Dig These Discs :: NKOTB, The Flaming Lips, OMD, Olly Murs, Charli XCX
The old battles the new in this installation of Dig These Discs, as OMD and NKOTB release new albums, reliving their rock heyday. Longtime ambient rockers The Flaming Lips drop a psychedelic sound-off, and newcomers Olly Murs and Charlie XCX put a shiny new face before the masses.
"English Electric" (OMD)
The British New Wave outfit Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have been rocking since the late ’70s, peaking in the late ’80s with "If You Leave" from the "Pretty in Pink" soundtrack. In 2006, they reformed, with the crew of Andy McCluskey on vocals and bass, Paul Humphreys on keyboards, Malcolm Holmes on drums and Martin Cooper on keyboards and sax. Their new album "English Electric," launched with a short teaser track of "Decimal," with additional video premiers of "Atomic Ranch" and "Metroland." "The overarching feel tends to be a sense of loss, of melancholia, that things haven’t turned out the way you wanted them to, whether it be with technology or personal relationships," said McClusky. The album also features a reworking of the track "Kissing the Machine," from their 1993 album "Esperanto," that presents the best of the old synthpop vibes we still love today. Their 12th album is a bit like that: something new meshed with an old favorite. After a mini-intro Asian-language blurb, they set into "Metroland, a very metered electronic set piece with a jangly feel to it. "People come and people go but who they are I’ll never know, I’m unaware of what they say, I really don’t care anyway," they sing in the catchy "Night Café." OMD goes back to the jumpy intro in "The Future Will Be Silent," which reminds one of the early roots of the techno craze. The thrumming guitars in "Helen of Troy" make it powerfully listenable, and the electro percussion and effects in the otherwordly "Our System" make you remember why you loved OMD in the first place. The interlude track "Decimal" again dips into the digitized voice noting, "you have two messages," meshes into a cacophony, and then settles down into a love song, with the lyrics, "If only I could stop them falling, falling down like rain, if only I could stop those tears that knock you down again." "I want a house and a car and a robot wife," launches "Atomic Ranch," a futuristic song that sounds like how we envisioned the future back in the ’80s. The time is right for nostalgia around the bands we loved back then, and OMD has capitalized on that with "English Electric," an album that condenses everything the U.S. loves about them, and fans it out in a (mostly) new way. Their track "Dresden" is a great example of this, delivering the OMD sound in a shiny new package.
They’re not new, they’re no longer kids and they sure as hell have been around the block a few times since they first formed in 1984, the brainchild of producer Maurice Starr. Since that time, the New Kids on the Block -- Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood -- have seen their share of ups and down, sold 80 million records, broken up and gotten back together. Last year, they struck nostalgia paydirt when they teamed up to go on tour with rival boy band group Backstreet Boys. They’ll try to hit gold twice by teaming up this summer with opening bands 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men. Knight upset some fans last month when he walked off stage during the middle of a New York concert. He has been vocal in the past about his struggle with anxiety. He should chill; the new album "10" isn’t half bad! The boys look to a brighter future in "We Own Tonight," a harmonious slow pop song with the lyrics, "let this world keep on turning, this chance could be the last, don’t let it go...We own tonight, don’t matter what we did before, cause everything is beautiful and right here right now belongs to you and I." A pounding drum intro gives octane to "I Like The Remix," and an electro keyboard flourish kicks off "Fighting Gravity." "Take My Breath Away," is classic, old-school style NKOTB, a sappy love song with the whole crew singing earnestly in unison. In the following song, the girl is less of a prize, as they bemoan having to leave but not wanting to go, but recognize that their love is "Wasted on You." They go back to their early ’80s sound in "Miss You More," sadly crooning, "you don’t even know what you do to me!" Their love softly blows their mind in "The Whisper," and they battle the green monster in "Jealous Blue." The dance track "Crash" is among the best of the collection, loaded with electro samples and dubstep beats. "Now or Never" also shines, with a modern, fresh R&B sound. They finish with "Survive You," a classic breakup song. They may not be quite as "new" as when they first bounced out of Boston, but NKOTB is still breaking hearts across the nation. Check their summer tour for a taste of that good old boy-band pop.
"Right Place, Right Time" (Olly Murs)
English performer Olly Murs made his name as a runner-up on Season Six of "The X Factor" in 2009, cementing that success with a hit self-titled debut album, which debuted at number one on the UK charts. He followed it up with the soulful "In Case You Didn’t Know," and now, after three postponements, it seems to be the "Right Place, Right Time" for his third album to drop. Murs’ deep voice is well suited to the more soulful interpretations he now favors, and he finds a lot of success in the extra flourishes he adds to his music, like classic piano interludes or unexpected bongo drums. He opens with the catchy "Army of Two," singing, "Soldiers follow my lead, repeat after me, faith is the bullet, hope is the gun and love is all we need." Radio play is in the future for the poppy "Heart Skips a Beat," with Chiddy Bang, and is already secured for his catchy single, "Troublemaker," featuring Flo Rida. In this cut, Murs sounds a bit like early Justin Timberlake, circa his boy-band days. But he’s not afraid to flex his range, rocking around the clock with a ’50s-era boy band sound in "Dance With Me Tonight." He goes for a bouncy pop sound in the catchy "Hey You Beautiful," and bares his heart and soul in the title track, "Right Place, Right Time," singing, "All I see is you and I, you’re the only life that I need tonight." He flexes his vocal prowess in "Oh My Goodness," singing, "you’ve got me dreaming of a life that anybody else would die for." The Deluxe Edition of the album also includes four bonus tracks, including "What a Buzz," the only track in which you can hear his English accent at work, and "Cry Your Heart Out," a surprisingly upbeat breakup song. A nice addition is his piano ballad, "I Need You Now." Winners of television reality singing contests don’t always translate to the best celebrity musicians, but in the case of Murs, the kid is alright. At long and dear last, he can now bank on seeing the returns on some serious hits in this new collection.
"The Terror" (The Flaming Lips)
Oklahoma psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips is back with another collection of multi-layered, instrumental songs that verge into the otherwordly. With Wayne Coyne on the vocals and guitar, the band slowly works their way through nine very lengthy, oftentimes meandering songs. The combination of spacey, ambient instrumentals and eerie vocals is akin to listening to The Cure on LSD. The intro song, "Look...The Sun Is Rising" is solid with drums and electro distortion, and the following, "Be Free, A Way" evokes images of "Conan, The Barbarian" with it’s cultish, trance-like arrangement and underlying bass heartbeat. "Try to Explain" features lovely harmonies of the vocals, "I believe you," and has an interesting spoken word break. The mammoth "You Lust" clocks in at 13 minutes, with the devilish whispering of ’you lust,’ sounding like ’you lost.’ It is eerie and uncomfortable, and this goes for the bulk of the album, from the off-putting blares of "The Terror" to the incessant droning of "You Are Alone," with its crazy, muddled, falsetto vocals. The band makes excellent use of percussive and synth, to be sure, but these are hardly the songs you’d hear out at the club -- unless perhaps ’the club’ is your local acid-goth bar. The best of the bunch is the almost poetic "Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die." At seven and a half-minutes, it is a compelling song with buzzing electronic screams and alluring chimes interspersed. The meshing of natural and man-made sounds is an interesting juxtaposition that elevates both to become more than the sum of their parts. This chirping cricket sound gets meshed over the sounds of flowing water in "Turning Violent," another haunting song with high, lonely vocals. After 30 years and several hit albums, it appears that The Flaming Lips no longer have anything to prove. "The Terror" emerges as a bleak, almost post-apocalyptic album, hard to understand or love, with only small rays of sunshine making their way through the dark clouds.
"True Romance" (Charli XCX)
English singer/songwriter Charlotte Aitchison is relatively new to the professional music scene, with a loose collection of singles and EPs. But at 20, she already has four years of work under her belt as she drops her 13-track debut album, "True Romance," and hopes to make her mark. Her new singles "Nuclear Season" and "What I Like" are already reaching fans who have been flocking to her U.S. tour, which will make its way from Brooklyn to Indianapolis this summer. "When you go please don’t leave me alone," she sings in her first track, "Nuclear Season." Its poppy track and tinkling chimes percussion belies its dark message. In "You (Ha Ha Ha)," her English diction comes out clearly, singing, "Cause we used to be the cool kids, you were new school I was on the old shit." She fights against the end of the night in the electro-studded "Take My Hand," singing, "don’t go to sleep; let’s go out!" The bulk of her songs are modern electro-pop tunes with feather-light subjects like finding love, doing drugs and partying. "Stay Away" is a moody rejection of love, typical of many tracks on the album. Charli commented, "For me, it’s a very emotional record. I suppose I kind of grew up through the process of making this album and as I’ve grown my views on love and life have been constantly changing. Each song is about love in some shape or form, whether that be euphoric love, heartbreak or obsession. Every corner of my own romantic history is explored on this record, so for me it’s very raw, it’s very honest and it’s very true. I’ve written a pop record from the heart, and when people hear it, I hope they want to dance and cry at the same time." Charlie’s youth works in her favor. She gets a chance to show her vocal chops and her penchant for spoken word-style lyrics in "Set Me Free," and works nice percussion into "Grins." Brooke Candy raps in the bouncy, trancey "Cloud Aura," and Charli spits, after a fashion, in "What I Like." "You’re the one that make me stay/ the only one that makes me feel this way," she sings in the bright track, "You’re the One." Although her music is going in some interesting directions, it’s also moving over some very well-trod ground, and she is in danger of blending in to her surroundings. With age and a little more innovation, this artist could really make her name and brand known.