Album-a-rama: The Suprise Release Edition

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Surprise releases are a thing now. In fact they’re almost not a thing anymore. Radiohead recently trailed their own surprise release. And Beyonce only does surprise releases these days.

But let’s start with James Blake, possible the only person that wasn’t too happy when Radiohead eventually released their much expected (and signposted) new album, just two days after he dropped his own album, The Colour In Anything [8]. Fresh from having his own song on Bey’s album - we’ll come to that in a bit - Blake shows that winning the Mercury Music Prize has given him more confidence. His third full length release is an example of an artist that has grown in confidence, honed his craft, and is producing an almost perfect version of himself. Tracks like ‘Put That Away And Talk To Me’ are buzzing with invention, layers of sounds building throughout, with vocals dubbed over vocals, electronic beeps and whirs all over the place. Blake has a way with the lovelorn sound, and ‘Timeless’ and ‘Love me In Whatever Way’ showcase his gloom-pop.

Radiohead meanwhile, eventually released their ninth studio album, after foreshadowing it with some unoriginal PR - removing their social media and internet presence, already done by The 1975 in 2015 - and a slightly more original video aping 1960s British kids TV show Trumpton. Although the theme tune to that was sampled way back in 1992 by the long forgotten Urban Hype. It’s fascinating that Radiohead are still one of the world’s largest bands, having done so much to switch off any semblance of commercial audience in the last decade or so; whether it’s through the sometimes difficult music itself, or their preferred release mechanism (“pay-what-you-want”). Still they’re huge and sell lots of albums. And A Moon Shaped Pool [8] won’t change that, it’s their most commercial work in a decade or more. That’s not to say it’s commercial in the sense of , say, Little Mix, no it’s more Radiohead. That might be down to the timespan in which the tracks were written: lead single ‘Burn The Witch’ is from 2000, the sparse, lonely ‘True Love Waits’ is from 1995, ‘Present Tense’ from 2008. Then there is ‘Daydreaming’ and it’s a multi-layered concoction of pure Radiohead-ness. It pulls no surprises but enthralls all the same.

Finally, the latest album from queen of the no-announce release: Beyonce. By now you’ll likely have heard about the possible infidelities, you’ll know about “Becky with the good hair”, and you’ll have read a multitude of thought pieces and reviews on the impact of Lemonade [10] on society and the issues of today. Putting all that to one side - which is practically impossible as those themes are so core to the music - this is 46 minutes of fantastic music, a variety of styles, and a genuine swagger of an artist at the peak of their confidence.

Where to start then, maybe with the country slant of ‘Daddy Lessons’, or the simmering regret of ‘Sorry’, the unbelievable passion of ‘Freedom’ (with added venting from Kendrick Lamar). The bleak beauty of the James Blake fronted vignette ‘Forward’; or the magnificent anger of ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’. There’s genuinely not a wasted track, Beyonce’s voice cracks with the passion of the vocal on more than one occasion. Whether it’s her life laid bare, or just a collection of stories and poems, doesn’t ultimately matter. The genius of Bey is the utter mastering of the music, the message, her own voice, and herself that this powerful, emotional, and bloody terrific album nails.

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