Friday, 15 July 2011

Blink-182 - 'Up All Night' Single Review

It's a point so obvious that it barely needs to be made, but for the sake of this article, I'll make it anyway - nearly anybody into rock or 'alternative' music in the mid-to-late 1990s dug Blink-182. How could you not? Outrageously catchy punk-pop tunes about girls, teenage relationships, parties, drinking, dick jokes, and dog fucking. What's not to love? They turned out classic album after classic album through the late 90s - in fact, three consecutive ones from 1997 through 2001, including their greatest moment, 1999's 'Enema of the State', but things started to go wrong when they decided to stop dicking around and actually starting writing serious songs. 2003's self-titled album was supposed to be a definitive statement that they could be taken seriously, but there was just one problem - it was mostly shite. Unsurprisingly, it transpired that the band themselves were hardly happy with their efforts, and the band split under a cloud in early 2005.

That was expected to be the end of the story, but in early 2009, the band reunited to go again, and this, their first new recorded output in nearly eight years was revealed last night on KROQ. Here it is, kids - after all the bickering and public spats, this is the first new song in the glorious new era of Blink-182, and the first step on the road to their return to stardom. Exciting? You bet. Or at least it was, until everyone actually heard the new song. And then sat in silence for a few minutes, before slowly muttering 'is that it?' There's no other way of saying it.

It's just not very good.

I can already hear the clamorous buzz of the fanboys, blinded by nostalgia and the 'blink me Travis!' posters, gurgling out the standard excuses - they've grown up, they've moved on, they're not the same band as before, blah blah blahdy blah. All fair points, and I would never condone bands for doing those things, except that none of those arguments actually apply here. Because what blink-182 have done is something far more heinous than merely growing old - they're now sounding like a bad rip-off of the many bands that followed in their wake. 'Up All Night' sounds like the product of a recording session where David Geffen demanded that the band Frankenstein together elements from the last five years of pop-punk and pop-rock into a three-minute single guaranteed to get airplay and do well on iTunes. It's bad enough that they bare-facedly rip-off their own side-projects, but the fact that it all comes across as a muddled mess that Simple Plan or 30 Seconds To Mars could've probably shat out in half an hour before knocking off for lunch is even worse.

One of the biggest criticisms a band can get is that they sound like a cheap imitation of themselves, but in this case, Blink sound like a cheap imitation of a band that were merely a cheap imitation of Blink in the first place. It's odd that Blink have lost their identity so badly, because during their hiatus, the two sideprojects that spawned at least had some character to them, even if AvA sounded at times like Bono shitting a hole right through our eardrums. But they and +44 at least had their own sound and style. Blink, on the other hand, still haven't found this mature voice they've been looking for since 2003. Even back then, their attempts at maturity felt forced and confused; they've made it very clear that there won't be any more songs about teenage crushes and masturbation, but having consigned the dick jokes to history, they've struggled to move forward.

But perhaps worst of all is the fact that the band seem to know they don't have much of an identity left, and don't seem to give a shit about it. This track bares the stink of shoddy and lacklustre songwriting, as it meanders around, desperately looking for a big, epic chorus and failing to find one, before finishing, then tacking on an entirely pointless outro in one of the clumsiest attempts at creating a big finale I've ever heard. There's absolutely no spark, verve, or soul to this whatsoever, just a boring wannabe-epic drone that fails to raise a response from the listener even at the points where they throw in that lame Box Car Racer-esque riff to try and raise the energy levels. The lyrics are utterly generic and are on a par with a fifth-grader's angsty Twilight fan-fiction poem, and whilst the vocals occasionally show potential, they're fighting a loosing cause; there's just no saving this song from the dustbin of mediocrity.

Perhaps that's the most depressing aspect of all of this; part of the happy memories of Blink come because they were from a time when pop-punk wasn't about floppy fringes, faux angst and woeful attempts at epicness. Maybe we were hoping that Blink's return would lead to them showing the current crop of whining dickwads how it should be done. But instead they've fallen into line, heads bowed under the cloud of tedium that's settled over mainstream rock 'n' roll like a sweaty ballsack. And what's worrying about 'Up All Night' is that it poses the question: will the entire upcoming album be like this? Or even worse? Because if it is, Blink 182 are in danger of shitting all over their proud history and tainting the happy nostalgia many of us have for them. We were prepared to forgive them for the thoroughly boring Reading 2010 headlining set, but maybe things are starting to combine together to tell us that this whole glorious comeback wasn't such a good idea after all. Only time, and the new album, will tell.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones

Frank Turner is many things to many people. He advertises himself as simply ‘one of you’, nothing more than the guitar playing one in a vast, all-encompassing group of friends. He is adored by his fans as a ‘beardy god’ and lauded by the media as a ‘Folk-Rock troubadour’. One thing that nobody can argue, however, is that he is one of the hardest working men in modern music. In 5 short years he has released 3 studio albums and 3 EP’s and clocked up well over 1,000 shows. This fourth effort is his most anticipated so far.

The album is, if nothing else, quintessentially English. The title itself is taken from Shakespeare’s ‘History of King John’ (although Turner admits he is yet to read the play itself). Looking at the quote itself it’s quite clear why the record is named thusly:

‘O me! My Uncle’s spirit is in these stones!/Heaven take my soul but England keep my bones!’

It speaks of heritage and religion and above all else; good old Englishness. The traditional nature of the album resounds from the very first, warbly, trumpet-produced note. Turner leads us through a throwback to music from Coronation Street and old bread adverts. The track; ‘Eulogy’ is a fitting introduction if ever there was one. It rises from it’s traditional opening into a rousing, thunderous mid-section and a familiar sounding folk/acoustic ending. The lyrics encourage listeners that it’s OK to be normal, and un-extraordinary, as long as you make the most of the time you’ve got, stating ‘not everyone can be Freddy Mercury, but everyone can raise a glass and sing’. Mr Turner lays down the entire premise of his album in that first minute and a half.

The first full length track (and first single) is an ode to Frank’s grandmother, Peggy. He tells the story of how his Grandmother visited him in his sleep, and played cards and drank whisky with him. But, as is often the case in his work, there’s message behind it all. Peggy believes that all that matters is what you do with your life, and not where your life started.

The record continues on to fan-favourite ‘I Still Believe’, his anthemic tribute to the importance of a good sing-song before moving on to the first of the unheard tracks, entitled ‘Rivers’. The old Patrick James Eggle guitar rings with a very ‘Turner-y’ familiarity from the off and the lyrics speak about travelling through the English countrysides and cities. In my opinion, these kind of songs are Frank’s strength and he’s created another belter here. With a lyrical shout to, and in fact, vocal support from another folk-rock troubadour, Chris T-T, all of the stops are pulled out to create a good healthy Frank Turner acoustic anthem.

Next up is another track already released to the public, ‘I Am Disappeared’. More of a tribute to Bob Dylan than anything the song is already hugely popular among Turner’s (rapidly increasing) fan base. However, next is another demonstration of strength. ‘English Curse’ is an entirely a capella tale of medieval Wessex. The fact that a track like this features at all on the album is demonstrative of the sheer intrepidity of the artist. You’ll look a long way before you find another artist with the balls to do anything like that, and his courage is rewarded as the song is a real high point of the record.

Before taking to the road as a travelling Acoustic-Folk minstrel, Turner was the frontman of Hardcore Punks ‘Million Dead’. On the next track ‘One Foot Before the Other’, Turner hearkens back to those days with a heavier, more raw-sounding composition. The lyrics are exemplary of the album, with themes of death and tradition. But the track is obviously so much more geared towards the sound of the backing, and Ben Lloyd’s rasping guitar comes into it’s own. The sad fact is, despite the obvious quality of the track, this just isn’t the Frank that his fans have grown to know and love.

The album returns to it’s chirpy manner and English theme over the next two tracks. ‘If Ever I Stray’ also touches on a religious theme as Turner questions his morals and his punishment. He begs to be thrown into the English channel should he ever wander from the path he’s taken. ‘Wessex Boy’ is none other than a solid tribute to the land of his fathers, with which he clearly feels a strong affinity. His acoustic guitar riffs over lyrics speaking of specific Winchester landmarks, a treat perhaps for his Hampshire-based followers. Both tracks are good, strong, standard Turner pieces and it’s hard to fault their brilliance.

It’s the last three tracks where the album comes into it’s own. ‘Nights Become Days’ is reminiscent of earlier tracks such as ‘Worse Things Happen At Sea’ or ‘A Decent Cup of Tea’, both in their sound and their obvious emotion. The track itself is a message to a friend of Turner’s who went off the rails under the influence of drugs; ’everyone stumbles on cheap cocaine, it burns up the best and burdens the brain’. His sadness and concern reverberate through every note and the chorus is haunting and sombre as anything Turner has done before. The end of the song is a mix of relief as Turner delivers his final message to this lost soul; You’re getting there, your friends are here, just keep strong.

The penultimate track is perhaps the strongest on the album but also is arguably the most personal that Frank has ever written. Entitled ‘Redemption’ it apologises for, explains and laments some of his biggest regrets. He realises that he’s unfairly treated some people who ‘deserve better’. He quite clearly questions his own moral fibre and standing. It makes for another haunting track but one which demonstrates his own formidable talent, musically and lyrically. The poetic nature of the song combines flawlessly with the impressive keyboard work of Mr Matt Nasir to give the album it’s highest point musically.

And so we come to the final track. It has been described as an ‘Atheistic Gospel Song’ or an ‘Agnostic Anthem’ and again shows the real ballsiness of the man. An anthem is the best way to describe but the church organ and the gospel-like choir definitely give a religious feel. The choir may sing ‘there is no god!’ but there is a deeper message to it than that. Rather than being an anti-religious hate song, it’s more of an explanation of Turner’s own take on life’s big question of what happens after death. He believes that there is simply nothing, so we shouldn’t spend our lives making sacrifices to appease a higher power, and we should just make the most of the time we have. Despite being controversial in nature, it’s very representative of modern culture and beliefs. It makes for a great song and a fantastic finale to the album.

In production this album had much to live up to. The fanbase had built it up exponentially and the anticipation was intense. However, England Keep My Bones passes all tests with flying colours and is clearly Turner’s finest effort to date. His musical variety, lyrical genius and harmony with his band has really matured from the last album. It has a feel that seems to be the truest representation of Frank Turner in himself. He expresses himself the only way he knows how: with fine music.

With a main stage slot at this year’s Reading and Leeds festivals and shows at Wembley and Brixton under his belt, things are heading solidly up for Turner. It could well be that this is the album which finally propels him to the next level. It would be exactly what he deserves.

Rating: 85%

Standout Tracks: One Foot Before The Other, Redempton

Record Label: Xtra Mile Recordings/Epitaph Records

Release Date: 7th June 2011

Words by Alex Wood