This week's rock and pop CDs reviewed


Journal for Plague Lovers Columbia ***

More than 14 years after the disappearance of Richey Edwards, Manic Street Preachers are using their former guitarist's abandoned lyrics on their ninth album. Dodgy move? Well, the Welsh rockers have long discarded their "angry young men" stance for an altogether softer approach, but Journal for Plague Loversis still their strongest work in recent years. Even if it doesn't capture the Preachers' existential punk ethos as ferociously as their early albums did, songs such as the punchy All Is Vanityand Marlon J.D.hit the spot. True, bassist Nicky Wire's tuneless mumble on the dreadful William's Last Wordsalmost ruins the whole affair, but James Dean Bradfield's malleable vocals, particularly on the gentle Facing Page: Top Left, provide the basis for a solid effort. www.manic LAUREN MURPHY

Download tracks: Jackie Collins Existential Question Time, Facing Page: Top Left


The Liberty of Norton Folgate Lucky Seven Records ****

Norton Folgate is a street in London that connects Bishopsgate and Shoreditch High Street. In days gone by it was a type of original Soho, bohemian and a bit dodgy. On their first collection of new material in a decade, Madness use the street as a jumping off point for a wonderful “concept” album that is an extended love letter/travelogue about their native city. Reunited with original producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, the essential Madness sound is still present, but there’s a maturity to the songs as well. More music hall-oriented than anything they’ve done before, the 15 tracks bounce along with a cheeky swagger and a knowing lyric. Like London itself, there are nooks and crannys (and delights) aplenty here. The best ever Madness album? Probably. BRIAN BOYD

Download tracks: Idiot Child, The Liberty of Norton Folgate


Still Night, Still Light Moshi Moshi **

After two or three plays, it’s hard to remember anything about the new album from these languid all-girl Brooklynites. The problem is not so much a case of style over substance (their previous two albums knocked the stuffing out of that charge), but rather the inconsequential weight of what they’re producing. These tracks are so lightweight that a mere breeze would send them flying over like skittles. This lack of heft is combined with a safety-first approach that leads to an album which gently drifts by without exterting too much effort or demanding much of the listener. A few tracks, such as The Last One, at least warrant closer inspection by tantalising with a sense of drama and well-projected atmospherics. Otherwise, Still Night, Still Lightis largely forgettable. www.aurevoir JIM CARROLL

Download track: The Last One


Manners Columbia ****

Any band with a reach that includes such diverse acts as Queen, Kate Bush, ELO and Randy Newman are either going to fall at the first hurdle due to overload, or win the race thanks to a strategic blending of influences. Passion Pit’s ultra- slick debut album (following last year’s Chunk of ChangeEP, from which a few tracks have been transferred) proves that once you have the know-how you can assimilate, emulate and extrapolate all you like while still retaining your own identity. Passion Pit singer Michael Angelakos seems particularly in thrall to Jack

Shears of Scissor Sisters. However, all influences aside, the primary feeling that emerges from repeated listening to Mannersis the widescreen energy that pushes the songs skywards. The Boston-based band slip here and there ( Little Secrets, with its children’s choir, is a step too cutesy to take seriously), but overall this is killer material. TONY CLAYTON-LEA

Download tracks: Let Your Love Grow Tall, Swimming in the Flood


Hands Self-released ***

His early-morning cigarette voice and guitar in tow, Emmet Scanlan rounds up his oddly named posse for a debut that makes a considerable virtue of its scattergun song book. With echoes of Brendan Murphy and The Four of Us’ strutting cockiness, as well as whispers of long, dark songwriting nights, Scanlan co stretch their canvas wide. Their soundtrack experience on the short film, Without Words, may be paying dividends on Hands, where they sink deep beneath the skin of a song. They resist the the temptation to rev it up and instead bask in a slow- burning atmosphere. This is what happens with Gotcha Looking Onand its companion piece, Dressed. Cello lines suggest a hankering after the mystery of Nick Drake, a well-chosen acolyte, should they need one. SIOBHÁN LONG

Download tracks: Dressed, Hands


Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Co-Op ***

The trick for dedicated retro-miners like Phoenix is always to remain one step ahead of the pack. Throughout their career the French band have flaunted their allegiance to unfashionable sounds with considerable elan. But the pack (MGMT and their disciples) have now caught up with them, and Phoenix’s mix of past-present dance, indie and electro is, for once, rather à la mode. But instead of making the most of the opportunity or continuing to follow their own oddly aligned stars, the band appear to have paused, and a degree of uncertainty has emerged. There are still fresh, cheeky, gloriously hooky chunks here ( 1901is one such humdinger), but just not enough to go around. Moreover, Phoenix’s previously spirited playfulness seems to have disappeared, and the musicians are at a loss as to how to get it back. The album is good, but it’s far from great. Next time, maybe? JIM CARROLL

Download track: 1901


Around the Well Sub Pop ***

Acting as a sort of metal detector sweeping the earth for any overlooked gems, Around the Wellis a two-disc compilation of B-sides, rarities and cover versions by folk troubadour Sam Beam, aka Iron Wine. A lot can be deduced by a musician’s “secondary” output, which means that such collections are often disastrous affairs. Beam has nothing to worry about. The first disc gathers his early home recordings of hiss-and- crackle- heavy acoustic songs, including a wonderful telling of The Postal Service’s Such Great Heights. The second concentrates on his more recent output (a cover of New Order’s Love Vigilantesis particularly inspired), which benefits from studio clarity and additional instrumentation. Enjoyable, though perhaps essential only for devotees. LAUREN MURPHY

Download tracks: The Trapeze Singer, Such Great Heights, Love Vigilantes