The Soundboard Stereo – February 2018

After the headlong rush into the new year that January’s releases were, this month has proved rather spare in terms of major albums, more so seeing 2018 recalibrate itself ready for some sizable releases on the horizon. And consider what’s in the pipeline for March, it’ll be interesting to see what some bands can offer in a year that’s already been staggeringly good for new music. Before that though, here’s what else we’ve been listening to this month…

Rihanna – ANTI

Muddy marketing tactics surrounding its release meant that ANTI looked set to be a relative flop, something chart royalty Rihanna wasn’t used to. Sales rose so statistically it wasn’t, but aside from huge single Work, reaction to her new music seemed muted. A select number of critics called Rihanna’s eighth studio album “lost” and “uneven”, but retrospectively, it’s possible those opinions only came up because there is no EDM or even many radio hits here. ANTI is much more consistent and introverted than anything Rihanna has done previously. It goes back to her roots in taking influence from dub and soul to add to her usual forte of R&B. It’s sultry and sassy, and cuts like Love On The Brain show off the absolute vocal prowess people seem to forget she has. The new vibe goes perfectly with the lyrical themes of the record (which are essentially Rihanna in a nutshell) – confidence, seduction and indulgence (marijuana definitely being part of the latter). With ANTI, Rihanna was able to stand out from her chart peers in terms of not just quality, but artistic credibility. There are no defensive justifications when Rihanna describes the making of the record, and no “I really hope everyone likes it” to be found. Here, she made music she loves and would listen to herself with no calculated sales tactics around it, something more mainstream artists should take note of. • GJ

Choice picks: Consideration, Kiss It Better, Desperado

Queen – A Night At The Opera

What is there to say about A Night At The Opera that hasn’t already been said? It’s not only seen as a classic and the crowning jewel, so to speak, of Queen’s career, but it’s often considered one of the greatest albums of all time. More than anything though, it proves just how much of a singles band Queen could be. That’s not a slight on the album at all, particularly when said singles are You’re My Best Friend and the mighty Bohemian Rhapsody, but compared to those isolated moments, A Night At The Opera is an utterly glorious mess of an album. That seems to be the point though – the jaunty, Vaudevillian show tunes Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon and Seaside Rendezvous were clearly not meant to be taken seriously, and with the genre turns this album takes, the intention seems to be for Queen to show themselves off at their most garish and flamboyant. And boy, do they succeed here; for an album released in 1975, A Night At The Opera still feels fresh and cutting edge as far as sonics go, a boundary-pushing exercise in what pop and rock could be with just a bit of imagination. Freddie Mercury more than proves himself as being among the most talented frontmen of all time, whether that’s in vocal ability or a tongue-in-cheek delivery and theatrical flair that no vocalists had a time, and hardly any could subsequently match up to. Even if it isn’t perfect – The Prophet’s Song goes on for a bit with its unnecessarily long a cappella section and fails at creating the sort of suite that was ultimately perfected on Bohemian Rhapsody – but it’s a seminal piece of music history that remains as important and game-changing today as it was over four decades ago. It’s fully earned its right to be called a classic. • LN

Choice picks: Bohemian Rhapsody, You’re My Best Friend, Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…)

Halestorm – The Strange Case Of…

Halestorm have proved themselves to be one of the best modern hard rock bands across their brilliant discography. Most recent album Into The Wild Life showcased the quartet flinging themselves more into the heavier side of their sound (a move that absolutely paid off), but 2012’s The Strange Case Of… has to be the crown jewel among their albums. It’s a record that fully embraces the power of a killer pop hook without compromising the massive horsepower of the guitars in their armoury. Mz. Hyde and Love Bites (So Do I) are obvious high points for being just the right amount of catchy but absolutely thundering. Halfway through, a run of three consecutive ballads does kill the mood, especially considering the full force of strongest, Break In, is dulled by coming last in the series. But ballads aside, there’s a wonderful balance of personas on this album. Lzzy Hale is truly dynamic as a frontwoman on top of being one of the most talented vocalists around. She can go from absolutely scathing to delicate to so vivacious you can practically hear her smiling. Her natural ringmaster ability seems to make the majority of songs here sparkle even more. Everyone listening should be able to relate to Rock Show and Freak Like Me, while Daughters Of Darkness and especially Here’s To Us incite such a feeling of togetherness that the corners of your mouth can’t helped but be tugged upwards. Halestorm have lessened the pop in what they write now, but The Strange Case Of… remains a special album – one where everything aligned perfectly. • GJ

Choice picks: Mz. Hyde, Love Bites (So Do I), I Miss The Misery

Brockhampton – Saturation

An act like Brockhampton simply couldn’t exist outside of the internet age. At no other point in time could a fourteen-strong act – splitting the difference between hip-hop collective and boyband – relocate from Texas to California after gaining online notoriety and release three full-length albums in the space of about half a year. And while all of them are good, the first in the Saturation trilogy shows Brockhampton at their best, tighter and leaner to show just why they’ve become the phenomenon they are. Across these seventeen tracks, Brockhampton fully come into their own, spanning an eclectic gamut between more standard pop-rap (Boys) to warped alternative hip-hop (Fake) to AutoTuned acoustic R&B (Swim) with the ease of a group who’ve been well-honed in their craft. It’s definitely an original concept that’s executed in a truly great way, one that fully justifies the immense hype behind Brockhampton and the cult following they’ve amassed. This really is what a phenomenon looks like. • LN

Choice picks: Boys, Star, Milk

Boys Like Girls – Love Drunk

Yes, most 2000s pop rock was very throwaway. No, Boys Like Girls aren’t critically known for their strong albums. Sophomore album Love Drunk is an album that is well and truly stuck in 2009 – take the cringey autotune on Heart Heart Heartbreak or cassette tape intro to Real Thing. Lyrically, it’s immature as hell in both emotions and actual writing. But there are few records from that time that invoke the same sense of carefree nostalgia that Love Drunk does. Something about this entire record is truly irresistible, and the immaturity that should put you off goes away as soon as you reach the chorus of She’s Got A Boyfriend Now or even hear the first note of Contagious or the era-defining anthem that is the title track (The Great Escape who?). The ballads are somewhat sweet in a juvenile way (Two Is Better Than One features a Speak Now-era Taylor Swift, for crying out loud), but even there, they worm their way in. There’s nothing presented in Someone Like You or The First One that isn’t totally relatable. Boys Like Girls’ eponymous debut is probably their best work, but Love Drunk wins hands down in terms of fun, memorability and sentimentality. By no means should Love Drunk replace your battered copies of Nothing Personal or A Lesson In Romantics, but take this as a prompt to revisit it and dance around your bedroom. • GJ

Choice picks: Love Drunk, Contagious, Someone Like You

Craig David – The Time Is Now

This is about as shallow as it gets, folks, the continuation of Craig David’s resurgence that sees him moving into sleek, tropical pop with the laidback, club-ready ease of a man who knows he’s clearly got an easy sell on his hands. The difference is The Time Is Now isn’t trying to be anything more than that, and as such, it’s a mostly tight collection of pop tunes that’ll undoubtedly go down well in the summer. David is a naturally charismatic frontman, lending an effortlessness to the percussive Magic or the weaving, ’90s-flavoured boyband jam Get Involved alongside JP Cooper. Of course, this being a modern pop album and all, there are some glaring inconsistencies and weak points – the collaboration with Bastille’s Dan Smith on I Know You is particularly underweight, particularly in its drop, and For The Gram is a frankly gross impression of a Jason Derulo song – but individual highlights really do stand out, especially the urgent tropical house bounce of Focus. Even if the whole thing might not stand the test of time, David’s dedication to individual moments deserves commendation. • LN

Choice picks: Focus, Heartline, Get Involved

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Georgia Jackson (GJ)

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