Albums of the Week: Disco, Power Up, Art of the Mandolin
New releases from Kylie, AC/DC and Avi Avital
Pop diva Kylie Minogue is back in her “natural habitat” with a triumphant return to her disco roots. “Gnarly heavy rockers” AC/DC make a blistering comeback with Power Up and Avi Avital, the world’s leading classical player, offers a “very enjoyable” introduction to the delights of the mandolin.
Two years ago, the world’s favourite Aussie soap star turned pop diva made an “unconvincing detour” into Nashville-style country, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. Understandably, Kylie fans were worried that the album, Golden, signalled a “new exploratory phase” in her career. “What if she ended up on a jazz odyssey?” Or worse? So it’s a great relief to report that, in a year when “unexpected directions from beloved pop stars have been about as welcome as a second lockdown”, Kylie has returned in triumph to her disco roots.
Kylie’s “natural habitat” is the dancefloor, agreed David Cheal in the FT – and this “terrific” album is a “remorselessly upbeat succession of catchy tunes which encourage dancing and singing to a degree that is almost irresponsible in a pandemic”. Traditional disco elements are here: “slap bass, snappy hi-hats and swooping Chic-like strings”. But they’ve been “steroidally boosted” by the synths and electronic beats of contemporary EDM (electronic dance music). The result is a “very, very danceable album”.
AC/DC: Power Up
Since AC/DC’s last album in 2014, the band has lost a fair few of its members: one has died; another was sacked after being accused of making death threats; a third retired and a fourth was forced to quit, mid-tour, after bursting an eardrum. It’s fair to say that fans never expected to hear from the “gnarly heavy rockers” again, said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph. Yet here they are for one “last stand”, in the form of 41 minutes of “riotous noise-making” that is as “exultantly fierce, furious and – let’s be honest – belligerently dumb” as anything they’ve done. It is “headbanging, fist-waving, foot-stomping, raw-throated, hard-screaming” maximum rock ‘n’ roll.
For this blistering comeback, lead guitarist Angus Young has dug out some song ideas he and his late brother Malcolm worked on back in 2008, and fleshed them out into new tracks, said Helen Brown in The Independent. They rock as heavily as anything in AC/DC’s back catalogue (200 million sales and counting), and the band “consistently sound like they’re having good-hearted, OTT fun”.
Avi Avital: Art of the Mandolin
In 17th century Italy, the mandolin was a salon instrument played by “educated young maidens of noble birth”, said Michael Church in The Independent. Since then, it has broadened its appeal and spread around the world: it infuses the sound of bluegrass in the US, and is vastly popular with amateur musicians in Japan (Tokyo boasts no fewer than 130 mandolin clubs). This collection of mandolin music from Avi Avital, the world’s leading classical player, reflects that reach – and is a “very enjoyable” introduction to its delights.
If you ever need “a shot of sunshine this winter, I prescribe Art of the Mandolin”, said Geoff Brown in The Times. Every sound plucked by Avital’s fingers – variously joined by a harpsichord, guitar, harp and the Venice Baroque Orchestra – “radiates warmth and dazzling light”. The “tactile subtleties”, “flamboyant dexterity” and colour range on display in Vivaldi’s G-major concerto for two mandolins are a marvel. And there are many modern joys, too: Henze’s Carillon, Récitatif, Masque of 1974 “couldn’t be more playful if it tried”.
Deutsche Grammophon £13