How do new offerings from Bruce Springsteen, The Shins, The Wedding Present and Deep Sea Arcade all fare?
Hey nonny…no. What a disappointment. Wrecking Ball’s release was presaged with much publicity ensuring listeners knew this was Springsteen’s protest album against those evil capitalist types who’ve robbed and ruined his beloved USA. The Boss was mad as hell and he’s wasn’t going to take it any more. It sounded promising. So it’s such a shame Springsteen has taken a horrible musical misstep that undermines Wrecking Ball at most turns. He’s decided he’s Irish. This isn’t a new development. 2006’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and 2007’s Live In Dublin set also showcased Springsteen’s newfound fondness for fiddles, banjos and accordions. It’ll undoubtedly play well on the jukeboxes of Irish-American pubs everywhere (do Irish-American pubs still have jukeboxes?) but leaves those not in touch with their inner Irish rebel rather cold. On the plus side, lead single and first song here, We Take Care Of Our Own, effectively mimics Born In The USA-era Bruce Springsteen and its aim against government indifference is true. And on the few occasions Wrecking Ball deviates from its tub-thumping folksiness – Rocky Ground evens features a rap by backing singer Michelle Moore and This Depression is nicely understated – there’s glimpses of how Wrecking Ball could have steered clear of bludgeoning bombast to provide a more affecting portrait of the American everyman and woman’s battle with harsh economic times.
earworms: We Take Care Of Our Own, Rocky Ground
Oh, converted world. The Shins are back. Kind of. Singer-songwriter James Mercer is the last man standing having ditched his erstwhile bandmates. Port Of Morrow, then, is a solo album in all but name. You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. First single Simple Song is the kind of *ahem* simple song with sage life advice The Shins have long excelled at (“I know that things can really get rough/When you go it alone/Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough/And play like a stone”). The Rifle’s Spiral and No Way Down sound like excellent offcuts from Mercer’s Broken Bells team-up with uber-producer Danger Mouse. Bait And Switch even adds a touch of 1950s beat-bop to the mix. By penultimate song, 40 Mark Strasse, Mercer’s winsome ways have worn a little thin but the best of Port Of Morrow still shines alongside The Shins’ finest efforts. Four albums in The Shins are unlikely to “change your life” but Mercer and whoever’s in the band at the moment are still more than capable of knocking out winning catchy pop songs that reveal more of their charms with each listen.
earworms: The Rifle’s Spiral, Simple Song, Bait And Switch
Leeds lad, now fiftysomething man, David Gedge has helmed The Wedding Present since the mid-1980s save for a late 1990s/early noughties dalliance with his Cinerama project. Like The Shins, every band member has been replaced. Several times in The Wedding Present’s case. Gedge reckons it keeps things fresh. Perhaps it’s for the best because one thing that’s never changed is Gedge’s lyrical preoccupation with everyday love and heartbreak. Nobody pens better gritty guitar-churning songs about how we all act towards the objects of our affections and desires. But is a ninth album really necessary? Possibly not but when Valentina clicks into gear tracks like You Jane, Back A Bit…Stop and Deer Caught In The Headlights stand proud with their late 1980s/early 1990s peak. Gedge also still has a winning way with pithy one-liners and Your Dead‘s “You appal me…OK, call me” sums up Valentina‘s world view. The band’s local fans will get a chance to judge for themselves whether their later songs match their glory days when The Wedding Present visit Australia to tour for the first time soon. They’ll play their brilliant 1991 third album Seamonsters in full but Valentina shows The Wedding Present’s present also sounds pretty damn good.
earworms: You’re Dead, You Jane, Back A Bit…Stop!, Deer Caught In The Headlights
Sydney band Deep Sea Arcade’s debut album channels the spirit of 1990s Britpop (the good stuff like Supergrass) via Kasabian-type loops. It’s the kind of sound that works for Tame Impala too. Any fears that Outlands will be a derivative retro mess though are quickly dispelled with Deep Sea Arcade throwing around enough of their own woozy psychedelic pop thrills to engage during the early triple sonic punch of the opening title track Outlands, Seen No Right and Girls. It’s only when energy levels flag somewhat on the more laid-back Together and Ride that Deep Sea Arcade lose their way a little but – ultimately and especially on the upbeat numbers – this is a blisteringly assured set of songs.
earworms: Seen No Right, Girls, Steam, Lonely In Your Arms