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The War Against Intelligence

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October 2006

Lily Allen

ABC, Glasgow

Armed with a repertoire of quick witted lyrics and a well sourced range of samples, Lily Allen ought to be following the success of her debut album, “Alright, Still” with a confirmatory and celebratory tour.

Instead, much of what is on offer hints at what might be, making for a frustrating and presumably hastily assembled foray through her album and beyond.

The good bits are almost, without exception, her songs – most of which stand close scrutiny. Lyrically, they are, by turns, observant (‘LDN’), bitter (‘Not Big’), funny (‘Alfie’) and twisted celebrations (“Smile” and “Friday Night”). They are almost all great pop songs.

Additionally, neither Sugababes nor Girls Aloud are likely to reference a leaking colostomy bag in a pop song, and even better, deliver it with a straight face (‘Nan, You’re A Window Shopper’).

Elsewhere, the execution is less certain. She moans that her management has told her sing louder, when in fact, belting it out does little for her voice. A more astute sound engineer may allow her vocals, which sound great on the ballad, ‘Littlest Things,’ more space, rather than swamping them with a not always complementary brass section.

At times the performance rides a fine line between great pop and cabaret, with the cover versions of the Kooks and Keane a particularly ill-advised idea. Even the majority of the between song banter seems forced and scripted.

Allen is precocious and on occasion, irritating, but inherently more fun & interesting than anyone else’s idea of what she should sound and act like. ‘Smile’ might be the one occasion here where she gets the balance just right: the exact midpoint between Kathleen Hanna and the woman she cattily immortalises in song, Cheryl Tweedy.

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Record Shops

This Guardian article from Monday and accompanying blog offers a pretty good guide to the dying selection of independent record stores in the U.K., with a nice mention for Monorail.

sparklehorse

Sparklehorse
King Tut’s, Glasgow
3 stars

Mark Linkous, the creative force behind the revolving line up of Sparklehorse, has a back story that takes in a full range of addiction and health problems, resulting in a relatively sparse catalogue. Four albums in the eleven years is hardly prolific; the five years since his last and best, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is positively lethargic.

It is more the pity that the momentum it generated has dissipated, and instead of building on it with the current release (‘Dreamt For Light Years In the Belly Of A Mountain’), Linkous is using these dates to revisit some dark places he inhabited in the mid nineties.

Those expecting the deft but bleak pop that makes up the new album have to make do with a few rations of which ‘Ghost In the Sky’ stands out. Elsewhere, it is monochromatic, static and brooding, with only the beauty and lyrical images of the songs to compensate for a lifeless performance.

Bookended by ‘Spirit Ditch’ and ‘Homecoming Queen’ from his debut, ‘Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot’, 1995 is also revisited for ‘Saturday’ and the still excellent ‘Sad and Beautiful World’. It makes for a peculiar dynamic, which appears to be somewhat lacking.

The missing dimension could be the string players who have featured in previous line-ups, but more likely Linkous’ vision is cramped by small venues and budgets. Though his music is in an American tradition that draws heavily on Dylan & The Band, Tom Waits and Gram Parsons, it appears to be striving for a place beyond the sum of its parts, but never quite attaining it.

The 2006 incarnation of Sparklehorse is, therefore, surprisingly regressive, offering a mildly generic brew of Americana, which neither lives up to the recent records or spacious beauty of previous shows at the same venue.

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