By BRUCE DENNILL
Calling All Cars: Raise The People 7
Maroon 5: V 5
Various Artists: Now Next 2015 6.5
Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems 6
Despite a cover design – the head of a rhinoceros with a huge, shining horn – that suggests some bandwagon jumping in the light of recent headlines and social media campaigns, Raise The People is neither built around conservation issues nor released by a South African (where the news coverage of rhino poaching is most prevalent) band. Calling All Cars are an Australian trio making confident, strident rock music that will translate well in any market. The title track gets the ball rolling with the ghost of Rage Against The Machine roaming around in the background, before Standing In The Ocean adds pop hooks and Werewolves combines elements of both of those with a healthy dose of funk, arriving in the general vicinity of Muse as a result. There’s no flagging on the energy front, with Every Day Is The Same driven by another sledgehammer riff. Later, Running On The Sun brings in a Kasabian-ish refrain – a good sign given the band’s recent decision to relocate to England, where the festival crowds are likely to lap that sort of thing up. Raise The People is strong throughout – raise the bar, perhaps? – merging a party album with a brawny rock feel.
There will be a group of listeners who miss Maroon 5’s earlier, funk-tinged pop-rock output, as well as the musicality those tunes allowed the band to exercise. Since previous album Overexposed’s hit single Moves Like Jagger, though, the band has placed itself squarely in the radio-friendly electro-pop market. That they are serious about operating successfully in that arena is evidenced by the continued presence of chart master Max Martin, whose formidable list of credits includes everyone from Britney Spears to Katy Perry and who previously worked with Maroon V on the song One More Night. Singles Maps, Animals and Sugar are all well constructed but there’s not much feeling involved, with only the disco feel of the latter going some way to undermine the notion that there may be more precision than passion involved here. There’s more design in My Heart Is Open, featuring singer Adam Levine’s The Voice co-judge Gwen Stefani as a duet partner. The collaboration makes sense – the two artists have spent a lot of time together and listeners who also watch the television show will have them in a similar space in their minds – but the song ultimately doesn’t offer much, with a good chunk of the lyrics comprising the phrase “Let me hear you say yeah”… So there’s not a lot to fall in love with on V, but equally, there is still sufficient evidence of Maroon 5’s ability to put a polished product together that it remains reasonable to have high expectations of their output.
Subtitled 20 Top Worship Songs For Today & Tomorrow, this Now Next 2015 collection is just that, plus a few tracks that might qualify as slightly “Yesterday”, such as Kari Jobe’s Healer and perhaps 10,000 Reasons (the Soul Survivor version is included here). Arbitrary themes don’t disqualify those tunes as being great, though, so consider this album based on the tracklisting as a whole. On disc one, Life Worship’s We Believe is one of the songs that does live up to the package title, as it’s fast becoming a fixture in worship setlists around the world. Other spikes include Daniel Bashta’s anthem Like A Lion (God’s Not Dead), also a huge hit for Newsboys; Tim Hughes’ At Your Name and a great version of Jared Anderson’s Great I Am by Paul Wilbur, featuring Danny Gokey. Disc two is pleasingly less predictable. Paul Baloche’s God My Rock and Martin Smith’s Waiting Here For You are the two dead certs, with the underrated Bluetree’s My Redeemer Lives and Desperation Band’s Make A Way another couple of picks among a lesser-known selection that listener will enjoy familiarising themselves with.
Being elegantly ambivalent about the worst life can offer – or put another way, making problems popular – is a large part of Leonard Cohen’s appeal as a songwriter. This latest collection sees him continue skating along a line that has black humour on one side and despair on the other. In perhaps the most accessible tune, Almost Like The Blues, he shows of both facets in different verses – first “There’s torture and there’s killing; there’s all my bad reviews”, which raises a laugh, and then “I listened to their story, of the Gypsies and the Jews; it was good, it wasn’t boring; it was almost like the blues,” which makes that giggle stick in your maw. Stylistically, Cohen stays with what he knows for the most part – his ghost of a voice outlined by a troupe of female backing singers and driven by spare riffs on a keyboard set to “1981”. There are occasional surprises, though. Forty seconds into Did I Ever Love You, a more or less predictable Cohen dirge about a relationship that didn’t pan out, the chorus blossoms into a roots music shuffle with walking bass, brushed snare and a rhythm you can line dance to. That jump in pace highlights and overall lack of variation in that area, but the regulated tempos don’t negatively affect the album as a whole, particularly once you’ve listened to the album a few times and developed a sense of the lyrical themes and why it makes sense to deliver them in the way Cohen does. No new myths will be built on the foundation of this album, but as another chapter in a 40-year-plus epic, it’s a satisfactory piece of work.