‘This is a raucous rock n roll record,’ Elton John says of his 32nd studio album, explaining that it was put together in the same way as his 1970s classics Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Honky Château. ‘I don’t think I have ever made such an uptempo, energetic album. It just bangs away!’ That’s probably an exaggeration – although after 2013’s more intimate The Diving Board you could probably get away with comparing it to Motörhead. The title-track opener is a real honky-tonk party-starter of a tune, while Guilty Pleasure charges forward astride a positively raucous, shimmering rockabilly riff courtesy of returning guitarist Davey Johnstone, who is likewise on hand to provide In The Name Of You’s funky, recursive piano figure with moody chiaroscuro shadings. There’s no shortage of melodic hooks or stylistic surprises: Claw Hammer develops unpredictably from brooding beginnings into an open-hearted, almost do-si-doing chorus before drawing to a jazzy, brassy conclusion. Sir Elton is joined again in the control room by T-Bone Burnett, the producer who carried former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant deep into bluegrass territory on Raising Sand. Wonderful Crazy Night similarly draws deep lungfuls of rootsy country (and western) air. Regular co-writer Bernie Taupin’s lyrics contain references to mercy and amazing grace. The lovely, folksy ‘I’ve Got 2 Wings’ is a celebration of Elder Utah Smith, a preacher who wore a pair of wings and played a Gibson guitar to carry his listeners to higher ground. ‘Every breath is a prayer of some kind,’ sings Sir Elton on Blue Wonderful, while on The Open Chord he says he has had ‘the horns that the devil used to make me wear all day’ clipped off. If the music has a strong pulse, it’s also imbued with a deep sense of heartfelt, spiritual serenity.
Edited version published in Metro, 3 February 2016
Twenty years on from the giddy heights of Britpop, a lot of middle-aged men and women would (to use the lingo of the times) be mad for an Oasis reunion. The Gallagher brothers don’t seem minded to reunite, but never fear: Ocean Colour Scene are here to help you sing along like it’s 1996 all over again.
Beginning with the roaring Zeppelinesque riffology of The Riverboat Song and the Beatlesisms of The Day We Caught The Train, the Brummie boys performed their 20-year-old retro classic Moseley Shoals in full. It’s an album of many whoa-whoas and la-la-las, and the crowd sang along lustily with every single one of them.
The album-in-full format is great for nostalgic audiences, although it felt like a bit of a straitjacket for the band, who put out new music as recently as 2013. Only on tumultuous, moody closer Get Away did sharp-dressed guitarist Steve Cradock really let rip.
Shielded for the most part behind an acoustic guitar, singer Simon Fowler, sporting waistcoat and specs, initially had the air of a retiring university lecturer who looked mildly surprised to see that so many students had turned up to hear him. He bantered a bit between songs but the enthusiastic din meant most of what he said was inaudible.
After a short break, the band returned to play a further set of fan favourites, including anti-war hymn Profit In Peace. Performing Robin Hood solo, Fowler threw in a snatch of Live Forever – so there was a bit of Oasis after all.
Published in Metro, 25 January 2016
‘My name’s George Ezra, this is my lovely band and we’re going to play some songs for you.’ There’s a charming artlessness about the way the affable 21-year-old with a number-one album and four BRIT nominations to his name greets an expectant, packed-out Brixton Electric before launching into the roof-raising skiffle-stomp of Cassie O’. The night is won before he’s sung a note in that extraordinary baritone voice of his; cries of ‘Love you, George’ punctuate the subsequent pauses between songs. With his nice haircut, clean-cut demeanour and knack for writing undemanding, gentle-paced tunes your grandparents would approve of, Ezra is something of a throwback to the early days of pop: you can imagine him performing on a bill alongside The Beatles circa Love Me Do and Please Please Me. He certainly has a talent for writing happy-go-lucky youthful anthems pleasantly shadowed by the experience of first love (Blame It On Me). So far, so beigecore. As homages to Central European capitals go, Ezra’s biggest hit to date, Budapest, doesn’t compare to Ultravox’s Vienna, its breezy, almost yodelled chorus veering dangerously close to novelty-song territory. But there’s a darker side to George, as evidenced when he quits the delicate shuffle-sway of future wedding-reception standard Listen To The Man for the resonant off-kilter biblical menace of Spectacular Rival or the complex country blues of Did You Hear The Rain?, which begins with a mournful unaccompanied sung invocation before galloping off to a furious climax echoing with the refrain of ‘O Lucifer’s inside’. It’s on this sulphurous note that Ezra chooses to end his short set tonight, which suggests that he may already be plotting his transition from easy-listening pop troubadour to full-on rock star.