The Bubble Album Reviews No. 9

Wretch 32 – Black and White

So Wretch 32. You’ve probably heard ‘Don’t Go’ featuring Josh Kumra, Wretch’s biggest hit so far. Admittedly when this song was released I loved it, having already been listening to it for many months before it hit Radio 1. Nevertheless, it has suffered the curse of many great songs – it has become overplayed. ‘Don’t Go’, however, led me to investigate the upcoming artist, Wretch 32, a little bit more and to discover the fabulous album Black and White. And as Wretch 32 and Example claim in the song ‘Unorthodox’ – “we don’t follow no crowd, they follow”, neatly summarising the aspirations of these two artists.

This album is different; firstly, it is refreshing to find an original, British, rap artist yet untainted by the American style of repetitive, aggressive, superficial rap. British rap is in a promising condition at the moment with artists such as Example pushing the boundaries of listening experiences. Even artists such as Ed Sheeran (a quasi-indie-rock artist but I would argue actually an indie-rap artist) are showing our friends across the Atlantic that British rap has a place in the modern music world. Although very different in their sounds, Wretch 32 is achieving what Jay-Z and Kanye West have been doing over the water – stretching and blurring the boundaries between rap and other genres.

Nevertheless, Wretch 32’s album Black and White is particularly exciting. The album has huge scope – it appeals to casual fans of beat driven, commercial rap just as it would connoisseurs of the genre. The title track, Black and White, opens with a clear statement of intent. The slow winding of the song harkens back to a 70s arena gig yet after a few seconds, the unmistakable sound of Wretch voice kicks in, immediately smashing two genres together in a fusion of intense, low b.p.m. sound. The complex sounds Wretch formulates mirror his uniquely British lyrics – intelligent, thoughtful and sincere.

However, where this album differs is in the way that is itself a fusion; the album features Wretch’s own solo tracks but is mainly a compilation of collaborations with other artists. There is an interesting and notable difference in the style of these parts – broadly, Wretch’s own tracks are, as you would expect, more individual, quirky and edgy. On the other hand, his collaborations are more commercial, less lyric based, more melody driven. These songs are no better or worse, they are just different. Arguably, they are catchier; songs like ‘I’m Not the Man’ and ‘Traktor’ are your typical top ten hits. Wretch 32 is a very unique artist – his music is incredibly organic; it has fantastic potential, you feel that it won’t be long before his songs are sampled and remixed. Personally, the most notable track on this album is ‘Hush Little Baby’. Not only because I’m a fan of Ed Sheeran and respect his ability to shirk lables, as evident by his collaboration in a fundamentally rap-based album with Wretch 32, but because the song gives me great hope for the future of British music. Ultimately, the likes of Sheeran and Wretch 32 are the upcoming generation of musicians and a song such as ‘Hush Little Baby’ successfully demonstrates the musical flexibility of British music. It balances rap and pop to create a harmonious track which can be listened to quietly or turned right up – I prefer the latter.

Overall, Black and White is a very promising album. It stands up for British rap and in its blurring of genres, British music in general. I’m just waiting for the collaboration between Wretch 32, Jay-Z and Kanye West …

By Tim Hutchinson

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise

Bruce Springsteen is arguably one of the greatest musicians alive today. His simple but effective lyrics combined with the music by the E-Street Band captivates the listener and transports them to the recording studio where a group of musicians enjoy themselves whist producing awesome tracks.

The Promise is a collection of 21 tracks that were originally written to go on the Darkness on the Edge of Town album but were rejected for a variety of reasons. Bruce and his band brought these ideas back from 1978 and have recorded and re-mastered the tracks to produce an album that proves that yet again The Boss is The Boss. The collection found on the two disk set would by many artists be a collection of greatest hits yet for Bruce they are a set of tracks many of which were discarded and thrown onto the rubbish pile of music.

For me there are a few tracks, which really stand out on the album. The first of these is ‘Because the Night’. Released by Patti Smith after a duet version with The Boss this track is a classic anthem rock song that defines the sound Bruce has produced so many times before. An energetic refrain and wall of sound combine to produce a really exciting song. The second track I really enjoy is ‘Save My Love.’ This song is as close to a pop song that a rock band can get. Pop is not the norm for the E-Street Band but they pull it of very well. A brilliant piano hook and strong rhythm section create a deceptively simple really enjoyable piece of music. ‘Ain’t Good Enough For You’ is another pop song that was perhaps discarded from The Darkness as it is not moody enough to represent 1970’s deindustrialization in America. This is not a problem as the recording is a clear example of the enjoyment Bruce and the band have when putting together a song. Another great melody line and enthusiastic vocal piece help the listener feel a part of the music.

Two songs however harken back to The Darkness album with their tone. ‘Fire’ is a song that is obviously influenced by Elvis Presley. Bruce has performed the song live but never release it. The track is a reminder of the ability Bruce has to completely occupy the performance with a stripped back song. ‘City of Night’ is a chilled relaxed blues song that helps to round off the album and brings forward the musical blues roots of Bruce better than any other song on the album. A great album of incredible tracks some known, some completely unheard, The Promise is an album every fan of Bruce or indeed rock and roll should have.

By James Strutt

Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

There’s no denying that Lungs was big. Of course, Florence’s 2009 debut album achieved widespread critical and commercial success, but it also sounded huge – harps, relentless rhythm sections and choral harmonies locked in an interplay which was powerful, affective and rewarded multiple repeat spins. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say, then, that the benchmark for that ‘difficult second album’ was pretty high, and fans have been awaiting a follow-up with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. We needn’t have worried. It may not be perfect, but this is a bold, accomplished and beautifully-layered album which takes the best things about Lungs and runs with them – and if its predecessor was big, Ceremonials is simply vast.

From the moment that ‘Only If for a Night’ sneaks in with its distant piano and builds into a moody choral refrain, it’s obvious that this is a much darker album, and the lyrics abound with demons, spirits and ghosts. A new adaptation of Macbeth could easily soundtrack its witches concocting toil and trouble on a misty heath with ‘Seven Devils’, but for every haunting moment there is one of anthemic joy, like lead single ‘Shake It Out’, or an undeniably catchy pop song like ‘Spectrum’. By far the stand-out track, though, is ‘What the Water Gave Me’: over five minutes long, named after a Frida Kahlo painting and inspired by Virginia Woolf’s suicide. It’s every bit as atmospheric and epic as it sounds (and a little insane), and in the last two minutes when all restraint is finally thrown off it moves from whispered vocals to an astounding tour de force which may actually make you want to dance.

It isn’t without its flaws: it would probably benefit from one less song to prevent the sense of a slight dip towards the end, but that’s a relatively minor issue in what just might be the album of the year so far. It’s worth saying, though, that the instrument which stands out most on Ceremonials is one of the most distinctive voices in modern music, moving across octaves and dynamics with an ease which beggars belief. For fans, this will be known as the album where Florence discovered her quiet voice, as well as one that’s even louder.

By Sarah Parkin

Real Estate – Days

This band is in no hurry. Their sophomore album is quick to point this out in the dreamy chorus of the opener “Easy” “I was just floating on an inner tube, in the sun, in the sun”. Indeed such a simple image epitomises a band that needs no pretensions. Instead they find comfort in the ordinary: a conservative band name, plain lyrics, technical simplicity complemented with album cover of a row of bland beach houses. And it is because this album lacks pretensions and is so genuine that makes it so enjoyable, or as lead singer Alex Bleeker best puts it in their leading song “It’s Real”, “Believe me when I say it’s real”.

For it is a brave feat to simplify when we see how many bands are turning from their instruments to computers for inspiration. Moreover Real Estate’s music is very different to that of other New Jersey indie bands, who carry a heavy Springsteen influence such as Gaslight Anthem and Titus Andronicus. Indeed the most daring, and now most recognisable, style of Real Estate is their droning scales that continue for a while after the singing has stopped. For these riffs leave the song in a stasis, and one would think that it would make the music stale. Instead it sucks the listener into this soothing trance, which takes a while to step out of once the song is finished. This trope reaches its apotheosis in the ending song “All The Same”, where the scales take control for the last four and half minutes of the album.

Many of the songs are an affirmation of this relaxed style. For example, the chorus to “Green Aisles” is “Our careless lifestlye/It was not so unwise”. And a common theme in many of their songs is nostalgia, such as “Younger than Yesterday” and “Wonder Years”. However, this nostalgia is double-edged. For it gives the songs the gold-tint of an idealised past, but this nostalgia also makes us aware that their best times may have already happened. Also these images of floating down a river or driving in a car seem so fleeting and far away. Furthermore, though a great album, it is tainted with being too similar to their debut. So in this respect, their closer “All The Same” sounds ominously self-referential. Therefore, though a refreshing and self-affirming album, the band must be aware that their New Jersey slacker muse could run out of steam.

By Oliver White

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