On the Record
Mr. Roxy Music returns with his first collection since 2002 that includes originals. The suave one produces what one would expect: a collection of lush pop songs propelled by his signature voice. Where the album misses the mark is in the production, which sounds out of date—not in a cool, retro way, but in a “did they really think this sounded good in 1983?” kind of way. Hmm, Dave Stewart, formerly of The Eurythmics, cowrote much of it. On the upside, Ferry has a voice that can make even subpar work sound much better than it really is. He hits the mark midalbum with a striking vocal performance on Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren” and Traffic’s “No Face, No Name, No Number.” Again, all that holds the songs back is the overbusy production, which buries what brought listeners to the album in the first place beneath way too production and sheen.
The Smoke of My Will
I needed something with guitars—loud, loud ones. Minneapolis-based STNNNG provide those needed hard-edged guitars on their third album, released on vinyl only in October on the local Modern Radio Record Label. The band merges direct, hard-core punk stylings with jagged, postpunk backbeats. But it’s not all cacophonous noise (not that I have any problems with it). Singer Chris Besinger moves from a quiet, spoken-singing style to peel-the-paint yelps on a dime, and the rest of the band is as expert at making shifts in tone, tempo, and volume. Guitarists Adam Burt and Nathan Nelson duel it out throughout the release, employing the same sense of dynamics that fuels the vocals. The standout is the epic “Two Sick Friends,” where the band keeps the groove quiet, but makes up for that in driving intensity. Elsewhere, the album has no shortage of it, such as the side-two opener, “New Black Hole.”
After making a “quick” rise to the top in 2004—she had been playing for a decade at the time—KT Tunstall consolidated her skills on her second album. With this third release, she makes good on much of her early promise. Additional maturity is here in her singing, which takes on an extra level of earthiness in its delivery, as well as in the songwriting, which features plenty of propulsive pop and rock tunes. Recorded at the famed Hansa Studio in Berlin, the album feels modern without being airtight and lifeless like so many recent releases. A song like “Difficulty” has the underpinnings of the pop-folk Tunstall has employed in the past, but includes several additional sonic layers, from distorted electronics to harmony vocals, which give it an appealing depth. She also occasionally heads back into pure folk with equally solid results, such as the bouncy-but-eerie “Golden Frames.”
Elton John and Leon Russell
When he was just a wee sprite of a singer-songwriter, Elton John was inspired by the piano playing and songwriting of Leon Russell. Though Russell is featured on a number of hits—and even sang a few of them on his own—he’d fallen into obscurity until John rediscovered his music, and enlisted his former mentor to craft a new album together. Alas, The Union—while certainly a competent late-period John album—isn’t a return to the 1970s glory that Russell inspired. For the most part, you get lots of midtempo rockers and near-generic ballads of the type littering John’s albums for nearly 30 years now. T. Bone Burnett, who has done remarkable work in the past, seems to phone this one in, as does a bevy of guest artists, from Neil Young to Booker T to Don Was. The album has occasional hints of something greater, but they are layered under all the musical deadweight.