Guys. This week, guys. I think I’ve spoken a few times in various pieces this week about how the entire music industry is shit scared about releasing music outside of the fourth quarter of the year. I mean, sure, we’ve had plenty of good music throughout the year, but when five rather major albums either get released/leak in the same week, perhaps there are just too many releases getting crammed into the same time of year. And this is just this week. Next week promises to be just as mental for different reasons. We’re not fucking around anymore, friends.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts on all the albums I’ve attempted to gobble up this week. I don’t feel I’d be ready for a proper write-up for any of these albums for weeks, so here my knee jerk reactions. HERE WE GO.
Natalia Kills - Trouble
I summed up 2011’s Pefectionist as solid if a little unspectacular, and I feel similarly towards the follow up. What bugs me the most about Trouble is the amount of potential Natalia exhibits that I hoped she would actually realise on this album. Instead, it’s another album that displays what she could do, rather than what she can do.
Trouble has three settings: Hyper-sexualised, demented man-eating anthems; melodramatic, stock imagery-laden ballads; or broken home rich girl laments that range in tempo. Each of these has songs that are either wildly compelling (The title track, “Malboro Lights”, “Saturday Night”) or tiresome and unconvincing (“Watching You”, “Devils Don’t Fly”, “Problem”).
Nothing here is outwardly bad; even the utterly detestable content of “Controversy” is salvaged by being slickly produced into something listenable if you ignore the lyrics. The problem is that I very rarely feel the album is firing on all cylinders. “Saturday Night” is the one moment of Natalia’s entire career thus far that feels like a truly perfect synergy of the elements of her artistry that she delivers with unshakeable conviction, but the rest of the album is just mostly competent pop from an artist that I know can do a lot better.
Arctic Monkeys - AM
Arctic Monkeys are a relatively new interest of mine, so I’ll try and keep this brief. They’re a band I’ve always loved in theory, but never got around to properly checking out until this year when the prospect of a new album loomed.
Basically, I love how lean all their albums are. Considering most albums from rock bands as old as this very rarely clock in at under an hour, it’s refreshing for the Arctics to come in and do their business in an extremely well-used forty minutes. From the thumping drums of one of the year’s best singles, “Do I Wanna Know?”, the pseudo R&B of “Why’d You Only…”, the infectious groove of “Snap Out Of It, all the way to the aching “I Wanna Be Yours”, it’s an album that manages an interesting blend of warmth, trademark Sheffield grit and sharp lyricism that have made Arctic Monkeys stand out from the crowd since they crashed onto the scene all those years ago.
Janelle Monáe - The Electric Lady
The Electric Lady in the hands of an artist who I didn’t have such high standards for would be a triumphant effort, but in the hands of Janelle Monáe, I feel like a lot of things here is ground already covered, and it was far better the first time around. Whether that’s down to there being a genuine drop in quality or simply because it’s no longer new, I don’t know, but the void is definitely there.
Don’t get me wrong, the album is loaded with brilliance. The three singles released before the album are all stellar and provide soaring highs, along with the two overtures that open the “suites” of Janelle’s continuing Cindy Mayweather saga. However, the album ends up feeling frontloaded due to some awkward sequencing rather than there being a stark quality issue. Suite IV is home to every genre that Janelle attempts to straddle across the album. It’s eclectic, thrilling and most of all tightly managed and executed. Suite V has excellent songs (“Victory”, “What An Experience”), but they’re all songs that take from the same chilled R&B style, which makes that crucial second half of the album a bit of a trial. The Electric Lady seems to forget that an album should be a marathon, not a sprint. Here, it seems Janelle bolts her way through one side of the album, only to slow to a crawling pace on the other side. The result is a record that slowly morphs into a trial the closer to the end you get.
Considering how flawlessly sequenced The ArchAndroid was, and how crucial it is to the whole concept, I think it’s a fair thing to judge as something that ends up crippling the album somewhat. I think something less sprawling was required here. There’s a fantastic 12 track album in The Electric Lady that wouldn’t take seventy minutes to get through and leave you a little exhausted by the end. Perhaps Cindy Mayweather needs to be powered down for a while.
The Weeknd - Kiss Land
I was one of those people who only really started to pay attention to The Weeknd when Trilogy was compiled and unleashed late last year. I wasn’t sure of how effective it was at the time, and listening to Kiss Land actually ended up informing how I felt about The Weeknd as a whole.
The problem here is simple: One very good idea being driven into the ground over and over and over and over. Had Trilogy been condensed into one ten track album, perhaps Kiss Land wouldn’t seem as redundant and repetitive as it does. The sad fact is that even by the middle of that sprawling triumverate of discs, The Weeknd’s schtick starts to get old. The sinister instrumentals are no longer scary. The lyrics are no longer a bit sexy and dark, just tawdry and melodramatic. His voice is no longer effective, just annoying. Trilogy provides all you could ever need and so much more you don’t from that style. So why does Kiss Land not deviate from that formula after said formula was put under a 50,000 watt spotlight across, for all intents and purposes, three albums worth of material before it?
Unless a stark change in sound and style occurs, Trilogy is all you need from The Weeknd. Don’t waste your time with an album that basically turns Trilogy into a quartet. The biggest shame of this is the fact that there’s a very good artist trapped in an utterly exhausted musical style, and I’m not even sure if he wants to escape.
London Grammar - If You Wait
If You Wait has no business being as good as it does. Usually, I’m all about the entire package when it comes to music, but I have no qualms in stating that it’s all down to Hannah Reid’s outstanding vocals throughout the album that make it such a brilliant debut.
…Okay, so maybe I’m doing the rest of the package a bit of a disservice. If You Wait seems like it would a mostly “lovely” album with no thrills or edges, but there’s actually enough of that here to change things up a little and make the core sound of ethereal, classic arrangements feel fresh and gorgeous each time.
Overall, it’s an album that definitely shocked me a little. There are times where things are switched up a little bit just to keep you on your toes, and of course Hannah’s powerful voice is an authoritative presence that ties the entire thing together. There’s nothing radical, of course, but I think it’ll surprise a lot of people who think they already have the band pegged.