>Rainy day, Rainy Music

>God bless the British summer – it is currently throwing it down in leafy Thunder-Ridge so I thought I’d have a listen to an appropriate album.

Rainy Day Music – by The Jayhawks

The Jayhawks had brought out seven albums by the time this landed in 2003. They had made their name through jangly, acoustic melodic alt-country and this album continues in that vein. Produced by Ethan Johns and Rick Rubin it is a marriage of experienced, successful producers and a band who had honed their craft. Rubin may raise a few eyebrows given his heavy background (Metallica, Slayer, Slipknot) but there is no hint of a harder edged influence on the album. The result is a delight – the whole album is peppered with Byrds style harmonies and a lot could easily come off a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record which can’t be anything but a positive in my book. Gary Louris’ vocals have never sounded better and his occasionally earthy rocky delivery offers a neat contrast to the gentle harmonies I alluded to earlier. This is an album which though released in 2003 could easily have been part of the California movement of the 1970s and for some this may prove off-putting. I cannot help but sound hypocritical when I laud The Jayhawks for maintaining a classic rock style whilst deriding The Courteeners for a lack of imagination but the key difference is the quality of songwriting. The Jayhawks have earned the right to indulge their own wishes and you sense this is an album they took great pleasure in putting together. ‘Save it for a rainy day’ is easily the standout track for me and if you only seek out one song following this review than that is the one. ‘Come to the River’ is also a noteworthy track which has a rootsy, raw power not commonly found in the rest of the album. An interesting element is when drummer O’Reagan takes over lead vocal duties – on ‘Don’t let the world get in your way’ there is more than a touch of Neil Finn to his delivery and given Johns later produced Crowded House comeback album ‘Time on Earth’ there is a clear cross-over of styles. Unfortunately the back end of the album fails to offer the same impact as the front six – ‘Will I see you in heaven’ is something of a return to form but even that track fails to counter the feeling that the album is petering out.

One criticism I would make of the Jayhawks generally is they lack their own distinct identity – as a reviewer I struggle to describe their sound without relating it directly to others and this in my view is the reason why they have not received greater recognition. An hugely enjoyable band they may be but there is no hint of revolution in their output and as a result they fail to sustain interest over the course of a long album such as this.  

6 & 1/2 out of 10

>Double whammy

>So today I tried a slightly new approach to the blog, rather than being sat on my portentous behind listening and blogging in perfect harmony I decided to get on my bike and ride. As a result this pair of reviews are briefer than recent but that hopefully won’t render them any less interesting.

Eels – Electro-shock Blues

Anyone who knows a bit about Eels frontman Mark Everett (E) won’t be surprised to learn that this album follows some of the darkest themes possible. E should have been on cloud nine following the critical and commercial success of previous album Beautiful Freak (including one of the standout tracks of the decade and as fine an intro as you’ll ever hear in Novocaine for the Soul). Tragically it proved to be a time of unquantifiable loss as he lost his mother to terminal cancer and his sister took her own life. It goes without saying therefore that these events directly influenced Electro-Shock blues. What is surprising perhaps is that it is not as difficult a listen as one might expect. Eels continue to innovate on this album showing a novel aptitude for using strings and jurassic five style beats together to compliment the laid back delivery of the vocal. This works most effectively on ‘My descent into madness’ – a sublime track which sees the subject coming to terms with his own incarceration:

the jacket makes me straight so I can just sit back and bake

you know I think I’m gonna stay

talking very loud but no one hears a word I say

I’m not the first to draw comparison with Odelay era Beck and though this understandably lacks the same pop hooks that pepper the work of Mr Hansen (Beck not Alan). One of my favourite tracks is Hospital Food – a jazz infusion which would not look out of place on a B-52s album. Despite these two wonderful tracks I did find that the experimental style did not always effectively compliment the lyrics. A technique Eels have used to good effect before is the haunting use of childlike instrumentation but on an already bleak affair I found this added little merit to the album. To end on a positive – so does the album. It finishes with the album’s finest moment – PS. I Love You, which is a redemptive song based around the central couplet; ‘Everyone is dying; and maybe it’s time to live’.

In many ways this album flys in the face of normal releases, there is no agenda for commercial success – this is song writing as therapy and I applaud E for doing so. However it is perhaps a reflection on me that I felt at times like I was intruding on private grief.
6 1/2 out of 10 
The Courteeners – Falcon

I have only had two previous experiences of The Courteeners. One was on a weekend in Manchester in an Indie club where I was feeling upsettingly old as all around appeared to be yet to enter their twenties. A song came on that provoked exuberant scenes and I had no idea what it was. I was duly informed it was ‘Not nineteen forever’ by The Courteeners and I was impressed that a song could instigate such a response. The second experience was catching a short snippet of their T in the Park set this year on TV. Again, the crowd were relishing singing along to every word and I can honestly say I paid no attention to the actual music. This turns out to be for the best. On listening to Falcon it appears that the Courteeners have been bottled up from five years ago and let loose on the world today.  Yes there are some clever lines but whereas I imagine the writer thinks he is rivalling the Arctic Monkeys the woeful Wombats would be a more apt comparison. I hope for their sake that they have developed a sterling live reputation as on record they are desperately lacking in any sort of imagination. Musically they are completely unadventurous – settling for plodding, lifeless generic indie background that recalls the barren days where garbage like The Datsuns were considered worthy of airplay. Lyrically the trick seems to be find a rhyming couplet, repeat ad nauseum and chuck in the odd reference to something uniquely English. It is as if they heard Alex Turner use the line ‘Can I buy you a tropical reef?’ and decide that was why the Arctic Monkeys debut was so wonderful. Whatever people say I am… was a dazzling, exhilirating album with Turner’s lyrics masterfully capturing the social context in which they had grown up. By comparison The Courteeners are tired and laboured. The message really hit home on one of the final tracks which declared ‘The good times are calling…’ – so why does the singer sound so unbelievably bored! Oh that’s right he’s read his own lyrics. The good times were calling; the album was coming to a close although not without one final sting in the tail – I got a puncture.

2 out of 10.

Published in: on 03/08/2010 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment