In this first blog, I start my new album challenge, post my favourite new music and look at new releases by Eminem, Courteeners, Green Day, Georgia and Bombay Bicycle Club.
As a casual music fan, I love listening to new albums and artists. It can be easy to fall out of the loop and listen to the same old records but, in an effort to rekindle my love of new music, this year I’ve decided to listen to as many new albums as I can from the world of hip-hop, indie, alternative rock, dance and pop.
At least 50 new albums each listened to 5 times and then reviewed. Sounds easy, right? Well, here’s to the first batch of five albums!
We’re only a couple of months into 2020 and the new year has already seen some big hitters drop new albums. From Eminem, Bombay Bicycle Club, Courteeners, Georgia and Green Day, I take a look at albums 1-5.
#1 Eminem - Music to Be Murdered By (Released 17th January 2020 by Aftermath Entertainment, Interscope Records and Shady Records)
One Friday morning I logged into Twitter for my usual ‘let’s see what’s happening on social media before I get out of bed’ session. Expecting to see the usual pictures of dogs and angry posts about football, I was instead greeted by a lot of excitement and controversy all over the platform. Out of nowhere, Marshall Mathers had released his 11th studio album and it was receiving love and hate in equal measure.
With previous album ‘Kamikaze’ (2018) being both brilliant in parts (The Ringer, Lucky You, Fall) and disappointing (Nice Guy, Venom) - with the rest somewhere in between - I put the new record on that morning with extreme caution. Halfway through the first listen and it was clear though; Shady’s back.
Yes, there are a few tracks here that are more hit than miss but he’s knocking it out the park time and time again and finding his old form.
Lead single (the least ‘banger’ and most thoughtful track on the album) ‘Darkness’ (above) tells the first-person story of the 2017 Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock and a clear message at the end about the need for gun control in America. The song covers a version of ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel and it works pretty well, giving an eerie feel to the track. You know how the story ends but you’re gripped by Em’s storytelling as the shooter carries out his murderous plan.
Less serious is his collaboration with Ed Sheeran on ‘Those Kinda Nights’. The track transports you ‘back you to his D12 days’ with a funny story about a night out at the strippers and, for once, it’s a collaboration with Ed that isn’t one worthy of mockery (unlike ‘River’ from 2017’s ‘Revival’…a song so painfully bland I considered never listening to Eminem ever again!).
Godzilla, featuring the recently deceased rapper Juice WRLD, is easily the pop highlight of the album. It’s a dance floor filler with a catchy chorus and helps prove why Eminem is considered the G.O.A.T. By the third verse, he’s delivering 229 words in 30 seconds at 11.3 syllables (7.6 words) per second, a new world record and breaking the old record he had on 2013’s ‘Rap God’ (9.6 syllables per second). With rapid flow and a killer chorus, it’s no surprise he hit number 1 in the UK Singles charts and had his first big hit single in years.
On second track ‘Unaccommodating (feat Young M.A)’, Eminem raps ‘I’m contemplating yelling ‘bombs away’ on the game/ like I’m outside an Arianne Grande concert waiting’ is such an awkward line that had relatives victims of the Manchester Arena bombing (and just about most of Manchester itself) criticising him. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what Eminem does. He’s always going to piss some people off and that’s been his selling points for over 20 years.
The album is both juvenile and serious, full of disses, complaints, brilliant collaborations and pop-hooks, all whilst proving why Eminem - even as he nears the big 50 - is still at the top of the game. He raps to his contemporaries on Premonition, ‘(the) only way that you’re ahead of me is alphabetically/ if you diss me I’m coming after you like the letter V’. Arrogant, angry and controversial, just what we’re after from an Eminem album.
He doesn’t always hit the mark but it’s an 8/10 for how easy and enjoyable a listen so many of these tracks were.
#2 The Courteeners - More. Again. Forever. (17 January 2020 by Ignition Records)
Such is the lack of popular indie bands at the moment it’s easy to forget that there are still popular bands on the go. The Courteeners, a band who are absolutely massive in Manchester and have a large following around the UK, have just released their sixth album. And any band fighting to make anthemic British indie rock popular again has my attention, especially now bands like Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand have gone quiet.
Their debut 2008 album ‘St. Jude’ is a modern-day indie classic with tunes like ‘Not Nineteen Forever’, ‘What Took You So long?’ and ‘Cavorting’ still getting the crowds going at their sell-out arena gigs and top of the bill festival appearances. I saw them play at Princes Street Gardens last summer and it’s amazing to see just how popular they are with lads in their 20s and 30s, many of whom were dressing like it was 1995 and Oasis were top of the charts (happy days…).
Maybe I’ve been starved of my northern English indie rock bands these last few years (come on Arctic Monkeys, give us another ‘AM’!), but this is a solid - if unremarkable - return from Courteeners. Frontman Liam Fray has always been an underrated frontman, able to conjure up witty lines about working-class life in Manchester and this album provides more of the same.
Tracks like ‘Heart Attack’, ’Heavy Jacket’ (above) and ‘More. Again. Forever’ start the album with great swagger, the latter of which having an irresistible funky baseline. Tracks like ‘Hanging Off Your Cloud’ and ‘Is Heaven Even Worth It?’ provide a more delicate tone, introducing strings and pianos. It does feel like unfamiliar territory for the band and you find yourself yearning for the sharp lines and indie-pop of their earlier material.
On ‘Better Man’ Liam Fray channels the snarl of Liam Gallagher and admits ‘I’m trying to be a better man, whatever that is’. I hear you, brother. ‘Previous Parties’ sums up the social life of a 30s something, ‘All we do is go to parties, and talk about parties we used to go to’.
It’s a fun listen but a lot of it does blend into the world of blandness. It's a mixed bag and not one I’ve given much consideration after the first five listens.
#3 Green Day - Father of all… (7th February 2020 by Reprise Record)
Green Day were one of my favourite bands in my early teenage years. As a break from Blink 182 and Linkin Park, I’d endlessly listen to pop-punk classic ‘Dookie’ after being given a copy by my sister during her ‘goth’ phase (Green Day are not goth).
Soon after began an obsession with 1995’s ‘Insomniac’. Faster paced, heavier rock songs with Billy Joel’s sarcastic lines and (often) inaudible lyrics just sounded amazing to a wannabe rebellious youth.
2004’s ‘American Idiot’ was a completely different sound altogether, more of a rock opera than a collection of pop-punk bangers, summing up the disillusionment in America following the Iraq War. It was political, more polished than anything they’d ever done and it went on to make them one of the biggest bands in the world. As a 17 year old, I was obsessed with this album for a few months before I then discovered a wave of indie bands that were exploding in the UK (The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon). Green Day were quickly old news.
16 years later (with a couple of other albums in between that didn’t register with me at all), they’ve released their thirteenth new album ‘Father Of All…’.
Despite it being so long since I last listened to them, I decided to give this one a listen and see how it’d compare to their older material.
And after the first listen I was surprised. This is a really fun record that had me clicking ‘repeat’ as soon as the last track came to an end.
It all kicks off with the title track ‘Father of all…’ (above), a radio-friendly distorted garage-rock track that is one of the album's highlights.
‘Sugar Youth’ is classic Green Day, a fast-paced catchy ‘pop-punk’ song with vibes of St. Jimmy (one of the lead tracks from ‘American Idiot’). ‘Junkies on a high’, with it’s deliciously dirty bassline and anthemic chorus, is a song designed for stadium crowds with lighters in the sky, whilst ‘Stab you in the heart’ is a track fit for an old rock-n-roll jukebox.
It’s unpretentious, sounds fresh and radio-friendly without being too bland or corny. It’s 26 minutes of this Californian trio returning to their best.
There are times here where the lyrics feel immature and you do wonder if Green Day have in fact regressed rather than progressed, especially for a band 30 years into their career. However, this can be overlooked due to the great hooks and the clear chemistry the band have together. It won't be for everyone but it reminded me of why I loved the band all those years ago.
#4 Georgia - Seeking Thrills (10th January 2020 by Domino)
Georgia is a synth-pop artist from London who has received plenty of hype over the last couple of years. I remember hearing ‘Started Out’ on Annie Mac’s Radio 1 one evening last year and getting pretty obsessed with it. Needless to say, I was happy to see she’d released a new album and had high hopes for it.
As expected, there are lots of pop hooks, floor fillers and 80s dance vibes on this record. Euphoric late-night dance with a London feel to it and one to store next to Chvrches and Robyn.
One criticism is that it can be quite samey in parts. Midway through the album and you feel like you’ve been listening to the same song for about 20 minutes.
Electropop for the win, 7.5/10
#5 Bombay Bicycle Club - Everything Else Has Gone Wrong (17th January 2020 by Island Records)
It seems like only yesterday I was a History student obsessively listening to Bombay Bicycle Club’s 2009 debut ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’.
I was addicted to ‘Always Like This’, a track that sounded funky yet emotional in a style that this band began to master.
Two years later, their track ‘Shuffle’ was all over the radio. It’s piano loop mixed brilliantly with a funky bassline, drums and Jack Steadmans' warm vocals and honest lyrics. ‘A Different Kind of Fix’ was easily one of my favourite albums of that 2011, before the next album (2014’s ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’), experimentally strayed away from the sound that made me love them in the first place.
And that was that, another popular band from the 00s that just disappeared into thin air and left me wondering what had happened to indie. But here they are six years later with a new record.
The first listen of this album was a drag. I wasn’t feeling this album much at all and usually that would’ve been enough for me to leave this alone for good. But having made a commitment to listen to new albums at least five times that was not an option! I persevered.
By the end of the fifth listen to the album I had already booked tickets to see them in Prague (which has now been cancelled, thanks again coronavirus...) and was giving this album a 6th and 7th listen. Difficult to easy listen in the space of a few listens.
Important lesson: never write an album off too early!
A lot of the songs are slow burners - even the singles designed for radio play - but once you get over that hill, it’s does grow on you. It’s emotional, euphoric and inventive indie rock in the band’s unique style.
It’s worth sticking with this one. 7.5/10.
Favourite songs at the moment
Here are a few favourite tracks I’ve been digging recently!
Gerry Cinnamon - Where We're Going
The Weeknd - After Hours
Future - Life is Good (feat Drake)
Another Sky - Brave Face
Tame Impala - Lost in Yesterday
Green Day - Father of All
Caribou - You and I
Grimes - Violence
On the next blog, I'll look at another five albums including Tame Impala and Grimes new efforts. Thanks for reading!