Latest releases reviewed

RICHARD ASHCROFT Keys to the World Parlophone **

It's the third coming for the mouthy ex-Verve man, and he's still offering musical salvation to anyone who'll listen. Getting a big-up from Chris Martin at last year's Live 8 will certainly help get his message across, since this album is clearly aimed at the kind of mature music fan who buys Coldplay, David Gray and Van Morrison albums. Six years into his solo career, though, Ashcroft has become a latterday Paul Weller: his talent is in no doubt, but he tends to teeter between retro cool and nostalgic naffness. Hammond organs funk things up on Music Is Power, while harpsichords highlight Break the Night with Colour; the preaching tone of Sweet Brother Malcolm is lifted by a fine string section, but the title track feels like a bittersweet unfinished symphony. For all his talk about redemption and resurrection, Ashcroft sounds like a man in need of some devil's potion to spice up his muse. www.richardashcroft.com

Kevin Courtney

ARCTIC MONKEYS Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not Domino ****

Spokesmen for a generation or victims of a masterful campaign of hype? When the Sheffield four-piece soared to the top of the charts in October with their (admittedly) excellent debut single, I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, they suddenly became the most important British band since Oasis. To properly follow through, the band needed to create the greatest debut album ever. But keeping to the schedule has never been to their liking - as the album title suggests, the Arctic Monkeys are contrary buggers. They haven't quite eclipsed Oasis or The Strokes, but they have made a mighty fine start. The singles are standouts - Mardy Bum is a joyous, melodic tale of frontman Alex Turner's ex, and A Certain Romance rips along with breathless, scattergun abandon and the keen eye of The Streets. The album may be two songs too long, but then what does that matter post-iPod? There is indeed substance behind the hype. The scamps could yet soundtrack a generation. www.arcticmonkeys.com

Paul McNamee

THE KOOKS Inside In/Inside Out Virgin ***

When Big Beat was shaking its ass in their native Brighton, most of The Kooks had yet to hit their teens. In the interim, it sounds like they've swotted up on music, notching up myriad influences. Unlike the current crop of NME-approved bands, this isn't one-speed wall-of-guitar stuff. Instead, The Kooks gear up and down between provocative hooks, asymmetric melodies and a handful of ballads. Luke Pritchard's bedsit narratives about sofa fumblings (Sofa Song), unrequited crushes (You Don't Love Me) and erectiile problems (Eddie's Gun) add an ebullient charm to things. Given their youth and rapid rise, they risk being lumped in with Arctic Monkeys, but theirs is a broader template, echoing Hard-Fi, Supergrass and - on the ska-tinged bass/vocal skirmishes - their heroes The Police. The Kooks: the band The Libertines wish they were. www.thekooks.co.uk

Sinéad Gleeson


It's a truth universally acknowledged that a record label in possession of an unexpected fortune must be in want of more bands. So it seems to be with Domino, where the coffers are currently flush thanks to Franz Ferdinand and set to be further awash with cash from Arctic Monkeys. But it's unlikely that recording The Beautiful New Born Children's debut album broke the bank, coming in as it does at a fairly brisk 23 minutes and one loose second. The Children are fronted by Schneider TM/Kpt.Michi.Gan man Michael Beckett, a fact which will surprise many when they clock this rousing, rasping, greasy, squalling garage-punk, as removed from his other releases as you can get. By and large, Hey People exhibits fine, chugging appeal, though we're sure that Buzzcocks, MC5 and The Stooges will have something to say about the wholesale pilfering of their riffage. www.dominorecordco.com

Jim Carroll

JENNY LEWIS WITH THE WATSON TWINS Rabbit Fur Coat Rough Trade ****

The stunning gospel harmony of opening track Run Devil Run is arresting; from then on, Jenny Lewis holds you spellbound. Rilo Kiley devotees are already in thrall to Lewis's golden voice, but its honey-coated crystal clarity is further accentuated on these captivatingly intimate tales and bittersweet fables from the darker corners of her artistry. A clutch of influential guests - including M Ward, Johnathan Rice and Conor Oberst - lend weight to proceedings, as do the heavenly harmonies of Chandra and Leigh Watson, but songs like Happy, You Are What You Love and the mesmerising title track are products of a truly singular talent. With its heart full of soul, country and gospel, the sumptuous depth of Rabbit Fur Coat makes it more than a mere side project; in her own words, "it's bound to melt your heart, one way or another". www.team-love.com

Johnnie Craig

FILM SCHOOL Film School Beggar's Banquet **

Sheesh, those US rockers, always trying to sound like Brit bands from the early 1980s. They're either occupying Joy Division's dark spaces (Interpol), boarding Duran Duran's yacht (The Bravery) or, in the case of this San Francisco quintet, jumping on The Cure's train and heading straight for a forest. Singer Krayg Burton does a neat impression of Robert Smith's world-weary whine, while guitarist Nyles Lannon has The Cure's relentless, uneasy guitar plink down to a T. Sadly, the similarities with Crawley's finest tend to distract from Film School's other talents, which include an impressive ability to create memorable motifs and rich sonic backdrops. Harmed hits all the right nerve endings and He's a Deep Deep Lake has hidden depths, while Like You Know and PS put one foot outside the genre's set boundaries. They'll learn.


Kevin Courtney