wears the trousers magazine


trouser press: the long blondes, madonna and more

in today’s trouser press:
– ch-ch-changes
– Long Blondes split; Kate Jackson to go solo
– early Madonna recordings surface online
– Annie’s Don’t Stop put back to January
– Scarlett Johansson to co-host this year’s Nobel Peace Concert 
– Feist to retreat from the limelight
– Isobel Campbell preps new EP, expanded Sunday At Devil Dirt
– Dee Dee Warwick dies aged 63
– kd lang to release new live DVD
– Pink upset by lack of reply from the Queen
– teenage singer Gabriella Cilmi cleans up at the ARIAs.
– opera star Katherine Jenkins changes label

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We should probably wait for the results of the November 4th election before exalting the virtues of democracy, but the fact that you lovely people have voted overwhelmingly in favour of replacing the current news digest with individual news items cannot be ignored. This will be the last trouser press roundup in its current form. Thanks to those who expressed a preference.

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The top story this week – apart from the ongoing Madonna/Guy divorce saga, which is just too dull to bother with – is that Long Blondes singer Kate Jackson is to release a solo album following the band’s decision to split. Yesterday’s announcement, which coincided with the release of the band’s new-album-of-old-songs “Singles”, revealed that primary songwriter and guitarist Dorian Cox had suffered a stroke back in June and is trying to recover the full use of his guitar-playing arm.

Kate told BBC 6Music yesterday, “When it first happened he couldn’t move his leg or his arm at all and we weren’t sure how his speech, memory, or intelligence were going to be affected… Thankfully those things are completely unaffected. He’s still the same Dorian, just lovely and hilariously funny. We haven’t lost him at all, it’s just the arm now that they’re working on.”

Speaking of her solo plans, she seemed cautious, saying “I’ve only just started and a lot of the influences will overlap so hopefully fans of The Long Blondes will like what I do…I think it will reflect my personal music taste a bit more.”

While Jackson is off making her solo record, bassist Reenie Hollis has her new all-girl trio The Bon Bon Club (who, I’m sure, originally started out with the Long Blondes’ drummer Screech Louder but seem to have replaced him). No word on what Emma Chaplin will do, but I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of her. Not that a Long Blondes reunion has been completely ruled out if Dorian makes a complete recovery. So, once but not necessarily never again.

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trouser press: mercury music prize, courtney love and more

– our reaction to this year’s Mercury Music Prize nominations
– Courtney Love gets sued, again
– Deerhoof leak new single, sort of
– new Gregory & The Hawk album in October
– Little Boots working with The Bird & The Bee’s Greg Kurstin
– new wave of ABBAmania hits the UK
– Marnie Stern returns with mouthful of an album
– You Say Party! We Say Die! get remixed
– Amy Ray unveils new solo album
– new Amy Rigby album is a collaboration with Wreckless Eric
– The Duhks announce fourth album
– Eva Cassidy takes on Tupac
– YouTube video nets Avril Lavigne £1 million
– Jessica Simpson booed at debut live performance of country material

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If you’ve seen the list of nominees for this year’s Mercury Music Prize you’ll probably have noticed just how many women have been included this year. Well, about bloody time. The lucky four (and a half if you count Alison Krauss, who is American) still fall short of accounting for an even 50:50 with the guys, but it’s definitely progress.

After much deliberation, Wears The Trousers is putting its money behind the brilliant Laura Marling, whose debut album Alas I Cannot Swim got a five-star review from us earlier this year, with a second bet on Rachel Unthank & The Winterset – The Bairns is a great, great record. Quite what Adele is doing on the list when Portishead, PJ Harvey and M.I.A. have been overlooked is a real mystery. We couldn’t even muster 500 words to say about the yawnfest that is 19 to bother with a review. I must confess I haven’t listened to Estelle’s album yet, but ‘American Boy’ was a great first single.

Jude Rogers, one of the judges in this year’s competition, wrote on her Guardian blog that, contrary to some speculation, there was no female quota to be filled. Simon Frith, the Chairman of the Prize, reiterated this saying, “All this says is that there are a lot of women making interesting music. If you look at the charts there are a lot of women there and they are crossing genres.”

That’s nothing new Mr Frith.

Of course, Radiohead are the favourites, along with Arctic Monkeys singer Alex Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets. Among the women, the partnership of Alison Krauss and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant is currently more favoured than the others. It’s been six years since a woman – Ms Dynamite – won the Prize. This year’s winner will be announced on September 9th during a celeb-ridden ceremony broadcast live on BBC2.

The nominations in full:
Adele – 19
British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
Burial – Untrue
Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
Estelle – Shine
The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of The Understatement
Laura Marling – Alas I Cannot Swim
Neon Neon – Stainless Style
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand
Portico Quartet – Knee Deep In The North Sea
Rachel Unthank &The Winterset – The Bairns
Radiohead – In Rainbows

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2007 reviews dump: l

The following reviews were published on our old MySpace blog in 2007.

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Miranda Lambert
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend •••
Columbia

Gretchen Wilson
One Of The Boys •••
SonyBMG

Within a week of one another, international music giant SonyBMG unleashes two of the up-and-coming young guns of the Nashville country music scene on an unsuspecting UK audience. The question is, how will these archetypically American gals fare on British shores? There’s no question about the artists’ credentials or talent – the multiple CMA award nominations and music industry awards shared among them are more than just lip service. The fact is that they might just prove a little too country for the Transatlantic palate.

Of course, Wilson is hardly a newcomer and has gone over big with readers of Maverick and other proponents of this sort of thigh-slapping fun, and both women bring precisely the right ingredients to the table: down-home songs with story lyrics, pedal steel aplenty and liberal doses of Telecaster twang. All these elements are nigh on guaranteed to endear them to a be-tasselled, suede-clad core clientele and alienate them from the mainstream music fan. Both Wilson and Lambert excel at Nashville-by-numbers and, in places, both these albums deftly strike the mechanical bull squarely in the eye. Both carry a likeable mix of tender ballads and raucous, careening country-rock tracks, all delivered with a studied poise. Both artists, too, have written the majority of the songs and display an appealing lightness of touch that ought to please their publishing companies. There’s not much to choose between them really.

Where the songs are covers, it’s the less-experienced Lambert who comes up with the more interesting choices. Album closer ‘Easy From Now On’ is a brave choice; written by Carlene Carter and more famously recorded by Emmylou Harris, it draws proceedings to a mellow but uplifting conclusion and Lambert acquits herself well. Elsewhere, she tackles Gillian Welch’s ‘Dry Town’ and, less successfully perhaps, Patty Griffin’s ‘Getting Ready’. Griffin’s version, found on her recent release Children Running Through, is thankfully somewhat less heavy on the mouth-harp boings. Disappointingly, Wilson’s ‘There Goes The Neighborhood’ isn’t a countrified take on Sheryl Crow’s addictively woozy paean to living the low-life, but never mind. She doesn’t stray too far from the formula that has served her so well – who can argue with six million album sales? – and gleefully romps through Southern boogie and mainstream country, with a nod to rootsy rock along the way.

Both albums will undoubtedly sell by the truckload Stateside and if you can take the cheesier aspects of these records at face value and simply revel in their guileless fun factor, you’ll find them both to be fine examples of what modern Nashville has to offer.

Trevor Raggatt

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Lavender Diamond
Imagine Our Love ••½
Rough Trade

When given something to review by a group of which you have never heard, the first thing is to listen. On a rare occasion you will hear something that makes you care not one jot about who the artist is. It is either so astoundingly great or so shockingly awful that you need nothing more than the music. These are the gifts. Lavender Diamond’s offering is not one of those. Imagine Our Love is a confusing mix of country, showtunes, and indie, all delivered with an irrepressible optimism that, by turns, captivates, excites, annoys, and begs a lot of questions about the people behind the music.

As I understand it, although Lavender Diamond sounds a little bit like a name that might be adopted by a tame saucy stage act working the peep shows in Victorian Bath – nothing too risqué you understand, the garter stays on! – but it is actually a band, a band that originated from the concept of a character of a pacifist optimist developed for a US touring indie operetta. The character in the operetta was played by a woman who left a Brown University literature degree before graduating to study dance then moving to LA to form a country pop group, the songs of which would to some extent reflect the views of the character from the operetta. And the name comes from a play written by the songwriter in which a man goes into a cave and picks up a purple gemstone. Confused? There is perhaps every need to be.

Becky Stark is the multi-talented ingénue behind Lavender Diamond. Writing songs largely as the character lifted from the operetta, Stark approaches love, social injustice and misgovernment as an eternal optimist. The product is a mixture of upbeat, lounge-tinted country numbers, Sunday school nursery rhymes and straight up jangly indie. Opening track ‘Oh No’ sounds for all the world like a track discarded at the last minute from The Sundays’ album Static & Silence. The lines “oh no / it’s such a sad and grey day, oh / when will I love again?” chime with suburban ennui as Stark’s vocals soar above plonking pianos and a stomping drum line. Citing influences from Prince to Lightning Bolt to Linda Ronstadt (though the first two may be difficult to pick up on), ‘Garden Rose’ and ‘Side Of Our Lord’ are both atmospheric, simple country songs delivered in a no-nonsense but nuanced style of which Ronstadt would be proud. 

The lyric to ‘Garden Rose’ with the catchy opening lines “I’ll never stop a bullet but a bullet might stop me / I’ll never drink the ocean but the ocean might drink me” provide a languid hint of pessimism. But despite a litany of frustration, the protagonist of the song still loves how the garden grows and loves that garden rose. This ethic of appreciating the simple things in life ethic is the first notch on the ratchet of optimism that shapes the rest of the album. From start to finish the songs are infused with an irrepressibly positive outlook without the slightest hint of irony. The glorious girl-group stylings of ‘Open Your Heart’, the plaintive ‘Dance Until Tomorrow’, and even the downbeat ‘I’ll Never Lie Again’ all seem to ignore the downside of bad situations, only ever seeing the positives, and, in parts, the delivery smacks of that of a highly medicated depressive in denial.

Although the musicianship is solid throughout, it more often sounds like a house band (as on the kitsch ‘My Shadow Is A Monday’) rather than a creative unit, though this comes through loud and clear on the brooding ‘Like An Arrow’. The irrepressibly jaunty ‘Here Comes One’, which sounds like a Broadway musical number and begs for a nostalgic dance routine featuring girls in bobby socks and pigtails, is one of the album’s genuine highlights, especially when juxtaposed with the surprisingly Cocteau Twins-like ‘Find A Way’, in which the familiar, perhaps even forced, optimism is masked by the soaring vocals and swirling guitars.

The mix of styles, from plaintive indie, to country ballad, to musical, to nursery rhyme is alternately refreshing and jarring. And, dare I say it, perhaps a little too contrived? The boundless optimism is a nice idea, but such positivity loses all meaning without contrast. For one or two songs, the message is uplifting, but as it escalates throughout the twelve tracks the whole effect seems disingenuous. Imagine Our Love is a brave idea, but can you really trust a set of songs that only ever see the silver lining and not the cloud?

Peter Hayward

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Avril Lavigne
The Best Damn Thing •
SonyBMG

Let us ponder briefly over the past ramblings of punk-pop upstart Avril Lavigne. First…”I created punk for this day and age. Do you see Britney walking around wearing ties and singing punk? Hell no. That’s what I do. I’m like a Sid Vicious for a new generation.” And then…”People are like, ‘well, she doesn’t know the Sex Pistols.’ Why would I know that stuff? Look how young I am. That stuff’s old, right?” Right. And therein lies her problem. Over the last five years it’s been hard to shake off the suspicion that underneath her projection of a defiant rocker image is little more than a young girl having fun playing dress-up.

Third album The Best Damn Thing sees Lavigne arrive at an important junction in her career. Will she shed her famed tween angst and become a serious musician, or will she continue making records aimed at the once-14-year-olds who have likely outgrown her? Though her second album Under My Skin hinted at a darker direction than her multi-platinum debut Let Go, Lavigne has seemingly done a guileless about-turn, delivering an album of bratty bubblegum pop with little sense of irony or joy, both of which are kinda important when, for example, you’re shouting what essentially amounts to a cheerleading chant over perfectly polished guitar licks. The subject matter, too, is so light and frothy that you’re still left wondering what happened to the girl who used to claim she was a serious musician when its 40 minutes are up.

So why is Lavigne embracing the frivolity of singers like Britney and Jessica Simpson who she has previously dismissed? The official line, according to the woman herself, is that she cheered up after getting married to Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley, although a recent interview with Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk in Performing Songwriter magazine suggests that perhaps Avril doesn’t have as much control over her career as she has previously alluded to and is merely performing the role assigned to her.

In her trademark nasal tone Lavigne bleats unenthusiastically over half-baked songs about being better than her ex-boyfriend, rocking out at the end of a bad day, and how her boyfriend makes her so hot, baby. If there are any highlights they would have to be the first single ‘Girlfriend’, with its amusing hint of self-awareness in her proclamation of “I’m the motherfucking princess”, and ‘Keep Holding On’, a soft-rock ballad tacked on to the end of the album having first featured on the ‘Eragon’ soundtrack.

However, with The Best Damn Thing‘s mostly trite, dull lyrics and uninspired production values, Lavigne makes no strides in terms of her musicality and the listener is seriously left questioning her motivation to stare nonchalantly from the cover of such a dire collection of songs that show none of her personality or ‘credibility’.

But, then, maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on the lass. As the wise young woman once spouted “you’re who you are and if people don’t like who you are, all they’re going to get is who you are”. Um, yeah.

Keith Anderson

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Sylvie Lewis
Translations ••••
Cheap Lullaby

Upon the release of her debut album Tangos & Tantrums in 2005, we at Wears The Trousers went a little bit giddy over the delightful Ms Lewis. Now Sylvie’s back and not a moment too soon. Her sound has gained a more polished edge in the intervening two years, but devotees will be pleased to hear there’s no loss of the timeless beauty that characterises her sound. The summer-stroll-in-a-sun-bleached piazza feel is still there too, and amen to that. So what’s new?

Well, Translations sees Lewis stepping outside of herself, taking on other guises on nearly all of the songs, allowing herself to explore a variety of perspectives and people while retaining some of her own personality. ‘Starsong’ has Lewis twirling onto the scene with 1940s jazz influences and an acerbic tale of a lover who predicted the trajectory of romance with horoscopes but neglected to predict its demise. A jaunty double bass skips through the background, dancing around the percussion and it’s business as usual in Sylvieland as the music playfully lightens lyrics that could sound cruel in the care of a less kindly vocalist.

In conjunction with her stunning part jazz, part folk, part tea-dance sound, Lewis adds in lyrics that unfold myriad images, “when the moon rises up, pointing like a fingernail… / he reads her like scripture, he reads her like Braille”, and she creates a catalogue of unusual comparisons combined with tragic dying cadences that bewitch and ensnare so that each song is a perfectly gift-wrapped snippet of another, slower, more languorous world. The prize for Translations‘s best lyric might well go to the opening line of ‘Happy Like That’, a song that seems to have a split personality, castigating flirtatious married men for diverting lonely souls the world over away from the path to romantic happiness, whilst empowering the loveless at the same time by name-dropping June and Johnny Cash as bastions of true love en route; it could even be a ‘how-to’ guide to love satisfaction.

Elsewhere Lewis is in exuberant form. The delicious muffled drums in ‘If It Don’t Come Easy’ will get you shaking off the blues, while ‘Just You’ paints pictures of a world newly seen through loving eyes with gentle glockenspiel twinkles, combining the hues of rose-tinted loveliness with the usual minor leanings. It’s filled with self-awareness and the combination of dreamlike tinkling chimes and celestial backing vocals creates an atmosphere of charmed space and contented otherness. Never one to let us get wrapped up in a joyous reverie, however, ‘Stay In Touch’. interrupts the joviality with sad hotel pianos and a gently muffled snare drum to create a melancholy New York scene of a man, his mistress and their country-specific trysts. There’s loneliness without desolation and a beautiful realism to the couple who speak in touches rather than words or romantic gestures. Lewis has distilled the complexity of emotions in the tale to the simplicity of “nobody wondering if their feelings are returned”; it’s an unusually truthful account of an affair without disguising it as something squalid or glamorous.

Leaping from one stage of promiscuous life to another, ‘Cheap Ain’t Free’ is a fabulous address to the girl that might have become the mistress in New York or to a younger Sylvie and friend with the hindsight that one day there may be consequences to their actions. It’s not recriminatory, but a snapshot of a time when a broken heart was treated “parking ticket style, once you’ve got one you can’t get another for a little while” and is crammed with images of innocence lost, with a smile. A gentle tale of a once-in-a-while lover (‘Something To Dream To’) tumbles along with purposeful abandon that echoes the pattern of the relationship, before ‘Death By Beauty’ shifts the perspective. An amazing anthropomorphication of Beauty, Lewis inhabits the girls that float around like satellites on the periphery of the life of the man she portrays. As the song unfolds we learn of the cruelty of Beauty who uses the girls as a conduit of love and leaves scars on the lives of those who encounter her. She is an insidious force that creeps into lives when least expected, lurking in the guise of a cocktail waitress or beguiling songstress, so that the heart gives in and chooses ‘death by beauty’. It’s wonderfully catchy and takes a few hearings to decide upon the interpretation, by which point it’s already buzzing around in your head begging to be played again.

Despite being perhaps the most modern sounding song on the album, ‘Your Voice Carries’ hardly seems incongruous. An unspoken love story, rooted in the words that actually ‘are’ spoken, here the words are the new windows to the soul, showing “how much to hold back and how much to show”, so that each utterance shows a facet of personality, reveals and old scar or releases love. Translations, then, is a mesmerising investigation into other peoples’ worlds by taking on their personalities, foibles, loves and losses. Lewis shines through in her own inimitable way, but powerfully manages to imbue each character that she takes on with life, vibrance and personality. Whether it’s the titular protagonist of ‘Isabelle’ or the man who’ll die for the sight of a beautiful woman, each one has a story that is told without drama, a story that’s told with a lot of heart.

Gem Nethersole

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Jennifer Lopez
Brave •
RCA

Jennifer Lopez, aka J-Lo, aka Jellopez, the Gyrating Chaos as HP Lovecraft would surely have known her, has returned once more with her sixth album, Brave. Yes, there really has been that many. And yes, it really is as bad as we’ve all come to expect.

On Wikipedia Jellopez is listed as an “actress, singer-songwriter, model, dancer, fashion designer and television producer”. This might meat than Lopez is either a genius, or that it is much easier to fulfil all the above roles than we have been led to believe. My personal belief is that she is the next evolutionary stage of mankind (or perhaps a bizarre genetic offshoot), where a human being becomes a sort of living brand, strutting around and marketing their shallow, empty life to the masses. Lopez is clearly a driven and media-savvy woman, but there are precious few people who could be genuinely good in such an extensive list of roles, and evidence suggests that she isn’t one of them.

For starters Jellopez is not a talented musician. Her voice is by turns shrill, whiny and breathy, and she adopts a sort of Bronx-esque rap style that can most politely be described as “unusual”. First single ‘Do It Well’ is a perfect example: noisy, non-descript, and with Lopez somehow achieving the feat of being both shouty and monotonous at the same time. This is bad R&B the like of which has slithered its way out of the US a thousand times before.

Of course, some pop musicians of questionable talent, when coupled with some clever songwriting, have been known to come out with some beautiful little gems. Girls Aloud in their heyday came out with a string of hits that were hummable at the very least, though the Beach Boys they are not. Sadly for Jellopez, her extremely average voice is not even supported by well-written songs. The music on Brave is as generic and cold as if it were all produced in a weekend on somebody’s laptop. The lyrics are frustratingly repetitive – if Lopez says “I can do this forever” once, she says it a hundred times. She could repeat herself forever, forever, forever, forever.

Never the most likeable star on the planet anyway, Lopez displays a continued talent for spouting lyrics that are at best slightly…insulting. If you’ll recall, she was still Jenny from the block who always remembers where she came from (presumably so she would never accidentally find herself going back) and now, on ‘Stay Together’, she claims not breaking up as “the new trend”, as if millions of people had never done it before she managed three years in the same marriage. Her childhood might have been hard, but nowadays the only reason you couldn’t ‘Walk A Mile In These Shoes’ is because they are stilettoed torture devices the size of a postage stamp. Lopez wears conceit like a badge of honour.

Kudos where it’s due, Jellopez has travelled far on her ambition for rather than an aptitude for music. But Brave is unremittingly awful. Lopez wails her way through all 13 tracks like the anthropomorphic personification of offensiveness. Find a corner to hide in until she blusters over.

Hugh Armitage