Nightman Listens To – Lady Gaga – Chromatica (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! This could be a biggie Out of all of the pop acts on the 2020 Series list, Gaga is probably the biggest. It’s her or Taylor Swift, right? They’ve both been around for ages and both have a bunch of hits. I can’t actually name a single Taylor Swift song, but I can tell you a few by Gaga. I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed any of those songs – Poker Face…. the one from The Oscar…. the one about glory… but they’re fine. She seems like a good vocalist, she has her own visual style, plus she claims to enjoy a bit of Metal. If she had come up when I was a teenager, I probably would have had much stronger words for her one way or the other. But I’m old and I don’t care. Now, it’s all about the music. Does it move me? Does it challenge me? Does it beckon me to stretch these gnarled joints and shuffle them about in a pseudo-rhythmic mockery of dance? I wouldn’t say I have high hopes for this one, but there’s a bit of anticipation around it. I’ve never listened to a Gaga album before, and most of the pop albums from 2020 I’ve listened to have been okay. Pleasant. The odd bop. Nothing on the levels of what I personally love in pop, but not bad. Lets see what Gaga has to say for herself.

How These Artists Crafted Lady Gaga's Latest Album Cover Look | Vogue

I can’t say I’ve paid attention to any of Gaga’s previous album covers, but I do know she’s into fashion and image, and has a defined style. This all seems a little raunchy, a little BDSM, a little cyber-witchy. Lots of spikes and sparkles. Does this imagery bleed into the music, the lyrics, themes, tone, and atmosphere?

Looking down the track-list I don’t recognise a single song, but I’m immediately curious to find out if this is an attempt at a pop concept album. A few of the song names hint at this, but plenty of pop acts over the years have attempted similar things to little or no real effect. Gaga sure has the clout, and hopefully the creativity to give it a shot – to make something more than just another pop album. By the time you read the next paragraph, I will know for sure.

Chromatica is just another pop album, but it’s a very good pop album. It’s brazen in its confidence and displays songwriters at the peak of their craft, and while its aspirations at being a full blown traditional Concept album fall short, it has enough thematic through-lines that we know it’s an album with something to say, an album which is as much a journey of catharsis as it is a batch of dancefloor favourites. I knew nothing about Gaga’s life before this album, beyond that time she wore a meat suit and that time she sang at The Oscars, but having lived in this album’s orbit for some time I feel closer to her know as a human and artist.

Chromatica follows the similar signature moves as many of the other pop albums from 2020 I’ve listened to so far, particularly how it wears its influences on its sleeves. There’s no escaping the comparisons to Madonna, something I understand has plagued Gaga her whole career. There are worse artists to be compared to, but every artist wants to stand on the quality of their own input instead of being labelled a knock-off. There are obvious call backs to Vogue era Madonna, but they are respectful, knowing, and are merely used as a jumping off point to make something new. This is where Chromatica succeeds over those other 2020 throwbacks; this is not a throwback, it’s a forward thinking dance pop album with one stiletto firmly planted in the 90s.

What I was most interested in when I wrote the intro to this post was whether or not this was a Concept album. The answer likely depends on what you think a Concept album should be – is it a series of songs loosely based around the same idea or topic, is it a full narrative with characters, a beginning, and ending? Chromatica is closer to the first definition – there isn’t a set narrative with the lyrics telling a clear story, but the songs and lyrics do still tell the story of Gaga’s journey through pain and out the other side. The musical threads weave a chronology from Disco through synth-pop to the House inspired underground movement of the 90s and the expansion of EDM, but it never loses its focus on melody and fun, even as each of the genres it cribs from often looked towards more experimental ends. It’s not enough to say that musical connective tissue makes a Concept album – after all, all albums without exception have the same connective tissue. A Concept album tends to have recurring motifs – snippets of the same musical notes repeating at different points throughout the album, the tone of the instruments unwavering in their commitment to the album’s atmosphere, and songs often running into one another making it difficult to determine when one ends and the next begins. Chromatica touches on these points in a cursory way – there’s a bit of sound bleeding from track to track but in terms of tone and motif there is little to suggest a wider Concept.

Yet, the album does hold together, conceptually. The three title-track instrumental interludes seemingly break the album into three acts. Musically, they’re not obviously distinct and thematically they chart an uneven, non-linear journey. That journey starts in a place of reflection, uncertainty, and even hope, proceeds to a darker, more angry middle, and concludes in a finale which attempts to reconcile with the past and to heal. Throughout each act there’s a inward search for answers, a self-loathing kink, and some accusations pointed squarely at others, an in each act there’s a clawing defiance that we can all be better, we can overcome and move on.

I would have preferred more variance in the album – most of the songs are upbeat, up-tempo floor fillers and as such early listens feel repetitive with only a handful of songs standing apart. With additional listens and examinations of the lyrics those subtle variances begin to drip out, never becoming a downpour. My early standouts remain my favourites – Fun Tonight and Sine From Above are the GOATs, with a few struggling to get that bronze position. Stupid Love is ridiculously catchy and even with its annoying quirks it nuzzles its way into your brain-meat. Alice is a fun, brief Conceptual opener with well-worn lyrical metaphors worn proudly while Rain On Me brings the always youthful spirit and vocals of Ariana Grande to an already energetic tragic tale.  There isn’t a weak link – from the instrumental linking tracks to the less eventful non-singles, there is always something to enjoy; a thumping beat, a neat vocal, a jarring lyric which opposes the care-free action of the music.

While the lyrics never scratch my personal itch of being raw, personal, and unique, as a whole they present a not-quite defeated heroine punching her way through the soil and back to life. There are recurring references to identity and uncertainty, escape and rescue, freedom and feeling trapped, frustration and death, addiction and honesty. Having not paid any real attention to Gaga’s music or lyrics previously, I can’t say if this is a step up, down, or sideways for her as an artist. Thematically she has a range to write about here, but the next level in her evolution could be to nail the lyrics in a more overt poetic fashion. That’s not necessary by any means, but from my personal standpoint, that’s what increases my connection to an artist.

You’re going to question the necessity of each song in any album that is sixteen tracks long – the three instrumental pieces are brief and bridge the gaps between each section of the album, and justify their position. Neither is the most breath-taking or interesting piece of music, but they’re short and inoffensive. 911 is about as average as the album gets and is skippable outside of the Concept, Plastic Doll is better but forgettable amidst everything else, and Sour Candy is the best of a dull mid album sequence due to it’s interesting structure. Enigma isn’t quite the anthem it wants to be – it’s close, but the chorus doesn’t live up to the hype of the verse and lead in, while Replay fuses any number of genres and hits together to make a solid dance mashup. The final three songs are a stellar conclusion, led by the album’s high mark Sine From Above. I’m not Elton John fan, and I didn’t recognise him until I read that it was him. It’s a furious, euphoric club classic the likes of which you’d expect from Sweden’s hit-makers, hitting the sweet spot of melody and emotion which makes music special. 1000 Doves is sweet and hopeful and feels more like an album closer than the Vogue sequel Babylon. Babylon isn’t exactly a dud closer because of the fun lyrics and antics going on in the production, but it isn’t a floor filling or emotive climax.

As far as my first Gaga experience goes, this was mostly positive. I can see why she’s adored, I can see myself listening to roughly half of the songs regularly in the future, and there’s enough good stuff here to make me curious about the rest of her discography. I’m also curious to see how I score the album in relation to Jessie Ware’s album – both ostensibly pop albums with similar tones.

ALBUM SCORE

Sales: 4. This will likely increase to a 5 over time, but at the moment it’s difficult to determine sales. It seems to be around 1 million worldwide, low when comparing it to A Star Is Born’s 6 million sales.

Chart: 5. As easy a five as you’ll ever get. Number 1 in Australia, Canada, France, Italy, UK, US, and others. Top 5 in most Countries which buy music.

Critical: 4. I feel like I need to be harsh here otherwise most albums in this series will get a 5 by nature of being included in the series. The album didn’t get many Number 1 Best Of The Year picks, but plenty of top 10s. While praise was positive, it wasn’t super gushing.

Originality: 3. You could go 2 here, I don’t think you can go higher than 3. It’s another album taking its cues heavily from previous artists and periods of time. That’s fine, but it doesn’t do anything particularly innovative to bring that time period up to date.

Influence: 3. I imagine anything Gaga does will be influential in the pop landscape – along with some of the other retro-type pop albums of 2020, there seems to be a backwards looking movement. I can’t say whether this individual album will do anything to influence other artists more than any of Gaga’s previous work already has.

Musical Ability: 3. It follows a tried and true approach with little musical variation. Everyone knows what they’re doing.

Lyrics: 3. The album has lyrics. They’re fine. Other may enjoy them more and take the score to a four. It’s certainly not a two, but not personal enough for me to get higher.

Melody: 3. Possibly harsh, but most of the solid melodies miss out on being quite as anthemic or ear-bait as I’d like. I can see plenty going for a 5 here, for me it’s close to a 4.

Emotion: 4. I’m happy to go 4 here. There’s a range of emotion which is often hidden by the music rather than accentuated by it, but those emotions bubble up with further examination.

Lastibility: 4. It’s a solid collection of floor-fillers, good for summer driving and winter clubbing. The singles will likely live on and be recalled in years to come.

Vocals: 3. I’m a little disappointed here, hence the 3. I know Gaga can wail, but there’s not much of that in this album. There are a few nasal moments too, and quite a few instances of one of my biggest pet hates; putting an ‘o’ sound in front of an ‘I’ sound, to make a weird Irish/Cockney ‘oi’ disaster. It’s one of the reasons I could never get invested in certain sections of Punk, with their obnoxious ‘oi oi oi’ chants. Even the otherwise excellent Sine From Above suffers from it.

Coherence: 4. Ignoring the assumption that it’s a Concept album, it holds together well in terms of genre, atmosphere, and tone. Taking the Concept into consideration, its coherence runs deeper, even if there isn’t a pure narrative thread from start to finish.

Mood: 3. Go 4 here if you must, but for me to give a higher score in this category – I need to feel it. Even with the Concept and the emotion involved, this is primarily a dance record and there’s only so much mileage in in Mood I can get out of it.

Production: 5. There modern day pop albums know how to sound good. I don’t know shit about Production, but I couldn’t find any significant faults here.

Effort: 4. Gaga seems to pump out albums very quickly, so she’s driven and still at a personal peak. This takes inherent effort. Add in the push to make this a personal Concept album and you can imagine this took more effort than just another Pop album.

Relationship: 3. The universal personal stuff I can relate to, but more so I can relate to the artist wearing her heart on her sleeve and exposing herself, regardless of the specific details. I don’t think she went personal enough for me to give this a higher score.

Genre Relation: 4. It sounds like a lot of the other pop albums I’ve heard this year, and aside from the obvious improvements in tech, it sounds like the early 90s albums it draws inspiration from.

Authenticity: 4. I see no evidence to doubt its sincerity, either when acknowledging its influences or being open about its emotions.

Personal: 4. It’s a lowish 4. I don’t think I can go three because I enjoyed it more, as a whole, than some of the other albums I’ve given a 3. But because it lacks 1 or 2 more big chorus bangers, it’s a low 4. Still, it’s an enjoyable modern pop album which I can see myself listening to again – that’s something.

Miscellaneous: 4. A rare 4 in this category, because a big all guns blazing tour followed, along with one of those re-release remix albums too.

Total: 74/100

Is this our highest scoring album so far? If so, I wasn’t expecting it to be, but I guess it’s justified. I think it’s maybe a match with Future Nostalgia, which is fairly apt.  Will anything else top this score? There are plenty more albums remaining on my 2020 list, so stick around to be find out! Let us know your thoughts on Chromatica below!

Nightman Listens To Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure? (2020 Series)!

Jessie Ware: What's Your Pleasure? Album Review | Pitchfork

Greetings, Glancers! We’re deep into the 2022 Heat Wave and yet we’re far behind in our coverage of the best albums of 2020. I’m giving you this shite for free, don’t complain. If you wanted to give me money to get this stuff out sooner, let me know – I like money.

Jessie Ware. Jessie Who, amirite? I’m almost certainly not right, but I have never heard of this person. She made an album that was deemed one of the best of 2020, so she’s clearly better than me. Yet here we are, with me about to destroy her piece of art. Who knows though, maybe it’ll be good. I don’t know what genre Jessie performs in or what this album is, but I’m going to guess it’s more on the pop side than the heavy side, and so far in this series it has been the pop albums I have responded to more positively. Based on the album name, I’m getting cheesy Swing vibes, but factoring in the side eyed resting grump face of the album cover, maybe this is more sexy. Is there a dominatrix vibe here? That would be marginally more enjoyable than some pseudo Sinatra throwback. All in all, I don’t know what this is, but by the time I type the next sentence I’ll have listened to the album multiple times.

What’s Your Pleasure is a throwback party album, peppered with radio friendly unit shifters and floor fillers. Amidst its highs and lows it cribs from a variety of sources – most noticeably 80s superstars like Madonna and Michael Jackson, but further back to the disco era and the more recent synthwave revivals. For me, this is where the album lacks strength; the lack of a unique voice. Out of all of the pop albums I’ve covered in my 2020 posts so far, this has the least to say. It’s not that it doesn’t say anything – it’s simply that we’ve heard it all before, and not only from the artists who have influenced it.

It’s a glossy release, a polished and warm production which raises even the least adventurous idea to attention craving levels. Jessie can sing, her welcoming vocals straddling the line between sultry and distant. There are less irritating quirks in the songwriting, in the performances, and it respectfully ignores much of the distasteful tones, vocal tics, sampling, and subject matter of today’s chart darlings in favour of nostalgic, light-hearted fun. In essence, as a fan of this sort of 80s pop, it’s something which could have made specifically for me, but that unique magical essence which elevates an everyday pop song to a timeless anthem is missing.

As much as the album lacks a unique voice, it treads too familiar ground from song to song. We’ve heard these songs before, and within the album there isn’t much variety. This enhances the overall product’s cohesiveness, but heightens that sense of boredom, that sense that something is missing. The lack of variance pulls down the best songs more than it pulls up the lesser tracks. As a standalone, Save A Kiss is a flawless pop smash, a gloriously exuberant explosion of freedom and joy. Spotlight feels like a logical later born cousin to the darkly toned sythn beats of Baby Be Mine, and as an opener it gets the dance juices flowing. It’s a minute too long, with an unnecessary extended outro which attempts to undo much of the good work of the preceding few minutes. By the time we reach Soul Control – the album’s fourth track, the play is already running somewhat thin.

Outside of the gleaming quasi modern production, the album’s greatest asset is also it’s Achilles heel. The songs work well as standalones, but in sequence they are a bore. It’s not music to listen to as much as to have in the background – at a party you’d be equally well served having someone stand in the next room and bang the wall rhythmically. In the club setting, or driving in the car with the radio on or a random playlist booming, if any one of these songs were to come on you’d be guaranteed a positive response. It’s good time music which doesn’t require much thought or attention, but expose yourself to more than a couple in a row and their sweetness and lack of emotional or creative sustenance will have your reaching for something more substantial.

What’s Your Pleasure is a question easily answered – I’d prefer listening to the artists who influenced it. In one moment a song is aping Michael Jackson, and in the next it’s reminiscent of the people who have made a career off aping MJ – Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, the guy who did that incredibly annoying Happy song. If you enjoy those people, you’re sure to enjoy this too given that it’s more of the same. The pop nostalgia wagon rolls on, trampling creative new voices under its creaking wheels.

In Your Eyes is one five minute slog too many, a dirge of forgotten synth bass loops which would have been better served popping up in an Amiga game, Step Into My Life is a decent chorus enveloped by melodies we cared about forty years earlier, and Read My Lips could have been lifted from Stranger Things if that show had been written by a Rom Com fan rather than a horror one. The Kill would have made a spirited, atmospheric closer had it been the last track and is perhaps the only song on the album which feels like it could grow in my estimation over time into I’d love.

To repeat myself, and further share that I didn’t have as negative an experience with this as my words may suggest – many of the songs are funky and fun and likely pulsating in the live setting. Even the ones I enjoyed least are inoffensive and no single song is less than C Grade quality. Only Save A Kiss comes close to that precious A Grade, leaving us with an album of Bs and Cs – a perfectly above average student who applied themselves as boldly as they could, but couldn’t quite get out of the shadow of their peers, while seemingly not even knowing how to do that.

ALBUM SCORE

Sales: 3. I’d be tempted to go with a 2 here based on the information I have. It’s certified Silver in the UK – not Gold, not Platinum, and this is where it sold best. But albums don’t really sell any more unless you’re an Adele or Sheehan. 3 is the absolute cap here.

Chart: 3. Similar to Sales, it did well in the UK – not great, but did reach the Top 5. Elsewhere it charted sporadically. If you want to reward it for a decent UK showing, go with a 3, but in terms of Universal performance it is underwhelming.

Critical: 4. If I was more positive with the previous two categories, I’ll drop a point here. You might want to go with a 5, but I’ll stick with 4. Its acclaim was universal and it obviously featured highly on year end lists, but much of this seems like bandwagon hopping consensus.

Originality: 2. It’s yet another throwback pop album. The original era was stronger, and we’ve had stronger throwbacks.

Influence: 2. It didn’t sell anywhere near enough to be influential, and given the lack of anything new it’s little more than the latest in a very long line of disco nostalgia bait.

Musical Ability: 3. Lets keep it right down the middle – what’s there suits the need.

Lyrics: 2. No single lyric stood out during any of my initial listens, so I had to go out to Google for a read along on a subsequent listen. Disco and club hits, at least first time around, are not known for their lyrics or smarts, but typically the modern approaches place more emphasis on the words to offer a twist. It perhaps says a lot that the opening line references words not being enough. It’s an album which makes its point through its music. You’d be hard pressed to find a single line in the entire album which hasn’t been sung by another artist. You’d be hard pressed to find much in the way of insight with such nuggets as ‘if you’re gonna treat me nice you can love me one time’.

Melody: 3. Does the job for the odd floor filler, but there is nothing immediate or anthemic enough to be considered a new classic.

Emotion: 2. Most of the songs are about sex, dancing, or sex after dancing. It’s not entirely hollow and the pervading emotion is one of fun, naughtiness. If you’re into that, increase the score by a point, but there’s precious here for me to care about.

Lastibility: 3. I don’t doubt that the hits on this album will continue to be played and enjoyed for the next few years – at time of writing we’re two years post release. As pop, and the majority of music, is incredibly disposable, this will be replaced by the next thing very quickly.

Vocals: 3. One of the things which most irks me with respect to vocalists these days, is their similarity. Few singers take a risk or attempt to sound different. Each person has their own tone, but most singers will mimic what is popular. Throw in the copycat inflections and accents and we’re left with a huge pool of voices which you cannot differentiate between. I’m being very generous with a 3 here, especially considering the vocals are largely restrained and there are few peaks of volume, force, emotion, and little shades of colour in between.

Coherence: 4. On of the major positives is that the album holds together well. This also means it’s a slog to get through, but it all fits.

Mood: 3. There isn’t much in the way of differing moods; it’s a party album and it does it well.

Production: 5. Top notch work from all involved, warm and glossy to suit the vibe.

Effort: 3. Sure. It’s a bunch of songs which sound like other songs.

Relationship: 2. Songs designed to be danced to as their primary goal are songs not designed for me. It takes something exceptional to get me on my feet. The lyrics hold no interest for me, and even the overall retro fun time vibe which should hit me in the nostalgic feels instead reminds me of music I’d rather listen to.

Genre Relation: 3. It sounds like any number of recent throwbacks – Dua Lipa, Sia, Gaga – but it isn’t as good as any of those.

Authenticity: 3. I’m sure Jessie and her team really meant it. Unfortunately, five similar albums all saying the same thing were probably released the same week. Your authenticity as an artist can only go so far when you’re in an echo chamber.

Personal: 2. I could go a 3 here, but the more I think about it the more disappointed I become. There are great elements here, some fine ideas and momentary hooks, but the end product falls flat. A handful of the standalone songs I’ll gladly listen to in isolation – there are a couple of bangers – but the majority of the album is forgettable retro pop which doesn’t attempt to stand out from the crowd.

Miscellaneous: 3. My standard score for this increasingly meaningless category.

Total: 58/100. A low to average score for an album I can’t see myself listening to again in its entirety. Outside of a couple of songs, this one didn’t do a lot for me, but once again I’m happily in the minority. Let us know your thoughts in What’s Your Pleasure? in the comments!

Nightman Listens To Ghostmane – Anti-Icon (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! I truly have not the slightest idea what this is. I checked my 2020 albums list to see what I had to listen to next, I saw the name, I clicked ‘Create post’, and I started typing this sentence. Based on the name, I’m guessing either Metal or Rap. As part of my intro, I typically Google the album name to pull up the artwork, and sometimes that tells me something about the artist, such as the genre, where they’re from, some snippet of information which sheds some light on a previously unheard of band or person. Lets see what we find with this one….Googles…sees American singer… paint and piercings… so… Metal?

Ghostemane: ANTI-ICON Album Review | Pitchfork

Bloody arms grabbing one of those old styley torture masks. Self-flagellation? Ripping the head off some Slipknot dude? Random violent image for shock purposes. Is the helmet a symbol of the icon we are meant to be anti about? Lets just get into it, and lets hope it’s good. Oh look, the songs are very short. Yes, the songs are short. In many ways it’s an unusual album, the brevity of each each track being part of that strangeness. There’s a fair amount of diversity, yet it all feels very samey; there are the Nu Metal inspired songs, the Industrial ones, the Rap oriented ones. Some songs have clean vocals, some have growls, and some have that irritating yapping which made Nu-Metal so detestable. The variety feels shoehorned in rather than substantial, and yet it’s not a yawnsome experience. The sub three minute nature of the majority of the songs means no particular annoying factor gains too much focus, yet they feel so rushed together and free from real creativity or emotion lead to a giant shrug of the shoulders for most of the run time. It’s like hearing some local rock band being hyped up as the saviour or your Country’s next big thing, but when you watch them live you spend most of the time thinking you’ve seen it all before and ignoring what talent they may genuinely have.

Showmanship and Production are two of the major positives – the dude wants to be the next Manson or Ghost or whatever, and seems to have the charisma and social media know how to entrap a new breed of listener, and the Production is top rate, mixing a lot of the digital cut up quirks we’ve already seen many Metal artists showcase in this 2020 series so far, with guitars crunching and stuttering into a distant chaotic fog, and vocals buffering in and out of sequence with a viral intensity. Plenty of songs achieve an atmospheric atmosphere – the opener being a booming, suitably ominous intro like a descent into some cavernous industrial underworld. Still, I can’t help but shake the feeling that there is absolutely nothing new here. From the Fred Durst whining raps which sound like the poor man is curling out a particularly raw turd to the blatant Disturbed and NIN rip-offs, to the nods to such weak adolescent bedroom door slam anthems of Linkin Park, there isn’t a trace of feeling; the whole album feels like a publicity stunt. The only glimmer of honesty comes with album closer Falling Down, Something In The Way – esque conclusion and the album’s only real moment of calm, which neatly ties in with the throbbing beats of the opening track. Elsewhere, Vagabond is a great highlight reel for the album, packing in everything you need to hear in under two minutes.

Ghostmane is a talented enough performer, assuming he’s the sole vocalist and plays some guitar, and isn’t afraid to mix up the pacing with an instrumental track or introducing some mumblecore elements to his raps. The raps, the vocals are decent enough when we’re not resorting to the aforementioned Durst mewling. The lyrics are fine for this type of thing, but if you want to get the point across that you’re suffering, you’re in pain, that life is shit, there are more poetic ways to do it than screaming ‘I don’t love you anymore’. In fairness, the topics here run the usual gauntlet from suicide to being angry about the state of society and fame, to drugs, and back to suicide – all the sorts of things an edgy young audience will be enticed by, and maybe he doesn’t need to be particularly incisive with his pen – just enough of a rebellious slogan that someone pissed off at the world can be sucked in by. Of course I don’t know anything about the dude or his band, and I’m sure the stuff he’s talking about is coming from the heart. As a Metal fan, that’s something I can appreciate, but the message is more powerful when it’s delivered in a more personal way. I’m still waiting for that killer 2020 Metal album. Outside of a couple of interesting moments and meshing of styles, this album did nothing for me. It’s loud, the guy has good presence, and the Production is excellent – I’m sure it’s the sort of thing which will inspire angry young things to get into Metal, though it may be too abrasive for the masses.

Album Score

Sales: 1. There’s no offiicial Wiki entry for the album, and that’s usuallymy go to for a lot of this sort of information. Best I can tell is that the album sold in very low numbers – less than 5-10 thousand copies. It’s an Indie release, which you could take into account, but I struggle to justify giving even a 2 here. 

Chart: 2. This is barely any better. But it did seem to momentarily hit Top 40. For a Metal album, that’s not too bad, and for an independent artist that’s the exposure you need. Still, it hardly set the charts alight Worldwide or anywhere in particular. 

Critical: 4. Generally well received by the Metal and Rock reviewers, and mainly positive from everyone else. A solid 4. 

Originality: 3. 2-4 is the range here, depending on your own bias and knowledge of music. I’d say this is closer to a 2 than a 4, but while most of what is on display has been done both better and a lot worse before, I suppose it’s a modern spin on those. 

Influence: 2. I fail to see how much impact this particular album will have given it’s limited ales and accessibility. Someone will hear it and maybe be influenced, but will that lead to anything worthwhile. I think the influence will come from the artist’s body of work rather than this single product. 

Musical Ability: 3. Nothing amazing, nothing exciting, but nothing it’s easy to point to as poor. 

Lyrics: 3. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s all personal to him, but for the most part the lyrics didn’t connect with me or were hitting the nose too readily. 

Melody: 2. Little to latch on to, but some chanty shouty moments the kids will enjoy. 

Emotion: 3. I didn’t feel much but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt once more. This is a low 3.

Lastibility: 2: I can’t see me ever listening to this again, and with the rate the guy seems to be pumping out material, whatever fans he picks up will likely focus on the new thing more than the old. I could be wrong, but I don’t see this still being talked about in a few years. 

Vocals: 3. The Durst stuff is bad enough to warrant a 2, but on the whole I think a 3 is deserved. 

Coherence: 3. I could be tempted to go 4, because even with the jumping between genres, there’s still a sense of anger and of grim industrial sounds. But I don’t think it flows particularly well and the jumping from genre to genre feels sporadic.

Mood: 4. I’ll give a 4 to mood as the atmospheric aspects are notable. Metal relies on mood and atmosphere heavily, more than many other genres. 

Production: 4. All good, especially for an Indie release.

Effort: 3. Shorter songs – doesn’t always mean less effort – but many of these songs are under three minutes and aren’t too dissimilar.

Relationship: 2. As much as a Metal fan as I am, this felt like a step away from my preferences. I’m not a Nu Metal fan, Industrial doesn’t do much for me, and people trying to look all spooky with tattoos and piercings and white eyes just makes me giggle at the childishness of it all. If there’s no substance beyond the shock value, then it feels more like a fashion statement or like an admission that you don’t really have anything valuable to say. Not to judge an artist on their looks or anything. The music didn’t speak to me on any personal level, beyond a few atmospheric moments. 

Genre Relation: 3. As someone who doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of this brand of Social Media Metal, I don’t have much to compare this with. Lets go with the average 3.

Authenticity: 2. I freely admit to being wrong here, but I just didn’t feel it. Whatever genuine authenticity there may be, I lacked the ability to pick up on it. Therefore, I blame the album. 

Personal: 2. Unsurprisingly, not a high score from me. While it was critically reviewed well, for me it missed out on the emotion, melody, and smarts to keep my interest, while also neither charting nor selling well. 

Miscellaneous: 3. There are some creepy creepy music videos set in spooky spooky tunnels. That’s enough to warrant a 3. 

Total: 54/100 Possibly the lowest scoring album so far, but there are a few with similar scores in the 2020 series. But what do I know? Let us know your thoughts in Anti-Icon in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Memories. Misty, water-coloured, shitballs! Yes, when I hear the name Fiona Apple I can’t help but be transported back to the 90s when one of my mates kept trying to force me to listen to her, but I refused because no-one worth listening too could possibly have ‘apple’ in their name. But listen I did, and forgotten I have, beyond a few floaty snippets. Full transparency, the only time I really remembering to Fiona Apple in earnest was when I had gobbled some illicit shrubs and… well that story goes off into untellable and unintelligible tangents so we’ll just leave it like that. Is it cool she’s still topping critical lists now, more than twenty years later? Sure. Lets hope the reasons for such acclaim are genuine and not just the equivalent of legacy Oscar nominations. I know nothing about this album, I don’t know the names of any of the songs, so lets check out the artwork.

It’s part of a selfie, presumably designed to make her look a little manic and wide-eyed. I seem to remember her previous albums focusing on her face too. At least I assume it was her on the cover. Are those ribbons on the side? Is the font suggestive of the thematic content and the album title – cut up, self-made, imperfect? Why is there half a dog where her scalp should be? I’m curious to see if her sound has changed from the little I remember. I know she was always a little too slow and jazzy and free-form for my tastes back then – too many ballads and not enough of a musical or vocal edge than the other 90s Indie types I was more invested in – Tori and Alanis for example. Lets get into it and find out.

Musically and vocally, I don’t think Apple has changed much since the 90s. I’m not the right person to give such unsubstantiated opinions of course, but having now listened to Fetch The Bolt Cutters several times and comparing it with my memories of her from decades ago, she’s still doing now what she did then – personal piano led ballads and diatribes with vocals shifting between smoother jazz influenced moments and more offbeat yelps and blasts. I never thought she had the most distinct sound – musically or vocally – but it’s cool that her voice sounds as authentic and youthful as it did then. There’s no trace of weariness, but some of the more talky and overly accented pop styles of recent years has seeped in to her delivery. I spent most of my first listen struggling to decide if I liked the delivery or not. I’m still not sold, but on the whole I enjoyed her vocals. Her quirky ticks are back again – those I have no issue with – and she can blast with power and control when she wants to, but there are a few talky moments and stylistic choices which are not to my tastes.

The album feels very independent and self-made. The production feels homely – not cheap – but feels like it was made with minimalism in mind either to give the appearance that it was recorded in isolation, or because it genuinely was – Lockdown and all that. Beyond the vocals and the pianos, the most noticeable elements of the production are the clanging percussion and sound effects – we have cats, dogs, and what sounds like doors slamming and sticks hitting tables on top of traditional drums. Every song has something to spice up the sound and goes a long way in preventing the whole from sounding bland. Certain songs tend towards the more experimental in terms of percussive techniques – and these songs are often the most structurally interesting, perhaps suggesting there is a strong connection between the two where songwriting is concerned. Heavy Balloon perhaps is the most adventurous in both respects, while the most melodic and commercial songs on the album tend towards the more traditional approach – Shameika a prime examples, though hardly a prime example of what you would would call a normal Top 40 hit. These simple twists on what we expect – 808 Hi-hats, repetitive beats, glossy production, all serve to give the album an unearthly earthy atmosphere – the sounds and thoughts collected and thumped out on dustbins and a barely functioning piano which was old when QEII was young, thumped out in a cabin set deep in the oldest woods by that strange woman who walks into town once a week to pack her groceries in a thatch woven satchel, that woman you warn your kids to not talk to because she lives alone and probably has a cat and a broomstick.

Rambling asides aside, the atmosphere is one of several highpoints of the album. The experimentation is part of this, but also its own thing. For Her is a triumph of fierce independence and righteous anger, unleashing more musical creativity and poetic smarts in under three minutes than some artists dream of their entire careers. It would be easy to place the lyrics and Apple on a pedestal as an example of modern Feminism, the elder Riot Grrrl still rioting in the face of patriarchal corruption and their allies both silent and vocal, the woman aligning with fighters against the myriad injustices of society which we feel powerless against. But for me, the album more appropriately comes across as one woman’s feelings separated from wider movements or moments, the primal justified scream which has been bubbling for years, aimed at multiple targets, hitting them all, leaving those who hear it to either cover their ears or scream in support.

Melodically, there is something bewitching about certain songs. Ladies, Shameika, Relay, and the title track all have moments which are primitive in their infection rate – you hear them and can’t help but want to repeat and move to their strange beats. Elsewhere, the connection between rhythms and melodies does threaten to become too repetitive, words racing chaotically in predictable patterns almost like a central unique idea was latched on to and rather than rinsing that idea over the duration of a few songs, it is instead repeated until what was unique becomes the norm. There are other patterns to be found – the piano is front and centre in the album’s introduction, but by the album’s conclusion dissonant percussive elements have taken over. I Want You To Love Me’s breathless, lung-collapsing opener feels brazen and anthemic – the chest beating haka before a marathon, while closer On I Go feels like the exhausted rushed finale of a sprint. I prefer the more forceful vocal moments than the speeding listing of lyrics, but throughout the lyrics are interesting, engaging, amusing, begging for a physical copy to pore over.

I know nothing of Apple’s life to appreciate any personal anecdotes, but it’s easy to select the defiant moments and apply those to your own circumstances, the title track and Under The Table filled with one-liners. I imagine a greater knowledge of the subjects of her ire, the context behind the words would improve already impressive lyrics, but the purpose of these first time reaction posts is simply to expose myself to the music using what I already know. There’s nothing stopping me using the experience as a jumping off point to learn more, but that would be outside of any post I make. Is there enough on Fetch The Bolt Cutters to make me want to learn more? Sure, Apple is a more interesting performer than most but there’s still the niggling thought that my enjoyment levels of her music are only going to go so far. I don’t find her music to grab me immediately, like a Tori, and I don’t anticipate her music to sustain me and keep me wanting more, like an Alanis. I can appreciate it for a piece of art, a statement, an example of a woman wanting to do whatever the hell she wants, but as an artist and entertainer I’d be drawn to and anticipative of, I don’t see much future. I’m a simple man.

Album Score

Sales: 2. I hate mentioning this category now. In the old days we could have had a streamlined breakdown equating Sales to a score here, with a 1 being something like less than 15 thousand copies, and a 5 being over 1 million. For example. We could still do that now, but we’d have to factor in equivalent album sales, streams etc. Add to the fact that albums in general sell less these days, certainly physically. In any case, the number I see thrown around for this album is 44k. The album will have sold more since that number was released, but I imagine it has sold less than 44k since then on top of the original 44k. So, we’re probably talking a total of less than 80K sold. That’s not a 1 by any stretch, so we’re stuck between a 2 and 3. It doesn’t feel like a huge number to me – I could be wrong, but I’m going 2.

Chart: 2. It was Top 10 in US, Canada, and Denmark, but only reached 33 in UK, 13 in Australia, and 38 in Spain. It’s debateable if it was Top 40 in the US end of year charts. I think to get a 3 here you need to hit a wider spread of Top 10s and/or reach that end of year Top 40. Again, 2 feels both harsh, but right – I’m good if you push to a 3. 

Critical: 5. This was one of the easier answers – it’s, at this point, one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time. Whether or not people – fans, critics, list makers, will have the same view in 10 years time remains to be seen, but in the short years since release it’s the 2nd highest rated album ever on a number of Review Aggregate sites. Beyond that, it topped various respected critics and publications’ lists of the year – Forbes, Consequence Of Sound, Metacritic, The Guardian, NYT, Pitchfork, Slant to name a few. 

Originality: 3. It’s not a 5 and it’s not a 1. That leaves a 2-4 range for you, likely dependent on how much of an existing fan you are and how much music you listen to. I’ll go down the middle with a 3 – it’s original in terms of what’s out there at the moment, less so in terms of what has been done in the past, and less so in terms of what Apple herself has done.

Influence: 3. I’m always hopeful that an artist as interesting as Apple is will have an influence on new artists. If the critical acclaim had translated to sales I’d have more hope, but this feels like it will be a critical darling missed by the masses and maybe not handed down to subsequent generations. People will find it, but I’m not sure if it will directly influence those people rather than other artists.

Musical Ability: 3. It’s a strange album in that it’s almost anti-musical. I struggle to recall truly musical moments in the album from a traditional standpoint – a person playing their instrument with a clear technical expertise. But sometimes it takes a skilful musician to present an album in that way.

Lyrics: 4. I can’t quite reach a 5 here – while the lyrics on the whole are admirable and creative and funny and insightful, they do also slip into a scattershot conversational approach which don’t read as well on the page as they sound when performed. 

Melody: 3. Fleeting moments amidst the overall chaos and atmosphere, off kilter snippets which cut through what is seemingly designed to challenge and oppose traditional approaches. 

Emotion: 3. I’d love to go 4 here, but in many cases I think I was trying to make myself feel instead of actually feeling it. I feel the the performers felt a lot during the creation and recording of the thing, but those feelings didn’t consistently translate for me, beyond the obvious anger and frustration.

Lastibility: 3. Again, I’m happy for you to go with a 4 here, but I have a feeling it will mainly be existing Apple fans who will keep playing this rather than being picked up by the masses and it being perpetually rediscovered through time. 

Vocals: 4. I’ll be more positive here – I could have given a 3, but the talky moments don’t irritate me as much as they could and they are countered by some exquisite husky tones and forcefully charged highs. 

Coherence: 4. There’s a flow, a chain to the album, descending from a musical and melodic place to a more bitter, chaotic, and tired finish. But the production, the voice, the themes tie the whole together.

Mood: 4. The coherence serves the mood and vice versa, the mood ranging from something akin to Folk Horror, to peak 90s Indie femme rants. 

Production: 3. While I praise the production, I couldn’t confirm or deny whether the lockdown, necessity mother of invention approach was authentic or a stylistic choice. Not that it matters much as the mood is evoked regardless. A little more gloss wouldn’t hurt.

Effort: 4. It seems like this was the first album in many years by Fiona Apple – why that is I don’t know, but the effort in getting these words and feelings onto a page and into our ears feelings more weighty and even as slight as the Production feels, the album has heft. It feels like the result of many years, and many albums of struggles, to produce something which many clearly feel is the peak of her art. 

Relationship: 3. My enjoyment only goes so far is what I was getting at earlier, at that’s partly to do with this category. I feel at a distance from the artist, rather than being welcomed into their home. That may or may not have been the artist’s intention, but if that was the intention it’s certainly something I can understand – I wouldn’t invite any of you into my home. 

Genre Relation: 3. A strange one to score – to we say this transcends the relative genre and therefore should be scored high, or because it doesn’t easily relate to the genre it’s part of then we should score it low? Lets go with an average 3. 

Authenticity: 5. I’m guessing she crafted most of this herself – while I’m sure she had bandmates and producers helping and influencing her, this comes across as the pure outcome of one person’s singular vision.

Personal: 3. I’d like to go higher here, but as mentioned in my conclusion, given the choice between art and entertainment, I’ll go for entertainment each time. A successful blending of the two will inevitably be a personal favourite. For me, this goes too far towards art than entertainment – not so far that it becomes clinical, but far enough that I view it as a specimen for study more than a collection of songs to stick on. Some people prefer the artistic approach. I prefer the opposite, or a cleaner blend.

Miscellaneous: 3. Three seems to be the standard for this category.

Total: 67/100

Let us know in the comments what you think of Fetch The Bolt Cutters – is this Fiona Apple’s best album?

Nightman Listens To – Enter Shikari – Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! We plough onwards with the 2020 series as I listen to another artist I’m unfamiliar with. For a long time I’ve been aware of the name Enter Shikari, but even with being a lifelong Metal fan I don’t believe I’ve heard a single song from the band. I don’t know how long they’ve been around, but I remember hearing the name shortly after leaving University – so mid 2000s? From memory, I think they’re quite Screamy, but that’s based on foggy recollections of half-read reviews. The picture I always had in my mind of them was of a more emo, fashionable, At The Drive In. As always with this series, I’m 100% prepared to be proven wrong on any and all misconceptions – as we should be with all things in life.

Being a Liverpool fan, the last few seasons have seen a bit of an in joke among fans thanks to our (former) player Xherdan Shaqiri and anytime he came on as a substitute – Enter Shaqiri. Great player. What of the title and the artwork? I think I would disagree with both of the statements made in the album title; some things are ‘true’, objectively and subjectively, though you can debate till the cows fuck off about your definition of ‘truth’. Some things are not possible – me swallowing an entire Country in the next 8 seconds, this blog hitting 1 million subscribers, an afterlife – but on the other hand if we agree that we exist in an infinite universe or universes, then all events and actions are possible, however unlikely. What does this title mean? It seems very much like a ‘come on boys, we can do this’ statement. Apparently it’s also the name of a book about 21st Century Russian history. Is there a link?

Enter Shikari – Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible (2020, Clear w/ White & Blue Splatter, Vinyl) - Discogs

Looks like a statue of a Greek or Roman dude. Seems like he’s really enjoying sucking a 3 for 1 pound pack of lighters. The border is like some old wallpaper I used to have in the 80s, and there’s a big sticker, or faux sticker slapped on the front. Is this the back cover? Most albums will have the tracklist on the back, but whatever. There’s 15 songs, I’m not sure if the colouring on the numbers means anything, but the song names seem appropriately quirky, from the font to the words, to the brackets. Is is a concept album? Those names, and songs in different parts suggest Prog. Or a bunch of musicians who might like to suck themselves off. I think that covers everything – once you read the next sentence, I will have listened to the album several times.

The album starts with promise; The Great Unknown is a thumping opener and one which I hoped set the scene. If I skip forwards a little… the closing track is decent too. You see where I’m going with this. This has been a recurring theme in my 2020 posts – I tend to enjoy the opening track, but then the vocal quirks or sameness kick in and my enjoyment rapidly declines. Such is the case with Nothing Is True. Whatever I was expecting, the screaming, frenetic band of my imagination, that’s not what I got. I can’t blame the artist for my own invalid expectations – maybe earlier albums have more of an edge or are closer to Metal, but make no mistake this feels like a pop rock album. Again, nothing wrong with that at all. It’s that the songs were never interesting to me, didn’t connect on any emotional level, and were overall very tame. Throughout the album, the drums are incredibly weak and ineffectual, the guitars are tame, and the electro beats don’t have enough venom to get me up and out of my seat. That’s before we get to the accents.

Jesus, the accents. I know it’s just me and others probably love the vocals and accents they are sung in, but from the opening track almost every line, every lyric, every word felt like a haggard crone slipping into my lung, reaching up and tickling my throat with her wart worn claws. It gets so much worse when the vocals move away from traditional singing and towards a more talkative, not quite rap approach. I have no problem with rap – love it. But that halfway house between talking and singing is a massive nope for me, fully exposing the horrors of accents. Here, it’s not quite Cockney guvna shite, but it’s damn close. The Dreamer’s Hotel, which does have a faintly tasty chorus melody and a great, thick, fuzz backing, is utterly ruined by the vocals – especially in the verses. ‘PRONOUNCE YOUR FUCKING ‘T’ SOUNDS’ I shouted, to choke the witch. This vocal approach always strikes me as faux bravado – the big fucking lad strutting about town, 12 pints, a curry, throw a couple of traffic cones at the police on the walk home while singing Chumbawamba. It continues into Modern Living which, again has promise thanks to its chanty schoolboy nature and some interesting robotic antics, but the living it laaaage sense I get from the vocals utterly turns me off. I’ve no idea if this was intentional or ironic – the fact that it happens again and again throughout the album suggests that this is simply the way the band is rather than any sense of irony or even self awareness. Having said it’s not for me, there must be plenty of people out there who don’t have the same issues I do – I can see this chorus, and many others being sung loudly from the terraces and from the pit.

I don’t think I’d go so far as saying it’s a shame that the vocals pissed me off – they certainly detract from the music for me, but the music wasn’t too appealing either. The most interesting moments were the blending of techno and Metal, the orchestral outbursts, the robotic splurges, and the rhythm shifts within and between songs. But the songs are each very short and don’t use their time well – the longest song is under four minutes and most of that time is a rather lovely instrumental which feels like the cinematic new dawn after some epic battle scene where the good guys overcome impossible odds. It does take balls for a rock band to do this sort of thing – again I’ve no idea if this was a first for the band or if they’ve also experimented in such ways, but credit where credit is due… assuming of course they were the ones to compose Elegy For Extinction. Other tracks – the Marionettes and Waltzing songs do a better job of melding the various musical parts and ideas which are spread elsewhere, and the vocals are noticeably less intrusive. Still, whether it’s alienation or anger or political angst which the band are moaning about, no single song is potent enough musically to make me care about the message. The Ascent has atmospheric moments, has nice falsetto moments, but also has the talky crap. Each song conveys this battle between the annoying crap and the moments which suggest the band might be moderately decent. Satellites gets closer than most at creating a good, jumparoundtheroom pop rock song, but opens with the cringe-inducing ‘Oi wish I was a com-meh, runnin up into the noigh’ (pronounce your fucking ‘T’ sounds) and the rest of the run time is spent trying to recover.

I’ve grumbled long enough about the vocals, but is anything the band is saying worth hearing? On my first listen I was already dismissive of the lyrics by the time they utter the unforgiveable ‘is this a wind up’. No, seriously. And they say it twice. They should really be asking if the album is just a cutting floor lost episode of Eastenders. Thematically, we can obviously point to current fuck-ups from Brexit to Climate Change deniers to the handling of Cov-ID 19, to the Tory scum in general, with the opening line setting the tone – ‘is this a new beginning/or are we close to the end’. There’s a sense of desperation and powerlessness – the hope of a younger generation being lost due to being unable to actually make a worthwhile change. Artists and poets are referenced, modern tech speak and communication failures are documented, and by and large each song points to the same overall big themes. That means there is thematic coherence and the album feels like a whole piece of art rather than a bunch of random songs, but it means a lack of variety. While there are decent one-liners delivered in quotable chunks – ‘nuance ain’t nothing but a nuisance’ for example, they’re usually left dangling or followed up by another weaker line basically reiterating the same point. Drop your bomb and leave, don’t qualify it.

There are good ideas – the idea of a ‘dreamer’s hotel’, this imaginary place we can all go to ponder on better days and ways to get there, yet all the rooms are empty – that’s a nice metaphor for several tiers of civilization today, while the imagery of Waltzing Off The Face Of The Earth gives a clear picture of a world in careless decay, of common sense being replaced by the bizarro world of anti-science and anti-facts we find ourselves in today, with those purveyors of misinformation and their followers typically the ones shouting loudest about Truth. If the album is a big enough success, and the listeners understand what is being said, I can only hope it’s a catalyst for some to change if they have been swayed by bullshit. Then again, I imagine the majority of people listening to the band are already on the liberal side of sense. While certain phrases did annoy me – rhyming ‘apocaholics’ with ‘gin and tonics’, others will likely appreciate such antics. The lyrics, in the main, stand in stark contrast to the bravado I spoke of earlier… maybe I would have enjoyed this more with a different vocal approach, not significantly, but it would have taken things from ‘this pissed me off’ to ‘it’s fine’.

Nothing Is True is not for me. Knowing nothing else the band has done, I don’t know how similar it is or isn’t to their previous work. Hopefully the fans got more out of it than I did, and hopefully the band roped in some new listeners. There’s nothing here to encourage me to hunt back through their back catalogue or look forward to any new material. That being said, if they have songs which are less on the distinctive accent side, then I’d give them a blast.

Album Score

Sales: 3. From what information I have, it looks like this sold fairly well in the UK upon release, then dropped off. 

Chart: 2. Hit the number 1 spot in the UK Metal charts, and number 2 overall. Outside of the UK it barely registered.

Critical: 4. It might be stingy of me to give a 3 here just because a few critics gave low or average scores – those were in the vast minority. I’d say it’s a low 4 as even the best reviews weren’t gushing. 

Originality: 3. Lets go with the average 3. There’s a blend of techno and trad rock and orchestral stuff – not that these things are unique, but they’re certainly not the norm.

Influence: 2. I don’t see this having enough widespread appeal to be influential.

Musical Ability: 3. Risks and bravery in some of the choices, but if I’m taking a traditional rock band view the instrumentation on display is very basic.

Lyrics: 3. They’re fine. Good moments. Very dubious moments.

Melody: 3. A few good moments, good choruses, but most of the melodies were either too frivolous to leave any effect, or too shrouded by the awful vocal delivery.

Emotion: 2. I didn’t feel much emotion from the band, I didn’t feel any emotion from the music. It happens.

Lastibility: 3. An average 3. The band has enough fans that this will likely be in rotation for a while to come. In the wider zeitgeist where everything is replaceable, who knows? It doesn’t

Vocals: 2. The guy can sing, and I imagine I’d like his voice if it was less talky, done with a less distinct accent. A few moments when there is traditional singing, whatever that means, the vocals are perfectly good but for the majority of the

Coherence: 4. Musically, everything flows together nicely – good job of blending different styles to make a coherent whole.

Mood: 2. I felt disparity between the lyrics, the music, the vocals which meant no clear mood was apparent. Flickers of each come through, but nothing is clear. Unless of course that was the intent, and confusion is the desired effect.

Production: 4. All sounds crisp, the blending of the orchestral with the traditional rock band side to the more techno stuff works well. The drums are pretty bad though, and almost singlehandedly knock this down to a 3.

Effort: 3. It comes across as just messy enough to not be total chaos, but having no grounding in what else the band has done, I can’t say how this compares to their other work. An average three.

Relationship: 2. I can relate to the confusion and anger of the lyrics, but their delivery severely dilutes the message. The combination of music and vocal and lyric don’t do enough for me to relate at anything more than a base level.

Genre Relation: 3. It seems quite experimental and certainly takes directions that most modern pop or rock I’ve heard do not. Therefore, I’m not sure what genre this is supposed to be, if the band cares, or if it even matters.

Authenticity: 4. The band seem committed to their message and I have no reason do doubt their authenticity.

Personal: 2. On another day maybe this reaches a three, but it would be a low three. The lack of emotion, of drive, of melody, combined with the already mentioned quirks inside me which prevented me from getting along with the vocals mean that this was not an enjoyable experience.

Miscellaneous: 3. Three seems to be the standard for this category.

Total: 57/100

Nightman Listens To Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Ok, I know I didn’t get through many of the 2020 albums in 2021. You didn’t think I really would though, did you? In an ideal world I’d like to do this sort of series every year, to give me a flavour of what’s popular these days. Actually, in an ideal world I’d like to have the time and money to do nothing but listen to music and watch movies and post shite about them. In any case, if the 25 albums (or was it 30) I picked from 2020 are as good as they’re supposed to be, then they should be considered timeless classics and it shouldn’t matter to me when I listen to them or to you when I talk about them.

Dua Lipa then. I don’t know anything about her, I don’t know any of her songs, but I think I read somewhere that she’s a Liverpool fan. I don’t know if that means she’s from Liverpool, if she’s English, or if she’s from outside of the UK but has heard of Mo Salah and is therefore a Liverpool fan by proxy. I know she’s popular though – I recently started properly using Reddit after years of occasionally looking at it – and joined the /music and /popheads subs. She’s mentioned quite frequently in the Popheads one, though the Music one is mostly filled with Boomers and Ween fans and would likely dismiss her. I’m willing to give everyone a shot, so by the end of this post she may have a new Gen X/Gen Y/Millennial/WhateverthehellIam fan. As always, I take a gander at the album cover to get some almost certainly inaccurate feelings about the artist and her art.

I’ll assume that’s her, because most popstars will feature themselves on their album artwork, at least until the point they become famous enough that they can sell based on their name alone rather than their appearance. It’s a striking enough image, suitable and colourful enough to appear as a small jpeg on your phone and lacking any fine detail. But I like it, particularly the huge blue moon in the background. I’m not convinced that those gloves are a good match for that steering wheel – the gloves seem lacking in the grip department, while the steering wheel a highly glossed wood – lets hope she isn’t doing 42mph in a School Zone. Does any of this tell me anything about what the music will be like? Of course not. Lets find out, shall we?

Without giving away too much about what I think of the album, I’m going to jump in now and say that so far the most overt, traditional Pop albums I’ve listened to as part of the 2020 series have been the ones I’ve enjoyed most. Fine, the Bad Bunny album was crap, but the Bob Dylan, Deftones, Biffy Clyro, and Code Orange albums didn’t have much impact on me. I still crank out a handful of the Chloe X Halle tunes. Am I losing my Metal cred? I don’t hold much stock in such matters and have always been up front in my love for good Pop music – good music, regardless of genre. Future Nostalgia? Good. Pop. Music. Future Nostalgia is an apt title – you can hear the 80s and 90s Pop influences in certain tracks, and Dua Lipa’s music seems like the logical continuation of, say, Madonna. I can’t say that I’ve listened to much Top 40 music in the last 15 years so I’m sure there are many artists filling in the gaps between Madonna and Dua Lipa, but you can see the pattern of influence.

There are any number of floor-filling bangers here, great for blasting in the club, on the radio, or in the house. Crucially though, there is also humour and intelligence, both in lyric and composition. That’s where Pop becomes something elevated, something more interesting to me; I can enjoy a catchy jingle as much as anyone, but if there’s a bland message and a lack of emotional connection, no matter how you dress up the song with Production and Performance, I’m not going to care about it beyond a cursory acknowledgement of its existence. I do have issues with the album – issues others won’t give two shits about – but which affected my enjoyment; Most of the songs revolve about love and relationships. Madonna, to continue with that example, could sing about shagging till the cows came home, but she would throw in a few songs each album which overtly were not about romance. If we look at my favourite modern Pop artist – Sia – which Dua Lipa’s vocals have more than a passing resemblance to on Future Nostalgia – Sia will cover any number of topics unrelated to love even in her most successful works. Future Nostalgia doesn’t have many non-love related songs – it is bookended by two future Feminist anthems in the title track and closer Boys Will Be Boys, but even those are done through the lens of a woman’s relationship to men. Boys Will Be Boys is the closest to being its own thing as it sings of empowerment and fear, taking that hateful phrase which politicians and sexual predators use to dismiss criminal and violent behaviour against women, and twisting it around to rip that defence apart. I’m not sure how much of this song was written by Lipa versus Justin Tranter – a lyricist known for his advocacy in this respect – but it’s entirely possible that Lipa pulled Tranter in for this album because of his past work. In any case – powerful message, great song.

While there may not be many overt non-romance based songs, several songs are at least presented in a more refreshing way, usually with a more empowering female perspective – Dua Lipa calls herself a female alpha in the opener, Cool and Physical are pure exaltations of feeling and confidence, coming across as sincere versus more generic fare, while Break My Heart takes a more pensive, apprehensive approach due to past hurt. Even when the lyrics are generic in structure and theme and content, there are at least jokes or nods to past works from Olivia Newtown John, Bing Crosby, White Town, or INXS. I could be picky and state that the songs aren’t the most structurally interesting, but that would be a valid criticism for the vast majority of music released each year so I don’t believe it would be fair here – it’s a pop album, so you want the familiarity of verse, bridge, and chorus loops.

My second more genuine criticism – still a personal thing – is with some of the vocals. Lipa can sing, alternating styles and strength between and often within songs, but she isn’t immune to some of the quirks which piss me off about most modern singers. The way ‘body’ is sung with a hard, almost double or triple D sound in Pretty Please (one of the weaker songs) reminds me of that fucking awful Royal Navy advert song with the ‘awrite guvna, reDDee, steDDee yip yip aye’ lyrics. Christ that thing is on every 15 minutes and gets muted every time. She overdoes the screechy Sia thing in Hallucinate and repeats probably the one trait which annoys me most in vocalists over the last fifteen years or so – adding these unnecessary Y-type vowel sounds to words which don’t need them, while simultaneously doing a little vibrato. Why is this a thing, and why do so many singers do this? Why does it annoy me? All unanswerable, but listen to the middle of Hallucinate and how ‘dark’ and ‘start’ are pronounced as ‘doweek’ and ‘stoueet’ respectively.  You should know by now that certain accents or pronunciations in songs are enough to make me never listen to the song again, and I admit that when Lipa begins her Cockney shtick in the album’s opening verses I was already moving the cursor towards the top right corner of the window. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and elsewhere the vocals are excellent.

Aside from the performance and personality of Dua Lipa, and aside from the infectious melodies which should be the principle hallmark of any pop song, the album’s production is one of the keys to its success. The warm production firmly places many of the songs into the power-pop region, adding force to its synth and drums, and turning songs which I may not normally have much affinity for into something I can enjoy, sing, and leap about to. Hallucinate is a good example of a song and genre I typically would not give a second glance, but the production allows it to level up while Level Again would be typical repetitive pop junk if not for the use of strings and samples. Cool, probably the best song on the album, would still be a good pop song but is again taken up several notches by the, well the modern synth based off an 80s formula. Cool is a banger for the ages, striking that fine balance I look for in any song – emotion, melody, and an artist giving a peak performance.

The album stumbles in the middle, perhaps due to the fact that each of the opening four songs are so strong. It picks up again with Break My Heart and those closing three songs are each high points in different respects while not hitting the heights of any of the the first four. Comparing it to a similar nostalgic pop oriented album which I’m familiar with, Sia’s We Are Born was nowhere near as successful as Future Nostalgia, but edges this out in terms of quality. Future Nostalgia isn’t far off, but is lacking some of the additional emotive force and variance of genre to Sia’s early classic. In any event, fans of Future Nostalgia who may be reading this, should check out We Are Born and will likely enjoy it too. I was surprised I liked this as much as I did – again, most of the modern chart pop songs I’ve heard in recent years have been, for lack of a better term, apocalyptically shite and creatively barren, but this is brimming with spirit, wit, and love. I had not heard any of the songs till I put on the album for the first time, and at least six of the songs here will be added to my pop playlist.

ALBUM SCORE

Sales: 4. You should know by now that attempting to judge album sales now is a complete shit show, but the best estimates show that via a combination of physical sales and streams it was one of the top ten selling albums of the year. Depending on whether you compare this against albums of the past in pre-streaming days, I could see people giving this a 5 or a harsh 3.

Chart: 4. Hit the number 1 spot in the UK and Australia, along with various other territories, made the top ten in the US. I think to get a 5 here, you really need the Number 1 spot in US and UK, or if not both some other exceptional metric.

Critical: 5. Almost all overwhelmingly positive across the board, never less than a 4 out of 5 equivalent rating and the album and many of its songs feature on year end Top Ten lists.

Originality: 3. Maybe I’m a little harsh here, but it’s not the first album ever, or in this generation, to give a modern twist on a particular sound, vibe, or genre. It does it well, but it never reaches the point of being revolutionary.

Influence: 3. I say this every time, but this is incredibly hard to judge without time having past. Based on its sales and success I can see it being influential on other artists, but given the lack of revolutionary traits and the fact that it is a retro influenced album, I don’t know how influential it can be.

Musical Ability: 3. Another tough one to judge because the focus is on Dua Lipa as a musician and primarily a vocalist – I don’t know how much influence she had on the actual music beyond composition, and the vocal have their own category. The contributing musicians do their part, but nothing exceptional.

Lyrics: 3. Do I go 4 here? It’s tricky because I’m very picky with lyrics. Old tropes are both avoided and embraced, and the fact that most of the songs are still under the overall umbrella of ‘Love’ means I can’t honestly give a 4 – if there were revolutionary statements about romance or some beautifully shattering, unique, and incitement lines on the subject I would push to a 4. They are stronger than your average pop, but that’s an incredibly low bar to step over.

Melody: 4. A very solid, high 4. Some of the songs in the middle of the album prevent this from possibly reaching a 5, but as a whole most songs have potent melodies, and a few of those melodies are striking and effortlessly infectious.

Emotion: 3. I did have a 4 for this originally, but downgraded to a 3 because most of the emotion which came across to me is really down to the sincerity I felt – that can go to the authenticity score. There’s emotion, but not peaks, not a lot of variance of emotion.

Lastibility: 4. It already feels a little timeless. That could be due to how recent it is and the blend of modern and the nostalgia. Looking again at Sales and success, and how much I enjoyed it, I can see me and others continuing to listen for many years hence. 

Vocals: 4. Not quite a 5 due to some of the quirks I mentioned, but a very solid 4. Good performance, a lot of charm, and plenty of different vocal styles.

Coherence: 4. It’s very coherent. You can argue that it lacks say, a slow ballad, or something to break up the endless loop of up-tempo pop/dance tracks, but I don’t think that would impact the coherence. While there are different styles, it’s still a nostalgic synth based pop/dance album, primarily concerned with feelings of love and empowerment. 

Mood: 4. It creates a mood. A dance mood, a fun mood. Not exactly the sort of mood I go for, but it’s there. I could equally go 3 here.

Production: 4. Great work. Not revolutionary, but it nails the desired style and fits the theme of looking forwards and backwards.

Effort: 4. I’ve no idea how much effort went into this, but it was a step up in success from her previous album, the number of singles, the quality of the output. Go 3 here if you want.

Relationship: 3. As mentioned on the Chloe x Halle post, there’s only so much I can relate to here, being a 30 something white bloke from Northern Ireland – who has never been into dance music, clubbing, or much of what is talked about in pop music. I am however a music fan, I think I understand emotions, so that is what I relate to here. 

Genre Relation: 4. It relates to other modern and older pop music but, for me at least, excels over much of what is new and some of what is old. 

Authenticity: 4. Everything comes across as authentic and sincere – any pop album is designed to sell, to make as much money as possible for all involved while heightening the status of the performer. That’s the business. But Dua Lipa uses the album as a platform for good, for progress, and it doesn’t feel like a cash-in using the buzzwords of culture today. Lyrically, musically, and based on her performance, this all feels authentic. 

Personal: 4. I can argue that I both over and underscore pop albums. I can underscore based on the overwhelming response by actual critics, but I can over score purely because it’s a modern pop album which managed to speak to me and given me some enjoyment – it’s an anomaly when a modern pop album does this, and so I maybe bump up my score a little. But it’s a good album, no doubt. 

Miscellaneous: 3. I saw some of the music videos. Lots of fashion. Lots of dancing. Nothing to interest me. Standard 3 score.

Total: 74/100  

Easily the highest score I’ve given to a 2020 album in this series so far, and easily my favourite listen in the series.  In starting this series I wanted one album which I could enjoy from start to finish – this kind of gets there in that even the weaker tracks don’t piss me off – and it’s an album I’ll definitely return to.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Future Nostalgia!

Nightman Listens To – Deftones – Ohms (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s another Metal album for us today, so hopefully that means a Yay from me given that I’m a filthy, unwashed Long Hair. I was never a Deftones fan. Accurately or not, I lumped them in with all of the Nu-Metal crap which appeared in the late 90s, even if they did seem less Emo and more Industrial, more Alt. Like a lot of the Nu Metal bands, Deftones had considerable screen time on the Kerrang, Scuzz, and MTV2s of the world, and they were an immediate ‘change the channel’ once that annoying song of theirs came on – you know the one – the one where the guy in the oversized cargo trousers is being all inconsiderate by walking on school desks. Does he even know how many germs are on the soles of his shoes? He could have stepped in doggie whoopsies! So there’s that song. I’m sure there were others, but I’ve forgotten them now. I don’t recall many requests for them back when I was DJing in Belfast’s Metal Clubs. That’s probably for the best as no doubt a bunch of sullen fans would have come stomping on to the dancefloor with their poo-smeared boots and proceeded to march all over the bar, the stools, the tables, and even the precious DJ area, saying ‘pootones, pootones, we are the pootone brigade’, or whatever that song went like.

If I’m honest, I assumed the band had split up or stopped putting stuff out, but that’s partly due to me not caring enough about them, and partly due to me being away from the Metal scene in recent years. It turns out they never went away and have been solidly pumping out albums since the mid-90s. Ohms is their 9th studio album, but I know nothing of it. Lets have a look at the artwork.

Well that’s a very sad face. It reminds me off The Gnome King from Return To Oz, except instead of being made of rocks his face is eternally attached to tartan; you would be sad too if you had to spend your days looking up a Scotsman’s kilt all day in the hope (despair) of catching a dribble of haggis juice seeping out. It also looks a bit like that guy from Alien Sex Fiend’s Now I’m Feeling Zombified video. This guy:

Alien Sex Fiend - Now I'm Feeling Zombified (video) - YouTube

Lets hope it doesn’t sound like it looks – at least from the Sex Fiend perspective. I don’t have any other comments on the artwork, and I don’t know how it compares with previous album covers. It’s a ten track, 46 minute album, which is generally the sweet spot for album length. By the time you begin to read the next paragraph I will have listened to the thing multiple times. Lets do this.

Ohms doesn’t live up to its opening 50 seconds or so. Listening to the album reminded me of several reasons for my initial dismissal of Deftones, reasons I’d forgotten over time. But I’m trying to balance objectivity against my personal feelings with these posts, so I don’t think I need to spend much time dredging up my dislike for a genre or style or approach, though admittedly I will need to resort to such comments to explaining my position at certain points. I can begin with the central positives I recognise in Ohms. Firstly, it’s clear that Deftones fans love this album and consider it, maybe with surprise, to be one of their best. I could dismiss a percentage of this praise as being part and parcel of the bias all music fans feel towards whatever garbage their favourite band pumps out, but the majority of this praise seems to be genuine and coming from a place of objective understanding. The band has been around for ages, has been through hardships, but has come out with a fan-pleasing album deep into their career. I won’t argue against that – I can say it’s not really an album for me, but I can recognise it as something which the fans it was made for will love.

On a technical level, it’s as good an album as I’ve heard so far in this 2020 journey. Admittedly I don’t know an ounce about music Production, but it’s a great sounding album. Clear mix, especially with headphones, and the blend of distortion on everything from the vocals to the guitars is neatly balanced alongside the cleaner moments. Metal does have a habit, almost by its nature, of sounding abrasive, harsh, and not all that pleasant on the ears. But that should be part of the style, not of the production. We’ve come leaps and bounds since the early underground days of Metal where recordings were done on the cheap, producers didn’t know what they were doing or bands couldn’t afford someone who did. The tech has improved, the people behind the wheel have perhaps grown up as fans of this type of music or a greater awareness of how to record it and capture the aggression and abrasion without compromising on sonic quality.

Deftones don’t seem to be, in my limited experience, the most technically gifted writers or performers. They do what they need to to get their point and music across, and within this sub-genre there isn’t much scope for outlandish time signatures, pioneering riffs, or elaborate instrumentation. They crunch out powerful beats and chords to serve their short and angry mantras. I don’t always need a band to go over and above this level for them to appeal to me – it helps especially in this genre – but I do need to feel a deeper connection to the music on an emotional, melodic, or intellectual level. This is where Deftones, and this album lose me.

I found this a fairly weak, uneventful album in melodic terms. It’s an album of moments with most songs having one melodic moment I could hold on to. Of those few moments, lets say 80% of them stuck with me so that I remembered them on the next listen, and of those 80% maybe 50% stuck with me after I’d stopped listening. If I find myself recalling or humming a melody at some random point during the day, I’ll want to return to it and to listen to the song again. That tugging almost always leads me to a deeper relationship with other songs. With Ohms that relationship never transpired. It’s a shame, because the throbbing, shadow-laden promise of the Twin Peaks inspired intro synth of Genesis made me hopeful that I’d been unfair to Deftones all this time. That synth returns at various inspired points through the album, namely in the outro to Pompeji and into This Link Is Dead. But for every good moment I enjoy, there’s the rest of the song swallowing up that positivity in a choking swirl of tuneless angst.

I say tuneless because it’s sadly true. It didn’t take long – the second song on my first listen in fact – before I remembered that I always felt the vocalist was weak. I still do; Chino isn’t a great singer by any definition, falling on the same flattened ends to words, frequently drifting out of tune whether by design or by mistake. His wafting softer moments are the slurred whispers of a sullen stoner, his screaming moments static and vaporous, and the whole thing is so heavily filtered as to wrench most of the humanity from every utterance. Vocals which sound like they are being squawked through a megaphone sound like the desperate laughable mewlings of an embittered Presbyterian protesting abortion outside a Primary School.

The whiny nature of the vocals drips over to the lyrics, much of what is said already covered by every weeping goth over the past forty years, every teenager threatened with curfew over the last hundred years. I’m being a little harsh because I think there are fine ideas behind some of the songs, but little clarity or insight or poetry or personality, Genesis seemingly concerned with a middle ground awakening and the awareness that ‘both sides’, whether turd or douche, can be blindly followed. Every lyric seems to go out of its way to say nothing about something, and as such I lost any real emotional or intellectual connection.

Returning to what I mentioned about moments – the album opening is cool. I would have loved that to have remained an instrumental. Keep that ominous waspish hum and build upon it as its own thing, then have the rest of Genesis as your second track, because as it stands the song falls apart as soon as the down-tuned guitars and vocals start. I’m a Metal fan and I like my Metal to be punishing – hard, fast, distorted, liable to upset the normies, so that makes what I’m about to say a little contrary; One of the things I don’t like about Metal is the expectation that must always be hard, fast, punishing. That’s a hallmark of the genre, but it’s not the genre. Have the balls to write a soft, slow, gentle song. Have the balls to be sweet instead of angry. Don’t feel like you have to drop some crushing riff in an otherwise soothing or melodic song because the genre calls for it. The song should call for whatever the song requires. By all means you can merge light and dark, soft and heavy – look at Metallica’s Battery or One as popular successful examples. This may say more about me as just one guy and there will be millions of fans who want it rough and loud all day every day. At the end of the day, as a Metal fan I don’t necessarily care about genre. I just want good music – emotional, creative, played with feeling and desire, which speaks to the artist and by proxy speaks to me – the genre the song is delivered in is of secondary importance.

Still, I admit most of the songs have a groove, have plenty for existing fans to get behind. While rarely adventurous, the songs are rarely static. There is a coherence to the album which mostly avoids feeling samey and I was able to distinguish between the songs more easily than other albums, Metal or otherwise. Error has an almost cool chorus, let down by fairly awful vocals, Ceremony has some catchy ooh-ooh moments, and Urantia is another example of a perfectly good intro turning into something less good. By the time The Spell Of Mathematics rolls around the album is beginning to wear a little thin, but then it closes with one of the most interesting sections of the album, the finger-clicking faded out countdown to something unspeakable.

One feeling I couldn’t shake as I listened to the album was the band’s similarity to one of my favourite bands. My Vitriol were (are?) a British band who had a brief moment of success around the turn of the century and one of their trademarks was filtered spacey vocals with occasional shrieking outbursts, but the chorus-drenched Line 6 guitar tone they employed is front and present in Ohms. My Vitriol was not a Metal band, but their punches were more effective to me than anything here, their emotion more potent, their chorus bigger and more interesting. My Vitriol used a lot of distortion in an ambient and impactful way, while hear it feels like a barrage of fuzz without distinction. Is Deftones a less interesting, more abrasive My Vitriol?

It’s not an album for me and Deftones likely isn’t a band for me. As mentioned earlier, that’s fine. The people predisposed to enjoy this will enjoy this and it’s a solid enough album for people curious about the band to be drawn in. There will always be new comers who will discover this thanks to the band’s prior success, and I have no doubt that most will think this is a great album. I’m in the minority as a dissenting voice but that doesn’t concern me. In this journey I wanted to listen to a variety of the most highly rated albums of 2020 and hopefully find something new to love. This isn’t it, but it may be for someone else.

ALBUM SCORE

Sales: 3. Based on what I can tell, the album seems to have sold fairly well for this band at this moment in time. Doesn’t compare to their peak, but what does these days?

Chart: 3. It topped the US Hard Rock chart and the UK equivalent, it topped the charts in Croatia… top 5 in Australia, UK and US regular charts. Reasonable enough, but as we know it doesn’t take much to reach the top of the charts nowadays.

Critical: 4. Almost, but not quite a 5 score for me. Mostly acclaim with the album topping several Metal oriented publications best of lists for the year and with very positive reviews across the board. Some reviews were less forthcoming with the praise, noting the band is simply providing more of the same – lets see how it stands the test of time.

Originality: 3. A 3 is the absolute peak here. I’m tempted by a 2 because I didn’t feel there was anything new here, but lets give them the benefit of my doubt.

Influence: 2. I’m happy to go 2 here. Due to the lack of originality or need for it, I can’t see this album going on to influence other acts, certainly not over and above anything else Deftones has done. It’s always hard to say with a new album unless it’s immediately revolutionary, though the album’s acclaim and popularity could well draw new fans and influence new kids to pick up a guitar. 

Musical Ability: 3. As mentioned in the review, they guys don’t show off much in the way of technical chops, but this doesn’t seem to get in the way of crafting enjoyable songs for fans. The vocals almost have me pulling this down to a 2. 

Lyrics: 3. I could go with a 2 here, but I’m going to assume the lyrics will mean more to others than they do to me, and I fully admit to being a bit of a lyrics snob. It’s the sort of angry angsty fluff I might have enjoyed when I was a child, but even as a child I had a more discerning eye for a unique turn of phrase.

Melody: 2: I can’t keep handing out threes, so I find I’m switching between 2s and 3s. I could go 3 for melody but lets go with 2. Again, melody is subjective in terms of your enjoyment. I didn’t get much enjoyment from this, from the melodies. There are some catchy moments, nothing in the way of interest or innovation, and the vocals mean that even the best hooks wavered out of tune.

Emotion: 3. There’s a lot of shouting. I’ve read enough about the band now to know a little of their history and their tragedies. I’m happy to give a 3 here as I may not feel the emotions which the long term fan would. 

Lastibility: 3. I’m not going to listen to it today – the title track is probably the best song and dispenses with a lot of the crap I don’t enjoy within the band, so I could see myself listening to that again. I wouldn’t walk out of the room if any song from the album came on. So it has to be a positive score. Again, the Deftones fans will surely listen to this for years and ages to come, but I’m not sure it has any relevance beyond that. 

Vocals: 2. Yeah… not great. Regardless of whether the vocals deliberately drop out of tune for effect or because the band are deaf, it doesn’t make for a pleasant listen. I’m sure people will argue, people always do, but from clean to harsh I’ve heard a thousand better. 

Coherence: 3. Sure, it sticks together. The synth moments repeat every so often. The emotional and musical aspects don’t differ wildly. It all makes sense. 

Mood: 3. Nothing exciting here. It evoked nothing in me, I don’t think I would hit the pit if I heard this in a club, even after a few pints. But it didn’t have me skipping tracks or piss me off.

Production: 4. One of the better aspects of the album.

Effort: 3. I’m sure it took as much effort as any other album does these days, but an extra point for being to create a fan favourite release this deep into their career. 

Relationship: 2. It doesn’t mean much to me and didn’t do much to convert me from my previous state of apathy. I can listen if it’s on, but I wont seek it out or anything else by the band.

Genre Relation: 3. It sounds like other Deftones music. It sounds like other Deftones-esque music.

Authenticity: 4. I’d tend to go 3 with this, but based on how much love the long-time fans have for the album it looks like it’s exactly what the fans hoped for in their wildest dreams.

Personal: 3. If this were a 10 point scale, I’d go with a 5 out of 10. But lets stick with a 3. I have no great feelings either way towards it, but at least I’m a little more educated about the band if they come up in conversation.

Miscellaneous: 3. Interesting enough artwork, interesting story in how the band have come back from tragedy.

Total: 60/100

One of our lowest scores so far, but still solidly in the above average section. Again, I’m content being in the minority with this one. Deftones don’t do it for me, but they’ve given what appears to be one of their best albums to the fans who have followed them since the 90s, so ignore me and go listen to it if it’s your jam. Let us know your thoughts on Ohms in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Code Orange – Underneath (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Another highly rated album from 2020 to cover today, and another one I have absolutely zero knowledge of. In fact, before writing this introduction I had to check on my original 2020 post to see which publication listed this album as one of their favourites. It was Kerrang, so this must be a Metal album. At the very least an album with guitars, given that Kerrang goes after all sorts these days. That’s all I know, but maybe the artwork will tell me something.

It’s a fleshy, cyborg, alien thing? It’s a bit like if Iron Maiden’s Eddie were a nerd, but was kidnapped by a Cenobite and then placed in one of Jigsaw’s traps. It doesn’t tell me much. Is it meant to be a violent, brutal image so the album will be violent and brutal? For any new readers – I write my intro before I’ve heard a single note of the album, but by the time we jump to the next paragraph I will have listened to the whole thing multiple times. Lets get to it.

You know, that image is a fairly accurate representation of the music – it’s the sort of music a demented AI might make if the only data it had to go on was Nursery Rhymes and 2010s Hardcore Metal. On one hand it’s fairly straight screamy shouty metal – brutal vocals song by boys who are angry because mommy wouldn’t let them ‘go out with hair like that’, thunderous drumming, and crushing riffs – but on the other hand you have an album deliberately broken with audio glitches and defects. The music will cut out without warning or begin to judder and skip like a dust ridden CD, and many of riffs have been distorted to sound like they have been heavily processed through multiple rusty filters and failing laptops. It’s cool, but the effect doesn’t have the same impact on multiple listens or by the time the final track comes around. It’s probably the most notable aspect of the album and what distinguishes this from the thousands of other Hardcore albums out there, which are generally very samey. It is a cool effect, it is overdone, but at least they mix up those effects with a variety and intensity that it does catch you off guard and create a sort of unique vibe. Of course, this glitching and trickery is not exactly original – The Music’s debut way back in 2002 had plenty of these stoppy starty shenanigans – but I don’t know how regularly it has been used in Metal. I wonder if these guys are fans of The Music – there’s a moment in Autumn And Carbine which is suspiciously reminiscent of the electro beats used in The Music’s third album. That seems highly unlikely.

I must admit to laughing and enjoying the opening track, because all the deliberately off-putting sound, screeches, and distortion is exactly the sort of ‘experimental music’ I was making more than 10 years ago. I have hundreds (literally) of ‘songs’ like this and when I have time I add the odd one to Youtube to terrify people. That intro builds nicely – I like a long instrumental intro to build anticipation and set tone and mood, but when this happens on an especially good intro I’m internally praying ‘don’t ruin it with the vocals don’t ruin it with the vocals’. In general I’m not a fan of Hardcore vocals because they crush the individuality of the voice and enforce limitations. I can take them in short bursts but this is the genre we’re in so it should be expected and evaluated as such. The album isn’t all shouts and screams – there are minor instances of clean female vocals and the songs which deftly balance the harsh with the clean, the light with the dark, such as Sulfur Surrounding are the most successful at sticking in my memory.

That’s the greatest quandary I have with this genre and the album. Hardcore, and plenty of other metal sub genres have a lack of melody and variety; little variety of emotion, little to no variety in vocal melody, and it’s all about as many downtuned basic riffs and how much shouty shouting you can shout. If you like Hardcore, you should like this. If you’re a purist though, you might be put off b the glitches, by the synth moments, by the cleaner sections because this album does strive for variety. It employs Hardcore as its foundation, but wants to build something more monstrous and remarkable. I don’t speak from any position of experience or authority but based on the rave reviews from those in the know, the band succeeded in this respect. This album does have variety – there are memorable vocal melodies (which may take time to sink in) and there is emotional variety (at least in the grey areas between annoyed, angry, and really pissed off). Songs such as The Easy Way and Sulfur Surrounding build upon this by eschewing the tried and tested and boring hardcore route of riff, shout, other shout, solo, shout end, by adding musical and structural elements not typically heard.

Still, as someone mostly unfamiliar with this sub-genre and with no real desire to learn about it or care (it’s all a bit… skinhead, you know), I could appreciate its brutality and experimentation and can gladly chill to any of the songs while driving. A few songs would be enough for me before I’d want to move on to something else – I get enough futile tantrums at home without needing it in my music too. A handful of the better blended songs I can stick on my playlist but the whole thing isn’t one I think I’ll return to. I can marvel at the production and applaud the musical ability and desire to drag the genre into new territory, but the songwriting in itself feels somewhat flat outside of the glitches.  Like many of the albums I have already reviewed from 2020 and likely those I haven’t got to yet – this isn’t for me so I’ll leave it to the people who it was designed for. I have no doubt they’ll love it.

Album Score

Sales: 3. Seems to have done okay, at least within a genre which doesn’t really sell anymore. Seems to be theit highest selling album – but we’re talking 10s of thousands here. I could go 2 here, but lets give them some props.

Chart: 2. A hardcore album isn’t really designed to sell outside its core audience or set the charts alight. It made it onto the top 200 in US. Not as high as their debut I believe, but times have changed.

Critical: 5. Go down to a 4 if you want to include non-Metal publications, but praise has been flawless across the board in Metal magazines and sites.

Originality: 3. Normally a Hardcore album is going to get a 1 or a 2 from me here. This strives for me and generally does more. Enough for a 3 at least.

Influence: 3. I would hope that this will spur other young bands within this genre and the genres less prone to experimentation and variety to take the lead. It’s not going to influence on a wider scale so I could see a 2 or even a 1 here if you’re very harsh. Definitely don’t see this as higher than 3.

Musical Ability: 3. They can play, but we’re talking Metal here. If you can’t better than almost every other genre, you’re not going to get as high as a 3. I expect each person to be an expert in their craft. The glitches are more a case of production and ideas than musical ability – outside of that I didn’t feel enough to hit a 4.

Lyrics: 3. Naturally I had to Google the lyrics to see what they’re all about. There are bits and bobs related to changing and adapting to the modern world which fits with the music. Aside from that, all the usual Metal topics stated plainly without much poetry or invention – control, violence, anger, the usual.

Melody: 2: Only a handful of songs standout in this respect – I’ve been lenient so far in some of my scoring but if you force me up to a 3 here, I can drop Lyrics to a 2. Most of the songs don’t differ in the vocal melodies aside from the few notable ones, and even those aren’t the catchiest in the world. I won’t grumble if you go 3 here but anything higher seems like bias.

Emotion: 3. Genres like this aren’t the most subtle or nuanced in terms of emotion – there’s only so much range of emotion you can convey when your vocals are at 11 the entire time. It comes down to how much importance you place on expectation – if you expect and want anger, volume, shouting, then you can mark higher. If you are looking for a more balanced range of emotions across a spread of songs, then you mark lower. I’ll go average considering the genre. 

Lastibility: 3. While time will tell whether this was a game-changer, it seems like it has made enough impact based on its reviews to sustain itself at least until their next album drops. Metal fans are devout to their group or sub genre, and those outside the group will complain or move on to the next thing. Not enough information to say for sure, but a 3 seems reasonable. 

Vocals: 3. I’m no judge on hardcore vocals and what is good versus bad versus whatever. What I do know is that I can only take so much of it, not because it’s loud or shouty, but because it’s repetitive and dull and lacks character. Some songs offer mainly clean vocals, some songs offer additional vocals, and some songs blend clean and harsh. I didn’t have any issue with the quality of any of the vocals, more that they were mostly generic. 

Coherence: 4. I’m happy going high on this category because the band seemed committed to their idea for their sound, and did everything possible to make a coherent product. The glitches and electronic (for lack of a better term) sound carries through to the end.

Mood: 3. I could agree with an argument for a 4 here as the coherence lifts the mood, but given the lack of emotion and feeling I generally get from this type of music I’m not confident that any mood the band is trying to communicate would not translate to me.

Production: 4. Another strength, everything is clear and the various components are nuanced in the way that the emotions are not. Most notable aspects being the glitches and future shock soundscapes which are handled with both taste and bluster. 

Effort: 3. I always dread scoring this category because effort is sacred and sacrosanct. It feels disingenuous to score low when artists, especially in these genres, put their heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into their creation. I have no doubt the band did everything they could to write, record, and produce this album – but so does every other band if they’re serious about their craft. I don’t see or I’m not aware of anything over and above what other bands do. 

Relationship: 2. When I was younger maybe I would have felt different, but even when I was younger and more accepting of most Metal subgenres such as this were at an arm’s length. I love melody, and emotion, and shades of colour. I also love being heavy and angry and skilful and fast, but there are tonnes of other albums and artists who do those things while also speaking to me on a personal level. 

Genre Relation: 3. Sure… it sounds like most other albums in this genre that I’ve heard. But it also goes further and tries more. Then again, not my area of expertise. 

Authenticity: 4. Metal artists often live or die based on how authentic they are. If your fanbase feels you’ve sold out or moved to far away from what drew them to you, they’ll bugger off and let you know. Again, I don’t know much about it but it seems authentic, committed, and they believe in what they’re doing. 

Personal: 3. I’m honestly closer to a 2 because I know I’ll never listen to it again, but I also know it’s a better album than what a 2 would suggest. This score is all about your personal feelings so you can put all of you bias into this score – if an album sells in the millions, tops the charts, gets rave reviews, but it’s Country and you hate it – give it a 5 in those other categories but give it a 1 here. This is a low 3 for me, but the belief and the novelty of the glitching is enough to stop it dropping to a 2.

Miscellaneous: 2. I could go 3 here, but there’s not enough in the artwork or the surrounding info of the album to really nail down that score. 

Total: 61/100

That’s a lower score than most I’ve reviewed so far – but remember it’s only a 7 point difference between Ungodly Hours which is an album I did enjoy much more on a personal level. It may take something special to break that 70 mark!

Nightman Listens To – Chloe X Halle – Ungodly Hour (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! For any fans of this series or those who want to know my thoughts on 2020’s best releases, I apologise for the lack of posts so far. In the real world family and work have taken priority, while in the Blogging world my Marillion posts have been my most frequent commitment. I’ve no idea how many Marillion albums are left, but given the last album I covered was released in 1998, we’re surely closer to the end than the beginning – Watch my face drop as I find out Marillion went on to release 1 album every year since 1999.

But we’re not here to talk about Marillion, for a change. We’re here to talk about Chloe X Halle. I have no idea what that is or what that means or even how to say it. Is it literally ‘Chloe ex Halle’, is it ‘Chloe cross Halle’, ‘Chloe times Halle, Chloe and Halle’ etc. And how do you pronounce ‘Halle’? Is it ‘hally’ or ‘Halley’, or ‘Haley’ or is it meant to rhyme with Chloe? Does it matter? Is it a band, is it one vocalist, is it two vocalists? I don’t know and I don’t believe I’d even heard whatever this is mentioned anywhere before putting together this list, not in YouTube comments, not in passing, not anywhere. Perhaps the album cover will give me an idea.

Album Review: Ungodly Hour by Chloe x Halle Right, we have two women, with two arses (one each), and two sets of wings which I assume are supposed to look sleek and heavenly, but kind of look like swimming pool inflatables. Are these the singers, or is this just some random image by a rock band? Lets go with these being the singers, which would fit with the name. Angels, Ungodly, are we going for lots of religious iconography and ideas? Oh Lordy, it’s not a Christian music album is it? The cover seems too sexy for that, but then every dick and their associated arse and cleavage identify as Christian these days, so who the hell knows. I would prefer garbage pop over Christian garbage. Actually, as long as the music is good I probably won’t care what the genre is, as long as they’re not trying to force some Creationist agenda down my gullet. I get enough of that as it is, thankee-sai.

Lets get on with it. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this given my complete lack of knowledge, but I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, it’s my favourite of all of the 2020 albums I’ve listened to as part of this journey so far. For anyone not aware, it’s a Pop R’n’B album entrenched in the past as much as the present. There’s a retro 90s, early Noughties feel, a pre-Destiny’s Child vibe calling up the likes of TLC… All Saints…. it’s not my area of expertise. Mostly I imagined it as an X-Rated version of Sister Sister. While it is undoubtedly a modern Pop album, meaning it suffers from many of the main negative trappings of current Pop (weak and inconsequential drum sounds, surface simplicity, copy paste pronunciation, slightly compressed sound, overly digital), there is enough of the Disco influenced late era Motown to keep me happy. While I do have issues, on the whole I could overlook those thanks to the album’s strengths – melody and authenticity. It feels like the girls love music; listening, making, and performing it. You can hear their influences. There are genuine hooks. They have genuine voices and don’t rely heavily on autotune to make them sound good or use it as a stylistic choice, at least until we get to the lowlight of the album – Catching Up.

The album eased me in and allowed me to relax into the journey without worrying that I was going to hate the entire experience. The appropriately named Intro sets up the album’s qualities – the vocal melodies and harmonies – and the angelic, subtly epic tone is a world away from most of the manufactured junk I hear whenever I dip in and out of the Top 40. Those qualities lead directly in to Forgive Me, the first of many supremely infectious songs which is let down by some vocal choices more to do with my preferences than any real show or lack of skill. This, the title track, Baby Girl and others feel like they could be Club or Radio hits and crucially also work as something to chill to at home.

The album manages to subvert one of the biggest issues which has plagued modern pop for at least a decade, and which has plagued Dance music since Day One – those songs are designed purely for a huge audio system and to be danced to in a group setting with no care given for those of us who actually want to appreciate the thing on our own, to appreciate the thing as a piece of art. Having not seen any videos or live performances by the pair, I did have difficulty distinguishing between the two vocal parts. I’m not as close to their individual voices. That doesn’t mean the girls sound the same – their voices obviously work wonderfully together and in certain songs it is clear when one takes over from the other – I Wonder What She Thinks Of Me being a great example of them seemingly trying to one-up each other. I don’t know enough to say that x part was Chloe and y part was Halle. I don’t even know if those are their real names. Even with the vocal quality, the girls add in their own humour and twists – it’s one thing to sing badly because you can’t do better, or to use Autotune because, well because everyone else does, but it’s a different class to write a song called Tipsy, a song about getting drunk and murdering your boyfriend, and sound like you’re drunk while singing it. It’s not exactly big or unique, but it is funny and a sign of the creative balls the girls have.

Continuing with the creativity on display, I did love the little transitions between many of the tracks – seamless and give the album the impression of a journey through the mind (or minds) of these women as they move from relationship to relationship via guilt, forgiveness, jealousy, warnings, joy, and a fair old dose of the horn (as we say over here). This isn’t a Concept album, but there are concepts tying the ends together, and while there are clear and potent messages approaching Feminism, it’s not some man-hating tome or purely a show of solidarity for women. The attacks on men are tongue in cheek, even if there is genuine vitriol, but they poke fun at themselves and admit their own flaws in equal measure. It’s an album not afraid to say that we’re all messy, we’re all beautiful, and we’re all capable of fucking up. No matter if the song is about keying someone’s car or receiving dick pics from some player, it’s all done with humour not usually heard in the Top 40. While other artists go all in on the graphic detail in their attempts to be shocking or amusing (cough cough Minaj), those flat attempts at bravado are laughable only because they’re so bad. Chloe X Halle strike the right balance between truth and humour.

We do need to talk about Catch Up. As mentioned, it’s the low point of the album. It’s the stock .feat song of the album. Some bloke, who I won’t dignify by finding out his name and adding it here, guest performs on the song and it’s the usual heavily autotuned, incredibly whiney vocal. There must be a hell of a lot of people out there who like this type of singer, this type of accent, but I just don’t get it. The girls are not entirely immune from odd decisions – while some of the accents and affectations pay off, they are less successful in the likes of royl. Those moments are few and far between and a misstep like Catch Up (and even that would be a good song without the shitty vocals) sounds like a completely different artist from the one who crafted the pop excellence of Don’t Make It Harder On Me and Wonder What She Thinks Of Me. Those two tracks in particular I will happily stick on my personal playlist – the pure Motown joy of the former, complete with funky bass and jangling guitars, and the exquisite emotional anguish of the latter.

Returning to the lyrics – often the most blatant bane of modern Pop – it’s the humour, emotion, and authenticity which allows what are not the most poetic or fierce rhymes to stand out. Like the majority of your Top 40, where almost every song is about love (or ostensibly, sex), the girls explore what it’s like to be a young woman keeping your head above water amidst the torrential storms of modern romance. Baby Girl is an anthem for girls everywhere expected to live up to society’s expectations and sacrificing their spirit simply to survive in a world beyond their control, while Royl could be a lyrical extension which pleads for the listener, boy or girl, to ‘live tonight’. It wouldn’t be a Pop album without the junk party lyrics about turning up late with a crew, and both ‘boo’ and ‘bae’ used liberally, and annoyingly. We’ve reached the point (we reached it long ago) in Pop that lyrics are basically meaningless, certainly artless, so while I don’t feel the need to comment much on them, these are at least more honest, less shitty, than what I typically hear sludging out of iTunes.

This is the first album in my list of Best 2020 albums that I will listen to again beyond the publishing of this post. While I didn’t know what I was getting into, I had an inkling it would be some overhyped standard chart balls, but the triple threat strengths of the vocals, melodies, and conviction was enough to shred any of the bias I may normally have against this sort of music. It’s enough to put the girls on my radar and to make me want to check out anything else they’ve done and will do in the future.

Album Score

Sales: 3. I would have assumed this one set the charts and sales alight, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. It sold better than their debut, but it warranted a quick re-release. Sometimes that’s a positive because the album or a single did so well so it raises awareness of the thing again, or it can be a negative to try to scrape out a few additional sales due to underperforming. I would go a 2 here, but a few of the singles performed well enough to push me into giving a 3.

Chart: 2. It did well enough upon release, in the US at least, but the fact that it didn’t reach the Top 10, and didn’t even reach the Top 70 in the UK, means we have to mark this down. You can’t go higher than a 3 with this, but by all accounts this was not a chart hit.

Critical: 4. I might allow a 5 here, but I don’t think you can go lower than a 4. The album received three Grammy nominations (didn’t win) and appeared in many Best Of Year lists, including a few notable Number 1 finishes. For me it doesn’t quite reach the heights of a five, but I understand if you think it does.

Originality: 3. Not my wheelhouse but it felt fresh enough to me, different enough from what I normally hear in the Top 40. Nothing startling in the music or lyrics or production, but sometimes simply getting back to basics and nailing your melody and sense of self makes you stand out from the so called trend setters and followers. A flat three for me.

Influence: 3. I’m torn between a 2 and a 3 here. I don’t think it was a big enough success that others will jump on the bandwagon and say ‘hey, maybe not singing like a twat and not singing about bullshit is a good idea’. I hold out hope that the critical success of the album, and its quality, might rub off on some younger listeners instead of the wide array of crap out there. It’s a 2 or a 3, but lets be positive.

Musical Ability: 3. A tricky one because I don’t believe the girls actually play any instruments or display any traditional musical ability. Their melody and vocals we can discount because they have their own section and score. Any pop album, even as mass produced and digital as they are now, will be lifted up by a team of musicians. Those guys do their job adequately here, without standing out or delivering any wow moments.

Lyrics: 3. It’s better than your standard pop, but your standard pop is at best a 2 in this category.

Melody: 4. I thought there would have been a 4 before this category, but nope. This is one of the hallmarks of the album, and of the things I respect most in music. Even ignoring how bad their contemporaries are in this category, it’s a showcase of how to do melody right.

Emotion: 4. Another highlight, even while only a small number of songs hit any real heights. Elsewhere those heights are not needed and the emotion is often bubbling under the surface, visibly, audibly. In addition, the enjoyment of singing and of music comes across.

Lastibility: 3. I worry that this won’t have any real staying power because it wasn’t a hit. Time will tell if its quality will see it outlast the more immediate success of its contemporaries. It could be a 2, but the fact that I’ll continue to listen to it over and above and beyond those contemporaries is enough to earn a 3.

Vocals: 4. A few dubious decisions and guests aside, this is a great vocal effort. Shedding those and we could be talking a 5. It’s not the vocals on their own, but the dual attack, the expression, the harmonies, and the wit creatively employed.

Coherence: 4. It feels like a journey or a day in the life. Thematically and musically it ties together, and plenty of the songs bleed into one another due to

Mood: 3. I’m tempted to give a 4 here, based on what I’ve already mentioned about the album feeling like a collection of club hits and a journey through someone’s mind. I’m not sure it quite nails enough of either mood or tone to earn a 4 from me, so I’m going with a 3. 

Production: 4. I was going to go 3 here, but I should remove as much of my own bias as possible. While I don’t personally like some of the choices, arrangement, and sounds used, there is no doubt that the producers are at the top of their game, everything is levelled well, and it does strike that balance between home listening at blasting out of a club’s sound system. 

Effort: 4. Without knowing in detail the story behind the writing and recording of the album it is difficult to accurately score this one. What seems to be true is that the girls raised their game from their debut – often the most difficult task for an artist is to improve upon their first album and overcome any hype it may have had. It seems like while their original album wasn’t huge, this has built upon its foundations. It is a short album, sometimes that hints at a lack of ideas or effort, but I don’t believe that is the case here.

Relationship: 3. As a thirty something married white bloke from Northern Ireland whose partying days are over, and were never something I cared much for anyway, I’m not exactly who this album is designed for. I don’t need to worry about most of the issues raised in the album and it’s not a sub genre of Pop I’ve ever been invested in. Still, the music made me interested in the artist and what they were talking about – at least to the point that I’m curious to hear their debut. 

Genre Relation: 3. I’m not best placed to answer this given the complete lack of knowledge I have around this sort of music. In the wider genre of ‘Whatever Is On The Charts’ it certainly relates in terms of style, tone, and theme and with a lot of the same positives and negatives I ascribe to the type of music. Whether it’s better or worse, whether it is a game-changer I don’t know. I know I liked it more than most crap in the charts.

Authenticity: 4. The overall impression I had from the album – the voices, the lyrics, the production, was of a home-grown talent rather than something manufactured and showered with money. The people involved have a love of music past and present, and that shone through.

Personal: 4. I could go a 3 here, but I think that would be playing into my bias too much. I enjoyed this quite a lot, and it surprised me (by not being shit). Given the fact that I wasn’t expecting much, that 90% of it didn’t annoy me, and that I’ve been humming many of the songs to myself over the past few weeks… I think it deserves a Personal score of 4.

Miscellaneous: 3. Not much to say – music videos are fine, artwork is fine, girls seem cool. A standard positive 3. 

Total: 68/100

think that’s the highest score so far in my 2020 albums. Not by much, mind you. This is a decent score – thinking how difficult it would be to get a 5 in any of the categories. I’m hoping we’ll get one or two albums passing the 70 mark but I doubt we’ll get anything in the 80s. I care less about the score than my feelings about the album and how many of the songs I plan on listening to after publishing this post. Let us know in the comments what you think of Ungodly Hours!

Nightman Listens To – Bob Dylan – Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020 Series)!

Rough and Rowdy Ways: Amazon.co.uk: Music

Greetings, Glancers! <Large audible and visible sigh>. Bob Dylan. He’s a legend. One of the greats. A songwriter second to none. An icon. An inventor and re-inventor. His albums appear on every Best Of list you’ve ever read. So they tell me. Listen, I’m all for maturing as a fan of music and as a person – it’s one of the main reasons why I have this blog and continue these Albums Series – but as we’ve seen, sometimes your personal preferences simply trump what is supposedly good for you. It’s just like being healthy – I bought myself some ripe fruit to snack on during the day but here I am typing this and entire an entire 472 gram Ms Molly’s Trifle from Tesco. What’s good for you isn’t always good.

I have known of Bob Dylan all my life. As a Guns ‘n’ Roses fan from an early age, I loved their version of Knockin On Heaven’s Door and assumed the guy who wrote it must be a genius. I love Jimi’s All Along The Watchtower. And that’s the thing I struggle with when it comes to Dylan – he’s one of those artists who is maybe better served as a writer and staying away from the mic? Far from me to criticize a vocalist when my own sound like a goose slithering through the inside of an elephant’s trunk – but if I’m happy to criticize my own singing then I’m going to be picky about everyone else too. Dylan’s vocals are simply horrendous. Maybe over time you become accustomed to them, I don’t know. I certainly haven’t, though admittedly I’ve never given him much of a chance. In my ongoing quest to listen to every album ever recorded, Bob Dylan’s work will come up again and again but as much as a fan I am of folk music and of singer songwriters and of lyrics, I tend to pass his albums over because of how much I can’t stand his voice. But today I’ll be listening to his latest album for the first time and who knows – maybe now that he’s a hundred and eighty six years old, some of the mucus and pig fat oriented nature of his warbling will have been replaced by the dusky husk of a throat more attuned to the ravages of time and instead sound like an old and ragged yacht hewn from the most decrepit oak, moaning as it capsizes under the weight of its alcoholic crew. Now there’s a metaphor for ya.

Am I being shallow? Naïve? Puerile, dismissive, idiotic? Obviously there is more to music than vocals. Obviously. But when you’re a singer songwriter, vocals are at least 50% of what you are – the clue’s in the title. My problems with Dylan are not purely skin, or voice, deep. He has a handful of songs I’ve enjoyed and every so often one of his lyrics will ring true on a personal level. I’m going to say something now which is likely completely incorrect but, and again I’m speaking from an extremely ill-informed position given the number of songs I’ve heard from him, most of the songs and lyrics I’ve heard from him are simply moderately elevated love songs. You say there’s more to music than vocals? There are more things to write about than love. I know he gets political and I know he’s done protest stuff. Maybe that’s more my level, maybe those songs and lyrics will spark something inside me. Most of what I’ve heard is simply better written Celine Dion that I care equally nul for. But for everyone out there frothing in anger at my ranting or giggling from your highest of high horses – I’ll be the first to admit when I’m wrong and will happily slap my own chops if and when an artist’s quality clicks for me. I would much rather have music I love in my life than music I don’t, and that’s why I’m here.

As always, I begin by saying what I know about the album. In this case, it’s absolutely nothing beyond its name and the recording artist. The album artwork strikes me as deliberately retro. It seems like some 1950s swinging shindig based on the outfits and asses on display. It’s all quite faceless, to the extent that the dude on the right (who is staring into either a jukebox lit by Heaven’s golden shimmers, or some Tabernacle-esque fridge freezer unit) has seemingly suffered an unfortune bout of head-loss. The sparse room doesn’t suggest much in the way of rough and/or rowdy antics – but maybe showing up to your local juke dive in an ill-fitting skirt was enough to raise the eyebrows and middle wickets of those in attendance. Simpler time, simpler folk. You may have noticed I’m stalling. Fine, lets get on with it.

I usually start these posts with the positives. Before I do, at risk of repeating myself let me just restate that the vocals are not my cup of tea. Given I don’t drink tea, they’re not my hot chocolate either. I was correct in my assumption that the vocals would be more weary and gruff, and thankfully less nasal. Sounds a bit like Joni Mitchell after 300 cigs and covid. I’m never going to come around on the guy’s singing and if you struggle with vocals while listening to an artist, you’re probably never going to like listening to them. There’s less urgency here, and while he sounds like he’s the drunk propping up the furthest end of the bar spouting wisdom to anyone who will listen, he still sounds potent and virile. More like a sage imparting truths but knowing it’s going to fall on deaf ears. I could get through individual songs if I were to listen to this in the future, but listening to the entire album again in a single sitting would be a stretch for me.

We do get off to a promising start. I Contain Multitudes is rather lovely – relaxed, swirling Country guitars and a gentle vibe. I Contain Multitudes seems like a response and a slap in the face to my proclamation that he only writes love songs. You should aware that I’m being tongue in cheek for entertainment purposes, just in case you hadn’t picked that up. There are some great lines in here, but there are some absolute clangers too – you can’t win ’em all. False Prophet is a rough Blues song with a nifty heavy edge and solid riff straight from the 1930s. It’s fair to say Dylan has spent his career aping the African American Blues men he looked up to – it seems with age he’s finally able to sound like them. I think it’s impossible to write an authentic Blues song today. The genre is too long in the tooth, too limited, meaning we’d seen everything it had to offer by 1960. As limited as the Blues genre has always been (given the fact that it’s basically a hundred years old or more) there isn’t much that anyone can add to it. The only way to make a Blues song work today is to make it a pastiche. There are plenty of people plying their trade today by playing the Blues, but they are mostly writing to serve a specific target niche audience – either existing connoisseurs of the Blues, or guitar fans. Blues’ greatest strength was always that it was a framework to build upon, leading to a hundred offshoots and much of the best music of the 20th Century.

 There’s a variety in these opening songs which I wasn’t expecting, but which sadly does not continue through the rest of the album. Beyond the vocals, that’s my main fault with the album – it quickly devolves into a series of Blues standards I’ve heard a hundred times before. Even within False Prophet we fall back into clichés and tropes from a musical perspective. If we’re calling this a Blues album that’s perhaps not a valid criticism, but I’ve always had an issue with a full album of straight Blues and I prefer the genre in small, vicious bursts. At least when the music and the vocals become parody and boring we have the lyrics to fall back on.

It is unsurprisingly the lyrics which stand out for me. Each song has a frame, a topic, yet each is peppered with asides and insights ranging from hilarious to razor sharp, and more often than not there are multiple references to Literature, Cinema, music, real life people etc. It’s truly a shame there aren’t more minds like Dylan in music today, or even some with a fraction of his fire, wit, and intelligence to breathe life into their songs. As is often the case with songwriters who overload their lyrics, it should be stressed just how difficult it is to build a coherent song and an interesting and catchy melody around the words. Today’s pop, or Popular Music as a whole, relies on simplicity – too many words are simply too difficult for most people to remember, and too many words either lead to convoluted rhythms and off-kilter melodies which don’t appeal to the masses, or overly simple beats and repetition which is the trap Dylan falls into. While much of the music works as a one off, and while genres like Rap are purpose built to allow for effusive wordy lyrics and repetitive music, managing to craft something which strikes the balance between music and semantics is challenging, and a challenge Dylan only partially succeeds with here.

I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You is almost a musical retread of the opening track, albeit one with more romance and sway, Black Rider attempts a more haunting approach but gives way to forgettable minimalism, while any number of other tracks are rehashed Blues rockers. The highlights for me are when there are slight twists or variances in the sound – Mother Of Muses is another sweet song with melodies to match, but infrequent surprising chord changes, while Key West introduces some different instruments and pushes Dylan’s vocals to offer some heightened emotion. Key West, as long as it is, has probably become my favourite on the album though I would probably enjoy it more if it were half the length. Murder Most Foul is the obvious centrepiece and has the vibe of an old dude strumming his guitar while perched on a rocking chair at sunset at the edge and end of the world.

The laid back 9 minuter Key West leads thematically and tonally into Murder Most Foul perfectly, thought having too such long tracks back to back at the closure of an album I struggled with was enough to push me over the edge first time around. Taking breathers between chunks of the album is definitely the approach for someone like me who isn’t a fan. Depending on your level of fandom, Murder Most Foul is going to feel either like an intimate one to one session with your favourite poet, or a visit to your senile grandfather’s a stale living room on Christmas Day as he regales you with memories of fabricated events. I imagine this may be seen as a crowning achievement by Dylan’s diehard followers, but after the fourth minute of my first listen I was begging for it to end, to change somehow, a different lilt to his delivery, some variance in the music. But it goes on in exactly the same pattern for another twelve minutes. The lyrics are less like a Burroughs-esque series of insightful hallucinations, and more like a list of names, popular phrases, events, and references deliberately selected for no other reason than to rhyme and to spruce up the bird’s eye view of the USA which pervades the whole album. It’s less a sign of relief when it ends than a sigh of regret that I didn’t turn it off after four minutes.

My opinion of it has since increased with subsequent listens and with reading the lyrics. It’s an effective re-account of the last 60 odd years of American history. The little subtle musical touches come though with more effort on the listeners behalf – the strings doing their own thing, the scattered piano, the comparisons and in-jokes in the lyrics with references which will fly over the heads of most who are not musically or historically inclined, but work wonderfully for those of us who can catch even 50% of them. We cover music and the new bands and waves of the 60s, juxtaposed with the violent event of November 63, 80s horror movies, the Civil Rights movement, and any number of other popular phrases and moments in time. It’s a song I can listen to on its own, for its own merits rather than at the end of a long album, and even with that I do struggle getting through the entire running time. The music simply doesn’t change enough and as much as I appreciate the lyrics I’d love to see some smart arse do a Prog version of this to actually spice up the music and give the words a proper home.

I understand I’ve been quite negative with this post, but I should close with the key positive I took from the whole experience; Dylan is still here. While I’ve never been a fan, and probably never will, that’s fine. He’s not for me, but for all of the people he is for, for the millions still around who do love him or are yet to discover him – the dude is still going when many many others have fallen to the ravages of time, health, lack of staying power, or lack of talent. I’m positive that those the album was written for will hold it dear, as they should. For me, it’s always cool to see people with genuine talent (regardless of how I enjoy or feel about that talent) and real experience still making music today. We know that music as a Business is catered to, by, and for the young, and that the entire spectrum of successful popular music today is extremely narrow – so I admire those who can sustain an audience and success over such a ridiculous stretch of time. While there are countless thousands of musicians out there today who have been performing since before I was born, an almost insignificant fraction of those are known or are successful to any respectable degree versus the plethora of new, recent, short term, and up and coming acts who come and go with the wind. Dylan has been doing it long before I existed, and his songs and his words will be here for hundreds of years to come, assuming we haven’t fucked up the planet beyond repair before then.

Album Score

I’m loath to continue doing this score business, but I suppose I’ve started so have to keep it up.

Sales: 3. As I always mention, I’m not really sure how to gauge this one anymore. It went Silver in the UK, which is okay, but elsewhere data isn’t forthcoming or strong. What are Dylan’s sales usually like? I imagine this spiked for a couple of weeks at release, then tanked. 2 or 3 on this one, lets give him the benefit of the doubt.

Chart: 4. We know the album at least peaked at Number 1 in various Countries, including the UK and US, and he even managed his first Number 1 single, somehow. 

Critical: 5. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. When the dude finally bites the dust and people can do a retrospective of his entire body of work, I’m not sure if this will still be seen in as favourable a light, but for now you based on the current influx of Year End top spots and glowing praise, you can’t really go lower than a 5.

Originality: 2. Maybe there’s some original stuff in here for Dylan – I didn’t hear any Grime or Dubstep, but maybe he does enough differently from what he has done before. To my ears it’s a very simple Blues, Folk, Americana infused album with little or no originality beyond the lyrics, though it’s tougher to call lyrics original just because no-one has used a particular turn of phrase before. 

Influence: 2. I don’t see this influencing anyone, at least not in the same way as his early work undoubtedly influenced others and will continue to. 

Musical Ability: 3. A few guest stars, but for the most part there isn’t a lot of complexity on display or much opportunity for the musicians to show off their ability. 2 or 3 here, max.

Lyrics: 5. It’s not flawless, but nothing is. I don’t many albums in the 2020 list are going to get a 5 in this category, but Dylan’s wordsmithery, use of language and wit, and storytelling have enough lyrical flourish to put most other songwriters to shame.

Melody: 3. Not great – there are a couple of songs with a hook or two which I have found myself humming after I’ve stopped listening, but I suspect that is more to do with the sheer length and repetitive nature of the melody rather than the quality. Again, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but this is a weak 3. More likely a 2, definitely never getting a 4.

Emotion: 3. I would argue that most of the emotion people feel from this album is more down to what it represents than the genuine content – it’s probably one of the last, if not the very last, albums from a man who has been doing it for 60 years. The music and lyrics at least in part reflect this. But I found it a mostly bland affair. At this point he’s hardly trying to convert any new fans so I’ll split the difference and go with a 3. 6

Lastibility: 3. Purely because it’ a Dylan album, you know people will be talking about this for years and decades to come; it’s not some flavour of the month pop album, it’s a release by one of the most important artists of the 20th Century. I don’t think it will have the staying power of his most famous releases in terms of what people reach for when they want a bit of Bob, but it’s not going away. 3 or 4 here. 

Vocals: 2. I could easily go a 1 here, and he really wants me to go that low with his insistence on making songs longer than they need to be, but the timbre of his voice has improved with age, removing much of the nasal quality with grouchy gravel. Still, it’s not the sort of vocal I’d ever choose to listen to. 

Coherence: 4. It all holds together – you know what each song is going to sound like and feel like, and all of the music and lyrics are trenched in American folk and blues.

Mood: 3. The mood is held together by the coherence, but slips for me because of the lack of emotion I felt. 

Production: 3. A crisp and clear no-nonsense Production. The vocals are front and centre in the mix, though everything feels balanced. I would have preferred more expansion and invention with the instrumentation – not that it’s needed for an album like this, but it would have made the whole more interesting.

Effort: 4. It feels effortless and I don’t think the musicians or anyone else involved put in, or needed to put in, more effort than was required. Then again, there’s the pressure to put out a good Dylan album, and what may be the last Dylan album, so I’m sure everyone did their best without pushing their creativity. Dylan himself, given his age, probably put in the most effort and clearly spent a lot of time pondering over the lyrics and overall ideas for each song.

Relationship: 2. Depending on how you few this category – how do you personally relate to it, or how do you think most people will relate to it – will dictate your score. Personally I didn’t relate to it much at all – there is too much distance created by the stuff I didn’t enjoy – and while I can empathise with the thing, I didn’t care for it. Fans will go high on this score because they have a higher chance of relating to the guy they love, but first time listeners or people like me who are not fussed either way will likely not get a lot out of it from this category. 

Genre Relation: 4. I can’t exactly criticize the album for being a generic Blues album, then give it a crap score in this category. When it plays the Blues it feels like the Blues, when it goes Folk, it feels Folk. It’s not the best of either world, but you know what it is. Of course you could argue that when someone has been going for as long as Dylan has they essentially become a Genre all of their own, in which case yous should ask how it relates to his other work. 

Authenticity: 4. It feels personal, it feels real. It doesn’t feel like a product manufactured for the masses and it doesn’t feel like he’s done it purely for his fans. At this point he can do whatever the hell he wants, and he has, 

Personal: 2. I don’t think there’s enough I liked here to go with a 3. Maybe that will change with time, but I doubt it. We know fans will go a 5 here, unless they’re particularly strict and the individual songs were not to their taste, but I can’t see a fan going less than a 4. A 1 would be harsh even for me, because I appreciate the effort and talent involved. But he’s not  an artist I’ll be able to enjoy, unless someone else is performing his songs.

Miscellaneous: 3. The album cover isn’t the most exciting, ripped straight from a hundred 50s and 60s album artwork like some shoddy easy rock compilation. You have to suspect this might be his last album which does offer some interesting side notes, and he did pull together some notable guest stars. Nothing exciting, but enough to get a 2 or a 3. 

Total: 64/100

That’s actually an interesting score. I enjoyed Biffy Clyro’s album more than this, but this gets a better score (by a single point). Does that mean the system works? Hopefully it shows that any bias is decreased. Let us know in the comments what you think of Rough And Rowdy Ways!