Some big albums dropped this past month, so we’re catching up on releases from Gang of Youths, Arcade Fire and Paul Kelly.
Gang of Youths – Go Farther in Lightness
It’s amazing to think that these guys are only on album number two. And there are few artists who have a big debut record and then manage to push things to greater heights in the follow-up. Go Farther in Lightness is quite an achievement, surpassing that impressive first album, The Positions, in both the songwriting craft and the sonic textures explored. Gang of Youths walk a fine line, managing to sound edgy and honest while embracing the big, stirring chorus.
Opening up with the unashamedly Springsteen-esque ‘Fear and Trembling’, we are taken on quite a journey. There are 16 tracks, many of them travel for six or seven minutes, but they never feel laboured, while a few others stay for just a minute or two. It’s all a perfect fit though, nothing is extraneous. This is an album of beautiful rock’n’roll, raw and rousing stuff that pulls you right in from beginning to end. Early listen highlights include ‘What Can I Do if the Fire Goes Out?’, ‘The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows’ and the quiet grandeur of ‘Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane’. But this is the kind of record that will continue to reveal its treasures over repeated listens.
Gang of Youths are on tour now and will play Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide on Fri 15th September. Tickets are available here.
Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Arcade Fire is another band trying to push themselves in terms of creative output, but fifth album Everything Now is a mixed bag that misses the mark. The album sets out to be tongue-in-cheek social satire but never manages to rise above the target of its invective, because the songwriting is just not up to the task. The results are just a bit soulless. We are a long way from The Suburbs here.
There are some moments that do work. The Bowie meets ABBA vibe of the title track is a piece of pop brilliance and the standout (nothing else really comes close). Meanwhile, ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’ is the only point of genuine emotional resonance on the album.
It just seems there are a lot of half developed ideas. ‘Signs of Life’ co-opts a great 70s disco groove but doesn’t really go anywhere with it. ‘Put Your Money on Me’ takes a very catchy vocal turn towards the end but the song built around it is unremarkable. Meanwhile, ‘Chemistry’ is hopefully the last time the band will attempt anything resembling reggae.
Arcade Fire find themselves in a similar position to post-Achtung Baby U2. Not all new ideas area good ideas. Let’s hope they can find their way back to great songwriting in future endeavours.
Paul Kelly – Life is Fine
One man who has never deviated from the value of fine songwriting is national treasure, Paul Kelly. His creative effort in recent years has produced some of the best output of his decorated career and Life is Fine continues in this vein. Collaborating again with longtime band mates, Vicka and Linda Bull, Life is Fine is a bright and soulful celebration of song, that feels like a natural extension of The Merri Soul Sessions from a few years ago.
Opening up with the slow-burn of ‘Rising Moon’, then, like something from Kelly’s early career, ‘Finally Something Good’ is built around a simple catchy piano progression. In fact, there’s a lot that reminds us of Kelly’s days with the Coloured Girls / Messengers back in the eighties, and yet everything on Life is Fine feels fresh. Meanwhile, ‘My Man’s Got a Cold’ is the kind of suburban fodder perfectly suited to Kelly and a wonderful vehicle for Vicka Bull’s powerful voice. Closing out the album, the title track sums up Kelly’s disposition: enjoying life and not retiring anytime soon. And why would he when the songs are this good?
Paul Kelly is touring nationally and will play the Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre on 22nd November. Tickets are available here.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor