A review of this week's latest rock and pop releases
Out of Control
Now that Girls Aloud are one of the most successful female acts around, it's finally dawning on the more cynical and blinkered rock fan how good they are.
The pop blueprint is used throughout: a mish-mash of styles, written by a sometimes ridiculously large committee. (The vapid misstep of Miss You Bow Wowwas composed by eight people and the collective clout that is Girls Aloud.)
Highly listenable songs such as The Promise, The Loving Kind(co-written with Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe), Untouchable, Revolution in the Headand Live in the Countryare razor-sharp, stiletto-shoe pop defined by a crack team of finger- on-the-pulse types.
Are Cheryl, Kimberley, Nadine, Nicola and Sarah puppets, allowing themselves to be directed every which way by a bunch of songwriting Machievellis? Who knows or cares when the results are this good?
Download tracks: The Promise, The Loving Kind, Untouchable, Live in the Country
Wall of Sound
Grace Jones's return to the frontline comes in the form of an album which can parade on the catwalk shoulder- pad to shoulder-pad with her past glories. The same fundamentals with which Jones bewitched the pop world in the 1980s are still in fairly good nick. It helps though, that the glacial robofunk, reggae shuffling and oddball mix of chatting and singing come wrapped around some impressive songs.
There are strident calls to arms ( This Is,the banging Corporate Cannibal) alongside tender reflections on Jones's own family background. Though a formidable team of collaborators, musicians and hangers-on - among them Brian Eno, Tricky, Tony Allen, Wendy & Lisa, Sly & Robbie and producer Ivor Guest - play their part, the real momentum here is triumphantly provided by Jones herself.
Download tracks: Williams' Blood, This Is
TILLY AND THE WALL
If you could bottle the exuberance that powers the third album from Omaha's Tilly and The Wall, you'd have the formula for a best-selling energy drink.
Those who have happily hopped, skipped or jumped along to previous albums Bottoms of Barrelsand Wild Like Childrenwill know the lie of this land. It's a world full to the brim with fizzy pop, soaring harmonies, child-like innocence, fierce guitars with hearts of gold and a tap-dancing drummer. Such a combination might signal that you're dealing with abject tweeness, but Tilly & The Wall are well capable of flexing muscles when the need arises.
The tough zeal of Pot Kettle Blackand the stomping, thumping Alligator Skinallow us to catch a glint of steel beyond the fluffy clouds and bright blue skies. www.tillyandthe wall.com
Download tracks: Pot Kettle Black, Alligator Skin
GANG GANG DANCE
According to those who know their relics (and how to use Wikipedia), St Dymphna is the patron saint of persons afflicted with mental and nervous disorders. Gang Gang Dance may be trying to tell us something about themselves here, but it's more likely to be just another example of the smart-ass thinking which has served these veteran Brooklyn art-rockers so well.
On album No 4, they match their abundance of smart ideas with some cracking, colourful, hugely huggable grooves that join the dots between tribal rhythms and freeform electronica. Guitars freak out, vocalists wail and drums clatter away, but the wildness that drove previous records now has a purpose.
Tracks such as First Communionand, especially, the outlandish, extraordinary House Jammix the psychedelics and the melodies into a wonderfully enticing blend. Miraculous? Maybe. Heavenly? Most certainly.
Download tracks: House Jam, Inners Pace
Made in Sheffield
Way before The Human League, Pulp or Arctic Monkeys, Tony Christie was Sheffield's best-known musical act. Although famous as a crooner, here Christie tackles contemporary work by Sheffield musicians with a real gusto. He got the idea for this album after hearing the production work on Richard Hawley's sublime Cole's Corneralbum, and there is a rather splendid cover of the song Cole's Corner on this.
On the Arctic Monkeys-penned The Only Ones Who Know, Christie displays a new vocal range, and he reaches a new height with a well judged cover of Human League's underrated Louise. Look out, though, for some less well-known names. Local songwriter Martin Bragger contributes Danger Is a Woman in Love, which could be a big hit single for Christie. Don't be put off by the slightly novelty album idea: there is genuinely good stuff here.
Download tracks: Danger Is a Woman in Love, Louise
By the Numbers
Following their acclaimed debut, By the Numberssees The Postmarks apply their retro talents to covering tracks with numerical titles.
The result is a melting pot. Bob Marley's beloved Three Little Birdstrades effervescence for a hammock in a tropical breeze, Six Different Ways(The Cure) quietly bares its soul, and Nine Million Rainy Days(Jesus and Mary Chain) invokes the Cowboy Junkies' sensual lull. David Bowie, Blondie and The Byrds covers are other highlights.
The Postmarks' sense of lackadaisical romance hinges on Tim Yehezkely's silky François Hardy vocal style. From here, ex-film score composer Christopher Moll uses updated Bacharachian arrangements to stamp quiet longing onto every track, binding the unlikely lot with gentle thread. Loud noise fanss beware - The Postmarks are lovers, not fighters.
Download tracks: Six Different Ways, Three Little Birds, Nine Million Rainy Days