The Bubble Album Reviews will aim to provide appraisals of a diverse range of music spanning a wide spectrum of eras and genres. In this first issue, our writers have evaluated records by British Sea Power, Two Door Cinema Club, Sting and Josephine Foster.
Immediately setting out its stall in a positive manner, Valhalla Dancehall’s opener, “Who’s In Control”, emits a resounding battle cry fit for any hero of Norse mythology. Its football chant feel, reminiscent of the “easy, easy” mantra that opens “No Lucifer” from Do You Like Rock Music?, wonderfully encapsulates the spirit of the terraces and suggests a progressive continuity from their previous albums.
“Georgie Ray” rejects the unruliness of the rabble in favour of a more measured and tranquil approach. But far from being a token down-tempo track, this is a majestic song that ranks up with the very best of BSP’s previous work. It might not get Odin up and jumping, but its valkyric beauty represents a significant new departure for the band.
Sadly from thereon, however, there’s little to warrant much excitement. From an album filled with such promise, it rapidly becomes one characterised by mediocrity, dreary repetition and a disappointing absence of Viking goat horns. By the halfway point, if the droning “Luna” has failed to usher in a stupor, then it’ll be “Baby” that sends you to sleep.
Even the first single to be taken from the album, “Living Is So Easy”, does little to recover the early potential. Similarly, although “Observe the Skies” does provide a pleasing interlude, the tedium of the middle tracks continues with “Cleaning Out The Rooms”, while the thankfully short-lived “Thin Black Sail” appears to be a raucous product of a heavy night on the mead.
In their bid to cross over from the transient to the immortal, BSP’s journey yet remains in its infancy, and as the final track, “Heavy Water”, professes: “I think that we’re on the wrong side”. This is an album that does little to accelerate their progress, but one that provides a few more stuttering steps along the rainbow bridge to Asgard.
Having been touted as one of the “Sounds of 2010” by BBC Radio 1, it seems strange that Two Door Cinema Club are still relatively unknown in the spheres of the general public. After listening to their album on repeat, I’m still nonplussed. The ultimate in uplifting indie-pop-rock, it is 33 minutes of upbeat fun, compounded by lead singer Alex Trimble’s melodic and soothing vocals.
The Northern Irish band, whose quirky name is grounded in the mispronunciation of their local “Tudor Cinema”, inject vibrancy and vigour in their songs, whilst somehow instilling them with a harmonious and calming edge that simultaneously energises and soothes the listener. There is a musical purity evident from the outset of the album, with “Cigarettes In The Theatre” providing a smooth introduction to the effortless lyrical mastery and energy of the band. The vibrant guitar riffs are combined with catchy lyrics to create simple, unaffected musical pleasure. This is then followed by the bass-heavy “Come Back Home” and the catchy refrains of “Do You Want It All”, “This Is The Life” and “Something Good Can Work”.
However, the crux of the album comes with tracks five and six and the arrival of the infectious “I Can Talk”; Purple Radio listeners will recognise it as being played in almost every show last term. A future indie-anthem, it is surely the very epitome of upbeat, bouncy indie-pop. Following on is “Undercover Martyn”, and as the lyrics highlight, the song “melts in your hands” in a fluid sunshine of music. And this is what the entire album entails: simplicity, joviality, and above all, excellence. An album to cheer you up, to augment happiness, or just generally, whenever. You won’t be disappointed.
Ground out of the heart of the North East and revolving around the shipping district of Newcastle, this was Sting’s third solo record, released in January 1991. Penned as a concept album concerning the death of his father, The Soul Cages was the means by which he was able to unlock his prolific musicianship after years of suffering from writer’s block.
Such hesitancy can be seen as the record stumbles into life with “Island of Souls”. It tells the tale of Billy, who dreams of setting sail with his shipbuilding father “to a place they would never be found / to a place far away from this town”. The metallic clangs of the shipyards punctuate the track, and an uncertain rhythm seems to replicate the movements of a ship at sea.
After this tentative start we launch into “All This Time”, the album’s debut single in which Billy declares his desire to bury his father at sea, and illustrates how we all flow from the river of life into its wider ocean. This gives way to the haunting “Mad About You” and “Jeremiah Blues (part 1)” that darkly expose the singer’s inner torment.
The midpoint of the album brings its most heartfelt and defining track, “Why Should I Cry For You”. Here Sting’s grief is tempered by a decisiveness; he knows he cannot be “drifting in empty seas / for all my days remaining.” Although his father will be in his thoughts often, he cannot shed too many tears. By asking simply: “why would you want me to?”, a creeping sense of finality is brought to his earlier wanderings.
After a brief instrumental interlude, the sailing theme is renewed with “The Wild Wild Sea”, where Billy sleep walks into the ocean and finds himself surrounded by silent waters, before waking up on the deck of a boat. He sees his father’s face, and once again his turmoil is felt as he suggests how his emotions are lost at sea with his grief.
We are then propelled from this uncertainty into “The Soul Cages” itself, the award-winning title track where we see “in each and every lobster cage / a tortured human soul”. As the listener is left wondering how these souls can be set free, the album concludes with the more mellow “When The Angels Fall”. After the high intensity of emotion which precedes it, only “shadows on the wall” remain, and it seems the conflict has been resolved.
This isn’t one of Sting’s stronger efforts, nor are any of these tracks immediately recognisable. But there is no doubt that in the story of his life “The Soul Cages” is an important chapter – or perhaps more the closure of a chapter – and takes us on a true journey to his inner thoughts, giving us unparalleled access to the most intimate reaches of an iconic musician. Twenty years on, The Soul Cages highlights that underneath it all, the singer is only human, and feels loss just as we all do. Recording these songs was his best, and perhaps his only method of dealing with it.
Lasting just over twenty minutes, Josephine Foster’s Little Life is a self-confessed album of children’s songs, released in 2001. Such a label, however, has served to marginalize what is actually a beautiful exposition of innocence and love that is deserving of a much wider audience.
Whether in the playful chirruping of “Tom Peck, Neighbour Friend” or the Burl Ives throwback “Three Day Days”, Foster creates idiosyncratic and effortless songs that achieve a saccharine magnetism without becoming sickly. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, because, in all honesty, she does sound a bit mad. Yet beyond this eccentricity lay exquisite examples of timeless nursery rhymes, such as the fabulous fourth track, “Francie’s Song”.
Don’t expect any references to Marcel Proust, Japanese cinema or neo-colonialism; the focus here is on friendship and gathering metaphorical rosebuds: “I got ten fingers you got ten toes / four eyes together and a pair of nose / it’s real fine, just bein’ all the time.” Uncomplicated and candid, this enchanting lyricism runs throughout the album, upholding joy in the face of the corruption and vitriol found in the world of adulthood.
It’s not all sunshine and butterflies, however, as exposed by the much darker “Hell’s Bells Are Ringing” and the wonderful “Birdo”, that transforms the earlier sentiment of overwhelming contentment into a tone of longing for freedom and fulfilment. Nevertheless, the cherrysweet happiness is renewed in the delightful title track “Little Life” that draws the album to a fitting close.
This isn’t an album that will bring down governments, destroy hate, or spark a revolution. But in its own quiet little way it peddles an optimism and understated ecstasy that is perhaps what we’re missing in our post-adolescent lives. It’s not flawless, but that’s part of its very charm. It dares to give in to the naivety of hope, meanders cheerfully along, and asks nothing more of us than to release our inner child for a while. Most of all though, it’s just lovely.