EG weekly music reviewsMusic
Girl on Fire
Alicia Keys (Sony)
THERE are several declarations of independence featured prominently through Girl on Fire, the fifth studio album from soulful American pop star Alicia Keys, but the record is hardly secessionist. It can never quite break away from the prevailing style that has sold 35 million albums for Keys, with the mellow R&B tinge beneath her piano and personalised songs of redemption and dedication to the fore. That's a shame because when Keys, perhaps emboldened by performing the signature hook on
Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind, mixes it up with new collaborators some of the results are close to transformative. The strange, stratospheric backdrop of When It's All Over, co-produced by Jamie xx, alternates jazz percussion and a subtle club groove, and encourages Keys to venture into desire and mortality. The hip-hop rhythms of New Day let the singer play the party starter, while Nicki Minaj goes on the run with Marilyn Monroe's ghost in the title track. You could credit Keys with trying to coax her fans into following her, but 2012's best records have been fearless and this just isn't.
Scott Walker (4AD/Remote Control)
TOM Waits may have turned playing the crazy-old-shut-in-from-the-dark-house into an art form, but Scott Walker's turned it into high art. On Bish Bosch, the 1960s pop pin-up-turned-oddball recluse sounds madder and more maddening than ever, with his radical, ridiculous avant-garde-ism turning the tragedy of the critically acclaimed 2006 album, The Drift into a bizarre comedy. He still moans his demented lieder as if set solitary on a shadowy stage, but here the tone is less Shakespearean king, more Shakespearean buffoon. ''Ah, my old scabby satchem/a sphincter's tooting our tune,'' Walker quivers, voice pinched with terror, as the brass blurts flatulently while Corps de Blah's 10-minute march into decay pauses for a fart joke. Similarly, the bizarre SDSS 1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter) is a 20-minute symphony of carnage that finds Walker warbling, ''If shit were music/you'd be a brass band'' and ''You're so fat/when you wear a yellow raincoat/people scream 'taxi!' '' and ''Does you face hurt?/cuz it's killing me.'' Ladies and gentlemen, Scott Walker!
Led Zeppelin (Warner)
WHEN Led Zeppelin (its three surviving members, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, plus late drummer John Bonham's son Jason) announced they would headline the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert at London's O2 Arena in 2007, 20 million people entered the global lottery for tickets. For those not in the 20,000-strong crowd, this is the long-awaited two-CD and magnificent-looking DVD/Blu-ray film document. Ertegun, the Atlantic Records founder, took a back seat as men in their 60s (Bonham aside) triumphantly exhumed their blues-rock legacy. The band sound and look in colossal form, powerfully ripping through live rarities (For Your Life), classic radio songs and '60s- and '70s-era touchstones - a nostalgic Misty Mountain Hop, a funky Whole Lotta Love, a spine-tingling Stairway to Heaven and a majestic, thunderous Kashmir. Looking increasingly like Led Zeppelin's swansong, this is a historic and beautifully rendered document of a genuine rock'n'roll dinosaur beamed back in from another time … and still breathing fire.
Chris Wilson (Independent)
PART blues man, part rocker, part cabaret performer, Chris Wilson has long been one of Australia's finest singers and songwriters, and a harmonica player of distinction. Over the years he has partnered with some of the country's best guitar players but for his new record he's chosen to sit down and strum the acoustic himself. No surprise, he's made himself into a first-rate picker. This is back-verandah Wilson, then, a mix of reworked originals and traditional numbers, delivered with less sweat-popping intensity than Wilson fans might expect from this consistently arresting performer, who can make a slow song burn white-hot like few others. The new version of one of his most dramatic songs, You Will Surely Love Again, is maybe not the right number for this setting, but his revamped Black Birding works a treat. Equally, Hard Land thrives in the new treatment. Throughout, Wilson's harmonica playing has rarely sounded sweeter, especially on his readings of the Bill Monroe classic Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms and Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line.
Brian Eno (Warp)
LUX first took form in the Great Gallery of the Palace of Venaria in Turin. Brian Eno recorded an album of four captivating pieces, each about 20 minutes, designed to reverberate around the cavernous spaces of the spectacular baroque architecture. Lux is part of the continuum of stately ambient explorations Eno has undertaken from 1975's Discreet Music, through Ambient 1: Music for Airports, to Thursday Afternoon and Neroli. Eno formulated a theory, and some of the earliest examples, of ambient music. His work in the field has stayed away from the New Age-Muzak cliches and instead exhibits a calm grandeur. With cool ease, Eno takes a small collection of complementary sounds, and allows them to interact according to his kitchen-scientist cybernetic principles. Wondrous reconfigurations occur; elegant patterns emerge. Subtle changes take on greater significance and a feeling of warm, blissful weightlessness suffuses Lux. Spare in texture, restrained in mood, Eno has transmuted airy spaces and quiet, lingering notes into grand minimalism.
Darren Farrugia (Independent)
THIS album from Melbourne drummer Farrugia has been a long time in the making. He has assembled a stellar crew. It includes tracks he recorded in the 1990s with guitar legend Mike Stern, the late and great tenor-sax player, Bob Berg, and our own Joe Chindamo. Most of it, however, was recorded this year. Farrugia gives the musicians lots of space. For example, Monkey's Wedding features Patrick Bettison on harmonica, Leonard Grigoryan on guitars, Jonathan Zion on double bass and the great Lachlan Davidson on alto sax, plus two violins, one viola and one cello to give it an orchestral feel against Phil Turcio's piano and keyboards. Farrugia steps out strongly on the title track, pitting his driving and creative beat against guitar wash in the second half. There's some great work here from Luke Howard on keyboards, Glenn Cannon on the guitars and Gavin Pearce on the fretless bass, all providing superb backing, but Farrugia is the stand-out. Just Another Rumour with the liquid, distinct sound of Stern is a highlight.