Radiohead, King of Limbs (2011)
I for one welcome our new shufflebeat, scratchy-scritchy, waily-Thom-Yorke-top-end, blumpy, peepy-peery, broken-breathéd overlords.
Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys! (2011)
I like this a great deal. I would enjoy it more, I feel, if I were more Northern.
REM, Collapse Into Now (2011)
The best REM in a long time. Not saying much, but true. Musically it’s a little overfamiliar I suppose, but Stipe’s voice is in fine, sardonic fettle and his lyric-writing is as good as it’s ever been (my favourite moment: ‘All The Best’ and its articulation of what it means to have a ‘quasimodo heart’—‘That’s where I slipped and fell/I rang the church bell til my ears bled/red/blood/cells’). It only occasionally missteps itself. ‘Oh My Heart’ lacks the reticent eloquence of the rest of the album (‘the storm didn’t kill me/The government changed’ Stipe sings; as if superrich rockstars were the ones at risk of being killed by the George W. Bush administration. When he adds ‘the good of this world might not see me through’ the odour of self-pity comes unpleasantly into our nostrils). And 'ÜBerlin’s refrain, ‘I know, I know, I know what I am chasing’, provoketh me to reply: I don’t believe you. But by and large this is an eloquent, controlled, effective piece of work. ‘Alligator Aviator’ and ‘Someone is You’ are both nicely forceful and driving, and (in the former) I particularly like the way Stipe sings ‘me’ in the line ‘if I didn’t like the way you stared at ME!’ ‘Blue’ is a touch too reminiscent of ‘Belong’ on Green, though the way it segues back into the opening track at the end is very sweetly done. The whole thing is not profound, but it does what classic REM did, and which they haven’t managed for a long time: it creates the perfect simulacrum of profundity. Which is harder to do, and in a way more interesting.
P J Harvey, Let England Shake (2011)
Soursweet, musically and lyrically, to the point of being a little rebarbative in places; but powerful, and a work that grows in effectiveness the more you listen to it. It is almost proggy, actually, in its ambition—though, obviously, not in its actual music—to make a concept album about what it means to be English in the early 21st-century. It’s dark, overshadowed by Iraq and Afghanistan, and interpenetrated (as of course it must be) by Americana. Occasionally it’s a little over-obvious (‘England/the country I love/you leave a taste/a bitter one’). Usually, though, it gets the balance of love and the-horror-the-horror just right. For example, the shimmy-shake rhythm, and the salmon-leap vocal line, of ‘The Words That
Beady Eye, Different Gear, Still Speeding (2011)
Imagine if modern science were able to resuscitate John Lennon. Imagine that he got back together with Paul and Ringo to release a brand new Beatles record! A really really weak Beatles record! Derivative and lyrically vacuous, though with an unmissable Beatly flavour! This--is that album! It is a record that makes one think: ‘but why did the scientists have to meddle? Why not leave well alone? This John Lennon is but a brain-wrecked zombie, gasping half-remembered fragments of the Lennon-McCartney backlist ... Ah, me, for Death will not be trifled with, inevitably it exacts its terrible price, and Entropy is Lord of All.’
On one or two of the songs here, Different Gear, Still Speeding raises itself (musically speaking) almost to the level of the Rutles. It has none of the Rutles’ lyrical panache, though.