particularly pop out, much like most of Bowie’s material. You could in a sense argue that it’s good that Bowie’s as reliable as ever, but after his last album Reality showcased that it was possible to get a consistently excellent Bowie album (even if it took him several decades to pull it off), there were some small hopes in the air that he could continue in that line. He didn’t though, and as a result The Next Day is very much a Bowie album in good and bad. While it may never get the widescale critical worship as his 70s work does, it makes for a comfortable if not particularly stellar addition to his line of works.

DEPECHE MODE – DELTA MACHINE

dm_dmGood news: the new Depeche Mode album isn’t as painfully mindnumbing as Sounds of the Universe was. Bad news: they’ve still not remembered how to write a decent, memorable tune. I like the Mode, but they don’t seem to like what they’re doing anymore – while an improvement over their last album, Delta Machine sounds like they’re going through the motions and making albums simply because they’ve got nothing else to do. The band’s dark, moody glamour has switched to slightly miserable-sounding elevator music: there’s an occasional moment where the song sounds like it could be up to something but largely Delta Machine simply exists in the background, happily trudging along with its by-the-numbers Modeisms. The band sound a little bit more connected to the material than they were on the career nadir of a last album, but somewhere along the way Gore has lost his writing talent and Gahan’s got stuck in his own mannerisms too much for his own good. I wouldn’t want to call Delta Machine a bad album per se, but it does so little with its songs that the appropriate reaction is closer to a nonchalant eh than anything genuinely positive.

SAKANACTION – SAKANACTION

sakanaction_coverJapan’s Sakanaction is a recent discovery for me – their DiscoveLy album from a couple of years ago ended up in my listening rota after some random Youtube crawling culminated with the discovery of the great singles from the album. It had all the signs of being just a collection curio, but the new self-titled album could just change that and turn the band into a regular object of my interests. Sakanaction’s forté is how they mix together electronic elements and anthemic rock sounds into a natural mixture where it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, melting into a fantastic concoction that exists between the elements and takes the best of both sides. Unlike the high-energy DocumentaLy, the self-titled calms things down slightly and moves to mellower, atmospheric waters: the dance beats now act as the pulsating backbeat to something that sounds more befitting to late-night headphone listening rather than a dancefloor, and the soaring choruses carry a similarly more intimate feel rather than breaking into stadium-sized singalongs. In the process, you can really start to tell what a fine set of musicians these guys are – from the vocals to the production and the songwriting itself, every single element of Sakanaction the Album is perfectly placed and meticulously thought about in a way that really heightens the songs’ impact. It’s a treasure trove for anyone with an ear for detail and fine production, it carries a stunning amount of humongous hooks and memorable tunes and it crafts an atmosphere that can change from chilled-out bliss to fervously energetic groove in a matter of moments. March’s highlight moment.

SUEDE – BLOODSPORTS

suede_bsI probably shouldn’t even be talking about this album – my love for Suede blossomed all the way back in the mid-00s but has been decaying rapidly ever since, which when combined with my rather unorthodox tastes (Head Music is the band’s only worthwhile album besides the Singles compilation, Dog Man Star is absolute bilge, etc) should really be a clear signal that the band’s recent revival just isn’t for me. But curiosity got the better of me and the new Bloodsports album has visited my ears. Arguably the best thing you can say about it is that it sounds like a Suede album. If you just wanted the band back, Bloodsports should work well enough for that – it doesn’t take any new steps forward nor any grand artistic leaps, it simply sounds like Suede exactly like where they left off, with the decade-or-so between their last album and the present having no intact to the sound. But that’s where a part of its problems lies too: it sounds so Suede-y that it actually comes closer to feeling like the debut of a Suede tribute band rather than a new album from the real thing, a pastiche that tries to sound so desperately like the Good Old Days that it comes off awkward. This could perhaps be forgiven if the songs still contained anything of merit, but none of Bloodsports’ ten songs offer anything to remember or care about. Half of it comes off as desperate attempts to create another Typical Suede Anthem and the other half doesn’t even get that and simply fade into the background. It’s a tired, uninspired attempt to tap into the collective nostalgia of people’s memories of the mid-90s. While I commend every band for creating new music as long as they want instead of turning into nostalgia jukeboxes playing just the hits, Bloodsports adds absolutely nothing of merit to the Suede canon and sounds pointless throughout.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 09/09/2013 08:40

    i disagree. Bloodsports and The Next Day are two of the best albums in recent years

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