Mark Lanegan Band, Lemar, Girls Aloud, Gwen Stefani 2004 David Bennun
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Mark Lanegan Band/
Lemar/
Girls Aloud/
Gwen Stefani

[The Mail On Sunday, 2004]




MARK LANEGAN BAND
BRIGHTON OLD MARKET
****

SCREAMING TREES were one of the few post-Nirvana Washington bands deserving of success - and one of the few that didn't achieve it. Their swansong Dust LP, evoking thunderous late-60s West Coast psychedelia, is one of those neglected classics which will, eventually, be rediscovered and marvelled at.
 In the meantime, former Trees frontman Mark Lanegan has work to do. For Lanegan, time is short. His baritone rumble always returns to the same theme: mortality. It's with mordant humour that he's titled his latest album Bubblegum. He may nowadays dress like a French existentialist, but Lanegan hails from a backwoods sawmill town, a churchy, roughneck burg dogged by alcohol and firearms. Unlike the many performers who have flocked to Americana from metropolitan or collegiate backgrounds, Lanegan's hard-bitten quality is bred in the bone.
 Lanegan doesn't so much sing as dredge up syllables from the stony bed of some murky river. This is a man who smokes so prolifically on stage that a dry ice machine would be redundant. While Bubblegum sets his voice off against a sparse backdrop, his touring band has a fiercer and fuller sound, bolstered by the guitar-playing of Nick Oliveri - lately of outstanding hard rock crew Queens of the Stone Age, whose Songs For The Deaf album featured Lanegan on vocals.
 One influence more apparent than ever is that of The Doors. Silhouetted with arms crossed over the microphone stand, Lanegan calls to mind another Jim Morrison disciple, Echo & The Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch. Such is Lanegan's grizzled authority, it's surprising to remember he is five years the younger of the two.
 Where Lanegan draws on Morrison, he substitutes for mystical bluster an almost devotional fervour. Not many artists could title a song “Like Little Willie John”, then conjure the requisite wired, haunted blues without resorting to anything like pastiche. There's plenty to cheer in this cheerless music.


LEMAR
TIME TO GROW
Sony
**

WELL, this is smooth. Any smoother, and you could toboggan down it on a tea tray. It is also, as you would expect from a graduate of the BBC's staid Fame Academy, inoffensive almost to the point of offence. Lemar, he's keen to remind you, is a “soulman”, much in the sleek, bland style of Craig David. Time to Grow, his second outing, sounds like soul, but it doesn't feel much like soul. Good luck to the lad - he can sing a bit, that's for sure - but his album is hard to get worked up about either way.


GIRLS ALOUD
WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBOURS SAY
Polydor
**

MORE talent show product determined to prolong its shelf-life. This brisk, amiable, 60s-pop-inflected album does little wrong - apart from the inevitable, dismal, chartbound cover versions - but it lacks a real zinger to match the group's big hit, “Sound of the Underground”. Girls Aloud's rib-nudging attempts at naughtiness are the most sweetly misguided since Debbie Gibson's inadvertently comical “Shock Your Mama”. What will the neighbours say? Probably, “Ooh, that's nice, dear.”


GWEN STEFANI
LOVE. ANGEL. MUSIC. BABY.
Interscope
***

AFTER shifting skiploads of units with the rather drab No Doubt, singer Gwen Stefani has followed her own seemingly self-directed lyrical advice to “take a chance, you stupid ho.” The resulting solo album bubbles with more zest and creativity than her band's entire catalogue. It's the kind of daffy dilettante's genre-hopping Malcolm McLaren attempted in the 80s, with Stefani playing impresario as well as artist. Enormous fun - if not quite a treasure chest, then a costume jewellery box stuffed with twinkling gewgaws.





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