The musicians who have flourished in lockdown have been quick-witted and flexible. Jon Bon Jovi took stock of evolving events on his new album 2020.
Charli XCX poured the frustrations of quarantine into How I’m Feeling Now. Kate Rusby and Molly Tuttle delivered homespun cover collections.
Elvis Costello has also been fleet of foot, with his new album put together on the hoof in different locations.
Having flown to Helsinki in February, he then jetted straight to Paris just before lockdown for a weekend in the studio with local jazz luminaries.
Hey Clockface was completed remotely — ‘via electrical wire’ — with a band based in New York.
Elvis Costello has also been fleet of foot, with his new album put together on the hoof in different locations
The upshot is a record of stark contrasts, most notably between the saw-toothed Scandinavian songs and the softer Parisian tunes, and there are moments when the randomly scattered tracks give Hey Clockface a disjointed feel: the edgy Hetty O’Hara Confidential, recorded in Finland, is sandwiched between two picture-perfect piano ballads from the banks of the Seine.
But Costello, 66, remains a master songwriter. This album, co-produced with Argentinian studio whizz Sebastian Krys, is less polished than 2018’s lush Look Now, but it reiterates the scope of his talent.
‘I wanted the record to be vivid, whether the songs demanded playing that was loud and jagged or intimate and beautiful,’ he says.
The three songs cut in Helsinki will appeal to fans raised on This Year’s Model, Costello’s 1978 LP that channelled the energy of punk.
As well as Hetty O’Hara Confidential — the tale of an old-school Fleet Street gossip columnist whose star is on the wane — his three days in Finland yielded No Flag and We Are All Cowards Now, both dark and menacing.
With Elvis playing guitar, bass, drums and Hammond organ in the spirit of Paul McCartney’s two celebrated solo albums, the Helsinki songs are punctuated with distorted chords, sci-fi sound effects and wry humour: ‘At least the Emperor Nero had an ear for music,’ goes a line on We Are All Cowards Now.
Having flown to Helsinki in February, he then jetted straight to Paris just before lockdown for a weekend in the studio with local jazz luminaries
The nine Parisian songs, made with an ensemble dubbed Le Quintette Saint Germain, are alternately playful and tinged with regret.
The title track, about picking an argument with time, opens with Mickaël Gasche’s lively trumpet and leans heavily on the Fats Waller standard How Can You Face Me?
The jaunty I Can’t Say Her Name wouldn’t be out of place on a Randy Newman album … or even one by Costello’s wife, jazz singer Diana Krall.
The poignancy comes on a string of chamber-pop ballads, with pianist Steve Nieve augmented by clarinet and cello on The Whirlwind and the tenderly sung Byline.
Further twists arrive in Revolution #49’s Arabic instrumentation and Renaud-Gabriel Pion’s flute, sax and cor anglais.
The two New York songs fall between the Finnish and French extremes to provide a fuller picture.
Finished online with trumpeter Michael Leonhart and others, the funky Newspaper Pane and spoken-word poem Radio Is Everything are atmospheric and contemporary.
‘They say I have a perfect face for radio,’ says Costello on the latter. The singer — who toyed with writing ‘Helsinki-Paris-New York’ on the album sleeve, as if it were a cosmetics brand or advertising agency — also retains the knack of writing perfect songs that pack an emotional punch, regardless of their city of origin.
Sam Smith returns to the dance-pop of early associations with Disclosure (Latch) and Naughty Boy (La La La) on a new album three years in the making.
Less reliant on ballads than 2017’s The Thrill Of It All, Love Goes takes its blue-eyed soul cues from Promises, a 2019 single made with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris.
The Cambridgeshire singer, 28, came out last year as non-binary; and a capella opening track Young makes broader points about the importance of making your own choices: ‘If you want to judge me, then go and load the gun.
‘I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m young.’
Sam Smith returns to the dance-pop of early associations with Disclosure (Latch) and Naughty Boy (La La La) on a new album three years in the making
‘I tried not to take myself too seriously when writing these songs,’ says Smith, and a lighter touch is apparent on Robyn-like house number Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else) and My Oasis: co-written with long-term collaborator Jimmy Napes, the latter is an electronic duet with Nigerian singer Burna Boy.
Despite one high-octane kiss-off to a former flame in Diamonds, some generic heartache ballads slow momentum.
The best of the slow tunes is For The Lover That I Lost: penned by Smith, Napes and Norwegian duo Stargate for a Céline Dion album, it’s revived here as a simple piano piece.
The Cambridgeshire singer, 28, came out last year as non-binary; and a capella opening track Young makes broader points about the importance of making your own choices: ‘If you want to judge me, then go and load the gun. I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m young’
No modern pop album is complete without a song by Ryan Tedder — and Love Goes is no exception.
The OneRepublic singer has recently worked with John Legend, Lady Gaga and Brazilian pop sensation Anitta.
The latest co-write, Kids Again, is an acoustic number about fading youth that casts Smith in a fresh musical light.
Squeeze’s Chris Difford was so moved by the photos taken by NHS nurse Hannah Grace Deller when he saw her on Grayson Perry’s TV show that he contacted fellow musicians to set her frontline experiences to music.
The outcome is a diverse charity record, curated by Difford, containing lockdown-inspired songs by Nick Heyward, Beth Nielsen Chapman and others.
Generous of spirit, it’s also surprisingly witty on Nielsen Chapman and Bill Lloyd’s Sick Of The Sight Of You.
There’s a folky hue to Kathryn Williams’ Hannah Takes Pictures and a country twang to Working On The Frontline by actress Jessie Buckley.
There is even a cameo by Deller on piano tune Six Degrees. Proceeds go to the Royal College Of Nursing Foundation (rcnfoundation.org.uk).
Busy Ariana’s in a Grande position…
Ariana Grande has barely paused for breath since returning to music with her Sweetener LP in 2018.
The past year has seen her first live LP, K Bye For Now, and duets with Childish Gambino, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.
She’s now back with solo material, releasing the title track from sixth album Positions as a single. Recorded in quarantine, the song is a slyly addictive empowerment anthem that sticks to the slow-burning R&B template of 2019’s Thank U, Next.
Ariana Grande has barely paused for breath since returning to music with her Sweetener LP in 2018
London singer Raissa also has a new track in the haunting pop number Crowded. Signed to Mark Ronson’s Zelig label — she was the vocalist on Ronson’s cover of I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight — she is a name to watch.
Jake Bugg continues his move away from teenage skiffle on All I Need. A wry number about living in the moment, it features gospel backing from the Urban Flames choir.
And Crowded House are back with their first single in ten years.
Fresh from touring as one of Lindsey Buckingham’s replacements in Fleetwood Mac, singer Neil Finn has added sons Liam and Elroy to the line-up on the buoyant Whatever You Want.
The group are due to tour the UK next June.
Source: Daily Mail | BBC News & Gossip