Trying to clear the decks before the pre-Christmas blogging (not to mention Christmas itself!) So here are some mini-reviews of some recent albums.
Firstly, "Conditions" by The Temper Trap.
I loved "Sweet Disposition" from the moment I heard it in that ad (for 4 Music if I’m right), and this song is one of the most welcome and underrated chart hits of this year. They are an Australian band now based in the UK - there is so much musical talent coming out of Australia now. "Conditions" is like a musical series of controlled explosions. OK so much of it is not original, and much of the time melody and hooklines are sacrificed in favour of atmosphere. Their ace card however is super vocalist Dougy Mandagi, whose powerful falsetto tones are the most distinctive I’ve heard in a long time. I would imagine that they are great live; we’re going to hear a lot more from them. Best track: "Sweet Disposition" (of course!)
"500 Dågar Om Aret" - Tomas Ledin
I continue to have a strong sense of loyalty to many of my ‘foreign favourites’ whom I’ve supported over the years. Like Tomas Ledin for example; who at 57 years old has had a music career spanning almost 40 years and he keeps on rockin’! Over recent years - and I say this as a fan - I feel his recorded output has deteriorated and he only seems to be capable of two songs - the ‘anthemic rocky one’ and the ‘acoustic ballad’. This album doesn’t really dispute that thinking, mixing up the smooth acoustic songs - some of them rather nice, don’t get me wrong - with the stadium-rockers like the title track and "Medelklassens Okrönta Kungar", (which got a lot of press attention at the time of the album’s release due to Ledin’s claim that it’s a rock anthem for the middle classes). His voice has deepened over the years, but vocally he still has it. The problem continues to be the unimaginative musical settings for his songs which are less varied now than in his ‘golden era’ of the 70s, 80s and early 90s. First single "Håll Ut" was disappointing on first hearing, and it still disappoints; I like the catchy foot-tapper "Ut på Vagarna Igen" though.
"Röd" - Kent
Loved and acclaimed by the Swedish critics and music fans alike, Kent continue to push the musical boundaries in a more electronic direction and manage to keep their music fresh on their new album. It starts bizarrely, with bells and a church choir, but it’s not long till the pounding, pulsating electro beats kick in, topped by Joakim Berg’s distinctive voice. If first single "Töntarna" didn’t really leave an impression, they make up for it for example with "Taxmannen", "Krossa Allt" and the epic "Sjukhus", the latter building up into a fast, funky, New Order-ish (yes, that good) adventure, and the outstanding, equally epic "Vals för S***n". If I have a problem with many of the songs on this album it’s that many of them are a bit too long and can overstay their welcome, but one thing is for sure - their electro-disco-rock-melancholy is in a class of its own. You can be sure that come awards season, they’ll be walking away with a few. Like all Kent albums they need some time to grow on you; and like the others, this definitely brings its rewards.
"Zij aan Zij" - Clouseau
Here’s a band which has rediscovered its joie de vivre, its musical mojo, call it what you will. Many bands go stale with the passing of time, but not Flemish-speaking Belgium’s most popular group of the last 20 years. After spending the mid to late 90s in easy listening territory, they rediscovered the excitement of their early days and their last 3 albums have been filled with power-pop guitar driven songs with anthemic singalong choruses which are just tailor-made for their annual residency at Antwerp’s Sportpaleis. Their trademark ballads are still there though, but even these are a bit more muscular - like the ‘With or Without You’-influenced title track. "De Juiste Vergissing" is a very good opening track whilst "Leve België" is interestingly, a song for unity in their divided country. "Zij aan Zij" may have nothing distinctively new or different to offer, but if you’re a Clouseau fan you will enjoy it, and it would appear that there is still a lot of life left in the Wauters brothers’ winning musical formula.