tue 23/09/2014

New Music reviews, news & interviews

CD: U2 - Songs of Innocence

Adam Sweeting

Though advertised as a heartfelt and autobiographical work, U2's 13th studio album tells you far more about the state of the music industry than it does about the intimate inner stories of the musicians. Tying the album release to the launch of Apple's iPhone 6 merely reinforced the view that U2 is no longer a band, more an offshore corporation, and was bound to strike many people as a desperate ploy from an outfit struggling to stay meaningful. Humiliatingly, many iTunes users have been so...

CD: Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems

Mark Kidel

Leonard Cohen has always been, first and foremost, a poet. His thoroughly grounded mix of Vedanta, Zen and Jewish mysticism places him in a class apart. He is both rabbinical high priest and consummate entertainer. As he’s never traded on borrowed African-American sex-and-swagger or matinée idol charisma, age hasn’t made him in any way ridiculous. He carries his gravitas lightly, not least because his deft way with words keeps us delicately poised between revelation and unknowing.From the...

Reissue CDs Weekly: Sun Ra

Kieron Tyler

 Sun Ra and his Arkestra: In the Orbit of RaUp till his death in 1993, the space-fixated jazz bandleader, composer, musician and visionary born...

10 Questions for Musician Gruff Rhys

Jasper Rees

It hardly sounds like the springboard for an album, a film, a book and an app. In the 1790s a young Welsh explorer called John Evans journeyed across...

CD: Aphex Twin - Syro

Thomas H Green

Even if this album were dull, which it is far from, Aphex Twin Richard D James’ return would be welcome. Although he’s only a pop star in the loosest...

Sarah Jane Morris, Union Chapel

Peter Quinn

Singular vocalist launches her most complete, most memorable statement to date

Joan Baez, Royal Festival Hall

Heidi Goldsmith

Veteran folk-protest singer seduces audience with delicacy

DVD: Otway the Movie – Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure

Kieron Tyler

Fans-only tribute to a tenacious musical eccentric

First Person: From Insolence to Defiance

Paul Simmonds

Lyrical country meets rollicking cowpunk: Paul Simmonds on writing songs for two very different new albums

CD: Goat – Commune

Guy Oddy

Swedish psychedelicists move the hips and spin the mind

CD: The Juan MacLean – In a Dream

Kieron Tyler

Intermittent thrills on third album from LCD Soundsystem-related electro-dance outfit

Foo Fighters, Olympic Park

Matthew Wright

Dave Grohl's band closes Invictus Games with a seismic blast of energy and goodwill

Mulatu Astatke, Royal Festival Hall

Peter Culshaw

Ethiopian lounge lizard creates a new sonic world

CD: Counting Crows - Somewhere Under Wonderland

Katherine McLaughlin

Rich and nourishing seventh album from American alt rockers

Reissue CDs Weekly: Game Theory

Kieron Tyler

The first of a series of reissues paying tribute to sadly missed pop auteur Scott Miller

Blondie, O2 Academy, Birmingham

Guy Oddy

A triumphant return for the New York New Wavers

theartsdesk in Helsinki: Niubi Festival

Kieron Tyler

Head-spinning Mongolians, intense Indonesians and bull-roaring locals at the festival building bridges between Finland and east Asia

10 Questions for Singer Sarah-Jane Morris

Matthew Wright

Passionate, political singer discusses writing, Africa, and her career with the Communards

Elbow, Roundhouse

Heidi Goldsmith

Guy Garvey's alt-rockers give the iTunes Festival a likeable but rather studio-neat set

Sam Sweeney, Royal College of Music

Tim Cumming

Sam Sweeney's multimedia World War One show pulls powerfully on the heart strings

CD: Barbra Streisand - Partners

Thomas H Green

La Streisand takes bloodless music to new heights

Prom 74: Wainwright, Voigt, Britten Sinfonia, Debus

David Nice

Songs great and less good weirdly miked and mostly mumbled by the singer-songwriter

Art Garfunkel, Royal Festival Hall

Fisun Güner

Audience goodwill for a patchy evening of acoustic song and reminiscences

theartsdesk at Bestival 2014: Full Biochemist's Report

Caspar Gomez

Rob da Bank's Isle of Wight extravaganza grows ever younger but retains ability to thrill

CD: Vessel - Punish, Honey

Joe Muggs

Bristol techno producer turns in a gothic-folk-industrial nightmare

Prom 71: Time for Three, BBC Concert Orchestra, Lockhart

Matthew Wright

Routine American programme blown away by Chris Brubeck's Travels in Time for Three

CD: Catfish and the Bottlemen - The Balcony

Lisa-Marie Ferla

A short, sweet debut from oddly-named Welsh four-piece

CD: Tricky - Adrian Thaws

Mark Kidel

Dark sounds from Bristol maverick keep hitting the spot

CD: Vance Joy – Dream Your Life Away

Guy Oddy

Pop-folk debut from Australian singer-songwriter

Footnote: a brief history of new music in Britain

New music has swung fruitfully between US and UK influences for half a century. The British charts began in 1952, initially populated by crooners and light jazz. American rock'n'roll livened things up, followed by British imitators such as Lonnie Donegan and Cliff Richard. However, it wasn't until The Beatles combined rock'n'roll's energy with folk melodies and Motown sweetness that British pop found a modern identity outside light entertainment. The Rolling Stones, amping up US blues, weren't far behind, with The Who and The Kinks also adding a unique Englishness. In the mid-Sixties the drugs hit - LSD sent pop looking for meaning. Pastoral psychedelia bloomed. Such utopianism couldn't last and prog rock alongside Led Zeppelin's steroid riffing defined the early Seventies. Those who wanted it less blokey turned to glam, from T Rex to androgynous alien David Bowie.

sex_pistolsA sea change arrived with punk and its totemic band, The Sex Pistols, a reaction to pop's blandness and much else. Punk encouraged inventiveness and imagination on the cheap but, while reggae made inroads, the most notable beneficiary was synth pop, The Human League et al. This, when combined with glam styling, produced the New Romantic scene and bands such as Duran Duran sold multi-millions and conquered the US.

By the mid-Eighties, despite U2's rise, the British charts were sterile until acid house/ rave culture kicked the doors down for electronica, launching acts such as the Chemical Brothers. The media, however, latched onto indie bands with big tunes and bigger mouths, notably Oasis and Blur – Britpop was born.

By the millennium, both scenes had fizzled, replaced by level-headed pop-rockers who abhorred ostentation in favour of homogenous emotionality. Coldplay were the biggest. Big news, however, lurked in underground UK hip hop where artists adapted styles such as grime, dubstep and drum & bass into new pop forms, creating breakout stars Dizzee Rascal and, more recently, Tinie Tempah. The Arts Desk's wide-ranging new music critics bring you overnight reviews of every kind of music, from pop to unusual world sounds, daily reviews of new releases and downloads, and unique in-depth interviews with celebrated musicians and DJs, plus the quickest ticket booking links. Our writers include Peter Culshaw, Joe Muggs, Howard Male, Thomas H Green, Graeme Thomson, Kieron Tyler, Russ Coffey, Bruce Dessau, David Cheal & Peter Quinn

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