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This deal is getting better all the time

Survivors Wilco are putting the fun back in music with a new free album about Star Wars .

Survivors Wilco are putting the fun back in music with a new free album about Star Wars … or cats … or something.
Source: Supplied

THIS week’s album reviews from The Courier-Mail (ratings out of five stars):


Wilco, Star Wars

(Warner) ****

Everything about this ninth studio set from the Chicago pop-rock institution says “fun”.

There’s that album title, the cover art, the song titles like Random Name Generator and The Joke Explained, the off-the-wall Beefheart guitars and we-just-made-this-up energy of opening instrumental EKG, all 76 seconds of it.

And the fact they didn’t tell the public they had made a record then dropped the album for free to fans at their website, then on streaming services, weeks before it becomes available on CD (on August 21). As founder, singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy says: “What’s more fun than a surprise?”


Why not when a band has survived as long as they have in the high-churn suck-’em-dry-and-spit-them-out world of popular music? Come to think of it, who else has released as many strong albums, and A-grade tunes, as Wilco have in that time?

Star Wars does mark a departure from some of the band’s more carefully crafted studio productions like 2011’s The Whole Love, with a go-for-it and mostly up-tempo approach that feels like there isn’t an overdub in sight. It suggests, in short, a band playing together rather than constructing a recording piece by piece, enjoying leaving plenty of abrasive edges to match the energy of the music.

The band marked their 20th anniversary last year with a box set of rarities and a best-of compilation. Star Wars sends the message that this is a band more comfortable in the now than celebrating its history.

More … is a catchy tune that comes with sharp angles and unexpected twists; Random Name Generator plays with language in the lyrics and phasing effects in the music; The Joke Explained is short, sharp and infectious.

You Satellite is the one longer track that gives room for guitarist Nels Cline to work up the kind of intensity that helps make Wilco’s live shows one of the wonders of the age, while Pickled Ginger makes do with a seriously distorted rhythm guitar and a chugging rhythm guitar before Cline gets all mad professor with his effects rack. It’s almost glam in a Bowie/T. Rex kind of way.

The slow-burn song Where Do I Begin starts out as something closer to the sound fans love from albums like A Ghost is Born, but even that devolves into a coda that feels completely off-the-cuff, like an idea captured by accident on a phone sitting on top of the amp.

This is a band splashing colours on the canvas, gleefully, but it’s still all held together by Tweedy’s songwriting gifts.

You will get no argument from me to the proposition that Jesus Etc (on 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) is one of the greatest songs anyone has written these past 20 years.

Those seeking something of that kind need to stick around for the album’s final track, Magnetized, which begins with organ chords and an intimate Tweedy vocal before opening out into a majestic pop-rock tune that’s a little bit Abbey Road, a whole lot of Wilco.

Wilco have moved on a long way from the power-pop treats of debut album AM. They’re stillrestless and creative though, and the fact they are still capable of surprising us also explains why they are still around.

Noel Mengel

Shane Nicholson


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Shane Nicholson, Hell Breaks Loose

(Lost Highway) ****

It’s fitting that US songwriter Rodney Crowell shares vocals with Nicholson on a track (One Big Mess) here. That’s the level Nicholson has always aspired to as a writer and this fifth solo album, his first since the breakup of his marriage with Kasey Chambers, firmly establishes him as one of Australia’s finest talents in the crowded singer-songwriter field. There is some heavy soul-searching in the lyrics (see the Elton-esque piano waltz Single Fathers) and no one writes a song like Hell Breaks Loose (“Pull one nail and the house comes down’’) without much they need to get off their chest. But there is a lightness of spirit in Secondhand Man, an airplay friendly starting-over tune where Nicholson searches for blue sky with “The first race never went to plan/I drive all right for a secondhand man.’’ Bury My Guns is a Tom Petty-esque rocker and Eyes On The Prize an old-time bluegrass workout. But first, check Hermannsburg, perhaps the finest song on Nicholson’s strongest album. Fans of Ryan Adams and Crowell will love it.

Noel Mengel


Source: Supplied


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Brandenburg Celebrates

(ABC Classics) ***1/2

After 25 years producing innovative performances of zip and verve with Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, founding director Paul Dyer has much to celebrate. This program prompted by Senator George Brandis is a fitting anniversary tribute. It is inspiring to see another Australian politician taking direct interest in an arts venture, following Paul Keating’s input to the arts a political generation ago. This time a whole orchestra benefits and the program includes gems from the ensemble’s repertoire. Although Dyer can take the music so fast it blurs, or so slow it plods, on this vibrant celebratory program he delivers a stately Zadok the Priest (Handel) leading to Telemann’s Concerto inE minor for flute, violin and strings

, Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso, Violin Concerto in E minor (Giuseppe Brescianello) and a Vivaldi cello concerto. A commission for this recording, the intriguing, pulsing Prelude and Cube featuring soprano Jane Sheldon, Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir, is an apt finale.

Patricia Kelly

Fear Factory


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Fear Factory, Genexus

(Nuclear Blast) ***1/2

In our brave new world of artificial intelligence, robotics, bionics, nanotechnology and biotechnology, we’re on the threshold of machines becoming human and humans becoming machines (or at least synthetic). This “genesis nexus” is the theme of Fear Factory’s latest, and their industrial-strength jackhammer-like sound is perfectly suited to the future-shock subject matter. Further proving the point, the real live drummer could be mistaken for the drum machine of their last outing, 2012’s The Industrialist. Meanwhile, their human voice, Burton C. Bell, alternates between barking, roaring and Billy Joe Armstrong-style vocals. Song titles such as Autonomous Combat System, Anodized, Soul Hacker and Regenerate give you the idea. “I’m a cyborg as a slave,” Bell rants on the title track. On ProtoMech he laments: “Replace my skin with circuitry … My life is taken to feed the machine.” The last, and most accessible track, Expiration Date is all synthesisers and melodies and offers: “We were never built to last … nobody lives forever.”

John O’Brien


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David Bowie, Nothing Has Changed

(Parlophone) ****1/2

As an ardent Bowie fan, I can’t see any reason why you would restrict yourself to just these 39 tracks: his albums define the best of the ’70s. That said, the first of these two discs, from Space Oddity to Ashes to Ashes, is an excellent guide to his ever-restless muse. The second disc, an overview of his last 30 years, is good too, if not at the level of the first. Any fresh insights to be had, even for Bowie-philes? How often he used sax to sparkling effect (he was a sax player first): see Changes,Drive-In Saturday, Sorrow, Young Americans, and a brilliant previously unreleased version of All the Young Dudes, recorded for Aladdin Sane but not released when he gave the song to Mott the Hoople. The second CD features his last big hits from the Let’s Dance album but also hard-to-find treats like the single Thursday’s Child from underrated 1999 album Hours, an interesting remix of Love is Lost from 2013 album The Next Day and, most tantalisingly, Sue (Or in a Season of Crime), the single released last year with a bold brass orchestra arrangement. More please!

Noel Mengel


Source: Supplied


Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material

(Mercury/UMA) ****

There is no doubt Kacey Musgraves is a genuine blue-collar country star to rank with Bobbie Gentry, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. Like them, the 26-year-old Texan is tuneful, fiercely independent and her homespun homilies ring true. Musgraves is different too. Much of the buzz around her striking debut Same Trailer, Different Park (2013) was her identity as trailer park kid who smoked weed, backed gay marriage and wrote about the suffocating boredom of small-town life. Pageant Material is a breezier and sweeter collection which finds Musgraves slipping easily into the string-laden ”countrypolitan’’ style that produced crossover hits for Gentry and Glen Campbell. She now embraces her working class roots (Dime Store Cowgirl, Family is Family) but her barbs are still sly and telling. The title track chides the entertainment industry for putting southern girls ”in a swimsuit on a stage’’ while Good Ol’ Boys Club finds Musgraves dissing Nashville and Taylor Swift by refusing to be “another gear in a big machine’’. A delight.

David Costello


Source: Supplied


Suze DeMarchi, Home

(Social Family Records) **1/2

The concept album is back. After living overseas for the best part of 20 years, Baby Animals singer Suze DeMarchi has returned to Australia and Home, appropriately, is a covers album on the theme of home. One of its three duets is a rote reprise of DeMarchi’s RockWiz cover (with Tex Perkins) of The Letter, a hit for the Boxtops and Joe Cocker. Alas, it pales alongside both of those definitive versions. Also expendable is a duet on The Clash’s Safe European Home with Melbourne
rocker Dallas Frasca, which soundsmore like a collision involving Suzi Quatro and Meat Loaf. The best duet is with Russell Morris on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Our House, eschewing the saccharine harmonies of the original for a warmer, natural vocal blend. Elsewhere there are faithful takes on Ryan Adams’ Come Home, Sheryl Crow’s Home and Adele’s Hometown Glory. A version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s The House is Rockin’
, featuring Jimmy Barnes and Diesel, steers DeMarchi closer to her roots, but overall Home wears out its welcome way too soon.

Phil Stafford


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