Album Preview: Lady Gaga goes ‘Cheek to Cheek’ with…Tony Bennett?!

“I’ve a new album coming out with my good friend Lady Gaga at the end of September… I ask you to go out and buy it. She needs the money.” 

Tony Bennett, iTunes Festival – London.

 

Lady Gaga, the singer who has sold in the region of 25 million albums, and who has had critical and commercial success with tracks like ‘Poker Face’, ‘Bad Romance’, and ‘Just Dance’, is now trying her hand at, er, jazz. And, in order to do so, she has teamed up with her new bestie, the 88-year-old jazz and easy listening singing legend, Tony Bennett.

 

Tony Bennett – who is most famous for singing Fly Me To The Moon originally, and for his 1962 signature song ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ – has had nothing but praise for Lady Gaga, while in return it is clear that she is in total awe of him. Now, for the legendary crooner recording an album of duets with famous friends is nothing particularly new, and is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, the rise of the duet-album-format is largely in part due to the impressive recent success that Tony Bennett has had with his ‘Duets’ and ‘Duets II’ albums, which has seen him singing with an impressive number of outstanding vocalists, from Aretha Franklin to Michael Bublé.

 

For Tony, then, this album is not much of a risk at all: he’s 88, no doubt incredibly loaded, still got the voice and is still in demand on tour and in the studio (and at the iTunes Festival he had his fair share of younger lady fans too, the old dog). Yet, for Lady Gaga however, it does appear to be somewhat of a risky venture. After all, she is only 28 years of age, yet is singing love songs with a man who could be her grandfather. Indeed, some her most refined and most rational ‘little monsters’ have taken to social media to express their distain for her latest project in a most articulate way:

 

I am sorry but Lady Gaga is oveeeer.

 

GO AWAY GAGA YOUR CAREER IS OVER.

 

S***** song. Gaga’s gasping for attention using Tony Bennett. Damnn gaga, you are irrelevant now. Artpop flopped, no hit single since born this way. Just focus on your f”art” thingy please.”

 

Worthwhile contributions, I’m sure you’ll agree. But such sentiment has not stopped Lady Gaga becoming best friends with the man Frank Sinatra labeled ‘the best singer in the world’. Indeed, she’s been posting photos and selfies with Tony on Twitter for months, made several high profile public appearances with him, and for Tony’s 88th birthday she flew a plane over San Francisco with a banner attached, reading ‘Happy Birthday Tony [Heart] Gaga’ – which Tony later called ‘the best birthday ever’. Much time and effort has gone into crafting an image of the pair together, including the shooting of a special concert to be aired in the States shortly. Even fashion retailer H&M have come on board with the ‘Cheek to Cheek’ concept by hiring the two for their Christmas advertising campaign: Lady Gaga wore H&M designs, whilst suits similar to Tony’s will be available for purchase.

 

So, what about the music they’ve made together? Two singles have been released so far, the first being a cover of the Cole Porter song ‘Anything Goes’, which is a light, up-tempo jazz stomper which sees both Tony and Lady Gaga trading lyrics off each other with ease and style, and both resist the temptation to try and out-sing the other.

 

 

 

The second single release is cover of the jazz standard ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’ – a song every man and his proverbial dog appear to have recorded. Nonetheless, there’s something more to this version than many of the others, with Lady Gaga powerfully taking the opening lead over an exquisite organ intro. This song is much slower than ‘Anything Goes’, but the chemistry between the two stars is still evident, and also demonstrates that Lady Gaga’s singing abilities are not just limited to overproduced pop-songs.

 

 

Whether or not you’ll enjoy these duets depends, I guess, on your musical taste – I love jazz, and I love Tony Bennett – but if you’re a diehard Lady Gaga fan its understandable that you might be confused about her latest career choice. Alternatively, you could embrace it and enjoy the form of music that nearly every other musical genre is based upon: jazz.

 

‘Cheek to Cheek’ is available from 23rd September, with both a standard release and deluxe release. The singles ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love are out now.

Tony Bennett is currently on a UK tour – 9th September, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall; 11th September, Birmingham Symphony Hall.

Lady Gaga is returning to the UK on tour this autumn, playing the Newcastle Metro Radio Arena on 22nd November.

 

 

George Haffenden.

 

Album Review: Lee Fields – Emma Jean

 

Praise the Lord, for soul music is back. Could this be the result of NSR’s highly successful show ‘The Funk & Soul Revue’? Probably not. Could it be the result of a re-discovery of the soul and R&B (in the proper sense of the term, that is, Rhythm & Blues) of the 60’s, 70’s and even the disco era? Most likely, yes. Today younger artists are looking back to the golden age of soul for inspiration, whilst older artists such as Daptone’s Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley are reaching greater audiences than they did back in the day. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, a new generation of soul music is under construction, capturing the days when decent groove was first created.

 

At the forefront of this revival has been 63-year old Lee Fields who, dubbed “Little JB” for his vocal similarities with the late Godfather of Soul, has released three superb LP’s on Brooklyn-based label Truth & Soul, the latest of which dropped last week entitled Emma Jean after his late Mother. His debut album on Truth & Soul, My World, reinvigorated his career as a solo artist, whilst pairing him with a young yet impressive ensemble of musicians who call themselves The Expressions has made for a great live act. The follow-up LP Faithful Man was received equally with praise and admiration, continuing in the formula of creating retro, yet bold and creative, soul music.

 

‘Emma Jean’, a more ambitious and more experimental album than ‘Faithful Man’, sees Fields return again to what I think is best described as “cry-yourself-to-sleep-at-night-soul” (although it is also perfectly suited to a late-night walk home from town, in the rain, alone). Fields’ songs combine his raw gutsy vocal power and deep emotional heartache into something quite brilliant. The opener sets the standard high for the rest of the LP; its shifting tempo features a Southern/Memphis-soul organ rift throughout, providing a bluesy foundation to the soulful sound. Throughout the album, Fields’ emotionally charged, raw, gruff vocals dominate over the brilliant backing provided by his younger-backing band, demonstrated on the album’s first single “Magnolia”. “Eye to Eye” also employs this formula with great success, with Fields pleading to his lover to not walk away in spite of their recent fight; but who could turn their back away from a man with such a powerful and growling voice?

 

For all the impressive vocals displayed by Fields, The Expressions must also take their share of the credit for the success of ‘Emma Jean’ and its predecessors. Their approach is mighty impressive, somehow managing to re-visit the soul music of the past without simply re-creating it and becoming bogged-down by nostalgia and imitation. Take “Standing by Your Side”, one of the finer songs on this strong album – Fields vocals ride the tempo changes with gutsy ease, whilst the backing instrumentation is simply top-notch, complete with gritty Southern-soul guitar and horns, ending with  a subtle use of the organ in a similar vein to Stax music legend Booker T. Another great track is “Talk to Somebody”, which flits between Fields incredible vocals – it’s easy to see why he has been dubbed “Little JB” on hearing this track – and the great instrumentation of The Expressions, making this track another highlight of the album.

 

In short, go and buy ‘Emma Jean’; if you can afford it, buy it on vinyl – it’ll sound amazing. Take it home one evening, place it on the turntable and ready yourself a drink; I recommend anything gin based, although red wine could work. You’ll have an amazing night, guaranteed.

 

 

George Haffenden

Preview: Pixies – Indie Cindy

After plenty of time away from the limelight, alt-kid favourites the Pixies are back with a bumper set of new songs, an album and tour dates. NSR’s Rowan Mills asks how we should feel about the triumphant, but understated, comeback.

When a band returns after a long time for a comeback, there is always a lot going against them. Giddy excitement from fans, although meant with best intentions, can obviously sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing. The tightrope is thin; do something too derivative and you’re boring and monotonous, but decide to do something too different and you’re betraying your following – ‘selling out’. 23 years since their last studio album, Pixies’ comeback was going to have to be pretty climatic to cause anything near to the sensation they caused in the 80’s and 90’s.

Okay; so the EP’s we’ve heard from forthcoming album Indie Cindy may be slightly underwhelming, but what did we expect? Let’s hope that the qualities in the Pixies we know and love have not been ‘lost forever’, but simply a little rusty. The band have stayed as true to themselves as possible. They have the same label 4AD, releasing via their own Pixiesmusic, have three original members – which is something more than many comebacks – and even use the same artist for the cover design. Most people who are a fan of their former albums will realistically have accepted that the newest is unlikely to cause similar excitement to the likes of Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. Of course it wasn’t going to be as exciting simply because it’s not new anymore; it’s almost as if they have been choked by their own influence. Pixies had a huge impact for a cult band of relatively few albums and were even admittedly mimicked by Nirvana. In my opinion, The slating review of EP-1 they received from Pitchfork was certainly undeserved.

No one can say that Pixies have betrayed their former style. All the influences are still there. Indie Cindy clearly carries their surf rock sound. The quiet-loud tension is still there throughout the EP’s, even if it is a little less subtle. The track ‘Magdalena’ creates the unnerving quality I love in old school Pixies.

I do think it is a shame to have lost Kim Deal’s vocals, but hopefully new bassist Paz Lenchantin (who does not feature on Indie Cindy but is currently touring with them) will help to take the band in a new direction.

I wouldn’t say Pixies are back with a bang, but they never really were one for bangs. Although they often subverted, they never seemed to cause a scene intentionally. Bangs just seemed to happen. They were naturally radical, and their progression and influence was largely down to other people believing in them rather than self-promotion. They shyed away from media attention, which could have turned them from cult to mainstream. 4AD blamed their reluctance towards music videos for their lack of MTV coverage.

It is for these reasons that Pixies need their fans to stand by them and swallow any disappointment! Pixies have the same passion for music they always did: all members have pursued different musical projects, and consistently collaborated in their hiatus. When they played at Coachella they played like they meant it. If I were to predict anything it is that this album will ease them in to their comeback, and I doubt it will be their last release. The decision for a comeback was not brash and it certainly won’t be halfhearted.

If, like me, you are protective of Pixies, their album is out on the 28th April in the UK and they are currently touring!

Rowan Mills

Album Review: Come Hear. Finland


Mike Cowley had a listen to a collection of recent(ish) Finnish rock songs seemingly handpicked by music journalist Timo Isoaho; he then wrote down his thoughts for NSR.

Come Hear. Finland 2014 is the 9th instalment of a yearly series promoting the international stereotype that Finland is only capable of producing Hard Rock/Metal music. It is true that many Finnish bands are amongst the most prominent in their genre: Nightwish, medical Children of Bodom, adiposity Insomnium, Apocalyptica; and a quick look at Wikipedia’s list of Finnish bands shows how extensively such artists dominate the scene.

This compilation features 17 songs from 17 lesser-known Finnish rock acts, all of which have been released in recent months, or are still to come. On the whole, the album borders on the generic – both lyrical themes and sound simply scream of typical metal tirades on darkness, angst, and the quasi-philosophical. However, despite the range of rock sub-genres present on the album, all of them somehow manage to have surprisingly brilliant guitar work. Even the die-hard Def Leppard/Skid Row/Mötley Crüe wannabees of Santa Cruz manage to fit a ridiculous dual guitar solo in the otherwise fairly bland ‘Aiming High’, and somehow it doesn’t seem out of place.

The aforementioned variety of sub-genres does lend the compilation some credit. The listener does indeed get to hear the Finnish rock scene in its full capacity. For those who love marginalizing the rock scene, you can expect to hear: glam rock, melodic death metal, thrash, doom – it’s all there. Unfortunately, whilst the listener does get a great choice of musical styles, you don’t get the very best of them (Aside from Insomnium, whom are widely regarded as one of the best melo-death artists around). If the album had some of the more renowned Finnish artists, then it could prove to be one of the best metal compilations going – Finland could even team up with its Scandinavian counterparts to demonstrate the countries’ undoubted pre-eminence in the rock/metal scene.

The stand out song has to be the opener, Insomnium’s Ephemeral, maybe because of personal taste, but more likely because it clearly demonstrates the continuation of Insomnium’s rise to melodic superiority. Other songs worth highlighting are: Amoral – No Familiar Faces, Arion – Seven, and Medeia – Iconoclastic.

Of course, personal preference takes a lead when it comes to such varied compilations, so there may well be more to enjoy on the album depending on your musical taste. It must also be noted that most of the bands are certainly not privy to the extensive studio privileges that bigger bands are – some not even having a Facebook presence of more than a thousand followers – and so this must be taken into account. As a sucker for good studio production, this obviously affected my listening experience.

Having said that, Come hear. Finland certainly is – on the whole – enjoyable, easy listening for those wanting to further their hard rock horizons.

My rating: 6/10.

Album Spotlight: Radical Face – Holy Branches

How have I not heard of Radical Face until this point?! Ben Cooper’s genius solo material is the most interesting album I’ve listened to for a long time. Although it is musically rich, the most intriguing thing about it is Cooper’s method. ‘The Branches’, released October this year, is one third of ‘The Family Tree’ project which explores the intricate and often delicate relationships between families. It narrates generations of fictional family ‘The Northcotes’. Man and trees are metaphorised consistently. His lyrics suggest the belief in the spirit of man within nature, and the earth holding that spirit after death.

Each of the album trilogy evokes a different method of storytelling. ‘The Branches’ was written around the idea of letters, suggesting distance, as makes sense with the context of the album set in the 1800’s. He symobolises people as trees and words as branches; devices for change and communication. ‘But everybody’s bones are just holy branches cast from trees to cut patterns into the world’.

Despite the context the album does not sound aged, but classic and refined.  Experimentation within many bands such as Electric President, Iron Orchestra and Mother’s Basement meant that Cooper approached solo material with musical and lyrical maturity.

Many of Cooper’s morbid songs such as ‘We All Go The Same’ are strangely uplifting. I would compare it to Death Cab For Cutie’s ‘Grapevine Fires’. They both hold the theme of unity: ‘I’m lost with everyone’. ‘We all go the same’ speaks of being united by the inevitability of death. Cooper’s apparent belief in living on in nature reoccurs ‘I head their voices somewhere in my bone’, ‘my fingers trace their faces in the wood’ which makes these biting realities more comforting. The comfort of knowing that ultimately we are all in the same humungous boat. Morbid subject matter is balanced by upbeat melodies. The songs don’t have much repetition but rather are continually building to the bridge.

Some would say that it is depressing. I would argue that it’s not depressing, it just confronts real difficulties of life without feeling overly weighted or just ‘being deep for the sake of it’. You can tell that Cooper is genuine. The writing on his blog is honest and frank. His dedication and belief in the power and importance of his music comes across as he seems to approach album making meticulously. He describes periods of little sleep and his need to cut himself off from the outside world when recording. This seems to me to be an effective method for emotionally engaging songs, as was the same method used for one of my favourites, The Airborne Toxic Events’ ‘Sometime Around Midnight’.  He lacks pretentiousness. His lyrics are deep and meaningful but aren’t provocative. Not to say that they aren’t emotional.

The fact that he chose to narrate a fictional family, for me, says many things; he wants to speak through many dimensions. He seeks to unravel the complications of family relationships; to empathise with many roles. The imaginary characters and scenarios are often loosely based on people he knows in real life. Whether he is taking on the persona of a child with asberges in ‘The Mute’ or a father returning to his family with a severely impaired memory in ‘From the Mouth of an Injured Head’, he does so with integrity, convincingly so. Making songs kinda impersonal makes them universally engaging. Creating a narrative is an abstract way of expressing yourself ambiguously. For a one person band, the idea of exposing the self can be daunting.

Interestingly, Cooper chose only to use instruments that would have been available in the period of the story, demonstrating his desire to fully engage in the role playing aspect of his method. His album has the refined quality of  the band ‘The National’, yet the homemade ethos of ‘The Mountain Goats’. If you like either of these bands, or just fancy something to get you thinking, you MUST give this a listen.

Rowan Mills

Album Review: The Civil Wars – ‘The Civil Wars’

 

The Americana folk duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White enjoyed Grammy Award success with their debut album, cheap ‘Barton Hollow’, cialis back in 2011. However, their self-titled follow up album makes me question, where did it all go wrong?

 

First off, it isn’t an album. In the November of 2012, the duo split over ‘internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition’, the irony of which is still both amusing and poetic to this day. This resulted in the August 2013 release of ‘The Civil Wars’ appearing as little more than a compilation of songs Colombia Records pulled together in order to make some money off their now fruitless investment.

 

Consequentially, the album has no flow, but more irritatingly, the music itself fails to redeem this shortcoming. Don’t get me wrong; the talent of the pair is self-evident. The harmonies between the duo that dominate this record are something to behold, thrusting their heart aching lyrics at you with much aplomb, but unfortunately, they are so heavily polished that it removes some of the raw emotion, leaving you with safe, radio-friendly folk, that too often comes across as cheesy.

 

On top of this, but also in contrast, the instrumental accompaniments regularly seem to be too minimalistic, unable to back up the domineering vocals. When the music did pick up, however, the songs transformed into angst ridden power ballads, once again thanks to the over-production, leading only down avenues of further cheese and onwards towards visions of Disney soundtracks.

 

Having said this, it’s not all bad. Tracks which involve grittier guitar sounds, such as ‘I Had Me A Girl’, easily stand out, where the subtle howling of electric guitar fuzz perfectly matches the bluesy voice of John Paul White; their cover of The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Disarm’ is also a highlight. It’s a shame White’s vocal talents are not showcased nearly as prominently as on their debut album.

 

What little praise I have for this album is likely to fall on deaf ears, however, as it appears unlikely the duo will reunite. Maybe I just don’t like highly polished Americana folk albums, but then again maybe it’s not such a disappointment that The Civil Wars have had one of their own.

 

 

Charlie Pollard

 

Album Review: Lady Gaga – Artpop

ArtPop is pure adrenaline. It’s explicit and it’s become something of a guilty pleasure. On first hearing the album I had no idea what to make of it; the lyrics are crude and completely obscene; it’s sexual but not sexy. Fuelled by one-liners such as “Don’t you know my ass is famous”, the albums lyrics put a smile on your face.

The first track and single ‘Applause’ is everything I would expect from Gaga, a catchy club track about fame and her audience; echoing the famous ‘Monster’ from a few years before. I liked it. The next track ‘ArtPop’, however, left me a little confused; her intention is clear, “pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture in MEEEE” she wanted to put Art into pop the same way Wahol put Pop into Art. I can certainly hear the pop in this disco infused tech-pop album but the resounding confusion is where is the art?

Perhaps in typical Gaga fashion this is answered on a slightly bizarre conceptual dimension. Gaga collaborated with several artists in the making of ArtPop; Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, and Robert Wilson. Koons has made a huge sculptor of Gaga, which has become part of the ArtPop Album artwork. Robert Wilson is using Gaga as a model to recreate several iconic paintings (such as David’s Death of Marat) replacing the subject with her. And she spent many months with Marina Abramovic who is a very prolific performance artist and whose influence is perhaps most evident of all these artists in the album overall. It seems this entire album is a performance by Lady Gaga and that amongst all the pop is where the ‘Art’ is. There is a huge array of cultural references in the album, but even so for most the ‘Art’ side of this album created by these will be lost without dedication to trace all of them and see the complexity beneath it all; still Gaga’s little monsters don’t seem to mind!

ArtPop brings together the bizarre, the intergalactic, and even at times the soft romantic with her ballad ‘Dope’. It takes us on an intergalactic journey with songs such as ‘Venus’, but also grounds us with the high-tech groove and B track ‘Do what U want’ featuring R. Kelly. She is singing about how the corporate music world can do what they like with her body but they will never have her mind; although she admits it is also about her boyfriend who is ‘super hot’ and can do what he likes to her … Some of the other tracks I was a little repulsed by at first, such as ‘Swine’ and ‘SexxDreams’, the lyrics are vulgar but even so only gaga could make singing about a swine so darn catchy! Gaga’s third album is undeniably insane but, once you accept the bizzare, I’m sure you will agree ArtPop is crazy in a good way and utterly GAGATASTIC!

 

Alice Cragie

 

Album Review: Lorde – Pure Heroine

 

Ella Yelich-O’Conner, or better known as her stage name Lorde, has been catapulted into the music scene by her single ‘Royals’ that fast became a number one in her homeland of New Zealand and rapidly spread across the seas to become a worldwide hit. It is hard to believe Lorde is only 17, she has hugely impressive vocals and a very unique sound, meaning there is something remarkably fresh about her voice. The release of her debut album Pure Heroine has been much anticipated since the success of her debut single and it certainly doesn’t disappoint!

This is a must listen to album, her lyrics are sensitive, poetic and beautifully sung with a captivating sound; perhaps an influence of her mother who is a prize wining poet. With Pure Heroine Lorde presents something youthful and fresh to the rock and pop genre, making wordly observations about teenagers and the patronising culture we are surrounded in. She makes a statement about this in ‘Team’, she sings “I’m kind of over being told to put my hands in the air” a clear response to the monotonous nature inherent in many current modern-pop songs. She has often been compared to Lana Del Ray however I feel Lorde has more of an edge, she intertwines a poetic and youthful commentary with an old-souls lofty detachment and mystery.

Pure heroine, as its name suggests, is completely addictive! It is an easy album to listen to again and again as I found myself doing. Buzzcut Season is a I particular favorite, but as I say it is difficult to single out a particular track on Pure heroine, you will just have to listen to it and choose one for yourself! Great album, well worth a listen!!!

 
Alice Cragie