A JOYFUL NOISE
Gossip deserves the title of “greatest punk rock ’n’ roll disco soul band on the planet” that British music magazine NME bestowed upon the American trio starring singing dynamo Beth Ditto.
For A Joyful Noise, Gossip blends its primal rock and funk instincts with Donna Summer- and Madonna-like lyrics of empowerment plus disco and ’80s-era beats and keyboards. British producer Brian Higgins adds pop gloss to this particularly slick but never soulless fifth studio project from Ditto, guitarist-keyboardist Nathan Howdeshell and drummer Hannah Blilie.
Ditto’s vocals, surrounded by synthesizers projected through time from the 1980s, suggest Madonna in her prime. Another ’80s reference appears via the guitar break in “Horns,” a trebly arpeggio nod to Johnny Marr.
Ditto credits her inspiration for A Joyful Noise to an entire year of listening to ABBA. Her diet of Swedish pop shows in the album’s tightly constructed songs and precision-tuned arrangements. Even the abundant synthesizers sound cool rather than cheap.
CHOICE OF WEAPON
Following the Cult’s formation in London’s Brixton district in 1983, the band toured relentlessly and sold millions of records but, somehow, never achieved the superstar status of peer group U2. Yet when the Cult is at its best, it’s at least as good as U2. The band’s latest album shows principal, original members Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy remain a powerful, dynamic team.
Unlike U2, front man-lyricist Astbury and guitarist Duffy placed their band on extended hiatus while they pursued other musical projects. Astbury recorded solo albums and, being such a natural choice for the job, joined surviving Doors Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger for their Doors of the 21st Century and Riders on the Storm projects and performances.
Astbury’s Jim Morrison-like qualities run through Choice of Weapon, a hard-rock album loaded with intelligence, drama and lyrics that address big themes. Astbury and Duffy also stage a studio reunion with Bob Rock, producer of the landmark Cult album, Sonic Temple. Stocked with melodic hard-rock songs built on the strongest of foundations, the new album reveals how well the Cult learned its lessons from such predecessors as the Doors and Joy Division and then showed such Cult followers as Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots how it’s done. Choice of Weapon is an instant classic.
Paul and Linda McCartney
Released May 17, 1971, Paul McCartney’s second post-Beatles album is the only of his albums credited to himself and his late wife, Linda. Song No. 5, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” with its contrasting sections, orchestration, sound effects and spoken-word performances, is Ram’s centerpiece. Despite McCartney’s pre-Ram intention of not making music on a grand scale such as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the detailed, expansive “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is just that. Released as a single, the record reached No. 1 in the United States and won a Grammy award.
McCartney is more successful at simplifying things in the album’s 11 other songs. The lovely “Ram On” opens with voice and ukulele before additional instruments flesh the arrangement out nicely. Elsewhere, McCartney sounds as if he’s crafting odes to his musical inspirations, composing original songs that mirror the sound and spirit of Buddy Holly (“Eat At Home”) and Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys (“The Back Seat of My Car”). He also combines country music and jazz in the split personality “Heart of the Country.”
A few Ram tracks come off as capriciously substandard but usually McCartney’s irrepressible talent and creativity won’t be denied.
Hank Williams, Leonard Bernstein, Francoise Hardy and others
The music of Hank Williams Sr., Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, moody French chanteuse Francoise Hardy, Franz Schubert and, that most accessible of 20th-century composers, England’s Benjamin Britten, form the soundtrack of Moonrise Kingdom, the new film from Wes Anderson, director of such character-driven, eccentric comedies as Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Royal Tanenbaums and Rushmore.
The three Williams songs are among the country music star’s darkest and bluest: “Kaw-Liga,” a tale about love that can’t be anything but unrequited; “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”; and, another mournful expression of an irreversibly hopeless condition, “Ramblin’ Man.”
Traces of Williams’ melancholy appear in the beauty and grandeur in Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” based on a grand theme by Baroque English composer Henry Purcell. On the other hand, Britten’s “On the Ground, Sleep Sound,” from act two of his A Midsummer Night’s Dream (performed by a children’s choir and the London Symphony Orchestra), expresses the otherworldly wonder of Shakespeare’s stage comedy.
Moonrise Kingdom’s original instrumental music by Alexandre Desplat as well as a percussion ensemble piece by frequent Anderson composer Mark Mothersbaugh follow Britten’s lead, making all of the above a soundtrack that’s worth revisiting after the movie’s over.