Thunder, Lightning, Strike
Wow. One listen to this glorious, ramshackle, candy-colored pop explosion and I was grinning like a loon. Two listens and I was dancing around the kitchen, while the cat looked on in mild disdain. Three listens and I had to be physically restrained from leaning out the window of my apartment and screaming hysterically at startled passers-by, "Have you heard this? Well, have you? It's fantastic, isn't it?" And it is-with big, shiny bells on.
Finally getting a well overdue official U.S. release, it's the brainchild of England-based Ian Parton (a documentary maker for the Discovery and National Geographic channels, fact fans). What initially started as a bedroom four-track hobby of sorts has morphed into a full-fledged multiracial boy/girl band of unparalleled brilliance-kinda like a postmodern Sly and the Family Stone, minus the crippling coke addiction.
It takes (deep breath) kids' TV (Charlie Brown and Sesame Street spring to mind), '70s cop shows, John Barry's movie scores, the Jackson 5, old-skool hip-hop, cheerleaders, Sonic Youth and block party anthems and melds them into one vibrant, hyper, body-popping whole. Usually within the same song.
In the wrong hands, eclecticism can be dangerous. These days any third-rate dickhead with a sampler and a large vinyl collection can knock out product. Then there's the too-cool-for-school brigade, whose sole intent appears to be reveling in their ultra-obscure (and to be honest, often crappy) tastes. But not this. Nosirreebob. This is like overdosing on space dust, MDMA and cherry cola all at the same time. (That's a good thing, by the way.) Seriously, if this fails to move you, then my friend, you're clinically dead.
To quote uber-pop muppet Justin Timberlake: "I'm lovin' it." A
You Could Have It So Much Better
When Franz Ferdinand burst onto the music scene early last year, they immediately confirmed that despite the relentless hype of the salivating, near hysterical U.K. press ("This band will change your life!" screamed the ever restrained NME), they were in fact the real deal.
They possessed everything a great band should possess-great bone structure, cool threads, charisma by the truckload and, oh yeah, brilliant, swaggering tunes with big fat pop hooks. Indeed, they seemed almost too good to be true. Not that they came to this sudden success overnight. Frontman Alex Kapranos, in particular, had been toiling away in various Glasgow indie outfits, to general indifference, for years. So a tip of the hat, then, to Kapranos' endurance and unwavering self-belief.
The big question was how they could possibly follow such a startling debut. In a word: easily. Not for them the curse of the sophomore slump. If anything, this is even more cocksure and swaggering than the first. It's meatier sounding, stomping and sexy (particularly on the ridiculously lust-fuelled "Do You Want To"), brimming with wit and arch foppishness (no change there). There are hints of tenderness this time too-whether it's refusing to judge and condemn a junkie friend on "The Fallen," or in the simple, touching but never cloying ballad "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" (a gentle ode to Kapranos' latest squeeze, the Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger).
It's a brash, bold, beautiful album on which they rail against the mundane, the mediocre (the album's title says it all) and the middle-of-the-road, celebrating glamour, creativity and glorious outsiders. And what's more, they manage to straddle the fine line between populism and artistic integrity (whatever the hell that is) with insouciant ease.
Above all You Could Have It is the sound of a band utterly in control, brimming with confidence, thrilled with the endless possibilities that the future holds. Difficult second album? Pah. They're leaving the competition trailing in their stylish slipstream. A
My Morning Jacket
On the surface, at least, Louisville, Ky.'s My Morning Jacket stand in stark contrast to the flamboyant, foppish Franz Ferdinand. For better or worse, MMJ are often viewed as a hirsute bunch of retro-rockers, the moonshine-, mushroom- and weed-addled bastard offspring of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. A cheap generalization, but not entirely removed from the truth.
What they do share in common with their Scottish brethren is not only a single-minded drive, but an apparent ease and confidence in anything they turn their hands to-and it's never been more apparent than on Z. Employing a producer for the first time (veteran Brit knob-twiddler John Leckie), they've honed, refined and polished their epic, widescreen sound. The Crazy Horse-style indulgences and jam-band tendencies have been reined in.
There are shades of R&B and soul (check out the gobsmacking opener "Wordless Chorus," on which vocalist Jim James' heartrending falsetto recalls Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye at their peak); the reggae of "Off the Record" (I know, I know: White guys doing reggae is often an unnecessary crime against humanity, but in this case, through sheer verve and enthusiasm, they pull it off); and even a woozy, backwoods Carny waltz ("Into the Woods") that kicks off with the surreal, "A kitten on fire/ A baby in a blender," and grows increasingly warped.
What really stand out are Jim James' vocals. A godlike singer at the best of times, throughout this album he's truly heroic, almost singing out of his skin. It's inspiring, uplifting stuff from start to finish. Admittedly, MMJ tend to run out of steam toward the end of the album, but the first three quarters are so strong, so fabulous and so focused, that for my money, Z is My Morning Jacket's strongest set yet. B+