Arctic Monkeys, Whitney Houston and Elvis Costello's latest
Time Out Bahrain staff
2/5 Humbug Because the Arctic Monkeys appeared so fully formed on their 2006 instant-hit debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, it’s hard to see Alex Turner as a man of many moods. On that first album and its sound-alike follow-up, Favourite Worst Nightmare, Turner set his sly accounts of nights spent down the pub against an appealingly scrappy garage-rock attack that hardly seemed to reflect the nascent noodlings of a budding musical magpie. Here was a guy, you figured, who could go on making records exactly like these forever, as long as he continued to drink too much and view others’ motives with suspicion.
Yet last year, with side project The Last Shadow Puppets, Turner revealed his unexpected knack for ’60s-style orchestral pop; now, on the Monkeys’ third long-player, he’s pulling a left-field stoner-metal move. Turner and his bandmates made half of Humbug in California with Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, who beefed up the guitars and set the tempo control to boogie (Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford helmed the other half). Sometimes Homme’s touch works, as in ‘Potion Approaching’, in which Turner sounds great unraveling his louche come-ons over a sleazy robot-rock groove. But the Monkeys are a lyrics-and-melodies band, not a texture-and-mood one, and with the singer’s vocals often buried under layers of guitars and keyboards, much of Humbug conceals the outfit’s special charm. Props for trying, dudes, but better luck next time. Mikael Wood Available in stores.
5/5 Veckatimest Since the onset of the aughts, indie tastemakers have curried favor with Brooklyn bands to an alarming degree. Perhaps no act is riding this hype wave higher than Grizzly Bear, a shimmering success whose delicate art-rock juxtaposes simple acoustic strumming with ambitious accompaniment.
Three years on from its breakout, Yellow House, the group sounds increasingly assured yet ever ambitious. Previously the solo endeavor of Ed Droste, the foursome gelled as a true band on that 2006 effort. The arcanely titled latest finds Grizzly Bear abandoning its blurry haze in favor of crisp production and hyper-precise arrangements.
Album opener ‘Southern Point’ reveals an expert blend of jazzy, folk-informed chamber-pop. Soaring harmonies continue to define the quartet, as on the charming soft-rock of ‘Cheerleader’ and the ecstatic waltz ‘Two Weeks’. Daniel Rossen has become an essential songwriter in the group, his quivering, underwater warble belying his 26 years. Indeed, the bittersweet shuffle of ‘While You Wait For The Others’ could just as easily fit Rossen’s other vehicle, the autumnal and lilting Department Of Eagles.
Veckatimest boasts assistance from composer Nico Muhly, who contributes choral and string arrangements on two tracks. Not that the songs need the classical wünderkind’s arrangements: Rossen capably handles choral and string accompaniment on the powerful ‘I Live With You’. The same uninhibited spirit keeps the hipsterati coming back for more. Areif Sless-Kitain Available online.
3/5 I Look To You If Whitney Houston had known that dumping a dead weight like Bobby Brown was the secret to creating a solid release then she might have cut him loose ten years ago and released more music than crappy press.
On I Look to You, Houston’s first album in seven years, Whitters has pulled in pals such as Alicia Keys and the Barbara Cartland of songwriting, Diane Warren. These heavy hitters furnish the release with some of the stronger tracks, including opening R&B number ‘Million Dollar Bill’ and the balladtastic ‘I Look To You’.
After a few spins of the album, even the most dedicated Whitney fan would have to admit that her comeback release is a little soul-ballad heavy and could have done with at least two more funk or dance tracks – outside of ‘Nothin’ But Love’ and ‘For The Lovers’, at least – to give it some old-school gusto.
Still, nothing says ‘crack is whack and I’m back’ better than a feel-good ballad that doubles as a therapy session, and ‘I Didn’t Know My Own Strength’ is Whitney’s moment to remind us how difficult it is to be a squillionaire and get what you want. If she is looking for sympathy, she’s not going to find it from us. That said, the song is as camp as Snagglepuss in Lycra and will be lip-synched around the world by drag queens within weeks.
On the whole, I Look To You is a well-produced, perfectly competent Whitney Houston album that makes us wonder what else she could have released if she hadn’t been hanging around in Bobby Brown’s pajamas all day for the last decade. Andrew Georgiou Available in stores.
3/5 Secret, Profane And Sugarcane
In ’86, for his tenth record, Elvis Costello ditched his backing Attractions and headed for Nashville to record King Of America with session musicians, including two fellas nicknamed ‘T-Bone’. These were the first steps of an ongoing itinerant stretch of Costello’s career that saw the Brit wander far off his beaten new-wave path to explore honky-tonk, baroque and opera music.
After two decades, Costello has returned to Tennessee, again teaming with producer-collaborator T-Bone Burnett, who sprinkles Yankee-Doodle dust and whiskey over twisting antebellum folk. Only now Costello has the confidence and curiosity to step fully into the past, draping his increasingly romantic-English poetry (‘Would their limbs bronze insult to the sun’) over fiddles and mandolin. It’s all a generic exercise befitting a maturing man who’s not afraid to be called a little old-hat. Fortunately, his pen and voice – still a mix of battered trumpet and aching teenager – keep you leaning to the speakers. Brent DiCrescenzo Available in stores.