-- intro: You would think that during Thanksgiving week with its black Friday there would be more high-profile releases. Nothing seems poised to be the next gargantuan seller to follow-up Taylor Swift’s “1989.” Instead we get a week of re-releases like the Beyonce record which I reviewed earlier in the week. Otherwise, Coldplay released a live version of their album “Ghost Stores” and Iggy Azalea repackaged the hits from her album, “The New Classic” in a new collection with some new tracks.
In the department of music that is actually new, French EDM star David Guetta released a star-studded album and Irish singer Gemma Hayes released her fifth album.
It’s a lower-key week than expected, but there are surprises, too.
quicklist: 1 title: Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories Live 2014” **1/2 text: Releasing an entire album again done in the live form just a few months after the original album’s release can mean either the members of Coldplay think the studio-version didn’t do the material justice or perhaps this is just another way to release this album again at the start of the holiday season as a potential gift idea. Of course, Coldplay are decent live musicians, so this essentially comes off as a more-echo-y carbon-copy of the studio album with some obligatory crowd noise.
“Ghost Stories” didn’t showcase Coldplay at their peak. These songs don’t resonate at the level of the ones from “Parachutes” or “A Rush Of Blood To The Head.” Mostly, these nine songs find the band settling into a bland, middle-of-the-road, inoffensive formula. They wash over you well, but these songs don't demand repeat listens for the most part.
Strangely, all of these cuts were recorded in different places but they are mixed together to make it sound like a seamless show. One wonders how much studio magic went into making it all sound so unified, especially since each venue and each sound set-up should theoretically be different.
Of course, the set does come with a DVD, so you can watch the band live as well, although, unlike the CD, the DVD showcases a continuous live concert at Sony studios in Los Angeles.
This is Coldplay’s third live album, following “Live 2003” and “Live 2012,” but this is the first time they’ve released a live version of an entire album in its entirety, which means that this is strictly for major fans and probably a means to fulfill their label obligations. If you liked the studio version, you’ll like this, but truth be told, this isn’t one of the band’s most exciting records.
“Another’s Arms” (Live At The Beacon Theatre, New York) This is the best song on the studio album and it is the best song here, as well. It has some ominous lift and a great deal of drive. The breakup imagery in it gives it even more charge.
“Magic” (Live At The Enmore Theatre, Sydney) This was another highlight of the studio album, partly because it’s one of the few hints of the band’s past glories.
“Ink” (Live At Le Casino de Paris, Paris) Yes, this is somewhat standard fare for the band, but this is a satisfying performance.
Read the original review of “Ghost Stories" here.
quicklist: 2 title: Iggy Azalea’s “Reclassified” **1/2 text: This is another strange release. It is kind of a reissue of Iggy Azalea’s “The New Classic,” but not really. It takes the highlights of that album and pairs them with five new songs. Really, she would have been better served just releasing an EP with just the new tracks, since essentially this muddles up the legacy of her first record. It’s an odd choice.
“Fancy” is here, as is “Black Widow.” “Work” is, too. Basically, if it is a known track of Izzy’s it is here. Are these tracks worth buying again? That depends on how much you really love “The New Classic.” The new tracks do offer up some surprises, but ultimately, this is just more of the same packaged with songs that are probably already in your collection.
“Trouble” (Featuring Jennifer Hudson) This song is better than most of “The New Classic,” partly because of the soulful, funky piano loop and Jennifer Hudson’s great work on the hook. Yes, it does still have Iggy Azalea’s put-on, forced southern-hip-hop-informed accent which is still a little off-putting, but this song works.
“Beg For It” (Featuring MØ) This is of course the lead single off this new collection, and yes it does sound like a redo of “Fancy” to some degree with Danish singer MØ in the place of Charli XCX. MØ’s hook even sounds like a response to the earlier track, but still it gets the job done, I suppose. Iggy still lacks an impressive flow. While this works, it is more of the same.
“Heavy Crown” (Featuring Ellie Goulding) “Heavy Crown” is interesting because during the verses, the beat is really hard-hitting and during the chorus, the music recedes to give Goulding a lush minimalist backdrop. It creates an interesting bit of contrast. Again, it isn’t a game-changer, but it will do.
Read the original review of “The New Classic” here.
quicklist: 3 title: David Guetta’s “Listen” ** text: French DJ David Guetta plays a distinct kind of pop-driven inspirational EDM. Almost all the songs on “Listen” seem to want to drive in something deeper as if he really wants to make the party tremendously upbeat in as many ways as possible. What he ends up making is music that is as syrupy as it is formulaic. This is the kind of dance music that brings to mind huge stage-setups and cartoonishly exuberant fist-pumping in the air. The beats are basic. The music is dramatic and the words are almost always depicting some aftermath of some sort of angst-driven crisis. It’s catharsis through dance, which don’t get me wrong, can be powerful if done the right way, but too often Guetta’s grooves make these sentiments sound cheesy instead of powerful.
Cheery sentimentality doesn’t go well with sugar-coated synths. It’s too much. As OneRepublic singer Ryan Tedder sings on “S.T.O.P.”, “I’ll stop right now but I’m stopping with you,” with an earnest howl over a saccharine beat that goes double-time at the point of build-up, the formula hits its breaking point. This is dance music with no edge, which given the state of technology and electronica is actually a pretty difficult (and alarmingly impressive) achievement.
Guetta even manages to drag people down who should be bringing his work up. He had previous success with Sia when the two worked together on the hit single, “Titanium.” On the high of her classic new album, “1000 Forms Of Fear,” you’d think she’d do well here on the two tracks she’s on here, but that isn’t completely the case. She does well on album closer, “The Whisperer,” but not so well on “Bang My Head” which is rendered somewhat clumsy by Guetta’s arrangement. “The Whisperer” works better because it remains toned down and beatless and thus sounds like a ballad that could’ve been on her record. She should have kept “Bang My Head” for herself to give it the treatment it deserves.
Occasionally, Guetta finds a good groove as he does on the reggae-infused “No Money, No Love,” which features Elliphant and Ms. Dynamite, but then he throws a wrench into the gears by going into a textbook rave-up.
There are bizarre moments like the almost “spaghetti western”-sounding “Lovers On The Sun” with Sam Martin or the overly revelatory “Goodbye My Friend,” with the Script that also becomes another standard high-octane workout after an emotional verse section. Somehow, “Lift Me Up” features Ladysmith Black Mambazo among its guest performers and they deserve to be on a better song.
John Legend sounds autotuned on the title track and it doesn’t sound right in the least. It actually robs the song of its emotional value.
“Listen” for the most part sounds like a shallow healing section. It’s like watching someone fake smile through the pain. If you can hear what is behind the grin, the posturing can become awkward to watch.
“Hey Mama” (Featuring Nicki Minaj & Afrojack) Nicki Minaj and Afrojack provide one of the only songs that truly doesn’t stick to the catharsis-then-hype formula. Minaj’s output has been spotty lately, but here she really brings her best qualities and she also brings the kind of party-starting fire that is missing from most of the other songs on the set. This is surprisingly the album’s one true saving grace as it merges the worlds of classic blues, dancehall reggae and EDM. This is siren-infused gold. It sticks out on the album majorly.
“The Whisperer” (Featuring Sia) This is a semi-classical piano ballad with the kind of emotional payoff you are used to getting from Sia. This too stands out.
quicklist: 4 title: Gemma Hayes’ “Bones + Longing” ****1/2 text: “Bones + Longing” is Irish singer Gemma Hayes’ fifth proper album. You may remember hearing buzz about her a decade or so ago when she released her stunning, shoegaze-infused debut, “Night On My Side.” That album still stands as one of the most striking debuts of the last decade. Her second album, “Roads Don’t Love You,” didn’t see stateside release until just recently when it appeared on iTunes. Her third album, the more acoustic-leaning, “The Hollow Of Morning,” effectively turned down the guitar fuzz that permeated most of her debut.
“Bones + Longing,” like its immediate predecessor, 2011’s excellent “Let It Break,” manages to keep the volume for the most part at a hush but still keep a woozy mist around the compositions. In an ethereal, hazy sense, without the massive guitar walls, Hayes still belongs in the shoegaze and dream-pop worlds. Sure there are moments of dissonance like the momentary fuzz heard on “Joy,” and the thunderous layering that ends “Iona,” but still everything remains gentle. The occasional bits of amplified upheaval are used as a means for sonic punctuation.
She makes unique records and this one has some particularly carefully constructed passages. Given the momentary fuss a decade ago, you would have thought she would have a wider audience here. She deserves one. This is a tender, delicately stirring collection. It might need multiple focused listens to fully seep in, but it is gently affecting. “Palomino” and “To Be Your Honey” are haunting pieces that could potentially permeate your dreams.
If you don’t know her music already, Gemma Hayes should definitely be on your radar. Her songs don’t hit you over the head. They burn slowly.
This album became available digitally last week in the U.S. and is available in hardcopy as an import this week. It will reportedly see a wider international physical release at the beginning of 2015. It is a highly stirring piece of work and it is highly recommended.
“Chasing” Hayes always has a few upbeat rock songs for single purposes. “Let It Break” had the amazing, “Keep Running,” while this album has the more ominous but still driving “Chasing” which should be licensed on a movie or TV show soundtrack sometime soon. It plays like a distant cousin to the Cure’s classic, “A Forest.”
“Making My Way Back” This is another effective mood-piece which is given its main core by a guitar riff that would make for an interesting score-piece. As the song continues, the drums and bass come in and it becomes apparent that this is another potential single on par with early classics like “Back Of My Hand” and “Let A Good Thing Go.”
“Palomino” I mentioned this song already, but it plays like something that might haunt you on a winter’s night if you heard it on a music box. That being said, it is softly beautiful. If you are looking for a frame of sonic reference, this song somehow hits a solemn sweet-spot somewhere between Hope Sandoval and Laura Veirs’ territory.
“Laughter” This affecting opener is actually a fuzzier alternate version of “There’s Only Love” previously on “Let It Break.” This was originally recorded as a bonus track but was wisely chosen as the lead track at the last minute. Even though she is repeating herself, it really works.
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