Albums of the Week: Re-Animator, Alicia, Unexpected Shadows
New releases from Everything Everything, Alicia Keys and Jamie Barton
This week’s albums include the “best yet” from Everything Everything, “intimate, evocative New York soul sound” from Alicia Keys and Jamie Barton’s solo record dedicated to the songs of composer Jake Heggie.
Everything Everything: Re-Animator
This fifth album from English art rock band Everything Everything “seems to have... well, everything”, said David Cheal in the FT. It’s “clever and literate, but listenable too; fiercely energetic but also sophisticated”; and technically accomplished yet also “warm and melodic”. Arch Enemy is an “irresistible, glistening funk tune”. In Birdsong has “churchy grandeur”. And best of all is Violent Sun, a cracking tune that blends the personal with the apocalyptic: “I wanna be there when the wild wave comes, and we’re swept away,” sings frontman Jonathan Higgs. “It makes the end of the world sound like a glorious prospect.”
With lyrics full of wry humour and grotesque imagery it isn’t an “easy listen”, but it more than repays the effort, said Roisin O’Connor in The Independent. Re-Animator packs “global anxiety and paranoia into exquisitely crafted songs” – delivered by Higgs in his “signature falsetto and stuttering half-raps”, backed by bassist Jeremy Pritchard’s “ominous grooves”. It’s a “superb” album – and the band’s best yet.
Alicia Keys: Alicia
Alicia Keys’s seventh album was due for release in March, as her “slick pop-R&B” single Underdog became her biggest hit for years, said Nick Levine in NME. The six-month delay (due to the pandemic) probably won’t have boosted the album’s commercial prospects. But creatively it seems to make sense: Alicia “shimmers with warmth and cautious optimism from start to finish”, and its combination of “positivity, empathy and self-knowledge feels pretty enriching right now”.
Elevated to “American music royalty”, Keys has in recent years come to seem “somewhat bland and unrelatable”, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. But this excellent album has the “intimate, evocative New York soul sound” that made the world fall for her in the first place. It has topical themes such as valuing key workers and defeating racism – but it’s done with such heart that the earnestness never overwhelms. “United by a breezy, laid-back mood and the smooth but city-hardened cadences of Keys’s contralto”, it’s “classic soul for the modern age”.
Jamie Barton: Unexpected Shadows
This solo album from the acclaimed American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is dedicated to the songs of the composer Jake Heggie, who also provides the piano accompaniment, with Matt Haimovitz on the cello. And it’s a tribute to the composer’s output, said Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times, that Barton “sustains the interest for over an hour” with a musical variety – across the 16 songs presented – that “stands comparison with, say, Poulenc in the 20th century”.
The opening track, Music, about a man on death row hearing music (text by Sister Helen Prejean), sets the emotional tone, said Fiona Maddocks in The Observer, as Barton’s voice oscillates between “rich, pure and raw”. Heggie’s style is “melodic and immediate, now a touch of blues and scat, now exultant and climactic” – and he is clearly a composer-pianist who knows exactly how to play his own music (not a given). Barton’s singing is “versatile and big-hearted”. She catches “any shred of wit or sorrow”, and “responds to the music’s every need, each syllable crystal-clear”.