Richard Ashcroft – Human Conditions

When a musician becomes rich, famous and successful, they evolve into an entirely different species.

Richard AshcroftThey are no longer human, they are now bona-fide Rockstars. Something that no mortal could ever fully comprehend. So what exactly Richard Ashcroft can enlighten mankind about in relation to ‘human conditions’ with his extravagant rockstar lifestyle is a bit of a mystery.

Or, if you hazard a guess, very little. “Human Conditions” is Ashcroft’s second solo album, also known as “Alone With Everybody” Mark II. For in the making of this record, Ashcroft evidently took the blueprint from that, his first record after the Verve disbanded, and, well, he made an exact carbon copy of it. But hey, why change a winning formula for the sake of a little musical diversity?

From the opening chords of recent single “Check The Meaning” (virtually identical to “You On My Mind In My Sleep” from the aforementioned debut), you know what you are going to get. And there are no surprises, no unexpected changes in style, no alternating moods. Ashcroft does wistful, he does loved-up and he does slow, pompous, string-driven and melodramatic songs. And that’s about your lot.

He goes all honky-tonk on us with “Bright Lights” which leads to the conclusion that he’s harbouring a secret desire to be Ryan Adams. That’s about as adventurous as he gets. ‘Don’t drink me/I’m like turpentine/Make you blind/Burn your insides’ he croons gently on “Running Away”. And he’s blatantly lying; he’s about as dangerous as a basket of fluffy newborn kittens and as threatening as bullets made of sponge.

The Detroit Cobras

Panning for gold in the second-hand record racks of the Motor City.

 

The Detroit CobrasOf all the bands that have emerged from Detroit in the past few years, only the Cobras are bold enough announce their city of origin in their name. And that’s as it should be. These are people so wired into the musical history of the city that, if you looked real close at the chains of letters that make up their DNA, you’d probably see the Motown logo in there.

The Detroit Cobras fuel the notion that the Detroit music scene is much like the Glasgow one – i.e., bands are formed and split at the drop of a hat, and eventually people fall into combos that work. This particular bunch of guys and girls wound up together with the straightforward notion that they would play other people’s songs, largely pop and soul numbers from the 1950s and 1960s, in the loose garage-rock style they’d developed during their apprenticeships.

‘From the beginning, through all the changes, beer is what has always brought us together,’ confirms exotic dancer-turned-vocalistRachel Nagy. ‘It’s good to have a unifying element. Oh, and good taste. In beer.’

The Donnas – Scala, London

The Donnas stop over in London to remind us girls can rock too.

The Donnas

As the excitement builds, the annoyingly tall designer-suited guy in front of me leans to his ‘rocker’ mate in a faded Ramones T-shirt and asks ‘So what do these guys sound like?’ He is told casually that the band are ‘female AC/DC wannabes’. My casual eavesdropping implants a thought that bugs me throughout the show.

Transmute the gender, take away the precocious extended guitar solos, and are you left with the sound of AC/DC as performed a la The Donnas? Maybe it is the implied supposition that because a female band are playing ‘men’s rock music’ it’s immediately inferior to the ‘real thing’.

The Donnas chose a tough path for themselves, but they have sweated and grafted for their true passion, overcoming all the obstacles, no least the already mentioned gender bias. The dividends have been slow in coming, but as the show unfolds tonight I’m convinced that The Donnas are nearing the zenith of a long gradient.

After a lacklustre Black Box Recorder and a hugely underwhelming The Thrills it was good to get back to a gig that rocked; where the people jump about and the atmosphere is laced with fun and excitement. The Donnas are a band who thrive on their live performances. They tour almost incessantly, and have been doing so for the last five years.

The Hiss

As long as you believe you won’t die, you come back to life.

The Hiss: invincible zombie rock warriors, good-time party dudes from beyond the grave. This shit could make the (un)dead dance.

First off, let’s drop some names. The Strokes. The Vines. The Datsuns. The Hiss sound like none of these bands, but as they play guitars, they do sound like them. Oh come on, you don’t want me to think of something original? Damn, this is a hard job.

The Hiss are from Atlanta, Georgia, the state home to Ludacris, OutKast and Bubba Sparxxx. That’s right homeboy, the dirty south. An American rock band not from Detroit or NYC? They must be pretty good if they can get themselves noticed when all the A&R men in the world are taking one-way flights to JFK. Well, yes. So pay attention.

The band are: frontman Adrian (who is soft of voice and even softer of manner), guitarist Ian (who says nothing but makes a lot of noise with his Gibson Firebird), bassist Mahjuala (who pulls a cool rock chick pose as well as anyone) and drummer Todd. The drummer wishes he had less musical responsibility: “I envy bassists. They can just get wasted and play swaying around, and people go, ‘hey, listen to the groove, man’. But when I get drunk I can’t play, something goes wrong with my arms – they really hurt. [Clutching pint]. So I have to wait until after the show. [Checks watch]. Shit, two hours ’til we go on…”

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