After the huge success of their debut album in 2009, White Lies have been faced with the all too common problem of making a second album that matches up to their first. In Ritual the London based trio continue their journey into darkness and tension but add a new, more electric twist. Having been compared with Editors, Joy Division and U2, the band’s latest offering secures their own identity whilst also moving them forwards.
The album opens with a pounding beat that remains present throughout. The first song is instantly reminiscent of The Killers and this influence can be heard at other points in the album. “Bigger Than Us” stands out with its powerful chorus and could easily become the anthem of future White Lies shows. However, even here, in one of the most memorable parts of the album, the electronic undertone continues to push its way through in the endless use of reverb and echoes. This is followed by a stripped back sound in “Peace and Quiet” that gives some relief from the heavy layering heard previously.
The penultimate song, “Bad Love”, is in many ways similar to the first song, ensuring the album isn’t just a collection of random songs. This is followed by “Come Down” which again strengthens the link between the songs, its sound akin to that of the album’s opening. The relatively empty beginning of the song reflects the title as it winds down from the musical tension created before.
This album could be accused of being too repetitive or simply consisting of a mess of loud sounds. In places this is partly true. However, listening to it acts as a reminder of the potential power an album can have as a whole as opposed to single songs being taken and played to within an inch of their lives. The musical style that runs through this album is supported by a well thought out order of songs that starts and ends on the subject of love. The title Ritual, with its religious connotations, is also reflected in the song titles; “Holy Ghost”, “Turn the Bells” and “The Power and the Glory”. As a second album Ritual is a success: it has allowed them to change their style significantly and makes us wonder what they can do next.
After the clamour surrounding the release of their eponymous debut in 2002, The Coral’s following musical efforts have rather unfairly been greeted by varying levels of apathy and indifference. However, whilst last year’s Butterfly House may lack songs as wonderfully immediate as the ubiquitous “Dreaming of You”, the Merseyside five piece have managed to produce a collection of tracks which fuse the familiar and the innovative in an easy, almost dreamlike manner.
Opener “More Than A Lover” immediately sets the tone for the album, with its breezy layering of shimmering guitar and vocal harmonies epitomizing the band’s potential to create tracks which feel as if you have known them forever, without resorting to the derivative or the formulaic. This ability may not always be in evidence throughout Butterfly House, which, standing at a rather intimidating seventeen tracks, is perhaps a little too lengthy for anyone other than the truly dedicated listener to digest. But whilst the album’s first few tracks may tend to blur into one after a while, they do so in a comfortable manner, easing you in to a contented haze.
However, after the leisurely pace of the preceding tracks, “Two Faces” provides something of a departure, with the heightened tempo and aggressive guitar jolting you out of this daydream state, albeit in a very polite way, with the band’s signature harmonies soothing the transition. In “She’s Comin’ Around” the track builds to a strong crescendo reminiscent of Miles Kane (incidentally a cousin of The Coral’s Skelley brothers)’s efforts with The Last Shadow Puppets, which suits the band’s eclectic mix of instruments. Other album highlights include the eerie “Coney Island”, brilliantly constructed around a hauntingly repetitive xylophone riff, and the more strident “North Parade”, which opens with Smiths-esque guitars and falls headlong into six minutes of swirling psychedelia.
Whilst Butterfly House was never really going to set the charts or the dancefloors alight, with it The Coral have bettered some of their previous, more lacklustre work to create a summery, blissful soundscape which is both gentle and invigorating.
Released in February 1986, King of America was Costello’s tenth album and arrived on the back of several commercial and artistic disappointments. It didn’t particularly spark any kind of revival, and it shouldn’t ever really have been an album of any great significance. But because it marked a newfound maturity, because it demonstrated that the singer’s punk anger had been tempered with disillusionment, King of America represents an important departure in Costello’s life and career.
It’s still defiantly acerbic, and his cutting songwriting hasn’t lost its edge, but there’s a definite shift away from fury towards disaffection. This is Costello stripped to his acoustic bones, and the primacy of his voice gives the album an emotional profundity and gravity that he hadn’t really mustered before. It’s not a dull album by any means, and the fluctuations of tempo keep it crisp and lively. It’s practically impossible not to end up dancing to “Lovable”, whereas “Our Little Angel” is as close as Costello ever gets to being delicate. This is then followed by the one single released in the UK, a solid cover of The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Understood”, and “Glitter Gulch”, which could easily have been the soundtrack to one of the head-spinning, vomit-inducing dancing derbies from They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. In a good way, though.
Arguably the finest track, “Little Palaces”, does mark something of a watershed however, and the album tails off somewhat after the end of the A-side. That’s not to say that tracks 9–15 aren’t worth bothering with, it’s just that the earlier level can’t be sustained, and ultimately it’s probably a couple of tracks too long.
King of America isn’t an album that stands shoulder to shoulder alongside My Aim Is True or Armed Forces, but then it’s not really comparable to either. That Costello credited himself as Declan MacManus (his given name) would in itself suggest a certain weariness of his more riotous alter ego. This is more personal, more reflective than anything he’d done before – and probably better than anything he’s done since.
Hailed as the harbinger of a new English folk rock, Fairport Convention’s 1969 album has certainly earned its place in the pantheon of great British musical accomplishments. Although its follow-up – Liege and Lief – is widely cited as the band’s masterpiece, Unhalfbricking ought to be regarded with an equal measure of respect. It might not have the consistency and polish of its successor, but its very imperfections only serve to make its peaks all the more exceptional.
From the excellent opener “Genesis Hall” to the lively finale of “Million Dollar Bash”, the album jigs and glides across genre, tone, even language. The best of the three Dylan covers is “Si Tu Dois Partir”, which in spite of a slightly dodgy French accent did achieve some chart success, as well as gaining the band their only appearance on Top of the Pops. Such exposure was rare enough for an overtly folk-driven band in any case, and drummer Dave Mattacks’ T-shirt that subtly read “MIMING” helped ensure that they weren’t invited back.
The undoubted high point of the album though comes with the sublime “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”, a song more perfectly suited to the haunting and beautiful voice of Sandy Denny than any other, to anyone, ever. Despite being brilliantly covered by Nina Simone on her live album Black Gold, and despite Cat Power performing it on her Dark End of the Street EP, it’s a song that simply can’t be improved upon.
Unhalfbricking was by no means, as it’s often been described, merely a transitional album. Yes, the arrival of Dave Swarbrick brought the advent of the Celtic influences that would be further explored in subsequent albums. Yes, it set a new benchmark for the band to live up to. But this wasn’t only a portent for better things – this was one of Fairport’s greatest achievements, and certainly the finest of Denny’s career.