Fat White Family’s new album is much, much better than I had feared

Grade: A- The irresistibly catchy – if you are not quite right in the head – ‘Touch The Leather’ was probably my favourite single of the previous decade, aided by a video which was simultaneously marvellously seedy, threatening and infantile. ‘Left-wing skin on the right-wing leather – touch the leather leather…’ Well it did it for me, and so I set great stock by these scrofulous squat-dwelling skaggies from Brixton, until with every subsequent dim-witted release the notion began to embed itself that they weren’t, actually, very good. ‘Touch The Leather’ was maybe just one of those glorious singular flukes you find in pop music by performers who aren’t really

Never admit that your band is prog – it’s the kiss of death

Sensible prog-rock bands try to ensure no one ever realises they play prog. What happens when you are deemed a prog band is that you are condemned to the margins – little radio airtime, few TV appearances, barely any coverage in the mainstream press – because it has been decided you exist solely for the delectation of a tribe that baffles the rest of the world. Once non-proggers have decided you are prog, that’s it. There is no way back for you. Just collect your Campaign for Real Ale membership card, go home and practise your drum solos. Once non-proggers have decided you are prog, that’s it. There is no

Virgin on the astonishing: Madonna, at The O2, reviewed

When I was a kid listening obsessively to AC/DC and Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, I despaired of music writers. How come none of them – except the staff of Kerrang! magazine and a couple of writers on Sounds – could see the majesty and splendour of this music? Why were they always banging on about flipping Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division, or harking back to old man Dylan? These days, all three of those bands are to some degree or another as revered. Not everyone loves them, but you won’t find many serious critics – even those who don’t personally care for ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, ‘The Number

Confounding and fantastic: 100 Gecs, at O2 Forum Kentish Town, reviewed

Let me introduce you to the two poles in pop and rock. One is marked by authenticity, musicianship, a certain traditionalism. This is the pole that in critics’ discourse is called ‘rockism’ – the assumption that rock (or, at least, real people playing real instruments) is the normative state of music. The other is artificiality, brashness, a disdain for heritage – a celebration of everything that is inauthentic, where a good idea is worth 100 guitar lessons. And that pole is known as ‘poptimism’. Poptimism is why you end up with learned essays in the New Yorker analysing the singer Ariana Grande nicking a doughnut from a shop with reference

The new master of the American Whine: Ezra Furman, at Edinburgh Festival, reviewed

The American Whine is one of the key vocal registers in rock and roll. You can trace that thin disaffected quaver through the decades from the Shangri-Las to Lou Reed, from Jonathan Richman to Neil Young. Inveigling, needy, smart-assed, it’s as vital a part of the DNA of the medium as a black leather jacket and a souped-up Chevrolet. Ezra Furman, I’m pleased to report, is in possession of a vintage whine. Furman is a Jewish transgender woman who composes with compassion, wit, empathy and anger from those particular personal viewpoints. She wrote the soundtrack to Netflix blockbuster Sex Education and has just released an eloquent sixth solo album, All

As good, and inventive, as modern rock music gets: Black Midi’s Hellfire reviewed

Grade: A+ The difficult question with Black Midi was always: are you listening to them in order to admire them, or because you actually enjoy the music they make? By which I mean when you’ve finished listening to them is it a sense of admiration which lingers in the mind, or are you captivated by one or another of their songs? Previously it has tended to be the former – and there is an awful lot to admire. If you add superlative musicianship to a certain witty and anarchic imagination, you end up with this rather deranged, occasionally irritating, millennial mash-up of styles, where jazz fusion meets post-punk, James Brown,

Only traces of their eerie early spirit remain: Kings of Leon, at OVO Hydro, reviewed

A few years ago, I spoke to Mick Jagger and asked him which of the (relatively) new crop of rock groups he rated. It was a short list, I recall, and not hugely inspiring, but Kings of Leon made the cut. ‘They have a kind of Texas weirdness that you don’t find in a lot of modern rock bands,’ he reckoned. ‘I like their quirkiness, and the fact that you can hear the countryish and blues thing behind them, but it’s not that obvious.’ Aside from the fact that they are from Tennessee, not Texas, it felt like a reasonably astute summation of Kings of Leon’s appeal when they first

I’m a tourist in my own town

‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,’ groans a weary Al Pacino in The Godfather III. This is what it feels like being in/out (I’m not sure which) of the Sex Pistols. Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle has filmed a six-part drama about the life and crimes of my childhood buddy and Pistols guitar hero Steve Jones, based on his autobiography Lonely Boy. So, here we go again with endless rounds of interviews, with such profound questions as, what was Sid/Malcolm really like? Why is Johnny so angry? Will you ever play again? No! First off, it’s New York for the drama’s US premiere, courtesy of

A joy – mostly: Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, at Usher Hall, reviewed

Drummers are patient chaps, in the main. Think of Ringo in Peter Jackson’s recent Beatles docuseries, Get Back. Lolling around peaceably for days on end as Lennon and McCartney bash about, looking for clues. Drummers twiddle their thumbs behind their kit while the musos fret over chords and key changes, waiting for the moment when they will be called upon to hit skins with sticks and make a song worth hearing. In 2018, admirably urbane Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason finally lost patience. The band has effectively been finished since 1994, and following the death of keyboardist Rick Wright in 2008, Mason was caught between Roger Waters and David Gilmour,

The awfulness of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has always felt weirdly personal

Squaring up to the prospect of a new Red Hot Chili Peppers album, I’m reminded of a vintage quote by Nick Cave: ‘I’m forever near a stereo saying, “What… is this garbage?” And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.’ I can empathise. I don’t habitually harbour animus against artists I dislike, but something about the sheer scale of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ awfulness has always felt weirdly personal. Despite the kind of success that looks mightily impressive in a Wikipedia stat dump – 100 million record sales, multiple Grammy wins, numerous number ones – the Californian rock band have always been tricky to tolerate, let alone

No one should be doing indie rock at 43: Band of Horses’s Things Are Great reviewed

Grade: B That thing, ‘indie rock’, is so well played and produced these days, so pristine and flawless, that it has become almost the antithesis of what it was back at the end of the 1970s, when the term was invented. Then it referred to bands who released stuff on small independent labels because the big labels wouldn’t take them on. Shouty, angsty and angular, or just weird and beloved by the befringed dolorous yoof, in their anoraks or donkey jackets, the whole thing had a pleasing DIY feel to it, even if it sometimes grated. These days ‘indie’ just tends to mean anodyne power pop played by whining blokes

The buzz band of 2022 sound like they’re from 1982: Yard Act, at Village Underground reviewed

One of the curiosities of modern pop’s landscape is that no one knows any longer how to measure success. An artist can be a huge live draw, but make no impact on the charts; they can be consistent chart-toppers but minnows among the streamers; they can stream by the bazillion, but have no live following to speak of. The metrics of success are so unrelated to each other that anyone can prove anything these days: any band can be the biggest young band in Britain right now. Yard Act are one of those biggest young bands in Britain. Their debut album was a No. 2 hit at the start of

The quiet radicalism of the Chieftains

Pop quiz time: which act was named Melody Maker Group of the Year in 1975? The answer is not, as you might expect, some testosterone-fuelled blues-rock outfit or a hip gang of proto-punk gunslingers, but a gaggle of semi-professional Irish musicians who performed trad tunes sitting down, dressed for church in cardigans, sensible shoes, shirts and ties. The Chieftains were so far from rock and roll they met it coming back the other way. On the cover of Irish Heartbeat, a later collaboration with Van Morrison, they could be mistaken for a loose affiliation of farmers, minor office clerks and earnest ornithologists waiting for a bus outside the town hall.

The death of the live album

Next week The The release The Comeback Special, a 24-track live album documenting the band’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall in June 2018. Meanwhile, Steely Dan’s last man standing, Donald Fagen, has just released two live albums recorded in 2019. Their musical qualities notwithstanding, these releases feel like relics from a lost world. Much like the fondue set, the live album is much reduced from its 1970s and 1980s heyday, when a pretty blonde sideman-turned-solo artist called Peter Frampton could somehow shift eight million copies of the anodyne Frampton Comes Alive! The stand-alone contemporary live album is now an endangered species; MTV’s Unplugged series in the 1990s offered a

Banal and profound, bent and beautiful: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis at Edinburgh Playhouse reviewed

Nick Cave has always been drawn to parable and fable, but more than ever these days he is engaged in the necessary work of mining magic from the base metal of day-to-day existence. The key lines in this show came early, during ‘Bright Horses’: ‘We’re all so sick and tired of seeing things as they are,’ Cave sang in that hollow, sorrowful baritone. ‘This world is plain to see/ It don’t mean we can’t believe in something.’ Cave’s recent songs have a terrible and powerful context: the death of his teenage son, Arthur, in 2015. As an artist he has confronted this personal tragedy side on, acknowledging its profound impact

Good noisy fun: black midi, at the Edinburgh International Festival, reviewed

This year we must love Edinburgh for her soul rather than her looks. The EIF should be commended for making the best of a tricky hand, but the lodgings for its music programme bring to mind a fallen society beauty forced from her New Town villa into a rented bedsit. Edinburgh Park is a cathedral-sized tent in a business park, wedged between the city bypass and a shopping mall. The wooden floor planks buck and roll like a galleon deck. There is a roof but no sides and the Covid-quelling ventilation is, shall we say, robust. So yes, forget the optics. In 2021, content is everything. As it transpires, it

The joys of musical comfort food

I’ve given up comfort food. I’m trying to shift lockdown pounds that have left me with the physique of the kind of ageing second-string wrestler you used to see on World of Sport early on a Saturday afternoon in the 1980s. It’s all eschewing oils and measuring portions round these parts, and so I have been seeking my comforts in music. Enough with your Lithuanian drone and your polyrhythmic technical metal from Indonesia! Bring me verses and choruses and melodies and vocal harmonies! Katy J. Pearson — a young woman from the West Country who perhaps wishes she were, instead, from the American west coast — was true comfort food.

‘Germans thought we couldn’t play’: Irmin Schmidt, of musical pioneers Can, interviewed

‘The records are only half of the picture,’ says Irmin Schmidt, founder member of the great German experimental collective Can. ‘Live [performance] is the side of ours which actually has still to be discovered. For many of the people who came to our concerts, it was much more important in building up the legend than the records, because it was something extraordinary.’ Rock music is neck deep in retrospection these days, but the release of a ‘new’ Can album, Live in Stuttgart 1975, can’t be dismissed as just one more trawl through the floor sweepings. Instead, as Schmidt suggests, it reshapes what we know about one of the most influential

The songs are still as fresh and appetising as a hot loaf: The Lightning Seeds livestream reviewed

One thing about a streamed festival is that the toilets are better than at the real thing. The other thing, though, is that it’s not really a festival. That’s not to knock the North Will Rise Again (TNWRA), which took place over Saturday and Sunday nights a few weeks back, the first featuring Liverpudlian bands and filmed in that city, the second coming from Manchester, with Mancunian groups. The simple fact is, you can’t replicate a festival online: what the best festivals offer is chance, when one stumbles across something wholly unexpectedly on some outlying stage at an unpromising time of day. Simple economics make that impossible for an event

The mystery and romance of the cassette tape

May the gods of Hiss and Compression bless Lou Ottens. As head of new product development at Phillips, the Dutch engineer invented the compact cassette in 1963 and changed music for ever. Ottens died last week at 94. A good age, and a good number. You could get a full album on each side. For many of us born in the 1970s, who came of age musically in the 1980s and 1990s, the blank cassette has an unkillable romance. We measured our lives in spools of magnetic tape: C60, C90, the occasional C46. Inside those hard plastic shells we surfed the thin end of the aural wedge, composing scrappy love