Thursday, 27 April 2017

Those Handsome Animals - The New Renaissance, album review

There aren't many albums that people spend most of their adult life waiting for, but The New Renaissance is possibly mine....

A very brief history lesson first....  Despite entering into very few serious musical discussions in this day and age, MySpace was a prominent tool for a generation, not just for unsigned bands to share their wares, but also for fans of those bands to mobilise, and without it social media probably wouldn't be where it is now (make of that what you will).  

But what happens when one of your favourite MySpace bands never delivers a full album and that little music player in the right hand corner becomes a distant memory?

From the embers of a local band that ignited a North London suburb's suppressed live scene, Enfield's answer to Alex Turner, Thomas Millett, kept the dream alive with the formation of Those Handsome Animals, and those in the know have waited patiently since 2010, through fallow periods, role-call tweaks and false starts.

But enough self-indulgent reminiscing from this thirty-something reviewer, what does the album sound like?

It sounds like an album comprised of guitar, bass and drums should sound like, and more.



Limited palette does not make for limited returns, in the right hands it results in a creative use of the resources available and perhaps certain nuisances may be lost on the more casual listener, their discovery makes the listening all the more rewarding.  Those lyrics, that riff, this chorus... I understand that Spotify has spoiled you for choice, but repeated listening, dancing and shouting along is key to this release.

It's early Oasis rock‘n'roll with an art-rock yelp rather than Liam's trademark snarl, it's The Cribs at their singalong best, it's The Cure at their most pop, it's The Drums without the hype and it's Billy Bragg at his most acutely observant, it's all this and more rolled into a lean, but rippling, sub-40 minute running time.

It kicks off with 'Megadrive', a track urging the world to 'clear a space on the map’ for this band, it serves as Those Handsome Animal's theme tune, a 21st century alternative twist on 'The Monkees’ or ‘Banana Splits’, and in an awkwardly meta way, the theme of this album from the offset seems to be themes...  Pick almost any track and layer it over a montage of John Hughes movie clips and your provided with an updated take on romanticised teenage-angst and epoch-defining musical touchstones, if only John Hughes wasn't directing ’80s movies about American young adults but instead was the figurehead behind theatrical releases capturing the mood of London's Generation-Y urbanites.

And Generation-Y is an apt name, although perhaps Generation Why would be more appropriate.  This album questions Brexit.  This album questions modern relationships.  This album questions modern life.  In fact the title track goes as far as listing a number of current quandaries and shrugs them off with the frustratingly nonchalant refrain of 'that's modern life’.  This album speaks directly to a generation that are even questioning why Generation-Y has fallen from common parlance to the rampant use of 'Millennial' that we don't particularly feel part of, or even want to be a part of.

This album is downtrodden  but hopeful.  This album is essential but likely lost already in a marketplace of voices wanting to be heard.

This album makes my heart ache.  Not with romantic fervour but by connecting to my own crushed spirit.  

I identify with the simple joy of the release from my grip of my phones intrusive alarm when on holiday, I identify with being in the 48%,  I identify with having too much choice thanks to our prevalent connectivity, I identify with social media frustrations that didn't exist ten years ago, I identify with escalating house prices that are destroying the London I know and assumed I'd always live in.

I identify with this album in a way that I don't think music fans were able to identify with The Menace or Chinese Democracy.

This album speaks volumes to me, and I hope that it connects with more than just a niche demographic of white guys from the Northern outskirts of London that I'm all too aware that I belong to, but if it doesn't.... that's modern life.


And yes, it was worth the wait.



Friday, 7 April 2017

Harry Styles - Sign Of The Times, single review

It's possible that for some millennials (and for a clutch of Directioners in particular), a title such as 'Sign Of The Times' may not immediately bring to mind the unforgettable influence of Prince and his seminal, and similarly titled, album.

And so, already Harry Styles is on unsteady ground with a certain age group, as if having nice hair, considerable wealth, youth on his side and having previously dated Taylor Swift wouldn't be enough to tip the scales against you.  

What does this Enfant Incredible do next?  He channels the '90s, repackages it into some modern epic and embarrasses all of the elder haters who wished that he'd fail.

Zayn shunned pop with an on-trend R'n'B vibe, Nial went chasing the bankable Sheeran sound.... Whereas Harry Styles has his people put forth a song that starts off sounding like a throwback to the Stereophonics that surprisingly Radio 1 isn't too trendy to snub, progresses with an effort comparable to Sinead O'Connor, and then throws in nods to the Oasis' cocaine excesses of Be Here Now and slightly buried guitar licks that bring to mind the revered soloing of Slash's contributions on the power balladry of early '90s Guns N’ Roses uber-hit November Rain.

So despite the fact that he has a ready made audience ready to lap up even his crudest efforts, Harry Styles goes and tugs at the nostalgic heartstrings of a generation that music is leaving behind, here comes another wave of ’90s trade-ins to remind an older generation that, yes, they are older, and what goes around will inevitably come around, and a younger generation that this is something like what the present used to be like (don't worry, you can view it all on youtube).

No, it isn't 'Sign O' The Times'.  And no, it isn't quite as epic as the aforementioned 'November Rain’ at nearly half the running time, but in a world of 3 minute fodder, a five minute plus track played out on mainstream radio feels positively decadent.  But we've seen George Michael practically sainted since his sad passing for his charitable efforts as well as his musical offerings, and Robbie Williams has rode a roller coaster of self-medicating, self-loathing and rude-boxing to become a national treasure... 

Who's to say that Harry isn't next....  

(hopefully minus the usual British turnmill of emotional turmoil)