Friday, 28 September 2012

September's Big Music Releases

by George Neame

September has always been a common time for the release of big albums by big artists. Having spent the summer showcasing their new songs at festivals across the world, it is finally time to cash-in on the tours as people search for some musical relief as they return to the often-mundane life of work. Consequently, this is the month for the men to flex their muscles, with almost all big releases coming from all-male alternative/rock bands.

There come few musical releases bigger than a new album by Las Vegas rockers The Killers, who, having been on hiatus for four years, made a return with Battle Born on 17th September 2012, their last release being 2008’s Day & Age. Their appearance at V Festival in August sparked a frenzy across the country and hugely impacted the anticipation of the new album. Unfortunately, it seems even The Killers themselves recognise that they are relying on their previous successes to make Battle Born popular. Only playing two new songs in a 16-song set suggests there is not actually that much to sing and dance about. A band whose genre can only be described as ‘stadium rock’ seem to be running out of ideas, and their 12 new songs just don’t seem stadium-worthy. ‘Arena rock’ may be a more fitting term. The album is not without its triumphs. Single Runaways and surprise gem Deadlines and Commitments provide the toe-tapping, sing-along verses that made the band popular, but when compared with albums such as Hot Fuss, there is a clear lack of hard-hitting potential singles. Halfway through, Miss Atomic Bomb seems to confirm The Killers’ nostalgia and aim to capitalise on past fame, with an emerging sequence of notes identical to that of fan favourite Mr Brightside. Whether intentional or not, the message is clear; either they are resorting to re-using popular tunes to increase album sales, or they truly are stuck for new ideas. It is this that makes Battle Born, frankly, dull. Not to mention the ghastly album cover. The other large release from across the Atlantic was Green Day’s ¡Uno!, the first part of their triple album, the other two parts (imaginatively named ¡Dos! and, you guessed it, ¡TrĂ©!) are arriving in November and January.

The first week of September saw a tough showdown between two of the biggest emerging alternative bands. Both releasing that challenging follow-up album, Two Door Cinema Club and The Vaccines battled for the top spot in the charts (both, thankfully, knocking the excruciating Rita Ora down a few pegs). It was Two Door Cinema Club’s Beacon that had to settle for runner-up, despite gathering a huge following after their first album spawned songs such as What You Know, I Can Talk and Something Good Can Work whose catchy rhythms have been blaring from television screens in countless adverts for the past year or two. The album opens with the lyrically personal Next Year in which lead singer Alex Trimble’s warbling vocals (now world-famous after his appearance at the Olympics Opening Ceremony) sounds uncannily similar to The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers. The next few songs are nothing special and sound more or less the same, but Sun is what kicks the album into life, beginning as a piano-led ballad but quickly transforming into a jagged, stuttering guitar riff that forms the basis of a stomping, pulsating anthem. This continues all the way until The World Is Watching which will undoubtedly prove to be a hit-and-miss track, either providing some relaxing, calm, soulful relief from the mayhem, or being a boring, limp party-killer. Overall, Beacon is not one to be missed, with a little something to be found for every listener.

The Vaccines’ Come of Age successfully builds on their first album and, true to their word, signifies an increasing maturity within the band and their music. Single Teenage Icon is classic British alternative rock at its best with a relentless drum beat and lyrics signifying their humility after their newfound success, ‘I’m not magnetic or mythical, I’m suburban and typical’. Their famous repetitive choruses are catchy and upbeat, songs like Ghost Town making no sense lyrically with a tune that sounds like it should be on the soundtrack to a horror film, but being enjoyable and giving the sense. The songs seem much more structured and although the album isn’t perfect, it is definitely what we would expect from The Vaccines. And it is the imperfections (partly due to its being recorded entirely live) that make Come of Age what it is, sounding gritty and realistic, not artificial and unnatural.
Finally, occurring near the end of the month came the biggest of Britain’s second albums. Mumford and Sons have spent months travelling the world and promoting their first album Sigh No More, their success in the USA in particular has been astounding. In a time when many feel that traditional folk music is being lost to computers and autotune, Marcus Mumford and co have shown that it is still an extremely popular genre when done right. The first single from Babel, I Will Wait, is distinctly Mumford and Sons from the word go, with the persistent banjo strum that has become world-renowned, blaring horns and Mumford’s echoing, crooning vocals. The chorus is repetitive to say the least, but builds up to something much more epic and more momentous than ever before. This is the case for much of the album, though with a few surprises thrown in to keep us on our toes, such as Hopeless Wanderer beginning with a rolling piano, rather than any stringed instrument. The lyrics are characteristically deep and sincere, as well as more mature than the majority of contemporary bands, with countless literary and biblical references, a theme of religion running through it, ‘This cup of yours tastes holy, but a brush with the devil can clear your mind’. Clearly the most successful of the ‘West London folk scene’, Mumford and Sons have created another album that provides a fresh release from the chaotic and modern world we live in; fields of English countryside spring to mind as the album progresses (or perhaps I have spent too long studying ‘the pastoral’ in English…), and there is a welcome sense of sparkle and clarity to be found.

Many claim that it is second albums that are the tough ones to nail, but The Vaccines, Two Door Cinema Club and Mumford and Sons all seem to have hit the nail more or less on the head. Ironically, it is the experienced American rockers The Killers whose new release did not live up to expectations. Perhaps our expectations were too high, perhaps we are all in need of something fresh and innovative, and perhaps this is just a small slip-up in an otherwise flawless career. The month’s successes and failures seem to be stacking up in favour of the British, but it must be remembered that this is just September and there is clear talent on both sides of the Atlantic; the battle for musical dominance continues.

1 comment:

  1. Comment from Dave Allen:

    Today George Neame has posted "September's Big Music Releases" and very interesting it is too. But the title should have been slightly different - for example "Some of ..." or My Favourites Among ...". Why? Because he's ignored the really BIG one, Bob Dylan's new album "Tempest". Unless of course he's acknowledging that these days Bob is beyond "big"?


Comments with names are more likely to be published.