Pop/Rock album reviews: Amy Winehouse, The Who, The Frank and Walters and more

Back to Black: "Amy's finally arrived - with a bang"

Back to Black: "Amy's finally arrived - with a bang"

 

AMY WINEHOUSE
Back to Black Island ****

Flagged by her fab new single, Rehab, which sounds like Martha and the Vandellas the morning after the street party, the second album by the 23-year-old London diva is a soulful excursion through the Philly and Motown styles of the 1960s, filtered through some go-go grooves that evoke the Blow-Up lounge in all its Hammond-driven glory. Alas, there's nothing else here to rival the heady immediacy of Rehab, but such tunes as You Know I'm No Good, Me & Mr Jones, Tears Dry Up on Their Own and Addicted are back-alley soul shakers that blend the brassiness of Gladys Knight with the vulnerability of Billie Holiday. Winehouse's Mercury-nominated debut, Frank, suffered by sticking too self-consciously to strict, jazzy rules; Back to Black, in contrast, sees Winehouse cheerfully breaking loose - and smashing a few bottles in the process. Amy's finally arrived - with a bang. www.amywinehouse.co.uk  Kevin Courtney

THE WHO
Endless Wire Polydor ***

It's been 24 years since the last Who album (1982's It's Hard) and you'd be right in thinking that bated breath had long since been exhaled. You'd also be right in wondering whether there is much point in taking seriously the thoughts, musings and music of a pair of pros as old as Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey - the former a somewhat tarnished rock 'n' roll spokesman, the latter a farmer-cum-not very good B-movie actor. Surely even long-term Who fans might not have been surprised if Endless Wire had turned out to be an early Christmas turkey? Yet this is a more rounded, intelligent and tuneful record than one would ever have hoped for - a canny blend of straight-ahead, old school rock/folksy songs and a "mini-opera" section (fragments that could easily, surely, have been developed into "proper" songs) that isn't half as portentous or overblown as you might think. www.petetownshend.co.uk  Tony Clayton-Lea

THE FRANK AND WALTERS
A Renewed Interest in Happiness Fifa Records **

Just when we thought the millennium had scared them off, Cork's favourite sons return with their first album in six years. The recording locations - a shed, an old church and Wheatfield Prison - reflect the album's fluctuating moods. No one does happy sad like these boys and, on tracks like Miles and Miles and Hold On, it feels that if laughter prevails, tears aren't far behind. The band's early sound reverberates throughout, but the album never reaches its obvious potential. An occasional footnote to the past is fine, but jangly pop cuts like Hold On and C'mon can't shake off a hint of staleness. The trio have been at this for 15 years and still have something - as the feisty You're The Greatest proves - but to be around in another 15, they need to employ something between makeover and metamorphosis. www.fifarecords.com   Sinéad Gleeson

PERNICE BROTHERS
Live a Little One Little Indian ***

Joe Pernice has such an effortless way with a tune, not to mention an unfailingly poetic knack for lyrics, that it's easy to take his talents for granted. Such is the drawback of consistent talent, particularly when The Pernice Brothers' sixth album is blithely content to wear its intelligence so lightly. Channelled directly from the crisp, clean era of classic pop but laced through with the wry plaints of an unwavering Morrissey fan, these songs come packed with musical hooks and lyrical imagery. Automaton, BS Johnson and Conscience Clean each stand out, although Michael Deming's discreet production tends to level everything into a hazy lushness of strings and horns and handclaps. Modesty isn't always a virtue, and though attentions will snag on the occasional burst of uplifting melody, overall the record drifts by like a trail of gossamer. www.pernicebrothers.com  Peter Crawley

VARIOUS
Secret Love 3 Sonar Kollektiv ***

Not content with heading up a record label, making incredible music, remixing everyone from 4hero to Calexico and resurrecting 1960s Polish jazz, Berlin's uber-talented Jazzanova ensemble know how to knock out a quality compilation. Secret Love, the third in their series with Resoul, presents a formidable spectrum of styles. Their own musical leanings are towards nu-jazz with an ambient hue, and it's well represented here by Soul Village, Micah and Mocky, with Fujiya & Miyagi and Polar fielding finespun electronic numbers. Like its predecessor, Secret Love holds a candle for new folk - cue the entrance of Tunng, José González and Clara Hill. Many inclusions here are exclusive and the enigmatic Dalschaert's Piece For Peace is so glorious you'll want to own everything he's done. Easily one of the best compilations of the year; don't even think about keeping it to yourself. www.jazzanova.net  Sinéad Gleeson

THE LONG BLONDES
Someone To Drive You Home Rough Trade ***

Less than a minute into their debut, Kate Jackson screeches Edie Sedgwick's name, and the temptation to write off this Sheffield five-piece as another bunch of swaggering art-rockers creeps in. Until you clock the fire in their collective bellies that's more musical passionista than fashionista. Jackson's deep vocals bullwhip over drum stomps and static-y guitars, and the gritty Brit tales hark back to Siouxsie & the Banshees without the gothic. For all the throwaway camp, the lyrics tackle jealousy and dysfunctional relationships, and there's plenty of sage advice - on Once and Never Again, Jackson urges: "At 19/You don't need a boyfriend". Derivation is something most retro-tilted bands are guilty of and, while you find yourself influence-spotting, there's no getting away from the dark pop of Army Lovers Left Alive and the irresistible licks of Giddy Stratospheres. Superior retro pop. www.thelongblondes.co.uk  Sinéad Gleeson

THE MAGIC NUMBERS
Those the Brokes EMI ****

The sunniest band in the universe are rising again, but no need to forage for your Foster Grants or slap on the sunblock to protect you from those LUV rays. Pop's finest brother-sister tag team are no longer the shiny, happy, shy quartet that melted our hearts with their relentlessly upbeat debut album, but nor are they burnt-out shadows of their former chirpy selves either. Two years of touring and maturing have worn down their candy coating, but thankfully not opened up too many hidden wounds or dark, depressing thoughts. Romeo Stodart's songwriting has blossomed into a beautiful, bittersweet musical experience, sometimes merry, sometimes melancholy, but not liable to cause melanoma. There's a more reflective glare off such songs as You Never Had It, Take Me or Leave Me (sung by Michele Stodart), Undecided and This Is a Song, and, notwithstanding one or two tunes that are a little too cloying, the overall effect is warm and fuzzy rather than burning and blinding. www.themagicnumbers.net  Kevin Courtney