By BRUCE DENNILL
The Script: No Sound Without Silence 6
Phil Collins: No Jacket Required & But Seriously (Deluxe Editions) 8
Tim McGraw: Sundown Heaven Town – Deluxe & 35 Biggest Hits 5
La Roux: Trouble In Paradise 6
The Script have now reached that point – an important one in the life of any musical act with aspirations to extend their career over a number of decades – where their sound is difficult to mistake for anyone else’s. With that situation comes the risk of stagnating (the thinking occasionally seems to be that laurels are there to be rested on), but No Sound Without Silence sees the band finding new ways to inject catchiness into their patented melodic pop with its touches of hip hop (though without, it must be said, taking too many chances). Superheroes was an obvious and successful single and has become one of the band’s most recognisable songs. Flares is a more reflective ballad-style piece for which The Script drafted in Ryan Tedder – supper-successful songwriter and producer and also, curiously, the frontman for One Republic, who are more or less direct opposition to The Script in style terms. Paint The Town Green is an overt reference to the band’s homeland, Ireland, which is refreshing from an act whose material is otherwise, at least partly by design, created with an international (largely US) audience in mind. Closer Hail Rain Or Sunshine also brings in some Celtic instrumentation. This is a strong collection without being a particularly striking one – the sound of a good band getting on with business.
Part of the series of album re-issues embarked on by Phil Collins recently, 1985’s No Jacket Required and 1989’s But Seriously marked the high-water mark of the singer-songwriter’s (and drummer, actor and producer) commercial appeal. The former includes the hits Sussudio, One More Night and Don’t Lose My Number, while the latter hardly has room for filler, packing in Hang In Long Enough, That’s Just The Way It Is, Do You Remember?, Something Happened On The Way To Heaven, I Wish It Would Rain Down and Another Day In Paradise. The production on No Jacket Required has not aged as well as the later collection and will cause the occasional wince. But Seriously, though still stands tall, possibly because many of the sonic ideas Collins came up with have been broadly copied by everyone else. Extra discs on both albums include live and demo versions of the songs on the studio albums. The demos are initially interesting, as they have Collins showcasing what were to become classic melodies while humming or scatting his way through the lyrics, which he hasn’t yet written. Worth investing in if you don’t already have them.
He’s done extraordinarily well out of a 25-year career (Forbes magazine estimates his annual income at $38 million), but based on 13th album Sundown Heaven Town, Tim McGraw’s wide appeal has to do as much with not taking many risks as it does with creating anything particularly innovative. City Lights, Diamond Rings And Old Barstools and Portland Maine play to the most popular country music tropes and do it well, while Shotgun Rider and Lookin’ For That Girl add poppy touches including, ugh, autotune. Tellingly, both these songs were released as singles. The singer’s 35 Biggest Hits collection – reaped from his years with the Curb label (the last few albums have been released by another outfit) underline the fact that ‘twas ever thus, with only a few tracks being obvious standouts in a swathe of pleasant but unchallenging easy listening. It’s Your Love, sung with wife Faith Hill, hasn’t aged a bit, and When The Stars Go Blue’s Americana slant – one of the trademarks of writer Ryan Adams lifts it out of the niche occupied my many of the tracks around it. Agreeable enough, but with few clues as to how McGraw became quite as massive a star as he is.
Elly Jackson, aka La Roux, specialises in keeping those functions on keyboards most abused in the Eighties in business, backing her poppy melodies with drum machines, Erasure-style basslines and fat, drawn-out synth chords. Within that retro space, it’s polished stuff that soon gets under your skin, with opener Uptight Downtown being a sort-of Bruno Mars minus the funk. Cruel Sexuality has more bottom end and, er, thrust, while Paradise Is You recalls the more thoughtful moments of Bananarama. At nine songs, La Roux doesn’t get to introduce too much variation into this collection, and there is a fairly narrow range of themes dealt with lyrically. She writes well, though (along with a few collaborators) and it’s easy to hear possibilities for a number of other arrangements of these tunes to do well if fronted by other artists. There are intriguing possibilities, for instance, in a slowed-down, string-driven Let Me Down Gently being leaned into by Adele.