In Review

Albums of the Week: Music Played by Humans, Good News, Carnival of the Animals

New releases from Gary Barlow, Megan Thee Stallion and The Kanneh-Masons

Take That singer Gary Barlow releases his first solo effort for seven years and it’s a sparkling tribute to the big band era. Megan Thee Stallion, the “breakout star of 2020”, makes a thrilling debut with Good News. And The Kanneh-Masons’s “delightful” new recording of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals proves that talent runs in the family.

Gary Barlow: Music Played by Humans 

Gary Barlow may not have true “artistic heft”, said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph - but the Take That singer is an “old-fashioned entertainer of the very best kind”. His first solo effort for seven years is a sparkling tribute to the big band era. It’s packed with top-notch collaborators (Beverly Knight, Michael Bublé) and has enough Barlow-penned “showstoppers to make Frank Sinatra turn green” with envy. The orchestrations and lavish big band arrangements are joyous; the melodies “expansive enough to exercise” Barlow’s impressive vocal range, while “smart lyrics counterbalance his instinct towards sentimentality”. Take that, Robbie! 

Barlow finished the album before the first lockdown, said Tim de Lisle in The Mail on Sunday. And it has turned out to be a tribute not just to swing’s “1940s heyday”, but to a “vanished age that ended only eight months ago, when violinists and trumpeters could make a living without having to drive a supermarket van”. The album is “good fun. And it should make for a memorable gig – one day.”

Universal £11

Megan Thee Stallion: Good News 

A TikTok dance craze based on her multimillion-selling hit single Savage, plus a recent Time magazine cover, has made Texas rapper Megan Thee Stallion the “breakout star of 2020”, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. Now, with this “superb” debut album, she boldly “claims her place in the pantheon of classic hip-hop” acts. Her “energy and ultra-sharp flow” recall the 1990s golden age of hip-hop far more than its “present mood of Autotuned lethargy”, while her “outrageous boasts and crude innuendo are tempered with a lot of humour”. 

This is a thrilling debut, agreed Alexis Petridis in The Guardian. With “easy flow, hard barbs and a magnetic persona”, Megan Thee Stallion casts herself as the “successor to hip-hop’s old-school heroes” – and pulls it off with “phenomenal” ease. Her lyrics teem with “sharp and funny lines” and “shrivelling putdowns”. And she’s as much at home “snarling” over the 1980s gangsta rap of Girls in the Hood as she is with Beyoncé’s voice weaving around hers on Savage Remix. Good news, indeed.

300 Entertainment £8 [mp3] 

The Kanneh-Masons: Carnival of the Animals 

When Sheku Kanneh-Mason released his recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, I was “struck by the beautiful tact of his playing, as well as its brilliance”, said Ivan Hewett in The Daily Telegraph. This “delightful” new recording of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, featuring all six of his siblings, “proves it runs in the family”. Each piece is full of character but not exaggerated, and with an “unforced, winning charm”. And there’s the bonus of new poems, by Michael Morpurgo, for each of the animals – which gives “new life” to the much-loved children’s classic. 

Morpurgo read the texts himself, with “splendid assistance” from Olivia Colman, said Geoff Brown in The Times. Other “gifted outsiders”, including clarinettist Mark Simpson and percussionist Adrian Spillett, provide stellar musical support. The whole thing “sparkles, from the lion’s roaring bass crescendo through the solitary gliding of Sheku’s swan to the high-spirited finale”. Look out also for the witty “musical expansion” of Morpurgo’s story Grandpa Christmas, and a burst of Bob Marley.

Decca £11 

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