The listener

Woke slogans welded to incompetent grunge: Neil Young’s Colorado reviewed

Grade: B- Horribly woke boilerplate slogans welded inexpertly to the usual incompetent Crazy Horse grunge. Young and his pick-up band of now 50-years standing usually work well together — as on Zuma, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and even Ragged Glory. But that’s when there were a few decent songs in the mix, stuffed with compelling ideas and interesting imagery. That sort of thing is in terribly short supply here. ‘She Showed Me Love’ staggers along for an unendurable 13 minutes: ‘I saw old white guys trying to kill mother nature.’ Just old white guys? How about you check out the Indonesian and Brazilian loggers for a second? Then the

Great title – shame about the songs: Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell reviewed

Grade: B+ Get the razor blades out, Ms Misery is back. Only the truly affluent can immerse themselves in such morose and earnest introspection. Listen to the music of Africa’s most benighted countries and, on the whole, you will hear very cheerful fellows. Not so with the USA. Lana, a middle-class New Yorker of some talent, doesn’t actually tell you in every song that she’s about to top herself, as does, say, Billie Eilish. But you get the suspicion the thought is always hanging around her pretty head. This is her sixth album and what you get is the usual string- and synth-drenched chamber pop, plangent minor-key piano chords or

Needed a shot of Stolichnaya: The Tchaikovsky Project reviewed

Grade: B+ I’m not sure about ‘Projects’. Aren’t those what ageing rockers produce, in a haze of sedatives, when their ego finally outgrows their talent? In classical music, there’s something unseemly about the idea of Maestro X condescending to bestow their attention upon music that is — or should be — bigger than they’ll ever be. Still, the conductor here is the Russian-born Semyon Bychkov, unambiguously one of the good guys, who, after decades spent paying his dues, has recently hit the sweet spot where every note speaks, every gesture ignites, and — crucially — critics actually notice. This Tchaikovsky box celebrates his relationship with the Czech Philharmonic, an orchestra

The Flaming Lips: King’s Mouth

Grade: B- So a queen dies as her giant baby is being born. The baby grows very big indeed and soon everything in the universe is inside his necessarily large head. One day he sacrifices himself to save his subjects from a deluge of snow. The townspeople cut off his head and preserve it in steel so that it will last for ever. Some of them climb inside his mouth to have a look around. They see thunderstorms and stars, apparently. Exactly what you’d expect from another Flaming Lips concept album, I suppose, this time narrated by a bemused Mick Jones of the Clash. Everything else is in place, too

Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars

Grade: B– The first Springsteen song I ever heard was ‘Born To Run’, back when I was 14. I clocked the impassioned, overwrought self-mythologising, the grandiosity of the opening riff, the strange lack of a chorus given the promise of the verse. Well, OK, interesting, I reckoned — maybe even good. But great? Never. I shifted my judgment only once over the following 45 years. Born in the USA had the tunes and stories and the sheer heft that for once matched the chutzpah and the looks. The rest has been either just good or, more often than not, quite a bit less than good. I always reckoned that perpetual

Morrissey: California Son

Grade: B Rock stars who utter something a little gamey, something a tad right-wingish, are usually coerced by the lefties into a cringing apology before you can say a-wop-bop-a-lu-bop. This is not a new thing — it happened to Eric Clapton after his ‘Enoch’s right’ outburst in 1976 (which very quickly spawned the Socialist Workers Party-led Rock Against Racism movement). The message has always been: get with the programme, right-wing scum, or we’ll hate you and your career will be over. Credit, then, to Morrissey for refusing to resile from his belief that England is ceasing to be the England he knew and loved and that there are too many

Peter Doherty & the Puta Madres

Grade: A Old skag head’s back, then — older (40 now!), probably none the wiser, still a very good songwriter. This may be the best thing he’s ever done, at least since those incendiary first moments of the Libertines. Yeah, I can do without the affected drawl skittering this way and that around the melody — he’s better doing his affected Steve Harley yelp — but there’s not too much of that, still less the old angular post-punk guitar. Instead you get the occasional lo-fi shambolic babyish jug-band thrash, all of which are good, and a bunch of slower songs illustrated with violin and delicately picked guitar. The best is

Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Grade: A– If your 12-year-old daughter’s a bit thick, she probably likes Ariana Grande. Come on, dads — you’ve got to face up to this stuff, you’ve got to JUDGE. Be ruthless. If, however, she’s a bit smarter, but also sullen, lazy and probably prone to self-harming, she’ll be a big Billie Eilish fan. Only just 17, from Los Angeles, Eilish is kind of sparse and woke emo electropop misery, very self-consciously ‘edgy’. An agreeably large number of her songs seem to be about killing herself, or just ceasing to exist. The rest are a little darker, and terminally angst-ridden. She has a very pretty voice, usually deployed as a

Royal Trux: White Stuff

Grade:A Royal Trux are back — kind of. Singer (if that’s what you want to call what she does) Jennifer Herrema is ankle tagged for some misdemeanour, almost certainly involving narcotics, so may not show up at some gigs to promote the new album. And her partner and ex-husband Neil Hagerty has washed his hands of the whole business: ‘The album — I didn’t approve of it. I have no idea what it is. I’ve heard like ten seconds of one song. I’m out, man.’ So as ever, it’s chaos all round, opiate chaos. How these two people are still alive is a wonder. How they crawled from their shack

Heuberger: Der Opernball

Grade: A– 1898: two Parisiennes and a housemaid secretly invite each other’s partners to the Paris Opera ball and… c’mon, you can guess the rest. It’s Christmas: you don’t want Götterdämmerung. You want luxury, you want tunes and you want irresponsible fun. Richard Heuberger’s waltz-operetta Der Opernball is basically a deluxe box of musical liqueur chocolates, and it’s never been easier to guzzle the lot. Heuberger was a moonlighting music critic (he famously remarked that Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht sounds ‘like someone smeared the score of Tristan while the ink was still wet’), and he was working to a tight deadline. But good things happen under pressure, and at least one

The 1975: A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

Grade: C A derided year in pop music, 1975 — and yet a great one. The mainstream was horrible, but we had Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night, Patti Smith’s Horses, Guy Clarke’s Old No. 1 and Television just beginning to break through. It is in the lacunae, before the next big wave, that we hear the most inventive music, which is why ’75 — with Queen and disco hogging the charts and the blind alleys of prog and metal as your only alternative — was so good. But I suppose you want to hear about the band, The 1975 — one of Britain’s biggest. Oh, Britain. The 1975 are a

Mumford & Sons: Delta

Grade: D+ I promise you this isn’t simply class loathing. Yer toffs have contributed to British rock and pop and it hasn’t all been unspeakably vile. There were moments when Kevin Ayers held our interest, for example, and even Radiohead. And then there’s that man of the people, Joe Strummer. So let’s excuse Mumford & Sons their weighty class baggage and just concentrate on the music, which is irredeemably awful and makes Coldplay sound like the MC5. Someone has given them beats, cute little digital beats, to set beneath the faux folk which once irritated and now just bores one into a stupor. There is also that thing beloved by

Yoko One: Warzone

Grade: A+ Ooh, you can have some fun with this when the unwanted guests swing by this Christmastide. These are the ‘greatest hits’ of a serially indulged caterwauling loon with the political disposition of a spoiled seven-year-old, redone to make them even worse than they were before. So, put on ‘Why’ as you hand around the cocktails and the seasonal canapés. Trumpeting elephants, angry crows, an ominous synth and Yoko howling ‘Why? Whhhhhhhhhhhhy? Wok Wah Wheeeeeeeee! Ag ag agag ag! Whhhhhhy?’ Like a particularly angry and talentless Diamanda Galas. But don’t let a smile give the game away as this unendurable, pretentious garbage resounds around the room. Instead, flip to

Cypress Hill: Elephants on Acid

Grade: A+ Easily album title of the year, maybe album of the year. A true bravura offering from these supposedly tired old men. Cypress Hill are now in comfortable middle age, almost as old as me, ffs. But they were ever ludicrously inventive and idiosyncratic, right back to that first album in 1991, which wrote the template for many lesser and even more profane hip hop gods. This one is mired in psychedelia, as even Charles Moore might have guessed from the title. There are very knowing nods to, especially, early Jefferson Airplane — although the guitar sounds more like Barry Melton than Jorma Kaukonen — and Sly and the

Christine and the Queens: Chris

Grade: B– Ooh goody — a parade to rain on! You wouldn’t believe the hyperbole expended by the rock critics on this middle-class French lass, real name Héloïse Letissier. Or maybe, being used to such mass gullibility, you would. ‘Bogglingly intelligent’ and ‘a thrillingly uncompromising artist, playing with ideas of gender, identity and individuality to pop-bright melodies’, for example. Her first album in English, Chaleur humaine, was similarly bestrewn with pop-hack ejaculate, to the extent that it resembled a plasterer’s radio. Why? Oh, check out the back story. Very gender fluid. Leftie. French. Channelling early 1980s electro pop and dance. And here she is with her hair cropped and calling

Neil Diamond: Hot August Night III

Grade: C+ Mumrock. A lucrative genre, dating from the beginning of the 1970s, when Mums suddenly wanted something a little bit hip. My own mother briefly succumbed to the inane imagery and kindergarten melody of ‘Song Sung Blue’, sometime in 1972, before she moved on to more sophisticated stuff (Gilbert O’Sullivan, as I recall). This is Diamond’s 40th anniversary collection of hits, live or otherwise, and his third Hot August Night containing the same songs. Hasn’t everybody got all this hideous dross by now? Is the only selling point this time that he’s singing them at 71, the voice still throatily pompous, the medallion still on display? Was he ever

Lily Allen: No Shame

Grade: B+ Here we go again, then, I thought — another gobbet of self-referential, breast-beating respec’ me bro sputum against a backdrop of the usual overproduced r&b pop schlock. What used to be called ‘indie’ singer-songwriters are always moaning about how utterly useless they are, taking Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ as a kind of self-flagellating worldview. Chart singer-songwriters, meanwhile, can’t stop telling everyone how absolutely bloody marvellous they are, despite being traduced, which fits right in with the extraordinary narcissism of our current youth culture, its bovine #MeToo grandstanding and exquisite sensitivities. I don’t mind Allen, despite her irritating sub-adolescent Corbynista politics. At her best she makes light summery pop to which

Father John Misty: God’s Favourite Customer

Grade: A+ While the young bands plunder the 1980s for every last gobbet of tinny synth and hi-hat, the singer-songwriters remain happily anchored in that much more agreeable decade which came directly before. The 1970s was the era of the introspective, self-pitying, prolix, hairy and winsome singer-songwriter — both the good ones (Young, Martyn, Buckley) and the, ahem, less gifted (Taylor, Forbert, Stevens). Father John Misty, aka Joshua Tillman and once the drummer in the most boring and epicene band I have ever seen (Fleet Foxes), is all of those adjectives I mention above. On this album the production values are purloined from mid-1975, right down to the occasional spasm

Chvrches: Love Is Dead

Grade: B Another load of SJW moppets keening over 1980s synths. ‘It only takes two seconds to say: I don’t agree with white supremacy,’ they told the Guardian. Chvrches, a Scottish trio relocated to New York, are led by the elfin and relentlessly concerned Lauren Mayberry. The Eurythmics fronted by Owen Jones, then, kind of. Just what you wanted, isn’t it? Chvrches have never had a hit but they do have a presence and reputation, acquired through endless gigging. They haven’t had a hit because their songs are not very good, if we’re honest. With this new album they have tried very hard indeed to change that by bringing in

Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Grade: B+ Oh, terrific — a concept album about a 1970s hotel somewhere in space, plus an attack on our over-technologised world. Just what I wanted. There is no restraint on self-indulgence if you have a sufficiently remunerative back catalogue. This is also a Bowie tribute album, which fits in nicely with all that outer-space business. I have never heard any performer clamber so comprehensively into the skin of a dead rock star as Alex Turner does with Bowie here, in the writing and even more so in the mannered singing with its characteristic falsetto swoops. This is pure Bowie from the era between The Spiders of Mars and David