By BRUCE DENNILL
Ashton Nyte: Some Kind Of Satellite 7
Slipknot: .5: The Gray Chapter 4
Various Artists: Guardians Of The Galaxy – Deluxe 6
Jessie Ware: Tough Love 6
In some quarters, Ashton Nyte is still viewed as a purveyor of exclusively dark, angsty goth missives. But the reality is – despite the singer having the sort of voice you expect to come from a clown hiding in a dark basement – that his current material is, for the most part, eminently accessible pop. There is a retro slant to many of the songs on Some Kind Of Satellite, with echoes of The Mission (regular touring partners), Depeche Mode and Simple Minds, and the chart-friendliness and magnetic hooks of those bands’ best music are present in early highlights Symmetry and See Me Cry. Nyte writes, plays, sings and produces everything, so there is rock-solid continuity throughout, even as the pace of the compositions varies and guitars give way to synths. Some of the more sedate tunes – A Halo In The Dirt and Another life included – don’t grab the attention as much, though they’re ideal for late-night contemplation. Every Shade Of Blue is quiet and thoughtful but far more cutting – reminiscent, for South African listeners, of Johannes Kerkorrel’s musical commentaries.
There remain, when listening to Slipknot, a number of lingering questions as to the way they go about their business. Would they have half the appeal they have were the band members not disguised by their ghastly masks? Do they really require nine members to create the sort of thrash metal sound produced by quartets or other variously arrayed smaller bands? And amid all the image-related bumf, are they still writing music that stands on its own without the props? In .5: The Gray Chapter (there they go again – is that an album title or an avant-garde poem?) the answers to those questions are, respectively, probably not, no, and only intermittently. AOV requires the band to use their musical skill to its most frenetic extent while also including a melodic hook. The same can be said for Nomadic, but for much of the rest of the collection, Slipknot operate within a very narrow sonic and lyrical range. In bite-size pieces, that’s fine – the one-two gut-punch of the heaving morass of bass, guitars and double-pedalled kicks and verses about self-hate, death and anger are thrilling in their way. But over the course of the 73-minute running time of the album, it makes for claustrophobic, bruising listening, unbroken by anything so blithe as a chorus you could easily remember or a space in the production in which to relax and enjoy yourself.
Like the film, which mixed quirky humour with fully-developed intergalactic high action high-jinx, the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack is entirely authentic without ever taking itself too seriously. It opens with the Blue Swede version of Hooked On A Feeling, complete with the daft “Ooga chaka” refrain that epitomises the happy-go-lucky approach of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, and the same left-field line is followed in David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream – not the ordinary soundtrack choice from that back catalogue – Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love and The Runaways’ Cherry Bomb. Around those are other quality classic rock and pop tunes including Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky, the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back and the ageless Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. As an era-specific collection of good music, this soundtrack needs no visuals to bolster it. The second disc, containing Tyler Bates’s original score, will certainly have less mass appeal, though it is obviously more closely linked to the onscreen action. For the most part, it’s strident stuff, worthy of accompanying interplanetary conflict, with just the occasional quieter interlude (To The Stars and Ronan’s Theme being two examples) in which listeners can catch their breath.
English singer-songwriter Jessie Ware has a sound that recalls the mellower reaches of the Eighties club genre – not trance, not dancefloor filler, but well-suited to late-night chilling. For much of Tough Love, this formula creates a mood conducive to relaxing and reflecting. You And I (Forever) is a little more upbeat; smooth traditional pop with a strong hook. The album highlight is a collaboration with Ed Sheehan, who adds his Midas touch as a writer and performer to Say You Love Me, which could just as easily been a hit for him as a solo artist, being an empty instrumental arrangement, heartfelt lyrics and big chorals that lift everything at the end. Sweetest Song is similar to the syrup-smooth soul of Sade – an accurate comparison, even if it’s a terrible sentence to read out loud with a lisp – while Want Your Feeling again competes more with Ware’s pop peers. Champagne Kisses, with its high-pitched chorus and synth-driven verses, is a Florence & The Machine tune waiting for release. This ability to fill a number of niches is great news for Ware’s burgeoning reputation as a songwriter (she’s already written for Nicky Minaj and others).