The Pulse – November 2019

Another month, another few weeks of good music. Here’s what’s graced (or maced) my eardrums over the month of November, whether that be singles, albums, snippets, new or old. It’s stuff that’s come to my attention, and now I’m bringing it to yours. Welcome to The Pulse.

This month, we look at:

  • Jeff Lynne’s ELO – From Out of Nowhere
  • Coldplay – Everyday Life
  • Westlife – Spectrum
  • Beck – Hyperspace
  • Drive-By Truckers – Armageddon’s Back In Town (single)
  • The Who – Ball and Chain & All This Music Must Fade (singles)

There are also some random musical discoveries I have made this month, including tracks from Brandy and Queen Latifah, Jay Son, and Bat For Lashes.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO –
From Out Of Nowhere

If there was an award for slick major-minor transitions, Lynne would win it. Subtle changes to the melody and chord structure take all of the songs he has a hand in to new, poppy levels. Does that equate to good? Not necessarily, but the understanding of how to elevate a song from a typical three/four chord structure is to be admired.

Yet despite this new complexion, there’s nothing really new in the sound itself. Lynne balances pop, rock and folk influences in exactly the style and tone you expect from the ELO frontman: it’s all very polished, radio-friendly, pop-infused, and a bit reminiscent of old times.

Sound like a bland description? Well it is a rather bland album, so it’s fitting. I probably won’t listen to this album again, despite a few good songs here and there; the title track itself sounds like a Travelling Wilburys leftover. For a comparison of what this album sounds like, it’s closest to the album Analogue Man from Joe Walsh – which, fittingly, was produced by Jeff Lynne. If you like your rock-pop lukewarm and jive-like, you’ll like this. If you don’t, you’ll wish this album stayed in nowhere.

Coldplay – Everyday Life

For me, Coldplay have been off-track for a while, becoming a rather preposterous, generic, bland bunch of rockers. Their last decent album was Viva la Vida (or Death and All His Friends), while a few tracks from Mylo Xyloto deserve repeated plays.

Back on track with Everyday Life? No. It’s become cool to dislike Coldplay, and I’m unsure why it’s considered ‘cool’ yet not ‘deserved’. Take this album: there is, when you listen to it, nothing really great here.

The title track is probably the strongest here, and is well-orchestrated and tempered, if a little predictable. The apparent ‘two sides of the album’ don’t really distinguish themselves enough, despite being a double album, and conveniently named ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset’. The lyrics are still weak, bland, seemingly random, and too narrowly focused on themes of love, unity, friendship and copy-and-paste stadium ‘woo’ sections.

So like the pizza I end up buying after a night out from the top of my road: in a certain fame of mind, it seems great. But then I pay my money, stuff the dripping, greasy, cheesy slice into my mouth, and chew with vigour, to only realise it kind of all tastes like a pavement. It’s fine in the moment, but it’s not good. Not by a long way.

Westlife – Spectrum

The comeback nobody asked for, but we all got anyway. As one would expect from a boyband some years from their prime, it’s hit and miss, sounding like Take That through a Calvin Harris filter.

Sugary, sweet, and thin, it’s too Europop to attract chart-pop fans, and too cheesy to attract boyband followers. Avoid. (Unless you’re a Eurovision fan, then go for it.)

Beck – Hyperspace

‘Uneventful days, uneventful nights’, sings beck on Uneventful – a song I assume is sarcastically titled, given the sheer amount going on here.

The album is plush, bewildering, and deep. Synths have replaced folk-inspired licks; downbeat drums and bass drive all of the songs here. It’s a hyperactive, vivid breakup album, which is certainly among his best (Morning Light still reigns supreme). Perhaps most comparable to the artist Bibio (who I love), albeit less thoughtful for me.

Great to see his rapping roots and style make a return though, and this certainly has some Japanese-pop inspired tinge to it. Among the better experimental synth-pop jams of the year, and worth a spin or two.

Drive-By Truckers –
Armageddon’s Back In Town

Been eagerly awaiting more music from this superb band, and this came literally out of nowhere (thanks, Jeff Lynne) with a general feeling of satisfaction.

The first single from their January 2020 album The Unraveling, this song is a reflective, thumping rock jam, focused on mental wellbeing, struggling to face the world today, and negative thought spirals.

Lyrically, it’s not among their strongest, but that really depends on what kind of Drive-By Truckers era you prefer. (Personally, The Dirty South is their best, but I also loved American Band despite the political overtones turning some people away.)

Definite return here to the Jason Isbell era vibe. A real solid preview of the new album. 

The Who – Ball and Chain &
All This Music Must Fade

I was listening to Who Are You the other day and forgot what a great album it is. Equal parts hard-rock and Pete Townshend’s experimental overdub project, it’s probably among the best albums from The Who. Underrated.

These two new singles – from their inspiringly-titled upcoming album Who – would probably have fit well into Who Are You, which is either some of the best news you’ve heard from The Who, or some of the worst. I’m the former, evidently.

Ball and Chain is an upfront, unapologetic protest song about the atrocities in Guantanamo Bay, and the dissonance you feel while enjoying cigars, cocktails and good times there as a tourist. It’s angry, loud and, while lacking a solid guitar solo, it’s very much the hard-rock groove you’d expect from The Who.

All This Music Must Fade is a self-referential, self-aware mockery of The Who as a band, and the music they created. It’s honest, raging, and quite refreshing to hear from a band of legends.

Based on these singles, Who is shaping up to be a solid return for The Who – certainly much better than the dire Endless Wire.

Other discoveries this month

Here are a few other songs I’ve heard for the first time this month, and loved. And yes, I realise these have been out for a while, but I am old and forgetful. And slow.

Brandy and Queen Latifah I Wanna Be Down

Jay Som – Devotion

Bat For Lashes – Desert Man