Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost 9/10
An unlikely pairing: two industry outsiders who meet in the middle ground to create a record that shouldn’t, but somehow does, work. Both serial collaborators, Costello’s lyrical genius is self-referential to some of his own ‘deepest cuts’ (‘Refuse To Be Saved’ quotes from Mighty Like A Rose’s Invasion Hit Parade), whilst the Roots provide the music.
If you were expecting Costello to rap alongside Black Thought, be disappointed – it’s probably for the best. It’s an entirely different ‘vibe’ to 2010’s Wake Up! where the Roots (with John Legend) reference their Afro-American influences. Wise Up Ghost is more subtle, darker, and a more intelligent record with more swagger than ever for all involved.
Elton John – The Diving Board 3/10
Once again collaborating with long-term friend and lyricist Bernie Taupin, Elton seems to have become his own spitting image. Critically acclaimed track ‘Oscar Wilde Gets Out’ is a poor overdub of his previous work, with a piano part that could easily have been a variation of Your Song; album opener ‘Oceans Away’ is just dull and lacks any credibility. Where’s the innovation? Where’s the excitement!? The Diving Board has been described as reflective, a stripped back record that shows Elton at his best – but all it does is reveals gaping holes in his artistic abilities which leave you wondering whether he was actually ever any good? Perhaps not.
Kings Of Leon – Mechanical Bull 5/10
A respectable rock band? A guilty pleasure? The career of Kings of Leon is immortalised in their latest offering – a dichotomy of credibility and laziness, the sublime and the uninspired. Mechanical Bull remains frustrating and ultimately underwhelming. Lyrics such as “I was running through the desert/I was lookin’ for drugs” raises serious questions about Caleb’s creative abilities. Moments of brilliance are suggested with the grime and grit of ‘Don’t Matter’ and the balls-out bassline of ‘Family Tree’ but they’re far too few and far between. With a lack of the complexity and basic layering that led to the anthemic feel of past offerings, Mechanical Bull feels unfinished, perhaps unlike the band themselves.
Drake – Nothing Was The Same 8/10
Apart from Jay Z. who managed to creep into the studio for ‘Pound Cake’, Nothing Was The Same remains an entirely solo affair for Drake, and an intimate one at that. Known for including rants at non-famous girlfriends throughout his records, the line “The one that I needed was Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree/ I’ve always been feeling like she was the piece to complete me” (‘From Time’) has already gone as viral as the album itself, with his most successful first-week sales to date. The subtleties of Drake’s compositions remain intact with one idea generally worming its way into the next, and a lack of the abrasive horn sounds that dominate the megalomaniacal approach to rap. Drake is a populist, but also an introvert, reflective and not afraid to give you less for more. Genius.
Haim – Days Are Gone 7/10
The most over-hyped album of the year? Probably. The most upbeat, radio friendly ‘guitar band’ of the year? Definitely.
It seems practically impossible to even make a passing reference to Haim without mentioning Fleetwood Mac, who’s influence is felt with a Status Quo-esque shuffle present on ‘The Wire’, and shimmering ‘Everywhere’ synths on ‘Falling’. Despite being heavily influenced by the 80s, the funk-laced groooove, bass-laden mix and catchy lyrics are just falling straight into the class of summer 2013. Haim are obviously due to take over our airwaves and party like it’s 1989. If it’s originality you’re looking for though, please look elsewhere.