The Soundboard Stereo – October 2018

In keeping with yearly tradition, October has been as hectic as it gets, with huge release after huge release dropping in quick succession, particularly at the beginning of the month. And sure, a lot of them didn’t quite live up to the hype thrust upon them (again, particularly at the beginning at the month), but November looks to be remedying that somewhat, as some big names make one last push to earn a vaunted year-end spot. Before all that though, here’s what’s been on the Soundboard Stereo throughout October…

My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys

Let’s get this out the way early – yes, Danger Day: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys is most definitely My Chemical Romance’s weakest album. Especially coming after an album like The Black Parade that pretty much rewrote the definition of emo singlehandedly in an opulent, near-flawless package, a post-apocalyptic concept album pulling from ‘80s synthpop and classic rock was not the direction that most expected or wanted, and that did drop it in the standings considerably. But this certainly isn’t a bad album, and placed in context with its predecessor, the two actually have quite a lot in common. There’s the clear narrative throughline for a start, but Danger Days plays to the exact same brand of over-the-top theatricality as The Black Parade did, only trading in Vaudevillian macabre for the sand-blown aesthetic of schlocky, golden age sci-fi. Still, given the reliance on colour and distinctly synthetic instrumentation on tracks like Sing and Planetary (GO!), putting this anywhere near one of the most revered rock albums of the millennium may seem like sacrilege of the highest order. That’s probably what proved to be Danger Days’ ultimate downfall, plus the fact that this is more of a singles album than My Chemical Romance had ever delivered before. Those singles have held up though, and while the same can’t really be said for the album as a whole, it’s the sort of fascinating car crash that’s imperative when it comes to chronicling its creators’ untimely end. That alone makes this incredibly worthwhile to investigate deeper, even after all this time. • LN

Choice picks: Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na), Sing, Destroya

Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born OST

If the history of pop culture is anything to go by, you need a leading lady credit to your name in order to become a truly legendary pop diva. But with A Star Is Born, released earlier this month, Lady Gaga combined her pipes with formidable acting talent, making her contribution to the film’s soundtrack shine brighter than any other. Co-star Bradley Cooper’s musical skills (he took vocal and guitar lessons in order to perform live for filming) may not get him a musical career anywhere near the level of Gaga, but his guise as a husky rock singer is more than believable. However, the soundtrack is not really something that can be appreciated on its own outside of the film. While these songs are more than solid enough to assist storytelling (as is their main purpose), they’re not memorable. Why Did You Do That?, Gaga’s character’s Grammy-winning pop smash in no way feels like such, while Cooper’s Black Eyes has a huge riff and stomping chorus, but barely fits the structure of a song with much more instrumentation than singing, so much so that guitar work becomes boring and repetitive. Of course, this isn’t a regular album – it’s a companion piece to a story and visuals and such issues are clearly so dialogue can be spoken and other movie-related things. But there are plenty of musical soundtracks that have transcended being just a companion piece. There’s a reason the outstanding Shallow and gorgeous ballads I’ll Always Remember Us This Way and I’ll Never Love Again are memorable outside the film – because they’re the only songs with enough effort put in to make them really good enough. • GJ

Choice picks: Shallow, I’ll Always Remember Us This Way, I’ll Never Love Again

Chromeo – Head Over Heels

No one has ever gone to a Chromeo album for depth or substance, and that’s fine. For dumb, fun funk, the duo have regularly been reliable, and while they’ve never broken any boundaries or pushed themselves to any limits, they’ve typically managed to succeed in what they’ve done. That’s why releasing Head Over Heels in the midst of summer was a good move, and that really does feel like where the majority of its enjoyment came from. Sure, tracks like Must’ve Been and Don’t Sleep have a lot of slickness and personality regardless of their context, and a good bassline always has a lot going for it, but in the dark, damp autumn where the sun is nowhere to be found, a lot of the sheen has been worn away. It’s not awful either – Dave Macklovitch has a nerdy charm that makes a great deal of this so endearing – but Head Over Heels is without a doubt a summer album, and its main appeal is firmly grounded there. Maybe it still works in pieces, but honestly, if you’ve not given it a try yet, it’s probably too late. • LN

Choice picks: Must’ve Been, Slumming It, Don’t Sleep

Black Stone Cherry – Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea

The huge reception to US hard rock bands is often a baffling entity to anyone who doesn’t closely follow the genre, and surely Black Stone Cherry’s success is the poster child for such a phenomenon. They’ve been on constant UK arena tours and had platforms like a subheadline slot to Guns N’ Roses at this year’s Download Festival, all for releasing samey records throughout their career. Second album Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea represents the band hitting a sweet spot between their ever-fluctuating levels of hard rock hick personas, fun and sensitivity that doesn’t seem to have been replicated on any other record in their career. It’s definitely not issue-free – lots of it is excruciatingly cringeworthy lyrically (let’s not talk about Blame It On The Boom Boom) and there’s lots of contrived vague lyrics about romance or world peace than contribute nothing to any kind of discourse. But Chris Robertson’s audible smile as he sings horrific lines like “count your cash and kiss my ass” makes at least some of the semantics passable. Where Between The Devil…is best is where it soars, like the earnestness of rock songs In My Blood or Like I Roll, or the sweetness of ballads All I’m Dreamin’ Of and Stay. There’s nothing overly complicated in the songwriting here, and songs with the aforementioned audible smile feel much more likeable than those where the riffs are the focus (although songs like Can’t You See and the rip-roaring Change certainly don’t let the side down), a balance they’ve definitely shifted on later albums. If you want to give Black Stone Cherry a chance, this is the album to start with. • GJ

Choice picks: In My Blood, Like I Roll, Stay

Cole Swindell – All Of It

It’s actually pretty impressive how Cole Swindell has made the transition from scooping up Luke Bryan’s dregs to throw in his own generic pop-country slurry to becoming a legitimate, above-average artist in his own right, and while All Of It is desperately lacking an identity of its own at the best of times (though that’s hardly an issue exclusive to Swindell), it shows continuous refinement that’s only working in his favour with every release. Once again, Swindell proves his greatest strengths to be in wistful gentle ballads, like ruminating on a relationship doomed to fail on Break Up In The End or continuing to fight through the memory of his recently-passed father on Dad’s Old Number. It all still lacks a great deal of tact and never even flirts with the idea of breaking convention, but for a country fan for whom a bit more polish isn’t a total deal breaker, this is worth a try. It’s most certainly not perfect, as 20 In A Chevy proves as the ugly meathead of his past self rises in it, but it has more hits than misses, and for Swindell, that’s not bad. • LN

Choice picks: Break Up In The End, Dad’s Old Number, Sounded Good Last Night

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City

Is it fair to completely blame Vampire Weekend for spearheading the preppy indie-kid movement of the late 2000s-early 2010s? Of course, they weren’t hiding backwards messages about record players and wearing jumpers over collared shirts in their songs, but their kitschy instrumental garnishes and the verbose lyrical themes from Ezra Koenig certainly sparked something of an unofficial movement. Most recent album Modern Vampires Of The City marked something of a step away from hipster indie jams found on their first two records and into a more well-rounded quirky pop sound. Harpsichords, wurlitzers and almost yodel-esque singing can be found here, and it’s a sonic palette that works incredibly well for the band. But in terms of actual songs, it could be their weakest album. Unbelievers is a heart-rushing sparkler of a song, while both Finger Back and lead single Diane Young are both bags-of-fun adrenaline rushes. But a lot of this album is plagued by slow-to-mid tempos. Obvious Bicycle is far from a high-octane opener, and as loved by fans as it is, Hannah Hunt doesn’t really do much. It’s Vampire Weekend, so of course the unashamed cool nerd zest of Ezra Koenig underpins everything here – so much so that nothing feels forced, and in some cases he and the instrumentation of now-ex member Rostam Batmanglij save songs from being boring. As said earlier, this is a sound that really works for Vampire Weekend, and with Batmanglij being absent in making their long-awaited upcoming fourth album, Modern Vampires Of The City serves as an interesting vantage point of what’s to come. • GJ

Choice picks: Unbelievers, Diane Young, Finger Back

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

Leave a Reply