By BRUCE DENNILL
Green Day: Revolutionary Radio 6
Rocketeers: Something Else 7
Sia: 1000 Forms Of Fear 7.5
Deon Meiring: Die Slaapkamer Sessies 7
Green Day – not that the band members care – are constantly under scrutiny from listeners trying to figure out which hat the trio is wearing with each new project. Are they radio-savvy punks, sophisticated protest singers or straight-up pop stars this time around? This album title initially suggests that fans might have a follow-up to the massively successful American Idiot on their hands, and in the current political climate in their home country, Billy Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool would have plenty of reason to present musical satire and commentary. Bottom line? They don’t do that. There are serious lyrical themes all over the place. Indeed, it could be said that there’s a discernible fourth persona – sensible elder statesmen – that the band take on, adding a bit of perspective to their usual wittiness (“I put the ‘riot’ in ‘patriot’ in opener Somewhere Now). Green Day’s long-established style and undoubted chops mean they have an unmistakable sound, and there’s plenty of reliance on that. Somewhere Now combines their softer acoustic feel with some amped-up kick. Outlaw, a more out-and-out rocker, sounds like a strong single, with Still Breathing and Youngblood as possible options in the same vein. Troubled Times brings together many of the concerns touched on elsewhere in the collection, including a desire for truth (“Where’s the truth in the written word if no-one reads it?”), with closer Ordinary World removing most of the bombast for a folk-y arrangement that confirms that its creators are serious thinkers – even if they do wear rubber masks of themselves in the cover photography. Revolutionary Radio completely fails to live up to the first half of its title, but it is satisfyingly Green Day, and they’re a band who are able to entertain even when they’re not at their best.
The acoustic singer-songwriter niche is fairly full, so it’s useful to have a detail that makes you stand out from the crowd. For folk-pop duo Rocketeers, that’s the double-bass of Lionel Naidoo, a sonic and visual standout in a collection of songs otherwise driven by the acoustic picking and plucking of songwriter Doug Bean, who handles lead vocals, with Naidoo on harmonies. It’s a simple formula, but it’s handled with great attention to detail technically and a good deal of heart lyrically and in terms of the vocal performances. Sunny Day is a thinking man’s breezy summer ditty, with the loping rhythm of Birds And The Bees getting your foot tapping from the opening bar. The title track recalls the gentler moments of Eighties titans Hall & Oates, while Lost And Found has an appealing Latin shuffle. The double bass comes into its own in the lovely Come My Way, reminiscent of great Cape Town artists like Robin Auld and Bright Blue (as is closer Spinning Round). Clearly is just as good and, in keeping with the edifying tone of Something Else as a whole, Race is about continuing the curve of a relationship, rather than politics. Confident and affirming – great mood music and fluid musicianship.
As a marketing strategy, Sia Furler’s near pathological phobia of fame – made clear on the sleeve art for 1000 Forms Of Fear by the faceless presence on the cover and the be-wigged subsititutes for the singer-songwriter that populate the rest of the sleeve – continues to give her an air of mystery that adds to the respect she’s due as a writer and performer. Opener Chandelier is already a standard of its kind, interpreted by other artists but never better than in this original form, in which the blockbuster chorus soars and Furler’s voice cracks with emotion as as she sings lines as direct as “Help me, I’m holding on for dear life”. It’s a desolate song lyrically, but its melody and arrangement give it a galvanising tone – a truly great piece of composition. Furler’s writing is formulaic – not in a belittling sense, but because she has written so many hits for so many people using the same staccato R&B rhythms – and some of what unfolds over the course of this album is predictable. That said, the songs, when heard in isolation, are undeniably strong, with the common threads only becoming fully defined when listening to five or six in a row. For the most part, the production helps maintain this identifiability, with the songs driven by low-end synths and the brisk beats that help Rihanna fill dance-floors with the Furler-written material she records. Eye Of The Needle (and, later, Straight For The Knife) is slower, though not to the point that it could be called a ballad, instead recalling Lady Gaga in both its style and the effort put into the vocal take. On the flip side, Hostage is then – despite its title – sub three-minute pop so superficially frothy you can picture Furler skipping and wearing pigtails as she sings it. Fair Game is mostly a classically-structured track that could provide Shirley Bassey with her next big hit, with some pre-school percussion thrown into the middle to confuse issues, while Elastic Heart is superior here to its chart-occupying Rihanna-sung version. This album is a platform on which one of pop’s canniest contemporary creatives has laid out her stall, and impressed just about every passer-by. It’s smart, well-made, and – at it’s best – rousing stuff.
Coming up with an otherwise silly concept is often a brilliant way to start the creative juices flowing, and Deon Meiring’s idea for Die Slaapkamer Sessies – stay in ten different bedrooms over the course of ten weeks, writing a song a week during that period – certainly yielded positive results. Only five of the ten compositions are featured here (the full collection is available on YouTube); a compact, appealing package of Afrikaans folk-pop. Meiring sings in clipped, clearly enunciated sentences, telling everyman musical stories a la Andre de Villiers, backed by acoustic guitars in various guises. His performances are filled, simultaneously, authority and gentleness, giving the songs an authenticity beyond the reach of usual chart fodder. Meiring’s lyrics are thoughtful throughout, with As Ek Ooit imagining, fancifully, what he’d like to happen if he was a snowman, among other things. Voetganger ups the energy quotient before Vingerafdrikke muses on the traces left by loved ones (“Jou vingerafdrukke is lig genoeg om saam met my te dra”). This is gentle but persuasive (“Gee ons net die moed om aan te hou”) material, skilfully produced and performed.