Sunday, 14 November 2010

Edward Reekers - Child of the Water (2008)

1. Inside the Pain
2. Stop the Time
3. I Love You Anyway
4. Never a Moment
5. Belle of the Ball
6. Child of the Water
7. Breathe
8. Eyes Like Twins
9. When Wise Men Say
10. Strawberry Blonde
11. Long Ago, Far Away
12. The Best of Me

Sweet! – 7,8/10

Yeah… that pretty much sums up Edward Reekers third solo album and possibly even his character. As we all know from his vocal duties at Kayak, the man has the sweetest voice in all of Holland and certainly one of the most beautiful voices. It seems he is well aware of that and makes his solo material a bit more adept to the sweet sound. Even though it has been sixteen years since his previous solo full-length Stages, Child of the Water is without a doubt a Reekers album through and through and certainly is a better overall record than Stages.

At Kayak, he mostly gets to sing symphonic rock, which has become quite bombastic on their last two albums. To add the contrast, Reekers chose to maintain a more acoustic and intimate setting with the piano and acoustic guitar as the main instruments. Sometimes even recorders are heard where you would’ve expected a lead guitar or a synthesizer. He again distances himself from Kayak by not going symphonic at all. This album is full of these sweet songs with sweet little melodies that would remind slightly of Kayak’s Periscope Life, but this time it’s not as bad. Most songs really go by at ease without adding any tension for the listener. Reekers must watch out not to go auto-pilot too much at times, but vocally he’s done an amazing job at each and every track.

The album opens with “Inside the Pain”, which really sounds like an acoustic Kayak classic, mostly because it’s quite an adventurous song with inventive and tense melodies. Hearing this track, you’ll have high hopes for the following tracks, but with “Stop the Time” we already get a sign it might end differently. It’s a nice and poppy track with a nice saxophone-solo, but the melody in the chorus tends to get annoying after a while. The sweet poppy tunes continue with lead single “I Love You Anyway”. Possibly another highlight from this album it is, and that chorus is hard to forget. “Never a Moment” takes it easy and slow as our Kayak vocalist presents us another love song. Edward Reekers is quite a Romeo as he appears to have written some of the finest love lyrics I have heard; like this fragment from the waltz-like “Belle of the Ball”: ‘the stars were no match for the look in her eyes tonight’. Title track “Child of the Water” falls more under the same category as “Inside the Pain” with its enchanting melodies of both the vocals and the recorder. It is tracks like these that keep all songs together.

Next are two covers. “Breathe” is originally written by Ultravox-vocalist Midge Ure and Reekers’ version sounds very real. We never leave the acoustic setting, but it’s still true to the original. Amazing how Reekers uses his falsetto voice. “Eyes like Twins” was covered from Wilson Phillips, but I never heard that version. There’s a very good contrast between the verses and the more bombastic chorus. One of my favorites and another track to feature a great recorder melody is “When Wise Men Say”. I love it how this song stays very acoustic and intimate but yet contains such a powerful climax. The lyrics are also very strong with lines like ‘when wise men say this man arose from nothing but clay, our statue makes the day’. Back to sweet poppy tunes with the Pim Koopman-penned “Strawberry Blonde”. Since Koopman was very active in Kayak as well this song has somewhat of a Kayak-sound at some points, but it’s still very understandable why this was not included on a Kayak record. And then we conclude the album with “Long Ago, Far Away” and “The Best of Me”; two great ballads with both very enchanting melodies. You can’t deny Kayak influenced Reekers’ songwriting at least a little since Stages.

In short, Edward Reekers delivers a strong solo record. But why not a higher rating then? What the man released here is a good album, but is it really anything we’ve never heard before? I don’t think so. His solo records never tend to be groundbreaking in any form and I don’t think that’s what he’s trying to accomplish either. Still, I’d highly recommend this record to fans of his previous solo efforts and to fans of Kayak.

Strongest moments: “Inside the Pain”, “Child of the Water” and “When Wise Men Say”.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Boy Kill Boy - Civilian (2006)

1. Back Again
2. On And On
3. Suzie
4. Six Minutes
5. On My Own
6. Ivy Parker
7. Civil Sin
8. Killer
9. Friday - Friday
10. Showdown
11. Shoot Me Down

The Typical One-Off Artist – 5/10

Ever heard of Boy Kill Boy? No? Not very surprising. I guess they had a small hit in the United Kingdom called “Suzie” and a song added to the popular game FIFA07, entitled “Civil Sin”. Actually, it was the latter that made me hear the entire album. And, frankly, this is one of the best examples of a one-off artist. They recorded only one album after Civilian, but it completely failed to impress so the band called it quits. That doesn’t take away that their debut album is good listening material and to a certain extent is quite impressive.

That certain extent is the fact that one of their songs at the time, any song, is perfectly okay. A track like “Civil Sin” is one of the finest tracks from the game I heard it in, but would you like an album by an artist recording eleven exact same songs? There we go. Technically, this band is top-notch. Every musician knows what he does; it all sounds very tight and difficult to play as a band. The production is very slick, but at the same time very clear. Every instrument is heard the way it’s supposed to be heard. So that’s not the issue. Every song sounds the same; and if all of these songs were “Bohemian Rhapsodies” you would not have me complaining about that. Every track is upbeat, uplifting, cheery, slightly epic, catchy, compact and unbelievably crowded. You hardly get the chance to breath between the tracks. Oh, and did I mention a few clich├ęs? The chorus melody of “Six Minutes” or the keyboard theme on “Friday – Friday”, for example, is just made before. Perhaps not released before, but that’s quite understandable. Add to that the length of every track; they’re all over before you know it. Now I don’t deny that I slightly enjoy hearing this record once in a while, with the consequence of fatigue afterwards. But with every song being the same, you can’t expect this band to grow and live up to the current pop legends like Coldplay, Keane and U2.

That being said, this record will not be of great interest to anyone. I can’t believe these guys would’ve had die-hard fans crying when they decided to invest their efforts in other projects. If you fell for the minor hit “Suzie” or for the song from FIFA07, the best you should do is stick to that single song. Play it eleven times if you really want to have a clue about how the album sounds.

Strongest tracks: All of them.
Weakest tracks: All of them.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Amy MacDonald - A Curious Thing (2010)

1. Don't Tell Me That It's Over
2. Spark
3. I Got No Roots
4. Love Love
5. An Ordinary Life
6. Give It All Up
7. My Only One
8. This Pretty Face
9. Troubled Soul
10. Next Big Thing
11. Your Time Will Come
12. What Happiness Means To Me

The ‘Difficult’ Second Album – 7,2/10

In modern popular music it’s quite hard to stay alive. After a very successful first record, it’s is absolutely necessary for your second to be a smash as your survival in the music industry depends on it. So what did Amy MacDonald do after her debut album This Is The Life? Did she just continue to do more of the same or did she succeed in her struggle to survive? Where one might’ve expected her to do the former, it’s the latter that she actually did.

When you say Amy MacDonald, you say acoustic pop/folk guitar girl. This album totally changes that image. While she, surprisingly, wrote every song on this record herself, she really only sticks to the mike and her acoustic six-string. This is so surprising, because the album has a very full, electric sound similar to an album like X&Y by Coldplay: dominant synthesizers and heavier electric guitars. Where her debut album sounded like folk-rock, this album sounds more like ‘plain’ pop-rock with at first listen only her very recognizable voice as the connection between the two albums. After a few listens you’ll notice there are similar writing techniques between the albums, but I think it’s safe to say MacDonald survived the second round. What will be a disturbing factor on this record is the way most songs sound alike. Each and every track here is catchy in some way and has its charms, but they all share something very similar. It’s hard to hum a certain song when you just heard the album in its entirety.

The highlights of the album are almost the same as the singles. “Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over” is unmistakably one of the most smashing songs on A Curious Thing; it really showcases every aspect of this record’s sound. We get to hear a new and fresh side of Amy, but unfortunately after five tracks in this sound that side’s getting less and less fresh. “My Only One” really stands out in the way it’s crafted; with tense and unexpected chord progressions and good vocals. The absence of the drums in this song was a great choice. On “Next Big Thing” you will instantly recognize MacDonald’s trademark upbeat pop tracks and you will once again know that those never get old. “Your Time Will Come” reminds slightly of 2007’s “Run”, but still sounds refreshingly good. Album closer “What Happiness Means To Me” is also one of the better compositions on A Curious Thing with its slightly epic atmosphere and the dominant synthesizers; it also contains a live recording attached as a hidden track which is really one of Amy’s best vocal performances. Also worth mentioning is the guitar solo in “Troubled Soul”; otherwise a quite bland track. This solo is not spine-shivering or any of the sort, but it certainly lifts the track to another level and shows how little effort it takes to make your tracks become more than they are.

And that brings us the downside of this album. With most of the songs sounding very alike, they are all very compact once again. While this may not bother fans of the genre, as a self-proclaimed music critic I would like to see more of that instrumental magic we heard on “Troubled Soul”. Still, Amy MacDonald did a great job on sounding different, but still the same and I guess that’s all we can ask for as long as she falls under the pop category. I highly recommend this album to fans of her debut record and to fans of popular music in general.

Strongest tracks: “Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over”, “My Only One” and “What Happiness Means To Me”.