Albums round up: Acoustic by Simple Minds; Another River by Alpins; True Stories by Russell Watson; On The Dry Land by The Sea Nymphs
Artistic credibility in the world of pop used to be a funny old thing. Once a band was perceived to have '˜sold out' in pursuit of mainstream millions there was rarely any prospect of it regaining a place in the affections of its early admirers.
Nowadays with many musicians’ careers having second or even third acts there is always the tantalising possibility of critical redemption – and that’s what Simple Minds seem to have found since ditching the grand gestures of stadium rock for the more subtle kind of art-pop that first won them an audience.
On Acoustic they set aside the synthesisers that gave classic albums such as Empires and Dance and New Gold Dream an otherworldly air and instead let Charlie Burchill loose with his acoustic guitar.
The results are frequently intriguing. Jim Kerr’s lyrics are far more apparent, as is the strength of the melodies in songs such as The American, Glittering Prize, Someone Somewhere in Summertime and Chelsea Girl.
KT Tunstall even adds some feistiness to a rootsy rendition of Promised You a Miracle.
If a cover of Richard Hawley’s Long Black Train seems superfluous it’s only because Simple Minds’ own material stands up so well in this setting.
Alpines duo Catherine Pockson and Bob Matthews have found no shortage of followers in the fashion world for their soulful electro-pop over the past five years.
The photographer Rankin has featured their songs in videos, while brands such as All Saints, River Island and Abercrombie and Fitch have all utilised their music.
That Florence welch and The xx are also said to be admirers is less of a surprise listening to Another River – there are echoes of both Welch’s emotive vocal power and the sparse beats and atmospheres of Jamie xx’s contemporary R&B in songs such as Heaven, Take Me To The Water and Completely.
Their assured second album could well shift the duo, from Kingston upon Thames, up a notch in the popular consciousness.
‘People’s tenor’ Russell Watson has long straddled the worlds of opera and pop in a recording career that began in 2001.
For his 10th album the 52-year-old, from Salford, headed to Ennio Morricone’s studio in Rome to work with Bob Rose, producer for Roy Orbison and George Harrison, and a 75-piece orchestra, along with members of Blondie, Portishead and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds on a set of songs that include Rogers and Hammerstein’s If I Loved You, Bizet’s La Fleur que tu m’vais jetee and the Richard Marx ballad Now and Forever.
Watson’s enthusiasm for the material is apparent in his big, open-hearted performances.
Wee Small Hours, popularised by Frank Sinatra, may miss Ol’ Blue Eyes’ unique phrasing but it’s blissfully romantic nonetheless.
Perhaps most endearing though is the self-penned I’m Alive, which Watson wrote for his children after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour for the second time. “They are the reason I survived,” he says – a sentiment gracefully reflected in the song.
Band leader Tim Smith’s ill health may have kept progressive punk band The Cardiacs silent since 2008 but he was able to supervise additional recordings in 2015 by their side project The Sea Nymphs in order to complete their ‘lost masterpiece’ On Dry Land.
Less confrontational and theatrical than The Cardiacs, here they mix warped chord sequences and choppy time signatures with elements of folk, psychedelia, pastoral classical music and pop.
At their best – in the swirling waltz of Cut Yourself Kidding or the distinctly pretty woodwind on Heaven Haven – it’s a fascinating blend.
Fans of the Incredible String Band are likely to embrace its experimental edge.