At last, new music reviews

Reviews on come along as regularly as certain comets pass the Earth, so let’s crack on. First up is the new album from We Are Scientists, the bizarrely-named ‘Barbara’. Why ‘Barbara’? I have absolutely no idea. But what I do know is that it’s a damn fine fourth studio album from the band that are now once again a three-piece – drummer Andy Burrows, formerly of the dreadful Razorlight, making an excellent career move.

Barbara is a return to the more simple straight-forward style of their second album ‘With Love And Squalor’, but it’s evident that Keith Murray and Chris Cain have improved as song-writers and can litter their work with catchy riffs and melodies. And as a former bass-player myself, I can appreciate Chris Cain’s pulsing bass-lines, particularly on tracks like Nice Guys and I Don’t Bite. Best track… undoubtedly Ambition, but the mellow Foreign Kicks runs a close second.

If I have one criticism it’s that the ten tracks pass in less than thirty-two minutes. But it’s short and sweet, and overall I’m in love with Barbara.

In complete contrast, next up is something without electric guitars. Incubus front-man Brandon Boyd stated on the band’s Alive At Red Rocks DVD that he amazes himself every day at how badly he plays the guitar. Six years later Brandon is clearly more confident about his musical abilities and plays everything on his debut solo album ‘The Wild Trapeze’ bar the keyboards. I’d take a guess at saying that Brandon isn’t someone who would sit down at a conventional drum kit, and instead has beaten several different drums and mixed them together. The effect defines the album and gives it a unique feel, and is most evident on the album’s stand-out track Runaway Train.

Overall, everything is done differently to how Incubus would do it… Mike Einziger’s powerful and complex electric guitar work is replaced by acoustic strumming, Ben Kenney’s clear-cut bass-lines are replaced by fuzzy acoustic basses, and Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann provides the under-stated keyboards. Overall ‘The Wild Trapeze’ is more moody and restrained than any Incubus album, but occasionally soars to dramatic heights on tracks like A Night Without Cars and Here Comes Everyone. In charge of his own creativity, Brandon’s voice and self-harmonies have seldom sounded better. Thankfully, this is a solo album rather than an album by a solo artist – Incubus are returning to the studio as a band later this year.

Finally, it’s difficult to review an album when it’s only 11% complete, but that’s the situation with The Smashing Pumpkins‘ new offering ‘Teargarden by Kaleidyscope’. The Pumpkins reached the height of their popularity and creative strength with ‘Siamese Dream’ and ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ in the 90s, and then saw their popularity decline into an eventual break-up. Billy Corgan went on to form Zwan (who delivered a sole but excellent album) and then followed-up with a rather lacklustre solo album. Getting back together with his once-disgraced drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, Corgan reformed The Smashing Pumpkins and produced a strong comeback album ‘Zeitgeist’ (reviewed here by guest blogger Florida Steve).

After Chamberlin left the band, Corgan continued and recruited 19 year-old Mike Byrne to the drum stool. After working with some touring band members and starting the recording of  ‘Teargarden by Kaleidyscope’, Corgan finalised a line-up by officially adding touring guitarist Jeff Schroeder and (yet another female bass player) Nicole Fiorentino.

The new work is part of Corgan’s new approach to recording and releasing his music – he stated that the old concept of recording an album of ten or so songs was done with, and planned to release ‘Teargarden by Kaleidyscope’ one track at a time via the Smashing Pumpkins web site. Reaction to the new material seems incredibly positive, and judging by the live sessions recorded at New York’s Terminal 5, there’s more great stuff to come. Billy Corgan is an enigma and a genius, he’s still a major force in rock music, and his band are resurgent in doing what they do best, albeit with a changed line-up. Corgan is the lynch-pin but he needs a great band around him as he once did and now has again.

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