Foo Fighters, Saint Cecilia
Artist: Foo Fighters
Album: Saint Cecilia
Verdict: Foos return to roots on raw freebie
If you thought the Foos' last CD was lacking a little urgency, you wouldn't be the only one. Recorded in eight different cities and painstakingly filmed for a studious HBO series, Sonic Highways was a laboured effort sorely lacking in energy. Thankfully the Foos haven't forgotten their roots.
Yes, Saint Cecilia comes with another grand concept, a free giveaway via the Foos' website that's dedicated to the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks. It's a worthy cause, but that doesn't mean it's a soft effort. It's quite the opposite, with Saint Cecilia a rowdy collection of five songs based around classic Foos rock and roll riffage. Try the All My Life style chug of the title track that opens into a blistering chorus, or Dave Grohl's distorted screams over the ragged thrash-metal of Savior Breath. Yes, Sean feels a little like a b-side, and there's a passable ballad in Iron Rooster. But closing track The Neverending Sigh harks back to the Foos' 1997 masterpiece The Colour and the Shape, and its stadium epicness trumps anything on Sonic Highways. If this really is, as Grohl has suggested, the last we hear of the Foos, it's a near perfect epitaph.
- Chris Schulz
Verdict: Downbeat bombast a touch too bleak
When Beyonce's surprise album dropped just before Christmas 2013, few people knew of the album's chief producer Jordan Asher. Now, going by the name Boots, Asher has since added collaborations with Run the Jewels and FKA Twigs to his resumé, as well as an excellently moody 2014 mixtape called WinterSpringSummerFall.
It's a start that launched his solo career, one that seems to be devised of equal parts The Weeknd and Nine Inch Nails. Instead of giving himself a Beyonce makeover and making a pop album, on Aquaria he doubles down on his brooding R&B minimalism, delivering the kind of music someone might make after being locked up in solitary confinement for too long. On Bombs Away, Asher mumbles about "black holes for your romance" over thudding bass and glitchy electro squeals; I Run Roulette adds grinding guitars to the mix with similar results.
Asher's better when he slows things down on Cure and Oraclies to a sluggish hip-hop tempo, finds his groove and acts like he's Lana Del Rey. Mostly, though, this is an introspective, insular effort that's a little overwhelming. Perhaps another session with Beyonce would help.
- Chris Schulz
EL-VY, Return to the Moon
Album: Return to the Moon
Verdict: Darkly playful art-rock collaboration
Let's be thankful that during the mid-2000s, Menomena and The National joined together for a west coast tour, and Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf struck up a friendship. Because the result of that decade-long friendship is an album that bears the hallmark of a project undertaken purely for personal satisfaction, and a bit of fun - Returned to the Moon has an ease that only seems to result when there's no pressure involved.
It's a collection that represents both musicians - Berninger's rich, deep, and seductive vocals sit beautifully on top of Knopf's groove-fuelled angular alt-rock arrangements. Together they create something that's playful and darkly funny, pricking the surface and finding the ironic and ridiculous in imagined situations. It's lighter than The National's music, but there's plenty of appeal here for fans of the band. Sad Case and It's A Game have a similar ache, while standout tracks like I'm The Man To Be (a hilarious take on a drugged-up lonely rocker in a hotel room) and Need A Friend have a slightly more tongue-in-cheek quality.
There's a tipsiness, combined with a cheekily nonchalant feel across the album, that makes it a genuinely good time, and more than just a curious side-project.
- Lydia Jenkin
Label: XL Recordings
Verdict: Mostly predictable, but still with lasting appeal
Here's the slightly odd thing about reviewing Adele's new album - it probably won't make a blind bit of difference to whether or not you listen to it or buy it. Either you love Adele and you've already pre-ordered the album, or she's not really your thing, and though you might not object to hearing her in the supermarket, a critical appraisal of her songwriting on 25 isn't going to make you a fan.
Because the songwriting is really what we're focusing on here - by now it's a given that Adele has a strong, beautiful voice, and a talent for delivering lines with genuine emotion.
But while fans won't be disappointed by 25, there's also nothing terribly surprising, exciting, or even particularly new about these 11 tracks. Adele knows she's pretty good at conventional heartbreak-based ballads, and she has good taste when it comes to riding that line between being passionate and overwrought, so that's mostly what she's stuck to.
There are some thoughtful genre variations in the arrangements - there's chanson-like arpeggiated guitar accompaniment on Million Years Ago (which has a melody that owes plenty to Jacques Brel), some African-inflected percussion on the syncopated Send My Love (To Your New Lover) (which is the most overtly pop track on the album and seems like a nod to Lorde), the stadium anthem-esque qualities to the huge drums and electronic ambience on I Miss You, the RnB phrasing and harmony in Remedy, and the classic dance-pop beat of Water Under The Bridge.
There are some nice nuanced differences in her lyrical approach to affairs of the heart too. I Miss You is a straight up song of devotion, Remedy is a promise to help heal someone, Water Under The Bridge is about the inability to tear yourself away from someone you know is no good, All I Ask is a ballad of break-up acceptance.
So she's not singing about the same idea over and over, it's more that there's a tonal similarity across the album which does leave some tracks blending into the background, and the occasional nagging feeling that we've heard this from Adele before.
Some of it just doesn't quite meet the admittedly high bar she's set for herself - Love In The Dark, All I Ask, and Sweetest Devotion all have a generic, cliched feel. Particularly standing next to stand-out tracks like early single Hello, which is bold, tingling, and weighty in its simplicity, and the Danger Mouse produced River Lea which has a classic seductive, swaggering groove, and showcases a slightly huskier tone for Adele.
The most anticipated song on the album, her co-write with Tobias Jesso Jr, entitled When We Were Young, is an interesting one, because there's something quite obvious about it, but that turns out to be surprisingly appealing in Adele's hands.
It's like the musical equivalent of a great rom-com, lets say Love, Actually - it's fairly unimaginative and even a little bit manipulative, but though it will potentially polarise people, it's also a classic because it captures a certain sentimentality. Maybe that's a good metaphor for 25 as a whole too: not a stunning work of art, but good enough to have lasting appeal.
- Lydia Jenkin
Justin Bieber, Purpose
Artist: Justin Bieber
Verdict: Bland apologies.
Mr Bieber's had a couple of turbulent years - nothing that unusual for rock stars of old, but perhaps a little too freaky for tween pop-star fans these days. So for his fourth studio album, Bieber decided he needed to make amends, and say sorry for all his misdemeanours, in song.
Unfortunately, that's made for a fairly unconvincing album. His vocal delivery throughout is annoying - too breathy and too weightless, like a crooning robot, and devoid of any edge or conviction. There's too much self-pity strewn around the place: "It's hard to do the right thing when the pressure's coming down like lightning," he whines on I'll Show You.
And while he might be laying out the apologies and appearing repentant, it comes across as both disingenuous and boring. The wayward, arrogant Bieber was more interesting than this play-acting good boy.
It's a shame because there are some surprisingly great beats underneath it all, courtesy of Skrillex, Jack U, Diplo, etc, and occasionally Bieber manages to nearly match them with his performance. The Feeling and Where Are U Now are both decent pop hits, with a surprisingly sweet sentiment behind them, No Sense is a refreshingly swaggering, skittering track, and Love Yourself, which is penned by Ed Sheeran, actually has a nice little lyrical bite to it, even if it ends up sounding like Bieber doing a Sheeran cover, all stripped back to vocals and guitar.
Of course Sorry (which has a video showcasing the talents of local choreographer Parris Goebel and her Palace dance crew that elevates it to summer hit status) also has an undeniable hip-rolling groove that will get stuck in your head for days, and nicely balanced, mellow production.
But there are too many clangers in among the 18 tracks to make Purpose worthwhile as an album. The title track is a case in point, sounding like a horribly generic worship ballad - Bieber has credited his pastor with helping him to find the right path again, but in this case, it just makes for a dreary song.
- Lydia Jenkin
One Direction, Made in the A.M.
Artist: One Direction
Album: Made in the A.M.
Verdict: Boy band stay awake too late before hiatus.
Made in the A.M. is the fifth studio album for the biggest boy band in the word, and the first since Zayne Malik left One Direction and they're proving that they can definitely make it as a four-piece.
The group's latest single Perfect an obvious reply to Taylor Swift's Style, which was targeted at ex Harry Styles, with lyrics like "And if you like cameras flashing every time we go out, oh, yeah / And if you're looking for someone to write your breakup songs about / Baby, I'm perfect / Baby, we're perfect". The hook is catchy and fun - unlike End of the Day, which starts out with a clapping beat then shifts gear through the chorus, which ends up feeling clunky.
Sweet slow ballads, Infinity and Long Way Down, will make the fangirls cry, as will the piano-driven If I Could Fly. The track gives an opportunity for the quartet to show off their vocal harmonies with Styles leading the big notes the boy's singing feels just as full as it ever did.
Made in The A.M. is another attempt from One Direction at a mature sound - with the lads being involved even more in the writing process, but for some of the album they risk losing the original playfulness of being a boy band. The album's first single Drag Me Down is kind of boring, but thankfully it's balanced out with Never Enough, with its acapella bass line, or History, with its cruisy vibe and Olivia brings a different twist into the band's old school rock-influenced pop.
One Direction's final album before their hiatus is a little all over the place, trying to do too many things, with songs that aren't going to blow anyone away, but Directioners are still bound to lap it up.
- Rachel Bache
Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings
Artist: Kurt Cobain
Album: Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings
Verdict: Disturbing collection feels like grave robbing.
Want to hear Kurt Cobain yodel? Mumble his way through a cover of Do Re Mi? Feel up to enduring the late Nirvana front man's tortured screams for an entire minute? If you still feel like you don't know enough about Cobain, the Montage of Heck soundtrack is here to show you just how low his estate can go.
This 31-track collection, compiled by Montage of Heck director Brett Morgan with unrestricted access to Cobain's belongings, is surely the absolute dregs. From basic, banal versions of songs like Sappy and Scoff, to barely listenable audio of Cobain mumbling incoherently, to snippets of songs dedicated to his daughter Frances, these mostly acoustic bits should have stayed buried.
Still interested? Try Montage of Kurt, a nightmarish snapshot of distorted Cobain voices that builds into a giant belch, or Beans, a joke song possibly sung through his nose. Montage of Heck was a watchable documentary in desperate need of some editing. Released six months later, no one needed to hear this desperate excuse for a soundtrack. That it gets a single star feels like credibility it doesn't deserve.
- Chris Schulz
Grimes, Art Angels
Album: Art Angels
Verdict: Skewed vision stretches pop's boundaries.
She sings, she sways, and she stands around solemnly, always absolutely captivating. But at some point during Grimes' bonkers video for Oblivion, you realise you're not watching the wispy figure dancing around in sports stadiums, you're watching the reactions of the people around her.
With her first three albums, that seemed to be Claire Boucher's aim. The Canadian singer treated her career like a musical art installation, seemingly more interested in how fans reacted to her music than the music itself.
That's not the case on Art Angels, her nearly flawless fourth album that comes after some troubling times. Songs written for major pop stars like Rihanna and Adele were reportedly turned down. An entire album was scrapped for being "depressing". And she learned to play the guitar, the violin, and, ugh, the ukelele. Nearly three years after Visions was met with universal acclaim, you could be forgiven for thinking Boucher had packed up her project indefinitely.
So Art Angels' somewhat surprise release this week is a massive relief. It's a boundary-stretching dance-pop stunner that seems determined to outdo absolutely everyone: Scream is a Major Lazer jetsetter funnelled through an industrialised riff, Flesh Without Blood's 80s dance wobbles tops Robyn, and Kill V. Maim is a Miley Cyrus stunner with sharp edges that would scare anyone in love with Disneyised pop. There's barely a "depressing" moment in sight.
But Boucher's aim isn't just mimicry. Art Angels is a big album with big moments, delivering thematic consistency and eclectic weirdness in equal measures. It's exactly what pop should be in 2015. Try California's summery stomp, the kind of road trip anthem Rihanna would probably kill for right about now, or Easily, a soaring ballad which could have been snapped up as Adele's comeback song. And Venus Fly is a thudding rave stormer featuring the album's only guest, Janelle Monae.
By the time late album electro-pop double-up Pin and Realiti rolls around, you realise Grimes is in a class of her own. She's still dancing, singing and swaying just like the girl in the Oblivion video. The only difference is that she's doing it for herself now, and that makes her far more interesting.
- Chris Schulz
Ellie Goulding, Delirium
Artist: Ellie Goulding
Verdict: Ellie pumps up with dance-pop bangers.
Three years on from her 2012 album Halcyon, British singer Ellie Goulding is back with her third album, Delirium, and it's a dance-pop whopper.
Love Me Like You Do, from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack earlier this year, and On My Mind's downbeat electro sound have found themselves getting repeated radio play, but they're not the only catchy tunes on Delirium.
Aftertaste's thumping drums follow a suspenseful intro track, while Something In The Way You feels like it's inspired by The Weeknd's hit Can't Feel My Face. Keep On Dancin' has a whistled hook and jungle beats while Around U verges on bubble-gum pop with its upbeat vibe that gets your toe tapping.
Goulding's vocals are as great as ever, her husky tones moving from low to high notes with ease. Echoes and reverb are heavy on Delirium, as Goulding makes the most of her high-energy EDM-inspired sounds. Songs also grow on you with each listen.
Don't Need Nobody transforms into a bass heavy banger, even the slower melodies on Devotion and Scream It Out are laced with the same appeal, with Goulding's voice become digitised through the chorus on Devotion.
Goulding is really taking a step forward with this record, delving deep into dance pop, making an album that is both cohesive while exploring different sounds, completely leaving behind the hints of folk-pop she had on previous albums Halcyon and Lights.
Lyrically her songs on Delirium are simple licks about love, dancing and breakups without coming across as vapid. The 16 track album (22 tracks on the deluxe edition, including her Calvin Harris collab Outside and the Joel Little-produced songs The Greatest and Paradise) is filled with fun, relatable body-moving hits.
- Rachel Bache
Roots Manuva, Bleeds
Artist: Roots Manuva
Label: Big Dada
Verdict: Brooding comeback lacks fun factor.
With Grime still sweeping UK's hip-hop scene, Roots Manuva risks becoming rap's grumpy grandad - especially with his latest release. A concept record about organised religion, Bleeds is Rodney Smith's ninth album that delivers insular and uncompromising rhyme schemes with underlying malice and beats to match. If you're wondering whether you can handle it, test the waters with Crying, a doom-rap grind backed by crying babies and lyrics like, "Death don't go so slowly / When you're losing life like I lose."
Thankfully, things lighten up occasionally, like the sweetly sung chorus of Don't Breathe Out, a song that samples Barry White and sounds like Bon Iver sucking on helium, or the comparatively chirpy bounce of One Thing that could be from the London MC's 2001 masterpiece Run Come Save Me.
But the only moment that really showcases the goofy Manuva of old is the jaunty bounce of Facety 2:11, a Four Tet-produced stunner that Manuva should have used as a blueprint for the rest of Bleeds. Otherwise, this is a bit of a slog and makes Witness the Fitness feel like a very long time ago.
- Chris Schulz
The Beatles, 1+
Artist: The Beatles
Album: 1+ DVD or Blu-ray set
Verdict: 50 Beatles videos and films digitally restored with remastered sound. 'Nuff said?
The closer we look at The Beatles' career - now almost half a century gone - the more extraordinary it seems. They changed the possibilities in popular music - it's a long way from "I want to hold your hand" to "I'd love to turn you on," and even further to "I am the walrus" - and when they launched their Apple Corp company they took control of their business, music and manufacturing career. And didn't they anticipate music videos?
"The mania made it pretty difficult to get around," said George Harrison later, "and out of convenience we decided we were not going to go into the TV studios to promote our records ... we thought we'd make our own little films. I think the first proper ones we did were Paperback Writer and Rain [mid-66].
"Once we actually went on an Ed Sullivan show with just a clip ... so I suppose in a way we invented MTV."
The Beatles - having spent their early years doing so much live television - were the best-documented group of the early 60s. Then they were filmed in concert, on the road and for music clips they set up.
Tomorrow these promotional films and newly minted clips (with previously unseen footage) are being released with the re-mastered reissue of their 2000 compilation CD The Beatles; 1 which pulls together all 27 their chart-topping UK singles.
There's also an expanded edition The Beatles; 1+ which comes with two DVD or Blu-ray discs (with a 124-page book, also with audio commentary by Paul McCartney), all of the footage digitally restored and looking as fresh as yesterday.
This a visual journey through some of the smartest and most durable pop of the 20th century, and the films put the Beatles and the era into focus.
What also comes through in the 23 additional clips on The Beatles; 1+ set is their careless disregard for miming. When others, the rebellious Rolling Stones included, did their best to lip-synch, John Lennon and McCartney in particular treated the idea with amused disdain.
And when marijuana kicked in they sometimes couldn't contain their laughter, as on the hilariously stoned We Can Work It Out, explained when you see the "sheet music" on Lennon's electric piano.
There's much to enjoy and be amused by in these groundbreaking films and candid footage.
The Beatles created iconic images (collarless jackets and polo-neck sweaters to tinted shades then retro-chic grandad suits) and in seven, culture-changing years they cracked a whopping 27 number one UK singles, now back again with crisp, evocative, funny and often exciting footage.
- Graham Reid
Demi Lovato, Confident and Selena Gomez, Revival
Arist: Demi Lovato
Label: Hollywood Records
Verdict: Pop that packs a positive punch
Artist: Selena Gomez
Verdict: Gomez's rebirth into a mature pop sound
Ex-Disney stars Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez are all grown up - coming into their own and baring their souls in two very different ways. Though they may have started in the same place the singers have found their own styles - evident in their new albums.
Lovato busts out powerhouse pop hits from the get-go with the triumphant trumpets of Confident and the energetic Cool for the Summer, switching between synth notes and a rocking distorted guitar.
Lovato's album has an intensity to it, drawing elements from EDM, power-pop and even a little R&B and hip-hop to spice up her pop flavour. Gomez taps into some of these sounds but uses them in a more delicate way.
Kingdom Come featuring Iggy Azalea - feeling a little similar in parts to Azalea's Black Widow hit - is a lot of fun. Female rapper Sirah also makes an appearance on battle song Waitin for You.
Lovato shows off her impressive vocal range on ballad Stone Cold and For You, while the overwhelmingly emotional song Father, dedicated to her late father Patrick, who died in 2013, shows a side inspired by gospel.
Both albums feel very personal, lyrically. Gomez kicks her record off with a spoken word poem "I dive into the future / But I'm blinded by the sun / I'm reborn in every moment / So who knows what I'll become" followed by slow electronic sounds that build in layers. The track, along with others, seem to draw inspiration from pop legends like Janet Jackson.
There is a subtlety in the sound of the Revival record - songs like Sober pull from electro pop, while her single Good For You featuring rapper A$AP Rocky starts with Gomez's gentle singing overtop clicks and an airy synth sound.
Gomez also has classic pop ballads like the piano-driven Camouflage. Hands To Myself and Me & The Rhythm bring a playfulness to the album, while Body Heat is a tropic-inspired dance anthem. This is Gomez's first album with Interscope after being released from her contract with Disney's Hollywood Records and the singer seems to have made the most of it.
Lovato and Gomez have both come a long way from their early Disney days, Gomez showing more of a musical maturity, while Lovato punches out her pop-hits with full force.
- Rachel Bache