One.Three.Nine. Review: Foals – Exits

One.Three.Nine. is a three-stage review that captures initial reactions and more considered standpoints by writing after more and more listens.

One.

It’s a word we’ve heard a lot over the last few years. In the time Foals have been away from our airwaves, ‘exit’ (with its various hard; soft; deal or no deal; red, white and blue; Br- prefix) has rarely left them. Bored to tears with a lack of progress? Disappointingly, on first listen, that statement feels as relevant to ‘Exits’ as it does Brexit.

An effect-soaked lead guitar riff over a mid-tempo groove is all too reminiscent of Foals’ previous work, yet instead of being accompanied by frontman Yannis Philippakis’ trademark howl, we hear vocal delivered with the same amount of urgency that Britain have shown in negotiating. It feels a long way from when ‘Inhaler’ or ‘What Went Down’ led album campaigns in years gone by.

Three.

He’s going on about dreams a lot, but ‘Exits’ is more of a Lee from ‘The Office’ dream than a Martin Luther King one. The biggest issue is that despite being almost six minutes in length, there is so little melodic development. The catchiest and most interesting part has already occurred within 34 seconds.

While the intro grows on you, with robotic trade-offs between bass and guitar, the song slowly builds without ever reaching a peak. In fact, the chorus is actually boring. Instrumental and vocal layers coupled with expansive drum sounds give the impression of vastness, but it’s the aural equivalent of chicken fillet inserts.

Nine.

Although the verse becomes surprisingly addictive over time, I have come to detest the lethargic drum fill which leads into the chorus in a particularly uninspiring fashion (1:20). It is emblematic of a general lack of conviction; something which Foals have always had in spades in the past.

So, while the solid but unspectacular ‘Exits’ boasts the kind of groove that would allow it function well as an album opener (which I imagine it may well be), it doesn’t feel like a particularly great single. It’s a safe choice that will allow Foals to be welcomed back, securing album and tour pre-sales; but if a new band released this, they’d get relatively little airplay.

I’m sure ‘Exits’ will reach double figures on my play count at some point but, much like Brexit itself, I’m not exactly excited about it.

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Review: Idles – Joy as An Act of Resistance

The best art is believable. It doesn’t matter if it’s Monet or Mozart, Emin or Eminem, Stormzy or Stravinsky; usually the rebels who do have a cause have the largest and longest-lasting effect. Bristol five-piece Idles’ second album Joy as An Act of Resistance gives you something to believe in, delivering gut punch after gut punch to give you the most glorious beating of your life.

Brutalism, their 2017 debut, was incredibly well received but there’s no sign of sophomore slump here. The thick layers of guitar and vocals in the second half of opening track ‘Colossus’ give the impression of a band who want to make as much noise as they can, however the drum and bass guitar-lead ‘I’m Scum’ are surprisingly danceable, with a jaunty guitar lick butting in every time frontman Joe Talbot announces that, well, he’s scum. On ‘Television’, he delivers the line ‘Love Yourself’ with the sort of bullish assurance that makes Danny Dyer sound like Milhouse Van Houten. Elsewhere, unseasonable darkness sets in in ‘June’ where the lyrics, “a stillborn was still born, I am a father” and “baby’s shoes for sale: never worn” are repeated. It’s all the more powerful for its limited and repetitive approach.

But lyrically, the album’s most prevalent quality is humour. “I’m sorry your Grandad’s dead… ahhh… lovely spread”, begins ‘Gram Rock’. In some cases a defence mechanism as much as a tool of language, there’s a lot of topics which are tackled tongue-in-cheek. It’s typical of a punk genre which had its heyday 40 years ago, but with political unrest comes artistic backlash once again. That spirit running through Idles’ veins has never felt more necessary than today.

The state of Britain is tackled on the catchy ‘Danny Nedelko’, which features the line, “Fear leads to panic, panic leads to pain, pain leads to anger, anger leads to hate”. But on anti-Brexit tirade ‘Great’, the comedy specs are back on again:

“Blighty wants his country back
Fifty-inch screen in his cul-de-sac
Whooping charm of the union jack
As he cries at the price of a bacon bap”

Such visual social commentary may not be considered eloquent, but neither is the divide that exists in this country right now. Each song feels incredibly relevant, keeping you gripped as characters and stories unfold line by line. Even when Talbot sings, “ten points to Gryffindor” repeatedly, sounding like he’s scripting a new Rowntree’s fucking Randoms advert, such is the conviction with which it is delivered you’ll feel it’s your problem to figure it out rather than his for singing it.

It’s in the vocals, but it’s also in the pounding drums, the frantic guitar, the driving bass; Joy as An Act of Resistance is a collection of the most intense and believable music you’ll hear in a long time. By the time you’re being told to burn your house down in final track ‘Rottweiler’, you’ll feel like anything is still possible. It barely even matters what they’re saying. They’re going to save your world.

Review: Lifeboat [EP] by Hazey Jane (September Folking Around preview)

“Who are you if you’re not a mirror view of what’s come and what’s gone?”. A fitting lyric considering that while Hazey Jane named themselves after Nick Drake’s duo of tracks from 1970’s Bryter Layter, as reverb-soaked electric guitars wash across your speakers introducing you to their 2018 EP Lifeboat, you immediately know this is folk inspired by and made for the modern day.

Hailing from Hackney, London, there is an undeniably British sound resonating through Hazey Jane’s music. Indeed, the influence of those 60s and 70s troubadours such as Nick Drake and Van Morrison are there, but they are joined by the high production values and chorus hooks of Coldplay and U2, and the mid-noughties essence of Athlete and Turin Brakes; often hinting at melancholy but never truly immersing themselves in it.

The old folk tradition of story-telling is constant in Hazey Jane’s lyrics, making each song feel like a book you can’t put down. But like all the best books, there’s something which makes you come back to them. Something you might have missed the first time. On ‘Lifeboat’ it may be the sumptuous backing vocals, on ‘Mother’s Lie’ the bass line which subtly adds so much interest at carefully chosen moments, and the rolling drums and guitar solo on ‘Mirror View’ will ensure you keep from switching Lifeboat off a few tracks in time after time.

For the Folking Around attendee, the most exciting song from Lifeboat may be the live version of ‘Grow’, clearly showcasing the true quality of the ensemble. A tight, driving rhythm section allow an intense vocal and intricate lead guitar to shimmer with some real meaning. Alternately, final track, ‘Losing My Mind’ is the most obviously ‘folk’ song of the collection. Acoustic and vocal (oh, and let’s not forget the hand claps) prove surprisingly engaging throughout, maybe helped by the fairly quick tempo of the song.

While not the most challenging of listens, the quality of the musicianship and the compositional craftsmanship found on Lifeboat make Hazey Jane rise above their competitors even at this early stage of their career. I imagine we’re a year or two from Hazey Jane’s first full length effort, but by taking one or two risks they will likely produce an LP which may set them slightly further apart sonically and really capture the attention of the bigger labels. Folkin’ quality.

Review: Dave Grohl – Play

I once was given a gift with a poem about a character called ‘Rock Pig’. It read:

Rock Pig don’t like disco
Rock Pig don’t like dance
Rock Pig don’t like ambient
Rock Pig don’t like trance
Rock Pig don’t like R&B
Rock Pig don’t like soul
Rock Pig just likes heavy duty
Bad-Ass ROCK ‘N’ ROLL

To finally put music out under your own name can be a turning point for an artist, a way of making a huge statement, a chance to signal a change of direction, an opportunity to finally release something you felt you couldn’t with any other musician or in any other project up to that point in their life. But what ‘Play’ does is show us exactly what we already know Dave Grohl is about – Bad-Ass ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.

Describing himself as “a kid in a candy store”, Grohl plays an array of musical instruments (well, strings and percussion) to produce a 23-minute instrumental opus. Having seen Foo Fighters produce an acoustic record on double album In Your Honor and even tour that set-up through Skin & Bones, I doubt we’ll ever see their famous frontman do ‘that famous frontman thing’ and truly go it alone. This may be the closest he ever gets…

Despite this, when ‘Play’’s first big riff kicks in, I would have believed anybody who told me that it was a new Foo Fighters song. Full of power, the sudden and synchronised start/stop technique and gradually bending guitar strings have been utilised by them many times before. As the track develops, however, there’s one give away… Despite Foo’s drummer Taylor Hawkins being a hugely respected and talented musician, Grohl is an inimitable animal on the drums; with virtuosic fills and an almost signature sound, it’s great to hear him behind the kit again, where he first made his name.

In fact, there is definitely a little homage to his famous drum intro from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ at 15:40. That was the first moment that most of the world heard the sound of Dave Grohl on any instrument, at a time when he probably did still feel like a kid. Grohl is clearly aware that that song is a large part of the reason he is paid to ‘Play’ today.

‘Play’ is described as, “Celebrating the rewards and challenges of dedicating one’s life to playing and mastering a musical instrument”; and when you hit play, seven Dave Grohls walk in to a studio to record the track (I bet Grohl’s ex-bandmate Josh Homme wishes he’d thought of that, considering the Queens of The Stone Age band members timeline). When considered alongside his multiple BBC documentaries and supergroup appearances, most musicians in his position would be perceived as arrogant or worse, but he’s still thought of as “the nicest guy in rock”.

Cynics may not believe his humble claim that, “I didn’t know if I could pull [‘Play’] off”, but to me it feels believable. ‘Play’ is accompanied by a video about young people learning instruments and a list of organisations where we can sign up to learn. The key thing here is that unlike the Bonos and Geldofs of this world, he’s not preaching to us about anything apart from music. The kid who still just wants to play. Oh, and he’s also not been done for tax evasion. That always helps.

Despite the undeniable quality of the piece, there are musical limitations. Without lyrics to give a different focus or context on the piece, the quiet/loud/quiet formula Grohl has been perfecting ever since his Nirvana days is particularly blatant, growing slightly weary over 23 minutes. Although a nice touch for the video, changing drum kits and guitars during takes makes those quiet ‘in-between’ sections feel slightly more forced than usual.

That repetitive process of big riff > sudden stop > quiet riff > build back up > repeat, and the fact that ‘Play’ ends on a hugely extended E minor chord (E is the lowest note a guitar in standard tuning can play) is of no surprise and is hugely typical of his, and indeed most rock music. This is quite simply, a very long rock song. But then, so is ‘Freebird’, so is ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, and so is ‘Hey Jude’. While it’s effect won’t be as long-lasting, it’s still damn good at points.

Some of ‘Play’’s best bits come from the rare moments where the music sounds slightly less like Foo Fighters, such as at 6.15 where acoustic guitar and percussion take the lead, or at 19:10 where the power chords are given a break and we’re treated to Jeff Buckley-esque picking and delicious chord changes. These are the moments where ‘Play’ starts to sound less like a well-packaged compilation of unused Foo Fighters riffs and more like something which stands firmly on its own two feet.

Simultaneously, the biggest success and the biggest disappointment of ‘Play’, in a musical sense, is that if you’re a Dave Grohl fan, you’ll be a ‘Play’ fan; if you’re not, you won’t be. It would be fascinating to see Grohl push himself and take a step outside of the rock genre, rather than finding countless acts, instruments and formulas to re-package the same ideas. However, it doesn’t seem as if he is going to risk alienating a fan base or tarnishing a legacy which feels like it gets stronger by the day. Perhaps the main reason for that is because Dave Grohl don’t like disco, Dave Grohl don’t like dance. Dave Grohl don’t like ambient, Dave Grohl don’t like trance. Dave Grohl don’t like R&B, Dave Grohl don’t like soul. Dave Grohl just likes heavy-duty, bad ass Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Interview/Review: Gary Lucas @ Ramsgate Music Hall

I met with legendary guitarist Gary Lucas on his recent UK tour to discuss the subject of his show: his mammoth career, from Beefheart to Buckley and beyond…

Who can blame Gary Lucas for looking backwards? This is a man who spent the ‘80s in Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, the ‘90s mentoring and writing with Jeff Buckley, and every other spare minute of his life working with the likes of Nick Cave, Nona Hendryx, and Chris Cornell.

The self-confessed “gypsy soul” tells me “wanderlust” brings him on tour, but it feels as if Lucas is also on a mission: to right some wrongs, to tell some stories which challenge some common perceptions – Beefheart? Maniac! Buckley? Angel! – and he’s also looking out for his own reputation, staking his claim as one of the finest guitar players in the world:

“There are other artists and avant guitarists – I won’t name any names – who are beloved figures by these critics, no matter what they do, and believe me, I’m not impressed by much of what they do. I could play rings around most of these people!”

BEEFHEART

Describing himself as a “true British rock head” in his college years, Lucas admired Peter Green and Syd Barrett, also listening to prog acts such as Traffic and Family. But it was Captain Beefheart’s third album, Trout Mask Replica, which grabbed Lucas in a huge way, providing him with both a focus and a change of direction musically. Describing a 1971 Beefheart concert in New York as “the best show I’d ever seen in my life”, Lucas told friends, “if I ever do anything in music, I wanna play with this guy”. An ambitious plan for an unheard-of guitar player, who at the time was “writing stupid drivel” as a copywriter for Columbia, Epic and CBS Records:

“Well, some of them became famous ad lines, like ’The Clash: The only group that matters’! And I believed it, for a moment… until then I joined Beefheart and I thought, ‘wait a second, we’re the only group!’”

Despite forging a friendship with Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) after interviewing him later that year, it would be five years before Lucas finally revealed his abilities:

“I didn’t tell him I played [at first], ‘cause at that point I was, like, a Jeff Beck disciple. What they were doing with guitars was so radically different to me; I had to really study it and I didn’t want to approach him until I felt I could master it.”

With Van Vliet in-between bands and supporting Frank Zappa on a 1976 tour, Lucas took his opportunity. Meeting him after a New York show, Beefheart was suitably impressed to invite Lucas to enjoy years in his Magic Band, both performing live and appearing on his final studio albums Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow. Patience, ambition and hard work prevailed for Lucas; though in reality, the hard work was just about beginning…

In the evening’s show, Lucas spoke of Van Vliet’s “impossible demands”, such as translating a 10-finger piano piece on to his 6-string guitar. The Beefheart advice? “Well, you’d better find another four!” I asked Lucas how he coped with making the transition from fan to band member for such an innovative but infamously volatile character:

“I had a fan’s enthusiasm, as did everybody in that era. He got in people who were fans who were enthusiastic and ready to put up with his bullshit. Nobody had to live in a house with him, unlike the Trout Mask band. He could be tyrannical, [but] you could get away to recover and recharge your batteries. So, I put up with a lot of shit. He could be abusive. I was younger, so I allowed myself to put up with stuff, but today I never would. But I don’t want to go in to it, because I loved the guy and I learned a lot. He was so wise and really profoundly funny and zen. … I mean, I never met anybody, anybody like him in brain power and then sheer creative energy. He could be really magical, a wonderful companion and mentor.”

BUCKLEY

“The roles were reversed”, says Lucas, when in the early nineties he became mentor to a young Los Angeles-based musician who would become his most famous collaborator:

“This young whippersnapper comes up to me and he’s vibing, and he’s rolling and popping his eyes. He looked electric, he was about to jump out of his skin. And I said, ‘you must be Jeff Buckley’.”

Buckley was already a fan of Lucas’ work with Captain Beefheart, but the duo would bond over a mutual love of The Smiths, The Doors and Led Zeppelin, having been paired up to perform at a tribute concert for Jeff’s late father, folk-rock troubadour, Tim Buckley. Lucas vividly remembers their first rehearsal: “My jaw literally dropped when I heard this unearthly voice emanate, and he finished, and I said, ‘Jeff, you’re amazing. You’re a fucking star.’”

That initial work with Buckley was the first of many times that Lucas would mentor young musicians. Today, he gives talks and masterclasses to music students all over the world: “I always say, ‘go for it, if this is what’s in your heart, hit it as hard as you can and do it while you’re young.’” But Lucas didn’t always practice what he preaches today:

“That was in my heart, but I was scared, you know, until I turned about 38. For me to even attempt to write a song… I just was so self-deprecating. Anybody could write a song better than me!”

When Lucas did begin to write songs, he secured a deal with a vocalist for what was planned to be a “big project” at Columbia. In the meantime, they allowed him to release his debut album, a solo guitar collection titled Skeleton at The Feast, with an indie label. Yet, despite receiving positive reviews for his solo effort, when A&R staff changed, Columbia decided to drop the whole project:

“I was like, ‘What?! How can you do that? We have a signed contract!’ and he said, and I never will forget this: ‘You can’t afford to sue us’. Hard knocks in the music business. I was upset but then I called Jeff and he was in LA living with his Mum and he said, ‘I’ll be your singer’. So then I had to get busy and write some music.”

After mailing Buckley a cassette – which included tracks titled ‘Rise Up To Be’ and ‘And You Will’ – Lucas told the Ramsgate crowd, “he called me and said, ‘They’re beautiful, I’m coming to New York.’”

Renamed ‘Grace’ and ‘Mojo Pin’ by Buckley, Lucas’ compositions would later open Buckley’s only studio album, Grace. Released, ironically, by Columbia, the album has gone on to sell over two million copies and is now widely considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time. Despite the long-lasting success of their shared work, Lucas holds feelings of resentment and injustice surrounding both relationship and reputation:

TS: “With ‘Mojo Pin’ and ‘Grace’ opening the album, obviously Buckley and Columbia saw them as lynchpin songs…”

GL: “Somebody did. I mean, listen, I’m honoured. Somebody knew. I think when they signed him they just signed him because he was overwhelming on stage and he had this big fanbase coming to see him in that little club [Sin-é in Manhattan’s East Village]. All these A&R guys and record company presidents, Clive Davis, driving up in limos to check him out. But then when they signed him they looked at it really closely and said, ‘he’s doing all covers’! ‘Well didn’t he write those songs with Gary Lucas?’, that I paid for the demos. ‘Well, they’re pretty good.’ ‘OK, let’s get Gary in.’ So he called after a hiatus of a year where he had fucked me off.”

TS: “Really?”

GL: “Oh, yeah. I wasn’t gonna chase after him… I don’t wanna trash Jeff either, it’s just, like, we had a moment of a year that was really close and writing together and I thought we were on the same page and then secretly I found out he was planning his own solo deal which is what he wanted all along. Fair enough, but … we’d demoed up ‘Grace’ and ‘Mojo Pin’ which I’d finished writing after I got a commitment from him, and it was great. At the session for the demos I said, ‘this music is gonna shake the world, it’s really fucking profoundly great’. I felt like I had the atom bomb in my pocket, to leave that session with the DAT… the rough mixes.”

TS: “Is it ever difficult to let go of songs? To put it out under his name…”

GL: “Well, if you look at the writing credits, the publishing… But, you’re right, it irks me that there are many fans of Jeff Buckley who have no idea who I am. They didn’t play it up, my participation, they kind of buried it. Whether that was Jeff, or the label, or both of them, I don’t know, but I found it a bit hurtful. But still, you know, monetarily I did fine. I mean, as fine as you can with the ways things are in the music biz these days. These royalty streams don’t amount to a hill of beans.”

TS: “Did those songs feel significant at the time?”

GL: “To me? I knew how good they were! Jeff did too, but Jeff didn’t wanna act enthusiastic, because… he was very cagey, I mean, you know, to act really enthusiastic would acknowledge my value and the relationship, and he had got a lawyer manager who was actively courting and being by courted by Columbia, the same label that kicked me to the kerb. … Yeah it was bitter, when that blew up, the circumstances were atrocious.”

Despite those circumstances, Lucas still describes Buckley as “probably the best I’ve ever collaborated with”. Witnessing Lucas perform their collaborations live is the closest experience you’ll get to hearing Jeff Buckley live ever again. Verses of phenomenal finger-picking, incredible dynamic control, blistering and frenzied strumming sequences… it’s no wonder that, despite their period of estrangement, Buckley even enlisted Lucas to play guitar on Grace; it’s liner notes crediting him with ‘Magical Guitarness’. When Lucas plays the main riff from ‘Grace’, he plays with a passion that still exudes that magic.

BEYOND

Outside of the two main themes of the night, which also sees an unbelievable rendition of his solo Beefheart great, ‘Evening Bell’, there’s a whole lotta ‘beyond’… Having released over thirty albums in his own name, a packed Ramsgate Music Hall is treated to solo renditions of his work with Gods and Monsters and with Peter Hammill. Plus, despite that huge discography, Lucas shows that he is overarchingly a music lover by including a range of covers, including Duke Ellington’s ‘Fleurette Africaine’ and the theme song from the 1962 film ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.

“I like to try and astonish people with the guitar and take them on trips”, says Lucas. Using his loop pedal to produce a raucous yet rhythmic cacophony of sound, he often achieves this. Switching between his classic electric 1966 Fender Stratocaster and his 1942 Gibson J-45 acoustic, Lucas creates frenzied soundscapes which whirl around your head as quick as his fingers on the fretboard.

At other times, he takes a more understated approach, using just vocals and solo acoustic guitar to lull in his audience. One fairly unique feature of Lucas’ guitar playing actually comes from his right hand, telling me he “worked really hard as a finger-picking guitarist to be able to achieve orchestral effect” whilst at college. This is typical of a man who has always taken his craft incredibly seriously:

“I’ve never missed a show, I’ve always shown up on time, you know… I’m proud of my track record, man. No-one’s ever came and said, ‘you suck, I want my money back’ ever, so I give a lot, I give more than a hundred percent every time I play.”

Although Lucas describes his “An Evening With…” show as “a good way to encapsulate a lot of information about my career”, he certainly isn’t done yet… As well as working on “a record of Mandarin versions of ‘Grace’, Dylan and other Western pop song classics” with vocalist Feifei Yang, he has also been collaborating with Mexican art-rockers Rojo Marfil. “Nobody has an exclusive on my services, they couldn’t pay me enough!”, says Lucas. “People should get it while they can while I’m still here. I think I’ve got a lot to offer. I’m approachable, it’s not like I’ve gone in to self-imposed obscurity, I think that’s all bullshit.”

It’s little surprise to find Lucas, who also identifies Joanna Newsom and electronic dance group Brazilian Girls as modern artists he respects, collaborating with such diverse musicians. He judges that rock music “was played out a long a time ago”, and his professional status also seems to have led Lucas to seek new paths to musical escape:

“I hate to say it, but this is what I’ve found… When I was an amateur musician, I could consume tons of music, I was a voracious consumer. Once I had to do this for a living, suddenly, the whole anxiety kicked up. Like, I’d go and see some music and I’d be like ‘what does this have to do with what I do?’ … I’d fidget, I’d be a little restless, unless it was something so great it just knocked me out, but that hasn’t happened in a long time. … I need silence a lot.”

Despite working with a huge range of musicians, Lucas wrote in his 2013 book, Touched by Grace; “I fear that my tombstone might well end up reading: RIP Gary Lucas–ex-Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley guitarist”. Working with two such iconic frontmen has undoubtedly provided a basis for a rich career, but it has also proved a shadow. Lucas has amassed enough experience as a working guitarist to both appreciate and contextualize all of the positives and pitfalls of operating at the highest level, and he is clearly still enjoying every minute:

“I’m just gonna keep making records and tour as much as possible till the ripe old age where I can’t do it anymore. But I hope it’s a long way off because I like doing it, believe me, in my advanced stage. It’s fun still for me, and it really turns me on to play to people and get a good vibe back.”

Review: Jack White @ Hammersmith Apollo 28/6/18

A White Stripe, a Raconteur, a quarter of The Dead Weather, and a name in his own right; we’ve spent twenty years watching little Jackie White grow up… and he’s still a child at heart.

His songs are full of childhood experience, but it isn’t a childhood which is looked back on with disdain or embarrassment; in fact, it’s not being contextualised at all. It is childhood from the perspective of the child; the point where your first love wasn’t a spotty, awkward impression of love, but the purest and most energised thing you’d ever felt. Jack White has embodied that feeling throughout his career and he does it better than anybody else.

His three intimate and sweaty nights at the Hammersmith Apollo – as opposed to, say, one night at the O2 – signals that he also puts his fan’s experience before his own diary. Not convinced? Well how about the fact that the photo at the top of this blog was the only one I got all night. The whole crowd were forced to surrender devices at the door, to be placed in Yondr cases. Aside from spending the following twenty minutes realising how often I move my right hand to my pocket for no real reason, I have to say I didn’t really miss my phone… Turns out I can remember an experience without those customary, pixelated reminders.

No longer playing in a two-piece (ensemble – he didn’t get naked), White directs a supporting cast of five from his central position. On top of this, he has a range of guitars on-stage (often switched mid-song), an extra piano and an extra drum-kit, just in case he feels like changing it up even more. A guitar issue during ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’? No bother. How about an impromptu and revitalised piano version instead? On ‘My Doorbell’, White doubles up on drums, with both synth players adding further percussion to the bass and piano accompaniment, providing an undeniable groove for one of the evening’s standout performances.

At one point, I saw a guy filming a video or two on something he had snuck in. I really hoped the show would stop and we’d all superciliously chant “Judas!” from our new-found, old-fashioned standpoint but, alas, no such luck…

This is a different Jack White to the one I saw in San Francisco four years ago. I’m glad to see he’s jacked in the fiddle, and despite any worries I had about some of the new sounds on 2018’s Boarding House Reach, even the opinion-splitting ‘Ice Station Zebra’ sounded gargantuan live. Imagine everything with overdrive and shouted an octave higher and you’ll be much nearer to the truth. I’d love to share a video, but the fucker took my phone. (Just kidding, here’s a version from March.)

Songs like ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ (“Look at all the bugs we found. Safely walk to school without a sound.”) sit comfortably alongside 2018’s ‘Corporation’ (“I’m thinking about starting a corporation, who’s with me?!”). As well as including rarer cuts such as ‘Do’ (a tour debut), White gives the crowd the hits from all of his projects: ‘Steady As She Goes’, ‘I Cut Like A Buffalo’, and… of course… ‘Seven Nation Army’.

Closing the night, White encourages the crowd to chant the riff like we’re at the World Cup. Strangling every last breath from his guitar’s neck during the solo and accentuating key vocal lines with his signature shriek, there’s no sign of Cobain-esque resentment or rejection of the track’s adoration. He doesn’t have to take rock ‘n’ roll too seriously; that childlike enthusiasm which first endeared him to fans twenty years ago is still within him.

Kid AM: Live at the BBC (Welcome to the Alex Turner Show)

In 2005, Alex Turner told us, “We’re Arctic Monkeys. … Don’t believe the hype”. How times have changed.

We all know the in-between. The fastest selling debut album in UK chart history, seven Brit awards, two headline sets at Glastonbury, six (out of six) number one albums… Now it seems to be all about the hype, with a new album which is impossible to not think of as at least slightly pretentious.

It’s unsurprising that their latest effort, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, has split opinion so comprehensively; a complete change of sound and mood was born from a fresh songwriting approach, which Alex Turner explains at the start of their recent TV special Live at the BBC:

“Every time I started with a guitar I was suspicious of where it was gonna go. I think I had a pretty good idea of what the outcome might be, which was completely contrary to how I felt when I sat at this piano and suddenly, you know, my imagination was ignited once more”.

Despite there still being a guitar-wielding monkey, this is probably about as experimental as noughties indie rockers are gonna get. Call it Kid AM.

It’s not the sound that bothers me though. What bothers me is that it feels more like an Alex Turner solo record. This isn’t the Alex Turner who wrote the Submarine soundtrack in 2011, this is the man who has been living in LA and now sings like he does. He has been plonking out 4/4 triads on his piano and taken them to a likely fairly bemused band. Although they contribute competently, it’s not music that plays to the strengths of, or makes the most of drummer Matt Helders, guitarist Jamie Cook or bassist Nick O’Malley. The new sound is hardly even to Turner’s strengths, with two session musicians regularly playing his new favourite “imagination-igniting” instrument around him throughout the new tracks featured on Live at the BBC, while Turner stands about posing.

We saw the warning signs two years ago when Turner was swaying his hips on the Pyramid Stage alongside Miles Kane in the Last Shadow Puppets. But that was a different act. Nobody saw Tranquility Base as the obvious next album. Seeing Alex Turner act the organ grinder to his Arctic Monkeys leaves something of a bitter taste.

Live at the BBC only serves to add to this perception. Most people dress for an occasion but, shot by vintage cameras and featuring television sets from bygone eras, it seems Maida Vale has been dressed to match Turner’s latest look. In fact, Alex Turner is the filmmaker’s focus constantly. Choreographed looks to camera are painfully coupled by a slightly disingenuous voice that evokes ironic memories of his noughties lyric, “You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham, so get off the bandwagon and put down the handbook”.

For what it’s worth, the new songs come across well live. Their new music has such a focus on Turner’s ever-developing vocal that lyrical content feels accentuated, giving something of a perceptual shift for the continuing AM listener. There’s nothing wrong with the album either, but aside from Turner’s show-stealing bravado, there’s another reason he’s the constant focus of the camera; you only have to look at the other band members to see how bored they are. Particularly Helders feels woefully underused on these tracks, and the evidence of that is provided by some of their back catalogue throughout the show…

If you want a 90-second taste of the best and worst Live at the BBC has to offer – skip straight to 8.38 here for some key, archetypal moments…

8.38: Hand through his hair, brow furrowed, Alex Turner delivers his latest proclamations remembered from his GCSE poetry book, before he “[loses his] train o’ thought” and gives us ten seconds of utterly inspired acting to push his point home…

9.08: Turner goes for a strut while three keys parts are played by two touring musicians around him.

9.21: One of these two musicians, a sweaty (no surprise, he’s working harder than the others) Tyler Parkford prompts Alex Turner to bizarrely declare, “That sound means it’s the end of the round. Time for the bonus question.”

9:28: When the bonus question turns out to be ‘R U Mine?’, you remember everything that’s good about Arctic Monkeys when they work as a unit. Turner loses the garish glasses along with (most of) the pretense. Helders starts to pull drummer faces and the energy goes up about twelve thousand percent. With tight vocal harmonies and instrumental parts, Alex Turner feels like a Monkey again.

Unfortunately, it’s not a trend that continues, with I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor proving a surprisingly uncomfortable watch. The band who wrote that song feel far removed from today’s Arctic Monkeys. The original music video saw the fresh-faced Sheffield teens bash the song out live at around 110bpm. On Live at the BBC (17:27), they constantly fluctuate from around 91 to 99bpm, sluggishly dragging through verses delivered with the now customary Alex Turner sneer. It’s a song they’ll never escape, for better or worse. To put a fresh spin on it would be both admirable and understandable, but this is a weak impression of the same old schtick.

The closing credits, filmed scrolling on an old TV screen next to Alex Turner providing a rare keys soundtrack, are a really nice touch. It’s an aesthetically pleasing spectacle, but it’s a concept which seems so far removed from the DIY origins of the band.

It feels like they’re separate personalities struggling to locate their collective identity. Right now, Matt Helders and his plain shirt don’t quite match up to the ‘Made in Chelsea’ long hair and pinstripe suit efforts of Jamie Cook. Nobody seems to crack a smile throughout Live at the BBC, but then again, this isn’t fun anymore. It’s serious business, this LA rock ‘n’ roll bullshit.

Development is vital for the life of any artist. Plus, when Arctic Monkeys have inspired so many soundalikes, this new sound is no bad thing for their commercial longevity. As long as individual ego doesn’t stand in the way of collective development, I expect their next album to continue this aural progression but be stronger for each member also stamping their musical authority.

Your ears may prefer the new Arctic Monkeys – the question is, can you stomach the Alex Turner show? Don’t believe the hype, judge it for yourself.