Friday, July 31, 2009

Little Boots - Hands

Review number 2. Let's do this.

Little Boots – Hands

So we have another new British female who's début album is named after a human body part (see below). I can't help but feel we're running out of ideas.

That's actually a theme that rears it's ugly head listening to 'Hands', now that I think about it. On the surface it appears to be the work of a young, excited newcomer, full of fresh blood and fresher sounds. But when you strip it down, there's every chance this actually represents something rather upsetting.

The shocking and yet completely justified success of Lady Gaga has obviously prompted record labels in the U.K to go on the hunt for a British equivalent, a lesson in failure that you'd think would have been learned by now. Polydor for example, in the time it took 'The Fame' to sell one million copies (read: not very long) have signed not one, but two feisty young electro-pop starlets in a rush to cash in on Gagas market. One of which, is Little Boots.

Now don't get me wrong. This type of music has been around for years, as has Little Boots. The lass has been peddling her unique, often misunderstood sound across England for the better part of ten years now and she can't be blamed for it's sudden surge in popularity. In fact, she could almost be forgiven for resenting it. Thankfully, she doesn't. And while the Gaga comparisons will no doubt come in waves, they don't really hold a lot of water when you actually listen to what Boots has to say. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, is difficult to discern.

The album kicks off beautifully. 'New in Town', is a magnificent opening track. It builds on the foundation of a steady, solid electro beat and bursts to life in a chorus you're never likely to forget. From the outset one thing is clear; if Gaga is about 'cool', Little Boots is about 'fun'. While the arrangements and production are undeniably similar, Boots takes the whole thing less seriously and comes across equal parts charming and endearing as a result. 'Every Little Earthquake' is another example of Boots using her innate charm to bring a smile to your face with her witty lyrics while making you tap your foot with her filthy, distorted synthesizers and loops. 'Remedy' is an instant pop-classic and will no doubt fill many a dance floor this summer. 'Symmetry' sounds as if it was lifted straight from a Human League greatest hits CD (partially thanks to Philip Oakeys guest appearance, it has to be said), and 'Tune Into My Heart' provides a welcome detour into sweetness that Little Boots' little voice suits perfectly.

It's not all fun and games however. 'Click', 'Ghost', 'Hearts Collide' and 'Stuck On Repeat' are bland, soulless pop songs that don't really go anywhere and are unfortunately indicative of the possibility that this album was in-fact rushed out to catch the last call of the Gaga bandwagon. 'Mathematics' presents an interesting lyrical idea which turns out to be far cheesier than I'm sure she initially expected, and while 'Meddle' sounds distinctly British, almost reminiscent of the U.K garage scene, it doesn't really do anything else. These tracks, when compared to the ones from the previous paragraph, create a rather disconcerting contrast between what Boots can do, and what perhaps she had to do. This is all baseless conjecture of course, but I can't help but feel like this album was a bit of a rush-job. And even if it wasn't, it's still disappointing to hear these tracks trudge clumsily through my headphones when the girl is clearly capable of better.

'Hands' is not going to set the world on fire. It probably won't even set the U.K on fire. But if you like your pop music you could certainly do a lot worse (La Roux for example). While 'Hands' as an album is average at best, it should be more than enough to put a smile on your face.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Florence and The Machine - Lungs

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going through a really disturbing 'Grumpy-old-man' phase where I found it increasingly difficult to be impressed by anything. Well, someone out there was listening, and someone out there has tossed me so much new and interesting music to get excited about that I had to give a considerable amount of thought to which exciting new album I wanted to review first. So let's go, before my enthusiasm dissipates again and I can't string a metaphor together.

Florence and the Machine - Lungs

Florence Welsch first raised Irish eyebrows en masse when the haunting 'Cosmic Love' was used in an o2 advert and now it seems everyone is prepared to predict big things for her, and on the back of her début album 'Lungs', it's not very hard to see why. As a package it's quirky and cool enough to make sure people stick around to see what she does next, but how does it measure up as an example of where she's at now? Does it live up to the hype? Well, unfortunately not quite. But maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Anyone already familiar with Florence pre-o2 would probably have also been familiar with her début E.P 'A lot of love, a lot of blood', and if that's you, you'll be happy to hear that three fourths of that record are present and accounted for on 'Lungs', with Welsch proving once again that 'Dog Days are Over' is still a tremendous track to get things going. 'Kiss With a Fist' doesn't fare so well however, sounding completely out of place and almost intimidated by its superior surroundings, and her cover of 'You've got the Love' is still as drippy and irrelevant as it was first time round.

I have to be very careful in how I word this review though. While I didn't necessarily enjoy 'Lungs' from start to finish, and the heartless cynic in me desperately wants to dislike anything that comes packaged with that amount of hype, it's by no means a bad record. Welsch has been compared to Kate Bush a lot recently and that's probably the best summary for the album I can think of. There's flashes of pure brilliance ('Rabbit Heart', 'Cosmic Love') that are broken up by unfortunate moments of Bush-esque indulgence ('I'm Not Calling You A Liar', 'Blinding'). Thankfully, the former tends to outweigh the latter, and for every step Welsch takes toward Bjork, she takes another two back, ensuring that even the quirkier of her songs never loses commercial appeal.

'Lungs' is somewhat of enigma. Generally there are two types of 'good' albums in this world. There's the albums that play like greatest hits compilations, where every track is solid, catchy, and instantly memorable, then there are the albums that need to be experienced from start to finish, taken as a package to be completely understood and fully appreciated. 'Lungs', however, appears to want to do both. Whether or not it succeeds will ultimately fall to personal opinion, but objectively speaking it certainly seems to tick all the boxes. Certain tracks hold their own magnificently well when taken out of context ('Howl'), while others seem to work together to create a permeating feeling of other-worldliness that none of them could do on their own ('Drumming', 'The Girl With One Eye').

While not every track on 'Lungs' is an instant classic, and it's occasional dips into the murky depths of self-indulgence might be too much for some, it's very existence is evidence of something positive. It's interesting, it's different and more importantly, even though I've mentioned it's overtly artistic 'up its own hole-ness' at least twice, it does it in a very commercially accessible way, which is perhaps a bold step in the right direction for the unfortunate school of Bjork and Bush. It also takes on the responsibility, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, of destroying what the requirements for pop music success are in the eyes of others. Welschs lyrics are probably where she shines most, but some are so deliciously dark, vivid and vicious you'd be forgiven for thinking them out of place in the ethereal sounsdscapes she creates, and more at home perhaps on the angst-ridden post-punk records of 2004.

So the question remains, should you buy 'Lungs'? Yes, yes you should. Even if it's too much for you at times, when Florence gets it right, she gets it very right and there's enough middle ground covered here to keep hundreds of different tastes satisfied, so there's a good chance you'll fall in love with something about her. Besides, for once the hype machine might be right. Florence Welsch may one day write a masterpiece, you best jump on the bandwagon now while there's still room.