If only Ed Sheeran could produce an album that split opinion. Despite commercial success being a given for the Suffolk-raised singer’s third LP, the erroneously-titled Divide is about as edgy as a sausage roll.
The pandering doesn’t even end with a base-covering single campaign that made a smart play for Radio 1 (catchy “Cheap Thrills” knock-off “Shape of You”) and 2 (“Castle On The Hill”). Divide isn’t afraid to exploit cultural generalisations in order to connect.
Opener “Eraser” is a self-pitying take on drinking like a twenty-something. Here and elsewhere, Ed romanticises his humility. He’s a Grammy-winning everyman “without a nine-to-five job or a uni degree”, singing to millions in “the same old jeans”. It’s pure department store fodder, so perhaps a fan will pick him up a pair.
Even worse is “Galway Girl”, combining flavourless Irish trad and noughties boyband melodies to soundtrack a one night stand with a fiery Celtic waif. Any pop chorus beginning with “She played the fiddle in an Irish band” should by right lead to a filthy couplet about handjobs, but Ed shows no ambition beyond reaping marketing royalties from Ireland’s tourism board.
Banality is occasionally swapped for bitterness, as on the unlikely highlight “New Man”. Underneath the slick acoustic-pop is a mean-spirited sketch of an ex’s metrosexual lover, right down to his plucked eyebrows and bleached arsehole. Ed’s observations border on bigotry, but hey, at least it’s interesting, right?
A wet mass of listless balladry and boundless opportunism, Divide shirks any duty to say something new, and will no doubt achieve homeric sales throughout the year. When Britain’s biggest popstar sings “Love can change the world, but what do I know?”, the modesty is hard to stomach. Ed Sheeran knows exactly what he’s doing.
“Feels so scary getting old…” Lorde sang on her artfully blasé 2012 debut Pure Heroine. She was 16 then, but life doesn’t sound any easier on new single “Green Light”.
The titular metaphor refers to the moment one feels freed from a bad breakup. In a hushed yet haughty preamble, Lorde taunts an unfaithful ex with flat, self-indulgent barbs: “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar.”
When flapping synths circle Lorde’s voice, the song finally bottles the brooding, youthful valour that made her a household name, only to pour it over a delicate house-piano riff.
Troubled thoughts stack up, even as “Green Light” flings itself into skirt-twirling euphoria. Lorde’s assiduous phrasing isn’t a natural fit for house music, but every bellow of “I wish I could get my things, and just let go” casts a long, upsetting shadow.
A last-minute surge of handclaps, scuzzy guitar, and reverb-drenched chants make this an ideal progression from Pure Heroine’s electro-chamber pop. Anyone older than Lorde knows adulthood isn’t that scary, but for now, her growing pains are our gain.
“Fucking fascists –
Who the fuck are you to give fifty lashes?”
2016’s conceptually bold, socially aware releases weren’t just embraced by the mainstream – they set a precedent for any artist looking to maximise their platform. Run The Jewels’ latest might seem like another silver lining in a torrid political climate, but it’s really just business as usual for the hip-hop supergroup.
Since the first instalment in their self-titled trilogy in 2014, El-P and Killer Mike have been harbingers of revolution. Both are exceptional rappers with strong principles, touching on everything from drug wars to Black Lives Matter to reciprocal oral sex. In the wake of last year’s U.S election, their fight against oppression continues on RTJ3.
The duo’s music still sounds huge and extraterrestrial. It verges on intimidating, but there’s a lot of colour, and El-P’s beats are proud in their artificiality. On “Call Ticketron”, synths wriggle wildly, culminating in a sudden rave-y finale. “Panther Like A Panther” is a luminous fusion of trap and breakbeat textures.
A slow and sweet opener, “Down” reflects on a troubled past, and insists perseverance is the only option in surprisingly gentle terms. The skulking “Thieves (Screamed the Ghost)” is more resigned, with a tormented El-P begging for a night’s reprieve from the world’s injustices: “Some get to count sheep, some gotta count kids that they burying”.
Songs don’t come more charged than “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” – using a Congolese expression meaning “Kill him” to incite an uprising against influential business moguls – but RTJ3 is hardly inaccessible. “Stay Gold” wields a fun, spelt-out hook, digressing from politics entirely to paint a portrait of a relationship that’s dripping in gratitude.
After a detour into folktronica on 2013’s Tales of Us, Goldfrapp‘s new single “Anymore” marks a return to glam synthpop. Fuzzy, acidic keyboards keep this worlds away from hits like “Ooh La La”, but Alison’s famously poised vox bless the cold-blooded beat with a lived-in feel. Proof that nostalgia is better when it’s rough around the edges.
“Chained to the Rhythm” is the closest Katy Perry has come to a political statement. Over an italo-disco groove reminiscent of Carly Simon’s “Why”, the singer both condones and condemns a generation adept at blocking out the world’s woes.
Producer Max Martin doesn’t budge from his power-pop formula, swaddling Perry’s epiphanies in pastel synths and slippery bass. At times it even works as a snarky endorsement of cheap escapism (“Put your rose-coloured glasses on, and party on”).
The chorus is wordy and elastic, ending on a clunky hook that betrays Sia’s co-writing credit. Perry’s moral awakening is perhaps best summed up by Skip Marley (grandson of Bob) in a rousing and hopeful verse: “We’re about to riot / they woke up the lions!”
Long before last year’s “Who Do You Think Of?” gave them a Top 20 hit, UK girl group M.O have been adamant about two things: that existing alongside Danish singer MØ isn’t confusing for casual listeners, and that throwbacks to late 90’s/early 00’s R&B are in vogue.
Follow-up “Not In Love” has a dancehall flavour, and could’ve been an awkward single choice for the winter season. Wisely, clanking keys, skittering drum machines, and an ear-splitting chorus offset the warmth – so while the song is still danceable, it’s more of a vocal showcase than a toe-tapper.
Admittedly, this isn’t an excellent example of M.O’s angelic harmonies, and Nadine’s Melodyned hook occasionally clashes with the carefree arrangement. Although “Not In Love” and its lamé-hued video don’t do anything new, these girls still sing with a vigour that’s worthy of their influences.
“Oh, don’t look back.
Don’t look behind you.
Reckless driving on
dirty back road…”
Best known for camp classics “Love Shack” and “Rock Lobster”, The B52s’ early deep cuts could seem greyscale in comparison. “Dirty Back Road” won’t ignite any conga lines at the office party, yet this humid post-punk tribute to unprotected anal sex is one hell of a ride.
Looming over the saucy vehicular entendres is the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson from AIDS in 1985. Poignantly, his sister Cindy and Kate Pierson pickle the hedonism of the early 80’s in melodic harmonies that still smack like tequila on the tongue.
The song’s single verse-bridge-chorus structure gets two outings, fading in and out with the rumblings of roadside fauna. Far from laziness, this looping arrangement allows Ricky Wilson’s freewheeling spirit to live on, taking the listener on an endless journey to satisfaction.