MANIC STREET PREACHERS – Postcards From A Young Man


When the fourth Manic Street Preachers album, ‘Everything Must Go’ came out in 1996, it marked a turning point for the band. The first album recorded without lyricist Richey James Edwards (although a chunk of the albums lyrics came from notebooks he left prior to his 1995 disappearance), the album brought the Manics a far bigger audience, courtesy of the huge hit single ‘A Design For Life’. When its follow-up, ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ was released in 1998, I hated it. Although they were a great rock band, this style “Manic Street Preachers with a safety net” weren’t the same. They just weren’t. From then, I kept my distance from the band, proclaiming (to the tune of their then recent hit, ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next’) “If he tolerates this, then old Richey must be dead”.

Almost a decade later, while in my local branch of Fopp, I heard the Manics’ 2007 album ‘Send Away The Tigers’. While not as edgy as the Manics at their ferocious best, something seemed to be an improvement. I still couldn’t tell you what, though. Maybe it showed the “poppy” Manics in a better light then the previous post-Richey records, or just maybe I’d finally accepted there wouldn’t be another ‘Holy Bible’ ever again. I bought the album and really enjoyed it, and continue to do so (I also went back and bought the couple of albums I’d avoided, to find they really weren’t all that bad; they were just a bit too safe). Then, in 2009, using more of Richey’s notebook scribblings, the Manics released ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ – an angry collection of songs produced by Steve Albini – which was arguably their best album for some years. It was exciting to hear James Dean Bradfield yelping out previously unheard lyrics written by Richey. It was a sharp kick; proof that the band could still cut it – and a reminder why I loved the Manics in the early 90s, and why I still tell people I’m a fan, despite my criticism of huge chunks of their back-cat.

With two decent albums under their belts following nearly a decade of disappointment, my expectations were fairly high for ‘Postcards For a Young Man’. Those expectations for more anger a la ‘Plague Lovers’ were kicked to the kerb fairly swiftly, after hearing the choir of vocals slapped across the opening track. In a reaction to the harshness and old-school Manics approach its immediate predecessor, ‘Postcards’ is it’s polar opposite, much in the same way ‘The Holy Bible’ had been followed with the hugely commercial ‘Everything Must Go’. Released as a single, that opening track, ‘(It’s Not War) It’s Just the End of Love’ features a decent chorus and vocal arrangement from James Dean Bradfield. The ringing guitar on the verses coupled with Sean Moore’s good time-keeping during the verses ranks it among the better, post-96, softer-edged Manics material. If anything, it would have sounded better without the strings…but it’s a track which gets better with every play.

The title track appears to be an attempt at re-creating something anthemic; something in the vein of ‘A Design For Life’. It’s partly successful and the piano part is pleasing, but as the track draws to a close, there’s just a little too much going on and I’m reminded of the choir of vocals at the end of Queen’s ‘Somebody To Love’. A brave attempt – and it’s easy to see what the band were going for here, but sadly, for all of its potential, it sounds like a composite of a couple of older Manics songs (with a heavy influence from ‘A Design For Life’) and comes off worse for that. The only track with lyrics written by Bradfield, ‘I Think I’ve Found It’ is a quirky pop/rock workout, driven by mandolin. Matching a decent guitar riff under-pinned by Hammond organ, this is sunny and upbeat – and interestingly, one of the only tracks which doesn’t feel like its commercial edge was forced. Maybe Nicky Wire ought to leave more of the song writing duties to his creative counterpart…

‘A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun’ is rockier than at least half of the album – not edgy especially, but in keeping with the slightly punchier end of the commercial styled Manics. James Dean Bradfield’s guitar solos are spiky (and not always completely in tune), Sean Moore’s drumming is solid and – guesting on bass – ex-Guns N’ Roses man Duff McKagan does a great job of holding everything together. It’s not a particularly distinctive bass line and I’m sure Nicky Wire could have played it just as easily. I’m pretty sure that around the time of their second album ‘Gold Against The Soul’ the Manics had expressed a liking of G N’ R, so, with that in mind, the fact that Duff stepped in to help is cool. With an intro which sounds like a badly played Rolling Stones riff, ‘The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever’ is one of those tracks your skip button was invented for. Nicky Wire steps up for a lead vocal – an extremely flat one at that – while drummer Sean Moore contributes some equally tuneless trumpet work. It would have been bad enough, but once the choir chimes in, their harmony work only serves to make Wire sound even worse.

Drenched in strings and a guitar which sounds multi-tracked, ‘Hazelton Avenue’ is by far the best of the lighter material here. Bradfield’s performance is one of the album’s best, during a song which sounds instantly familiar. The mid-section features strings playing an eastern motif, though it’s no more than a fleeting moment, as if it were an afterthought. ‘Some Kind of Nothingness’ would have fallen into the category of nothingness, but is saved somewhat by the presence of Echo & The Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch, who shares lead vocal. McCulloch’s Scouse-tinged lower register is a good contrast to Bradfield’s higher belting voice, and the end result is decent, even if not as striking as Bradfield’s duet with Nina Persson on the Manics’ 2007 hit, ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’. Sadly, although the appearance of McCulloch provides plenty of interest, the choir on the chorus is just too heavy handed and kills the song. I appreciate the Manics are attempting to grab your attention with the lavish production, strings and choirs, but sometimes less is more, y’know?

‘Auto-Intoxication’ features another guest performer – this time fellow Welshman and legend John Cale – whom, you have to wonder why, isn’t in the producer’s chair – and whose contribution here is limited to a few keyboards and some electronic noise. Like Duff McKagan’s guest spot, it’s an unassuming role which blends in well. Since John Cale was happy enough to lend his skills, it’s such a shame the band didn’t give him more to do. With or without Cale, the track is a decent rock number, with slightly more edge than a lot of ‘Postcards From a Young Man’. There are echoes of old style Manics here and there, especially as Bradfield hits the shoutier end of his performance, but it’s still more in keeping with the noisier moments of ‘Send Away The Tigers’ than anything from ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’.

‘Postcards From a Young Man’ is a mostly slick, well put together album which, from so many other “alternative” bands may have been a minor masterpiece. For the Manics, it’s a deliberate attempt at creating an album with huge appeal beyond their fan base, with both Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield claiming it “one last shot at mass communication”. Listening to the overly-shined safe rock music on the album, with the help of producer Dave Eringa they’ve certainly created something very commercial, but it’s a far cry from the Manics most edgy works.

If you were a late convert and were attracted to the band via songs like ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ then this album is for you. If you’re an old-school fan who wants to be challenged by provacative slogan-style lyrics, there’s not too much for you here. Okay, so some of the songs have a bit of social commentary at their roots (for example, ‘Golden Platitudes’ regards Labour’s empty promises and their subsequent downfall and ‘All We Make Is Entertainment’ concerns itself with the selling off of Cadbury’s and Britain’s decline), but as expected, none of Nicky Wire’s lyrics have the same venomous bite as anything Richey Edwards left behind (and anything with any real edge is ultimately washed out by the aforementioned choirs and strings anyway).

‘Postcards From a Young Man’ is an album destined get played once in a while and enjoyed for the well-crafted rock record it ultimately is…but once it’s over, some of you will still find yourselves reaching for ‘Generation Terrorists’, ‘The Holy Bible’ and ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’. Still, it’s the push and pull between chorus driven accessible material and angry sloganeering that have kept this band so vibrant over so long a period. Not bad for a bunch of guys who originally set out to release one album and disappear into the ether…

September 2010

STATE COWS – State Cows

state cows

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Westcoast AOR scene produced some brilliant bands and musicians. While Steely Dan and Toto are probably its most famous associates, there are many albums released by lesser known artists which have remained close to the hearts of AOR fans. Airplay’s self-titled disc (a collaboration between Jay Graydon and David Foster) and the sole album by Maxus (a short-lived band featuring Robbie Buchanan and legendary session guitarist Michael Landau) are among the first which spring to mind when listening to this self-titled album by Swedish band State Cows (an anagram of Westcoast, if you hadn’t noticed!).

Strange as it may seem, Daniel Andersson and Stefan Olofsson (the core of State Cows) have replicated the sound of 1980 in summertime Los Angeles almost perfectly, despite hailing from Umeå in the north of Sweden. Everything you’ve ever loved about Westcoast AOR is here; so much so that, when listening to it, it seems almost impossible that this album was released in 2010.

‘New York Town’ features a great arrangement with the bass high in the mix, wonderful stabbing piano and a tasteful horn accompaniment (thankfully provided by real brass). There are hints of so much great Westcoast smoothness here – late seventies Doobie Brothers and Airplay spring to mind. One of the band’s great heroes, Mr Jay Graydon – a guitarist almost synonymous with the Westcoast scene – even guests on guitar. If you have any doubts about how authentic this album sounds, Graydon’s seal of approval should sweep them away. The easy pop-rock of ‘Come To The Point’ features some tasteful electric piano, jazzy guitar and a vocal which would be well suited to Richard Page (of 3rd Matinee, Pages and Mr Mister fame). Again, with hints of Richard Page, thanks to a keyboard on the verses sounding rather like 3rd Matinee’s ‘Holiday For Sweet Louise’, ‘Painting a Picture’ features another and a strong vocal, combined with clean toned rhythm guitar breaks and sublime electric piano work. Although not as immediate as some of the album’s tracks, State Cows make what they do sound so effortless.

During ‘Mystery Jane’ the horn section becomes a strong feature, while some stabbing keys add a lot of weight. The humour in this tale of a bar meeting may be somewhat silly, but musically, it’s provides another great example of the band’s spot-on musicianship. ‘Riding Down This Highway’ showcases the softest side of State Cows’ music and while the lead and harmony vocals are meticulously arranged, the great moments here are provided by Daniel Andersson’s slightly jazzy guitar leads. ‘I’ve Changed’ combines smooth Westcoast vocals with solid bass work, twin lead harmony guitars and upfront keyboards. The closing keyboard solo mightn’t agree with everyone though,since it combines the squealy tone favoured by Steve Winwood in the eighties with the excesses of seventies pomp! One again, it’s bound to appeal to fans of Maxus, Airplay and early Toto. If you want a track which combines all of State Cows’ best traits most effectively, this is a fantastic example of their signature sound.

An over enthusiastic horn intro begins ‘Tunisian Nights’, the song settles into an easy groove with elements of early Toto and Donald Fagen. The horns creep back in on the chorus (this track being the only one where the brass feels perhaps a little heavy handed), but despite their attempts to be the most attention grabbing, it’s the electric piano and a well-crafted vocal on the chorus which provides the strongest elements. The guitar riff which creeps in every so often is also notable, since aside from the odd solo, the guitar doesn’t make a huge impact in the band’s often keyboard-heavy music. ‘Lost In a Mind Game’ is dominated by a jazzy shuffle and muted horns, straight out of the Steely Dan songbook. The drum part is meticulously played and the vocal harmonies are spot on. It may lack Steely Dan’s dry sneer, but all the other elements are so close. Göran Tuborn’s guitar work is fantastic and when combined with the rest of the tight musicianship on show, it makes perfect sense that some of these guys had previously performed as part of a Steely Dan covers band.

What really comes across with this album is just how much love both Stefan and Daniel have for the Westcoast classics. This sounds authentic enough to stand alongside not only the aforementioned Airplay and Maxus, but also Bill Champlin’s ‘Runaway’ and Marc Jordan’s early masterpieces. If your stereo still gets graced by any of the artists mentioned here, then State Cows should be essential listening.

September 2010

Posted in aor

ORANJULY – Oranjuly


Fronted by song writer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist Brian E King, Oranjuly’s brand of power pop is one which instantly sounds familiar. Packaged in a sleeve which looks like a Fuzzy Felts recreation of a 1970s kitchen, Oranjuly’s debut album’s influences may all be pieces from a musical past, but like so much great power pop, the end result is timeless – and thanks to great song writing, the album is one which stands up to repeated listening and gets better with every play.

After a gentle intro, the opening rock chords of ‘Her Camera’ would suggest that this debut is noisier than it turns out to be, with its wall of guitars (using a tone which very much recalls ‘Flagpole Sitta’ by Harvey Danger) but this soon falls aside, making way for stabbing keyboards, dreamy vocals and bass/drum parts which cheekily give to the nod to The Beach Boys, specifically ‘God Only Knows’. The Brian Wilson fixation becomes more obvious during a really tight vocal interlude. Keen to grab your attention, the second half of the song manages to combine all of these elements, which creates something a little hard to take in at first, but it works well as a whole. They swiftly follow this with ‘Mrs. G’, which is much more user-friendly. Again, there are lavish harmonies and a bit of a kitchen-sink approach to the arranging, but the stabbing keyboards and bittersweet Ben Folds-esque lyric should be enough to win you over.

‘Personal Ads’ marks a return to a more guitar driven style rock/pop. The verses are full of vocal harmonies overlaid with twinkling keyboard noises, but it’s the simple hook on its noisier chorus which is bound to stick in your head. Let’s just say someone here is a fan of Weezer! My personal preferences lean towards the album’s softer 10cc and Badfinger styled material, but this is still hugely enjoyable. If you’re also someone who favours the seventies style of power pop, ‘South Carolina’ will please you with its McCartney/Wings inspired rumpty-tumpty rhythms. After an acoustic beginning and gentle vocal, a Ringo-esque drum fill leads the band in, including a bass line which, to begin with, sounds equally simple. As the song progresses, the bass line features a couple of great fills and the mid-section features an effective tack piano. The McCartney-isms here would have no doubt pleased the Jellyfish chaps too – though undoubtledly, they would have struggled to keep the arrangement so straightforward…

‘I Could Break Your Heart’ features one of the album’s best arrangements. The chorus here is pure bubblegum goodness, with a slightly sixties vibe reminiscent of Mark Bacino. Again, you’ll find harmony vocals in abundance, but one of its best features is a brief Matthew Sweet style guitar solo, which makes top use of multi-tracked guitars. ‘The Coldest Summer’ has verses which utilise some rather melancholy harmonies – again evoking so much great seventies pop – which musically, is incredibly strong, with flourishes of slide guitar, bell noises and handclaps. Throw in some subtle electric piano and twin guitar harmonies and – clocking in just shy of three minutes – you have a masterpiece. While most power pop provides a soundtrack for summer days, there’s always something mesmerizing about those moments tinged with sadness, especially when they are so well crafted.

Despite its title, ‘Hiroshige’s Japan’ has a very wistful English psych-pop quality. This harpsichord and brass number could have been from 1968. While it has rhythmic similarities to The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’, the focus on harpsichord makes it hard not to think about the deeply sad ‘A Rose For Emily’, from The Zombies classic ‘Odessey and Oracle’. While the harpsichord is the featured instrument here, additional trumpet work adds some great atmosphere.

Like Jellyfish before them, these guys have a gift for arranging that, when done well, is always a pleasure for the listener. …And while Oranjuly wear each of their influences on their collective sleeves, this self-titled album is none the worse for it. With ten songs and no duds, this debut ranks alongside Owsley’s self-titled disc in terms of great power pop debuts. You owe it to yourselves to check it out.

September 2010


GRINDERMAN – Grinderman 2

grinderman 2

After the release of his 1996 album ‘Murder Ballads’, the almost unthinkable happened to Nick Cave. The one-time wild frontman of confrontational Aussie goth-punks The Birthday Party had become a well respected performer and songwriter and, no doubt thanks to an unlikely duet with Kylie Minogue, a household name. With his post-Birthday Party band The Bad Seeds, Cave had often created albums full of dark storytelling and sometimes macabre beauty, but ‘Murder Ballads’ propelled Cave’s career into heights that few thought his extreme approach to song writing would ever take him. From that point on, every Bad Seeds album has been a gem; each one containing a combination of beautiful melancholy and multi-layered adult rock which is almost unique.

In 2006, looking to write the follow up to The Bad Seeds double set ‘Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus’, Cave began jamming with a few of his Bad Seeds bandmates. With Cave taking up guitar as opposed to his usual piano, the results were edgy, a little unhinged and possibly showed the most aggression since Cave’s Birthday Party days. They decided that the improvised, grinding jams just weren’t right for The Bad Seeds, yet the results were too exciting to leave behind. And so, Grinderman was born. Their 2007 self-titled album was thrilling, if slightly unsettling. With themes of sexuality abound, the album was the sound of a mid-life crisis (most notably on the second single ‘No Pussy Blues’), with Grinderman’s guttural instincts and sometimes simplistic approach exciting fans and the press alike. Grinderman, in a sense, was a release of tension and anger for Cave and his cohorts, since, for some time, the Bad Seeds albums had become increasingly lavish affairs. In some ways, Grinderman typified a one-shot deal – one album and back to the next award winning Bad Seeds project. Indeed, after touring the Grinderman album, Cave, drummer Jim Sclavunos, bassist Martyn P Casey and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis returned to the relative safety of their beloved Bad Seeds and created ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!’, which critics claimed was one of the finest albums of their career. In the summer of 2010, Grinderman returned.

Their second album, ‘Grinderman 2’, may have been created with a similar jamming-in-the-studio vibe, with no material pre-written before their arrival, but this time around, there’s far less of a ramshackle approach. More blues grooves, fewer garage rock assaults. This is probably because Cave and co approach Grinderman’s second outing with a pre-conceived idea of what Grinderman is, but possibly because attempting to out-do that first album would surely have been a mistake. At just under three minutes, ‘Evil’ re-visits the anger of the first Grinderman disc. Amid Sclavunos’s pounding drums and the repeated backing vocal shout of “evil…evil rising”, Cave delivers his stream-of-consciousness lyrical concerns with an intensity rarely heard since his Birthday Party days. As he belts out lines like ‘Who needs a record player? YOU ARE MY RECORD PLAYER!’, as a listener you become aware that when their most extreme, Grinderman could implode at any second; although unlike the previous Grinderman release, the intensity and anger is balanced out by a greater use of humour. That humour is often dry (as evidenced throughout most of Cave’s career) but also occasionally base and childish. Loaded with thinly veiled penis references, and undoubtedly ‘Grinderman 2’s answer to ‘No Pussy Blues’, ‘Worm Tamer’ is a shuffling number which presents itself like an ugly, learing cousin of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love?’. This is then given intensity by Cave adopting his signature sneer, but the real Grinderman signature quality comes from the distorted bursts of noise, which could come from Cave’s angular guitar work, but are just as likely to have been created by Warren Ellis skulking somewhere, mistreating his electric bouzouki. While penis references are childish, you’ve got to smile when Cave delivers the line: “My baby calls me the Loch Ness monster…two great big humps and then I’m gone”. As with the first Grinderman disc, the themes of sexuality and lust figure highly on the radar, although usually with a tongue-in-cheek sneer.

‘Kitchenette’ features another blatant example of Cave’s humour, as he tries to win over a woman by reminding her that her husband leaves his false teeth and glass eye out and the best thing he’s ever given her is “Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen”. Kitchenette is lucky to feature some of the album’s funniest lyrics, and when coupled with a bluesy drone, it’s a great example of Grinderman’s power to amuse and threaten in almost equal measure. ‘Mickey Mouse and The Goodbye Man’ is one of Martyn Casey’s greatest musical moment. During the verses, his simple, circular bass line is upfront with only gentle drum accompaniment and Cave’s dark vocal for company. As the verse pulls to a close, Cave hammers out distorted garage riffs on his guitar, given extra brilliance by the addition of ugly soloing with a fuzz-pedal. During the noisy parts, Grinderman are at full pelt, with their distorted brand of garage-blues an unstoppable force (given extra animalistic qualities by Cave’s higher notes resembling howling), but even so, the band are so much tighter than they had been on their debut.

The album’s first single ‘Heathen Child’ is classic. Shaking tambourines, punctuated by distorted guitar squalls provide a decent musical base, Cave’s lyrics name-check various gods, but just as interestingly, the abominable snowman appears for the second time on the album. This lends some weight to the band’s claim that the album’s songs are interlinked in some way (though with regard to revealing any details, they remain tight-lipped). Echoes of the noisy garage-blues duo The Black Keys can be heard throughout, but the track’s most striking feature are the distorted notes at the end – likely made by Ellis on his electric bouzouki. ‘What I Know’ has a spooky emptiness with Cave’s voice featured against some bells and scraping noises (undoubtedly the work of Ellis). It aims for spookiness in its starkness, but there’s so little happening, it ends up sounding lost amid the more interesting material.

With Cave accompanied by backing vocal oohs, and an altogether more lavish musical arrangement, ‘The Palace of Montezuma’ is somewhat surprising for Grinderman. The walls of guitar replaced by acoustic work, this could have been a Bad Seeds number. In terms of completeness and user-friendliness it’s one of the album’s best songs, but there’s something distinctly un-Grinderman about it. Until, that is, you look closer at its lyrical content. Whereby romance in the Bad Seeds’ universe may involve Cave crooning (and sometimes in a very traditional manner), here he attempts to prove his loyalty by offering a whole world of romantic promises – name-checking Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen on the way, the ridiculousness in the scenario arguably hitting its peak when he offers the woman in question “JFK’s spinal column, wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee”. In fact, although it’s never as obvious as it is during ‘Montezuma’, ‘Grinderman 2’ owes more to The Bad Seeds than their debut, partly through bits of it feeling less intense on the surface, but mostly due to its feeling like a complete work. Once again, though, most of the lyrics are far less poetic than any post-94 Bad Seeds work; but for Cave to release all of his musical demons, like a devil on The Bad Seeds’ shoulder, Grinderman needs to exist. As he says himself “…we wanted to get back to something with a really malign feel to it”. And if that malign streak means the release of albums as good as this, the world could be a better place for that.

September 2010

SKUNK ANANSIE – Wonderlustre

wonderBack in the mid 90s, some of my friends were big Skunk Anansie fans. It took me a while to appreciate them though, since although their albums were solid enough and I recognised their frontperson Skin had a fantastic voice, sometimes I felt the music didn’t always have that sledgehammer edge the anger within their lyrics often demanded.

I saw them live a couple of times, though – once at the Phoenix Festival in 1996 and in a support slot for KISS the following year. In the live setting, Skunk Anansie were terrific; the music had that extra something and Skin proved to be one of those people who could hold an audience in the palm of her hand from the minute she stepped on stage. During their KISS support, they were especially good, even having the edge over the day’s other angry band Rage Against The Machine, whom, despite meticulously crafted, sharp rhythms and outspoken political views, played their fifty minutes on autopilot.

Skunk Anansie disbanded in 2001, but reformed eight years later. In the summer of 2010, I had the pleasure of seeing them live once again. Skin seemingly hadn’t aged a day and, as before, captivated the audience with her brimming confidence. Within minutes, it was hard to believe that thirteen years had passed since I’d last seen them.

I initially had mixed feelings regarding the release of a new Skunk Anansie album. Their early works were often overshadowed by their live performances and since that summer 2010 performance came as a timely reminder of how good Skunk were live, I feared that ‘Wonderlustre’ would pale in comparison.

This time around, that’s less of an issue, since ‘Wonderlustre’ carries a fair amount of softer material. You’ll find little here as overtly angry as ‘Little Baby SwastiKKKa’, ‘Yes It’s Fucking Political’ or ‘Selling Jesus’, with the band concentrating more on songs which really bring out the cry within Skin’s vocal range. This is demonstrated excellently during ‘Talk Too Much’, a beautiful combination of lush orchestration and rock guitars and ‘The Sweetest Thing’, a funk rock swagger where the vocal arrangement (strong lead counterbalanced by harmonies in a not-quite-call-and-response style) is the main focus. During ‘Feeling The Itch’ Skin’s hushed tones are delivered in a high register and with a great strength and despite the heavy usage of drum machine on those verses, a solid, guitar-driven chorus brings out the best of the harder end of her vocal.

‘You Saved Me’ is probably ‘Wonderlustre’s greatest track, one absolutely made for radio – and probably one of the greatest tracks Skunk Anansie have ever recorded. Clean toned guitars, understated bass work and sharp but gentle drums back Skin, who delivers a really soulful and honest performance. Subtly multi-tracked vocals create an extra layer on this great rock ballad, which encapsulates georgeousness without ever becoming sappy. Even at its most powerful moment, the band resists any temptation to give this track any aggressive qualities.

The lead single ‘My Ugly Boy’ has a hard rock edge, a truckload of confidence and a memorable, but simplistic hook. It’s more in keeping with a more “traditional” Skunk Anansie style. That said, although it’s punchier than at least two thirds of ‘Wanderlustre’ it’s still rather less urgent than some of Skunk’s previous works. In their nine year absence, Skunk Anansie have matured a great deal and mellowed, possibly to their advantage. ‘Over The Love’ features a quieter verse, where Skin demonstrates her full vocal range, where between the power and passion, she occasionally hits notes which are so loaded with pain, they almost don’t register. This is contrasted well by the rock chorus, which manages to remain hard without getting heavy. ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ captures Skunk rocking out with staccato rhythms and a spiky, bouncing riff. It’s notable for being one of the times Skin’s vocal style most closely resembles its angrier performances of the 90s. In many ways, this sticks out a little as part of ‘Wonderlustre’, but its inclusion means this album comes close to covering nearly every musical style within Skunk Anansie’s repertoire.

One of the album’s most interesting numbers, ‘You’re Too Expensive For Me’ employs a distinctly London style vocal against a choppy rhythm which incorporates elements of new wave, funk and reggae – and as such, is slightly reminiscent of early work by The Police. The chorus falls into a more standard rock territory, but is none the worse for that. The guitar parts with their moderately loud approach (but once again, clean tone) provide a decent enough backdrop for Skin, who in turn, drops the almost spoken delivery of the verses for an effortless wail, nearing full belt.

It takes a while before you realise how good ‘Wonderlustre’ is. There are some great songs here. No doubt some of you would have preferred something with consistently more bite. However, what ‘Wonderlustre’ does, it does well, marking a very welcome return for Skunk Anansie, who on this album, are content with moving forward and aren’t attempting to recreate a carbon copy of their past sounds.

September 2010