David Gilmour: Rattle That Lock (Columbia)
Endless River signalled the end of an era for the guitarist and de-facto leader of Progressive Rock legends Pink Floyd, this was the groups final recording delving into the archive to create a tribute to their fallen comrade (keyboardist Rick Wright) and laying everything to rest. Gilmour is now a liberated man, he hasn't got the expectation of another Floyd album hanging around his neck which means that the man who has been the voice and guitar of Floyd for many years is now finally free to experiment and he has taken the opportunity of his first solo album in 9 years to widen his sound drawing from a few influences while maintaining that sound that is synonymous with him. Instrumental 5 a.m starts the record off and much in the style to Cluster One which opens Floyd's Division Bell album, it builds from relative silence into an acoustic led track that features Gilmour's definitive flowing guitar playing, however unlike Cluster One it fades after two minutes into the funky title track Rattle That Lock which is driven by Steve DiStanislao's cowbell-led drums and percussion, a reoccurring chime, hammond from co-producer Phil Manzanera and long time sideman Guy Pratt's walking bass line working with Yaron Stavi's upright bass playing. With it's gospel backing vocals from Mica Paris and Louise Marshall and funky rhythm it could be a real shake to the system for old school Floyd fans but as soon as Gilmour plays his searing solo the old wizard is still there.
Gilmour's solo work has always had an ambient sound and this album continues with this, Faces Of Stone starts off with a sparse piano intro before morphing into a folky acoustic piece that Floyd followers Mostly Autumn have done so well, it is the sound to a Parisian wonderland with piano and acoustic guitar working in tandem (both supplied by Gilmour) as the accordion adds the sense of drama to Gilmour's soulful, lazy vocals, that deliver his wife's poetic, wistful and sometimes heartbreaking lyrics with passion. The song swings away until the climactic solo sets your ears ablaze and saunters into the dreamy, romanticism of A Boat Lies Waiting which features Brian Eno (yes Brian Eno) on piano and the unmistakeable harmonies of David Crosby and Graham Nash working with Gilmour to sculpt one the albums most delicate and gorgeous songs. The jazz comes out on Dancing Right In Front Of Me which has the atypical upright bass and tapping percussion on a song that is one of many that has the superb orchestration of Zbigniew Preisner who marvels on In Any Tongue, Beauty is another instrumental which yet again has those ambient elements mentioned earlier, the guitars once again come to the fore as Eno once again adds atmospheric piano.
As Beauty drifts away we go back to the smoky jazz clubs for The Girl In The Yellow Dress which even has a sax and a parping cornet from Gilmour's old mate Robert Wyatt, this track slinks away and moves into the final 'proper track' Today which sees the most amount of musicians contributing with Pratt, Manzanera, DiStanislao all returning with the backing vocals of Paris and Marshall and the orchestrations of Preisner filling out the sound of this funky, whimsical uplifting rocker which has more than an element of Young Lust to is possibly due to the dual electric pianos and Gilmour's flirty and teasing vocal harmonising with his wife's wonderfully, finally And Then... is an instrumental that suitably ends this sprawling album beautifully. For Floyd fans this will love this album, as expected but also many non Floydians will too, it's a gorgeously constructed album of songs with Gilmour drawing on his childhood influences too. Yet again the work rate is as fast as a tectonic plate but it delivers and earthquake every time! 9/10
Chris Cornell: Higher Truth (Universal)
For the first time since Soundgarden's 2012 comeback King Animal their erstwhile frontman has returned to the recorded scene with his first solo album since 2009's critically panned Scream. Happily Cornell has gone back to his roots on this new record crafting an intimate acoustically tinged record with producer Brendan O Brien, the album for the most part is a showcase for Cornell's song writing playing and of course that unmistakable voice, the drums are either programmed or minimal meaning that everything is focussed on the warmth of the vocals and guitar combo. The genesis of this album comes from Cornell's Songbook acoustic tour where it was just him and an acoustic guitar and while this album is not strictly acoustic it has it's roots in acoustic playing. Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart is the perfect opener for the album with a lead mandolin backed by hand claps giving a powerful opening that shows occasional bursts of fussy electric soloing. Dead Wishes has a more country fell to it and is the first real showcase of Cornell's voice over the top of the acoustic plucking, piano and shuffling drums. Dead Wishes is a fantastic song, in fact most of this album is excellent, its not as stark or confessional as Euphoria Mo(u)rning or as rocky as and polished as Carry On but it is a superb collection of songs that look to Cornell's roots and make you feel something in the pit of your stomach, from the harmonica break on the bluesy Worried Moon, to the drum loop backing of the lumbering Before We Disappear which sounds like a condemned man's lament (or even a Bonamassa song).
Through The Window is beautiful in it's simplicity just a layered guitar with hints of an electric six string at the back and Cornell singing of regrets and sorrows. No this isn't Soundgarden, it's not a big pile of hard rock angst, it's not the open confessional of Cornell in his early solo records, no this is a new revitalised Cornell who finally seems at peace with himself, it's an album of acoustic rock songs in the fine troubadour style, looking to his influences for inspiration; with songs of love on Murder Of Blue Skies and the title track, which owes a debt to The Beatles with it's cacophony of noise at the end, something that moves right through to the final (on the normal edition) Our Time In The Universe which has an Indian vibe. Along with the songs of love there are also the ones that deal with loss and even happiness on Only These Three Words. This is what I would call a late night or indeed Sunday afternoon album, the ideal album to play in the comfort of your home surrounded by loved ones, put it on and let it's toasty glow engulf you. 9/10
Shinedown: Threat To Survival (Atlantic)
The Jacksonville Florida band come back with their fifth album and yet again they keep the sound that has seen them reaching the heights of the Billboard Number 1 time and time again, but once again evolving it much like they did on their previous release. Asking For It has a repetitive hook and an electronic backing on top of a punky guitar riff from Zach Myers that establishes their return with style. What is most noticeable are the electronic elements that are present throughout adding that modern sheen to Shinedown's alt metal songwriting. The bands albums have always greatly excelled their live performance with Brent Smith's vocals bolstered by the production allowing him to use all kinds of effects on songs like the swaggering Cut The Cord which harks back to Bully from Amaryllis with it's big child choir chorus. Again this album has big songs with HUGE hooks,, see How Did You Love and Outcast for two tracks that compliment each other slickly but this time as I've said they have added more influences with some industrial components and some sleaze on the percussion driven It All Adds Up.
The first part of this album is big riffs with a shout along value a good 7 songs have this chest beating approach with no slow down they are either fast or have some huge rhythms to get your head nodding, Oblivion is the most notable with it's sparse drum fuelled rhythm. Things slow down on the power ballad of Thick As Thieves which employs a bass drum and finger snap backing as well as some piano and acoustics, Black Cadillac things up a bit as it is swamped by synths and drums meaning that it feels a little like FNM in one of their more mainstream moments, however it's the finale of Misfits that really leaves a mark (scar?) as it too is built on synths and electronic orchestrations, this is a ballad on the scale of Nickelback with a bit of 80's synth pop thrown in for good measure, if any song is going to bring them another number one (ala Second Chance) it will be this one. With a more industrial sound than before the heartfelt lyrics and big rock riffs are still all here meaning it will not alienate old fans but what it will do is gain them a whole load of new fans, which for a band that are as talented and popular Shinedown is all that they can hope for, as I've said yet again they have made a slick album of modern American rock music. 8/10