What's hot and what's not in this week's new releases.
By Shereen Low
Alicia Keys - Girl On Fire
"It's been a while, I'm not who I was before...it's a brand new kind of me," sings Alicia Keys, 14-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and producer on Brand New Me, penned by Emeli Sande. Three years on from 2009's The Element Of Freedom, the 31-year-old's fifth album has been inspired by her marriage to producer Swizz-Beatz (Kasseem Dean) and first-time motherhood, with the couple's two-year-old son Egypt even cameoing on When It's All Over. From the opening chords of piano intro De Novo Adagio to the closing beats of 101, Girl On Fire shows Keys remains at the top of her game and is definitely on "fiyah". Each track sounds gloriously different: the reggae-infused New Day, Inferno version of the title single with rapper Nicki Minaj, jazzy soulful ballad Fire We Make with Maxwell, delicate One Thing (co-written by Frank Ocean) and Motown-like Tears Always Win.
(Review by Shereen Low)
Jools Holland - The Golden Age of Song
Former Squeeze star Jools Holland is back with his first compilation album in five years. The Golden Age Of Song features collaborations with the likes of Paloma Faith, Jessie J and Cee-Lo Green to name a few, and the multi-talented music guru has also included a few memorable performances from his annual Hootenanny, including a duet between the late Amy Winehouse and Paul Weller on a beautiful rendition of Etta James's Don't Go To Strangers. It's not just the singers who make this album spectacular; Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra are outstanding in every track. This is an album that fans deserve after their long wait.
(Review by Rebecca Flitton)
Girls Aloud - Ten
It's been 10 years since Kimberley Walsh, Cheryl Tweedy, Nicola Roberts, Nadine Coyle and Sarah Harding found fame on TV show Popstars: The Rivals. From the off, they were blessed with some of the best-crafted pop tunes of the 21st century, thanks to hitmakers Xenomania topped with the girls' own sprinkling of pop magic. From Sound Of The Underground to No 2 single Something New, this greatest hits collection displays what has kept loyal fans listening and waiting for their return after a three-year hiatus. The four new tracks prove Girls Aloud have still got it in spades, with ballad Beautiful 'Cause You Love Me showing a fragility not usually seen from the feisty fivesome. On The Metro, co-written by Roberts, remains faithful to the girls' signature sound, while Every Now And Then is classic melancholic Xenomania. The pop queens are back and long may they reign.
(Review by Lisa Allen)
Rachael Sage - Haunted By You
New York-based singer-songwriter Rachael Sage has assembled a devoted cult following, and her 10th album is likely to win her more admirers. Its piano-driven ballads bring to mind the likes of Carole King and, as she admits, this album is about breaking hearts and having your heart broken. Wistful and melancholy, opening track Invisible Light sets the tone, maudlin lyrically but musically uplifting. Each song is beautifully realised, with the title track, The Sequin Song, Birthday and Confession laying Sage's bare soul to winning effect. Haunted By You is certainly a slow burner of an album, but it gets better with every listen.
(Review by Roni Cooper)
Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
Following 2006's creepy and unsettling The Drift, former pop hitmaker-turned-art-rock genius Scott Walker once again plunges into the darkest recesses of his mind for another stab at crafting enigmatically complex avant-garde soundscapes. On Bish Bosch, Walker creates a slightly more accessible, colourful, witty and enjoyable experience than its predecessor. There are more traditional song structure, occasional finger-snapping moments (on stand-out track Epizootics!) and a heavy use of sleigh bells on the deliciously disturbing The Day The "Conducator" Died (An Xmas Song). An uncompromised artistic vision, Bish Bosch is an extremely challenging album that rewards with repeated listens.
(Review by Steven Cookson)
Green Day - !Tre!
The Californian pop-punk trio release the final instalment of their three-part album with a welcome return to the band's power-punk credibility. After the slight dip in energy around !Dos!, !Tre! is an epic compilation of stadium anthems. The pop sensibilities are back and the three-piece really sound like they're having fun - a poignant contrast to frontman Billie Joe Armstrong's rehab residency reality. Brutal Love is a fantastic opener, like a lo-fi alternative to When September Ends. There are elements of 1960s rock 'n' roll in Amanda, British punk in Sex, Drugs And Violence, and power-pop in The Forgotten, which features on the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 soundtrack. A terrific end to the trilogy, !Tre! displays the band's complex musical abilities perfectly.
(Review by Holly McKenzie)
Willy Mason - Carry On
It's not known what came first - the album title or its songs - but it's certainly a fitting one. When the 28-year-old troubadour writes nostalgic country-folk hymns to his island home in Martha's Vineyard, like on Show Me The Way To Go Home, the continuation from his first two records is entirely welcome. But eight years on from his debut effort, the kind of experimentation with dubby basslines (Talk Me Down) and hazy, percussion-driven wig outs (Restless Fugitive) that sometimes punctuate this album are now far more necessary. After a first half that hints at progression, things start to meander and there isn't enough invention to make Carry On any better than pleasant. Promising, but it needs a little more.
(Review by Arj Singh)
Laurie Levine - Six Winters
Americana is a broader genre than its name suggests, and some of the most exciting roots musicians hail from countries far and wide - as South African singer-songwriter Laurie Levine proves. Since her 2007 debut, Unspoken, she has continued to produce outstanding Americana. Six Winters, her third offering, is her best yet, with opener Oh Brother setting the scene well; as vast as a stormy sky, it feels cinematic in terms of style and scope. Each track is a cracker - no mean feat when the deluxe edition weighs in at 15 songs - and there's a nod to her Stateside influences with the only cover on the album, a memorable take on Johnny Cash's Ring Of Fire.
(Review by Rob Lavender)
Julia Holter - Ekstasis
Winning a quick and welcome reissue after ensnaring a number of swooning admirers earlier this year, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Julia Holter's follow-up to acclaimed preceding LP Tragedy manages to draw warmth from electronic machinations and plunder ecstatic release from tightly wound melodies. More straightforward than that previous release but still managing to maintain a weird and wonderful edge, the 10 songs here (including two variations on the delightfully oddball pop ditty Goddess Eyes) pull off the difficult act of finding a convincing middle ground between the mainstream and the avant-garde. Ekstasis is certainly a record worth tracking down if you missed out first time around.
(Review by Simon Harker)
Steve Adey - The Tower Of Silence
Edinburgh's Steve Adey has taken six long years to follow up his acclaimed debut album, All Things Real, and fans of his low-key folk musings will appreciate The Tower Of Silence. His first record included two covers by Bob Dylan and Will Oldham, whereas this features just one, Alasdair Roberts's Farewell Sorrow, with the other nine tracks self-penned. The Tower Of Silence is an intense listen, opening with a short instrumental, A Few Seconds Have Passed, before segueing into the best song, Laughing, with the dulcet tones of backing singer Helena MacGilp. Secret Place and closing track Tomorrow reveal just what a good lyricist Adey is, he just needs to lighten the mood.
(Review by Roni Cooper)
:: Ciara - Sorry
This R&B ballad, about a romance gone sour, is the first single from Ciara's upcoming fifth album, One Woman Army. Similar to previous single Promise, the singer - whose real name is Ciara Princess Harris - goes soulful as she contemplates a relationship breakdown.
:: Plan B Feat. Labrinth - Playing With Fire
The latest single taken from Plan B's Ill Manors soundtrack, with guest vocals from Labrinth, tells the cautionary tale of a young boy who "gets burnt" after being drawn into the glorified world of gangs. Quickfire rapping from Plan B (aka Ben Drew), thumping drums and staccato piano make this a worthy tune.
:: Angel - Time After Time
R&B newcomer Angel, also known as Sirach Charles, releases the follow-up to summer anthem Wonderful. In Time After Time, he sings about cheating on a girlfriend "time after time", and promising to change, which may be a turn-off to some.
On the road
:: Robbie Williams will play a five-date UK stadium tour in 2013. His first solo tour in six years starts with two nights at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium on June 19 and 21, before heading to Glasgow's Hampden Park and London's Wembley Stadium. Tickets go on sale on November 30 at 9am - see http://tickets.robbiewilliams.com
:: Bryan Ferry has announced details of a 19-date theatre tour, the first since 2007's Dylanesque tour. Starting off at Manchester's Salford Lowry Theatre on October 26, he'll stop off in cities including Cambridge, Leicester, London and Southend. Tickets available from November 30 at 10am on www.gigsandtours.com
UK official top 10 singles December 1
1 Olly Murs Feat. Flo Rida - Troublemaker
2 Girls Aloud - Something New
3 One Direction - Little Things
4 Labrinth Feat. Emeli Sande - Beneath Your Beautiful
5 Alicia Keys - Girl On Fire
6 PSY - Gangnam Style
7 Gabrielle Aplin - The Power Of Love
8 Robbie Williams - Candy
9 Bruno Mars - Locked Out Of Heaven
10 Rihanna - Diamonds
UK official top 10 albums December 1
1 Rihanna - Unapologetic
2 One Direction - Take Me Home
3 Little Mix - DNA
4 Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day
5 Michael Buble - Christmas
6 Rod Stewart - Merry Christmas Baby
7 Susan Boyle - Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs
8 Emeli Sande - Our Version Of Events
9 Andre Rieu - Magic Of The Movies
10 Robbie Williams - Take The Crown