Carl, Courtney and Kendrick – Richard’s album round-up

Carl Barat and the Jackals – Let it Reign

A record entirely untroubled by genius, but a jolly, Clash cliché-ridden romp nevertheless. The song titles seem to have come out of a Libertines random phrase generator – Victory Gin, Summer in the Trenches, etc – and the lumpen lyrical content (“when she goes, she really goes” apparently) exemplifies the need for Pete Doherty to come back from rehab forthwith. That happy circumstance would allow Carl to put down the biro and return to being in a band in which his main duties are having good hair and insouciantly smoking cigarettes.

Carl Barat doing what he does best
Carl Barat doing what he does best

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney-Barnett_4

This album is so laden with lovely lyrics it is almost obscene. Courtney Barnett’s mordant, jaunty take on life is entirely to my taste, and she makes the endeavour of making music seem so easy. On Pedestrian at Best she says

I love you, I hate you, I’m on the fence
it all depends whether
I’m up, I’m down, I’m on the mend

which is fabulous; and when she says

You’re saying definitely maybe
I’m saying probably no

she appears to take down Noel Gallagher in one neat couplet. Or rip a former lover. Or both. Either way, Courtney Barnett is a hero in my ears.

Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

This new Villagers LP has done away with the playful, surreal songwriting of the previous album, and moved, perplexingly, toward songs of choirboy-ish yearning. Conor O’Brien is a delightful writer, and always worth listening to, but on some of the songs here he seems to be aimlessly noodling on his guitar, apparently oblivious to the fact that someone is recording him. Still, I like Villagers, and am going to see them in a fortnight, so I’m tuning my ears to thinking this one is better than it is.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Where the hooks go, Kendrick?
Where the hooks go, Kendrick?

To Pimp a Butterfly has all the standard issue Kendrick Lamar ingredients: great rapping, intricate storytelling, a dollop of preachiness, all woven together with classic funk. To that mix he has added poetic interludes, free jazz, quite a bit of screaming and some kind of bizarre, beyond the grave chit-chat with Tupac. All this leads me to think that this album is like prog-rock – grand and long and definitely impressive, but perhaps not actually good.

Also, when he says, “Shit don’t change, until you get up and wash yo’ ass” he seems to be pushing the kind of problematic pull-up-your-pants message advocated by the moralising rapist Bill Cosby. Fuck that, son.

In short, Kendrick is a genius, and I do love him, but I think this year I’ll be getting my hip-hop kicks from Earl Sweatshirt.

Warpaint – Warpaint

How do you come up with that album titke, Warpaint?
Long meeting, was it, coming up with that album title?

The members of Warpaint seem to have watched the Virgin Suicides and decided to form a band which sounds like that. Listening to this album you can imagine Sofia Coppola in an advisory role, doling out tips on casual indifference. The songs come at you with glances, making you desire them all the more. Warpaint is quite the most feline album I have ever heard: complex, cool, and with charms which unfold beautifully.

What D’Angelo means to me (summary: a lot)

d-angelo-billboard-650a

I was living in a two-bed terrace just off the Welford Road in Leicester, living with an ageing Italian diplomat called Mr La Barca, who kept the fridge sparse apart from his supply of cambozola, which he used to offer me on a little plate, saying

“You muuuuust! You muuuuust!”

After formal but friendly chit-chat, he’d go back to his desk and his study books, and I’d sit in the living room, reading monumental novels like Last Exit to Brooklyn, wondering if I would ever write something great, paralysed by that

One day in early January, wearing my bomber indoors because me and Mr La Barca (I never knew his first name; didn’t want to know) didn’t like central heating, my friend Lucy knocked and handed me D’Angelo’s Voodoo album; and I don’t know how those hippies felt when they got Sgt Pepper in their mitts, or the punk kids at the first sight of Never Mind the Bollocks, but this was a moment that, even when I’m dribbling in the nursing home, I won’t forget

You might say, “Rich, wasn’t he just another turn of the century soulboy – like R Kelly, with fewer motoring/sex metaphors? Like Sisqo, without the cheerful adoration of ladies’ underwear?

and I’d say, “Hang on.”

Let’s go back to my desolate Leicester bedroom. I stick the CD in my cheap Sony hifi. Mr La Barca is in his bedroom next door, playing one of his English language tapes to which he would repeat

“STEAK AND KEEEDNEY PUDDING”

and other essential phrases to help him fit seamlessly into East Midlands life.

I lie on my bed and listen to Voodoo and, first listen, I knew this album was a work of art. It is a journey from the street, through lust, sex, love and then, when you have been immersed in all that grittiness and sensuousness, to a song, Africa, which is the most powerful evocation of the spiritual I have ever heard.

In Miles Davis’s autobiography, Miles says that he loves the music of Prince because it is both innovative and rooted. That’s how it is with D’Angelo. He has an instinctive grasp of the essence of soul and gospel and funk and manages to coalesce these threads into something new and, in that final song, Africa, something transcendental.

D’Angelo spun out soon after Voodoo was released. Word was he turned to drink and drugs, junk food, put on weight, quite possibly mentally unravelled. There was talk of whole albums written, recorded, and discarded. It was said D’Angelo had problems with his body image. The record business turned him into a sex object (not without justification) and he couldn’t cope with people seeing him as a sort of singing, dancing, six-pack-on-legs.

It took 14 years to get to this week, when another album was released. In that time, me and my friend Patrick have often discussed him in our annual pre-Christmas drinks – is he all right, is he getting it together, will next year be the year.

In 2012, as part of D’Angelo’s re-emergence into the public sphere, Patrick, my cousin Jenny and I went down to Brixton Academy to see him. The show was okay, although not on the level of a concert from his nu-soul contemporary Jill Scott I had seen in the same venue. Despite his frankly enormous arm and chest muscles, he looked strangely vulnerable on stage. And yet, when his over-blown band put their instruments down and D’Angelo was left to sit at the grand piano and play – alone – we saw a glimmer of that once-in-a-generation talent.

When the announcement was made earlier this week, I went a bit mental. I don’t know how Take That fans reacted at news of their reformation a few years back, but if they burst into tears, ran around a bit, babbled incomprehensibly to their housemate and have been smiling ever since, then their reaction was highly restrained compared to my own.

I emailed Patrick, who is on holiday in South America: NEW D’ANGELO ALBUM!!!!! To which he responded: “This is one of the happiest days of my life.”

And if you think we are mad, I would say: “Fair enough.” I’d also say, it’s not just us. At the media launch of the album, one of D’Angelo’s close musical friends, Questlove, spoke to journalists (sparing D’Angelo that burden) and, while he is a lot cooler than me, there was a sense that he wanted to high-five and hug the whole world, when he said:

“I don’t really want to give a hyperbolic or grandiose statement, but it’s everything. It’s beautiful, it’s ugly, it’s truth, it’s lies. It’s everything.”

Do They Know It’s Christmas? #BandAid30 Official Artist Q&A

Spreading joy. Band Aid 30
Spreading joy. Band Aid 30

Who are “they”?
Africans.

What is Africa?
A place where bad things happen.

Do they know it’s Christmas time, at all?
No.

Why not?
It’s not Christmas. It’s mid-November.

Yeah, but if it was Christmas, would they know it was Christmas?
Probably. This song gets wheeled out every few years, which has made a big difference. And, in any case, Christ is pretty popular in Africa. Particularly the countries the British invented/named/colonised.

Which ones are those?
Most of them.

So, if it was Christmas, who wouldn’t know it was Christmas?
The Muslims, probably. They don’t celebrate Christmas.

What do they celebrate?
That’s for them to know and us to find out.

Could we drop leaflets from drones over the Muslims on December the 25th to let them know that it is Christmas?
No.

Why not?
Because letting them know it’s Christmas, at all, is not the point. We are trying to stop Ebola.

What’s Ebola?
Bad.

How bad?
Very bad.

Have they all got it over there?
Not really. In fact, Nigeria contained the virus quickly and easily on their own, without any assistance from white people. But we don’t talk about that because it doesn’t help the “White Man as Saviour” narrative.

Right. So who are we helping again?
Bob.

Dylan?
That’s just the problem. It’s Bob Geldof. And if he doesn’t get on the telly a lot every five to ten years to remake this song, he wouldn’t have a purpose in life. You could say you are making a grumpy old man a bit less grumpy.

What’s in it for me?
You get to do something good for a change. And you get a lot of publicity. It aids your career, basically.

Do I get to meet any real-life Africans?
No! Oh, actually I mean yes. We have got a token African artist for you to meet. Bob Geldof doesn’t like African music or culture, but some fusspots reckon it is important that African musicians should get the chance to meet Chris Martin – to show that we have problems over here as well.

This sounds like a load of bollocks, yet something I can’t really get out of. How much of my time will it take?
About three hours. And your conscience will be salved for the rest of your life.

What does salved mean?
Just get in the recording booth, do your thing and make Bob Geldof happy.

Don't look directly into his eyes - Bob Geldof
Don’t look directly into his eyes – Bob Geldof

Who is Bob Geldof again?
He’s like a sweary Irish Medusa. And before you ask, sweary is when you say bad things to people, Irish is a term used to refer to the people of Ireland, who are similar to the English except they have more boybands and sanctimonious middle-aged rock stars, and Medusa is a less attention-seeking version of Bob Geldof, with better hair.

I’m scared now.
Don’t be. Ellie Goulding is in there. Just hold her hand and everything will be okay. Probably.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Note to reader. Two tips for doing something, whilst avoiding Geldof’s circus. Donate to Medecins Sans Frontieres and listen to some cool African music. Some of my favourites are Konono No.1 and also The Ethiopiques albums. Probably you have your favourites too, so feel free to let me know the stuff you like to listen to, when you aren’t listening to the Boomtown Rats.

5 reasons why Young Fathers are great Mercury Prize winners (not being George Ezra is one of them)

Edinburgh's finest: Mercury winners Young Fathers
Edinburgh’s finest: Mercury winners Young Fathers

I am thrilled that Edinburgh-based rap group Young Fathers have beaten off a particularly strong field to win the Mercury Prize. Their Dead LP is now officially designated as brilliant and I couldn’t agree more. Before I get into my top 5 reasons why their album is great, I want to say: people, listen to the 12 albums on the shortlist, pick the ones you like, and buy them. Young Fathers only got £20,000 for winning the prize, which, by the sounds of the record, will barely cover their annual weed bill. Show some love to the artists, and buy their work.

Okay, here’s my five reasons why Dead by Young Fathers is splendid:

1. Lyrical madness
On the poppiest song on the album, Get Up, one of the rappers says:

“Taking off my clothes at the lido
all I got is my decadent credo”

Which is genius, right? Fair enough, he has to pronouce “lido” leedo to make it rhyme with credo, but when you’ve got that level of mad couplet bubbling up, it would be churlish to quibble about a mispronounciation. Elsewhere on the album, one of the lads starts a rap with the assertive “bish bosh”, rhymes “Liberian” with “Presbyterian” (underlining the band’s Afro-Caledonian roots) and talks about “handing out endorpins to nature’s orphans.” Wordplay is just that – playing with words – and Young Fathers are a rabble playing Scrabble with Margaret Drabble. (This is why I am not a rapper.)

2. They are not George Ezra
Some people, a lot of people, seem to like George Ezra. Why, or even how, I do not know. George Ezra is about as rock n’ roll as William Pitt the Younger. Listening to George Ezra makes me think that he is instinctively in favour of fracking. Not that they care a jot about such chart-topping codswallop, but Young Fathers are the polar opposite of George Ezra. The Mercury judges, in their wisdom, understand this and have given Young Fathers a platform for people to see that there is an alternative to stadium-folk.

The old standing in front of graffiti to make it look like you didn't grow up in a stately home trick: George Ezra
The old standing in front of graffiti to make it look like you didn’t grow up in a stately home trick: George Ezra

3. They are like Kanye without being complete twats (yet)
On the jollily titled song, War, one of the boys (I have no idea which) starts ranting “you chopping me down like the Amazon” which is the kind of idiotic nonsense Kanye spouts. It’s one of those lyrics right on the borderline between utter shit and utter cool – just like most of Kanye’s. This shows Young Fathers have the potential to be both massive stars and megalomaniac lunatics. I like that.

Note to Young Fathers: it's all right copying Kanye, just leave Taylor Swift alone if you see her at awards ceremonies
Note to Young Fathers: it’s all right copying Kanye, just leave Taylor Swift alone if you see her at awards ceremonies

4. Musically, it is all over the place
Also like Kanye, they take a trawler to the world of music and pick out the bits they like. Hence, the album starts with a bit of squeezebox, which is probably not something P Diddy would have considered.

Other songs sound, in part or in whole, like: The Prodigy; Burial; a particularly violent video game with a moral message like “bad things happen to good people, a lot”; Justin Timberlake after a trip to Guantanamo; Andre 3000; a teenage boy trying to making himself pass out purely through bass noise; gospel without the redemption; Boyz II Men getting mugged at knifepoint, in a sewer, by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; a fat boy farting into a fan. You get the idea. It’s commercial, sort of.

5. It is only 32 minutes long
I am not criticising long rap albums. One of my favourite albums is Redman’s Muddy Waters joint, which is about 70 minutes and has more comedy skits than actual songs. In those skits he comes up with such timeless acronyms as NASWIPP (N*ggas Against Smoking Weed In Public Places) and “IKSRFO” (I’m Knocking Somebody Right the Fuck Out), which my life would be a greyer place without.

That said, there is something pleasurable about a rap album finishing its business at just over the half hour mark. Wu-tang’s knowledge god, the GZA, once remarked, “Make it brief, son, half short and twice strong,” and Young Fathers have taken that advice on board.

Of course, the Wu followed up their first album with the unwieldy Wu-tang Forever double LP, which begins with some shambling old dude named Poppa Wu giving a not interesting sermon about fuck all for six minutes. Therefore, I will stand by Young Fathers if they get famous and obnoxious and think it a good idea to get Frankie Boyle to open up their next album with a lengthy diatribe against the English generally, and George Ezra specifically. In fact, that might not be a bad idea.

redman muddy waters