Rock, December 2020

hfnalbum.pngJack Cheshire
Future Fractal Plays
Loose Tongue GN200004; LP: GN200003

Jack Cheshire has always shown himself adept at writing folk-tinged, acoustic guitar-based tunes in the singer-songwriter tradition. But while 'Ocean Floor' falls into that category, he also looks beyond such stylistic limitations and Future Fractal Plays finds him venturing further out into landscapes of strings and spacey synths. On 'Tunnel Vision', in precise yet curiously rounded tones, Cheshire exhorts us to 'move into the light' over the busy drums and spangly electric guitar. Meanwhile, on the title track, he ponders the multiverse and advises the listener to 'pack your psychic bags and vacate inner space', shifting musical and lyrical perspectives in a way that's typical of this brilliant, enigmatic collection. MB


The Cribs
Night Network
Sonic Blew COOP804CD; LP: COOP804LPI

When The Cribs emerged in the early 2000s, their stroppy neo-punk saw them likened to The Libertines, but their continuing success stems from their love of vintage British pop. The sibling empathy of the three Jarman brothers is evident in the tight playing and vocal harmonies, and their songwriting looks back to Ash, The La's, even The Hollies on 'Never Thought I'd Feel Again', but with overdriven guitars bedded into the mix. Produced by Steve Albini, 2017's 24-7 Rock Star Sh*t was a more feral beast but they took over desk duties themselves for Night Network at Foo Fighters' Studio 606 in LA, and their eighth album has both heft and clarity. MB


Amy Macdonald
The Human Demands
BMG 4050538641035; LP: 4050538641011

On Amy MacDonald's fifth album the acknowledged influence of bands like Travis and The Killers on her dramatic, Celtic-tinged music comes across strongly, and is amplified by the big production sound of Jim Abbiss, who has worked with Kasabian and Adele. With her powerful voice driving the songs, the effect can be a tad blustering, but is balanced out by her emotionally articulate lyrics. The title track finds her riven with existential doubt and on 'The Hudson' she tries to stop her dreams turning sour, as the song climbs into a Bruce Springsteen-like chorus. By contrast, she muses on the pitfalls of attraction on the acoustic 'Young Fire, Old Flame'. MB


Blue Öyster Cult
The Symbol Remains
Frontiers Records FRCD1060; LP: FRLP1060

Back in the early '70s Blue Öyster Cult were referred to as the heavy metal band for people who don't like heavy metal, and with their tongue-in-cheek occult, sci-fi and fantasy lyrics, and penchant for strong tunes, they helped create the genre while lampooning its pretensions. After a 19- year break, original vocalist/guitarists Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom lead a revamped, remarkably fresh-sounding lineup, who deliver songs about alien abduction ('Edge Of The World'), forlorn vampires ('Tainted Blood') and cyborg love ('The Machine'). They avoid metal and classic rock clichés and 'Box In My Head' shows that they have retained their knack for pop melody. MB