Keeping his creative renaissance going, MARC LEMON digitally releases The Key, the sound harking back to the psychedelic 60s (although the intro actually recalls The Beat’s Can’t Get Used To Losing You) with echoes of Sonny Bono, John’s Children, The Herd and The Kinks and the sort of reverb guitar solo that regularly featured in British movies of and about the swinging sixties.
It’s twelve years since Birmingham’s Michelle Lawrence (cousin of Omar) released her debut album, Invisible, the track I’m Not Invisible justifiably earning her comparisons to Joan Armatrading, though sadly remaining a somewhat undiscovered classic. She most recently (2018) released a single, Running Away, but these days is focusing on live work with her band the Equations playing Motown and soul covers and writing for and with her multi-hyphenate daughter JAADA LAWRENCE-GREEN, a model and actress as well as a singer. As such, she’s just released a new single, The One That Got Away, a bittersweet midtempo strings-swathed pop soul love song with an earworm melody she clearly having inherited her mother’s vocal talents (though perhaps more with shades of Natalie Imbruglia, the hugely catchy chorus having hints of Torn) that, in a just world, would be getting saturated airplay.
Mick Butler aka alt-pop individualist SICKY returns with a new album, Garbage Town, one that, unlike the melodic wash of last year’s Bowling Balls, is more about the dirty pop groove, opening with the swaggeringly propulsive, breathily sung and nigglingly infectious Northern Soul influenced The Bridge and following on with glam stomp boogie Swim Shallow, the repeated title providing the nagging refrain. Beans is a more staccato rhythm with a strobing guitar riff and ooh oohs while None Of That, with lyrics about violence and murder, plays like a spry antique clockwork fairground carousel.
Marc Bolan vocal influences and falsetto suffuse the sinewy stop start rhythm and fuzzy synths of A Bite Without A Mark while Sleep On It has a swift handclap marching beat, a growly refrain offsetting the lighter anxiety-laced tone of the verses and some discordant flourishes as the effects pedal wails in the background.
The remaining six tracks vary the textures, Head First a falsetto sung woozy otherwordly dream miasma, Protect Me, Protect Mine a keyboard pulsing nervy soundtrack to a noir police series, the title track another sinister Bolan meets Slade boogie crunch with a bounce across the walls chorus hook and a lyric about breaking free of a toxic state of mind as he sings “finding my way ain’t easy”.
Under 30 seconds, the vocally mixed back New Bones comes over like an unsettling lullaby, things rounding out with the insistent repetitive driving beat of Einstein’s Baby, another number propelled by sonic strobe lighting and the final creepy off-kilter Blur jauntiness and background cooing of Times Ten.
The son of Neil Cook of Wild Flowers and Salt Flat 80s underground fame, OLIVER COOK nods to his dad’s Neil Young inspired guitar rock with his self-released one-man band debut album The Boy With Pearls For Eyes, following on from the Candy Moon EP. Indeed you can heard Young’s lonesome weariness in the spare, echoey Pearls along with perhaps the strangled afterhours tones of Mark Eitzel as well as in the swaggery, circling slung guitar riffs of Apocalypse Now (with of course references Brando and Sheen) and Plush Theatre.
But strung out post alt-rock (Bell Tower Blue) and druggy American prog-folk (To Be A God) are also in the mix. Identity issues (I'm perfectly okay with staying in and rotting away/Now don't go search for the man you used to know”) loom large (on the lockdown-fuelled Everything Explained he despairs “What exactly do you find funny about the current situation that we're in?/I can't keep this persona/The Boy With Pearls For Eyes/Nothing's ever gonna get solved through digital ones and zeros”), along with fractured relationships as in Completely (To Me) (“You know I'll never go again/You know I'll never hurt you again”), To Be A God (“You kept calling me up/Didn't I tell you to give it up/We're not friends/So why do you keep me alive?”) and Please Let Go containing the line “Take your metal clamp off my arm/This isn't love/It's an ambulance in a scrap yard”.
Clearly a gifted musician and lyricist, this is nevertheless a rough and raw album that takes some time to get under the skin; it’ll be interesting to see what he can do with a solid band and a good studio behind him.
Formed from the ashes of Active Restraint in 1985 featuring former members Paul Marsh on vocals, bassist Tony Linehan and guitarist David Newton (who had a brief interim stint alongside Neil Cook in The Wild Flowers) with Keith Rowley on drums, Wolverhampton’s THE MIGHTY LEMON DROPS were one of the leading lights of the so-called C86 movement. Between 1985 and 1989, following indie hit Like An Angel on Dreamworld, they released three albums on the Blue Guitar label (a further two would follow in 1991 and 1992 via their American label Sire), the second, World Without End, making the Top 40 (and topping the US Modern Rock/College chart above Morrissey and Talking Heads) and four singles, including Blue Guitars’ first release, The Other Side Of You, entering the lower reaches of the Top 100. Likened to Echo & The Bunnymen, with Newton’s semi-acoustic "Teardrop" 12-string electric guitar and Micro-Frets Spacetone 6-string giving them their distinctive sound, they were one of the era’s most exciting bands and, I’m pleased say, their reputation and influence has only grown over the years.
Having issued the 24 track Uptight: The Early Recordings 1985–1986 in 2014, Cherry Red have now put the boat out and repacked it as Inside Out 1985-1990 as a jawdropping 83 track, 5CD box set that embraces the first three albums alongside non-album singles, B-Sides / bonus tracks, extended versions, US radio mixes, previously unreleased demos and rare session recordings with extensive sleevenotes by Dave (currently out in the States working as a producer and fronting Thee Mighty Angels).
I won’t even attempt to detail the album bonus tracks or the exhaustive rarities gathered together on Discs Four and Five, but suffice it to say there’s four different recordings of the seminal Like An Angel, three of Inside Out (one extended) and Happy Head (including the rough demo version on the NME C86 cassette), both studio and live covers of Paint It Black, a live take on the Velvets There She Goes Again and a storming rendition of The Standells garage hit Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White from the Dominion in 1989, a demo of Hear Me Call recorded at the legendary Old Smithy studio in Wolverhampton along with Mighty Lemon Talk, a 1988 promo by Tony and Dave detailing their background for US radio bridging live at the Astoria versions of Fall Down and Inside Out. It’s like Christmas come early.
Following his acoustic live album, CHRIS CLEVERLEY pushes his musical envelope with Broadcast The Secret Verse (Opiate Records) exploring the use of electronics and more complex arrangements to create new textural soundscapes. Produced by and featuring The Little Unsaid’s John Patrick Ellliot alongside drummer Rob Pemberton, bassist Lukas Drinkwater, Graham Coe on cello with backing vocals by Lucy Farrell and Kathy Pilkinton, it’s both experimental and accessible work, breathtaking in its musical beauty as it touches on issues that range from displacement to connection.
It opens with the quiet dawning wash of Borderlands, a song that explores the making of the modern world and how a rise in nationalistic, isolationist ideologies will shape young minds and how parents should address this. Just under a minute in, the guitar and other instruments emerge from the electronic mist along with the whisperingly hushed vocals that evoke thoughts of Art Garfunkel’s solo debut, Angel Clare.
Joined by Farrell, the walking beat drum rhythm, electronics swathed Chlorophyll with its dreamy chorus was inspired by the mechanism by which flowers change their colour pigmentation cells to protect themselves from UV rays but, in the process, become less attractive to pollinators. You don’t need me to tell you how this serves as an analogy for the way that we harden ourselves to the world around us but lose a part of who we are in the process.
Several songs sound a cautionary note, most notably so the subtly funky piano and drum pattern driven post-apocalyptic Still Life where, in breathy tones he imagines the result of mankind’s destructive path of consumption, growth and unsustainable carbon footprints, a world of collapsed “junk bond empires” in which “The last tree stands in a purifying tank/Centre of Times Square/In the remnants of the billboard screens/A dead American dream/Faint scream from the crossroads of the world/s the sunset sinks behind/A hollowed-out skyline”.
The train of thought continues with the more stridently strummed, echoing vocals of the veritably rocking Ouroboros, the title referring to an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail and the song about “the small atrocities we commit towards one another within the cosmic loneliness of the 21st Century relationship” that doesn’t compromise on its lyrical imagery or the pessimistic conclusion of history repeating itself.
He’s addressed depression on earlier songs, and he returns to it again for the near six-minute Eight Of Swords, a measured walking rhythm and mixed back liminal vocals tracing a song exploring the intersection with love, the title referring to a Tarot card in the Minor Arcana that represents feeling trapped and restricted by your circumstances, your options limited with no clear path out. On the card, the woman is hemmed in by the swords, but if she only removed her blindfold she could break free, the lyrics striking a personal note as, the instrumentation swelling to a wordless fade, he sings of emotional rescue.
Returning to a political commentary, the urgent tempo of Paradise anchors a musing on global inequality a world of deregulation, be it on the basis of race, gender, class or wealth, where only the elite survive.
Another previous single, the pulsingly hypnotic Nausea continues into the darkness and depression, the line “You turned you face away, as we drowned/In the cosmic loneliness/While 'Figure 8' played loud through the stereo” a reference not to Ellie Goulding but the last album by Elliott Smith, an equally whispery-voiced singer who was plagued by mental issues.
Titled for the Greek city on the island of Crete and the Mediterranean warmth is embodies, an ambience captured in the balmy melody and cloud-surfing vocals, Heraklion draws on the Buddhist concept of ‘Interbeing’, the belief that nothing exists inherently in its own right, only in relation to everything that comes before and after it. In acknowledging that by being present and taking care of the world, we are taking better care of ourselves, it marks a more upbeat tenor.
The light is dimmed again, however, with the subsequent The Centre Cannot Hold (the title a line in Yeats’s poem The Second Coming), a keyboard-based, gradually sonically building narrative account of the evacuation of Aleppo during the Syrian civil war in 2016 and a reminder how in such events the human element becomes lost.
Another number that begins with an electronic wash and rides cosmic musical waves as its climbs to heavenly heights on a melody that echoes I Can’t Take It off the previous album, Artificial Intelligence is the subject of A Prediction Algorithm, examining the mental and emotional impact of the notion that that a quantum computer may one day be able to run a simulation of everything that has happened and everything that will happen, returning to earlier themes of interdependence with one.
The musically closest to his past work, it ends on the masterful gloriously upbeat anthemic choral note of If I’d Have Listened, one of the year’s greatest and another autobiographical-based song of a mind recovered and restored, a reflection in gratitude of the light after the dark, of not succumbing to oblivion and a radiant encouragement to hang in there. It’s a song born to be sung to a mass of swaying arms as the sun sets over the main stage at Glastonbury from an album that is unequivocally one of the year’s very best. Broadcast it on all wavelengths.