Cult Classics Album Breakdown 22

Paolo Nutini – These Streets (2006)

When I cam out of university I used to work at a rather shitty little shampoo wholesalers, ironically enough, delivering hair and beauty products to salons in a little white van. I’m the most unlikely white van man ever, and my hair and beauty speaks for itself. Despite totalitarian, small-town jobsworth bosses, the job wasn’t all bad. It didn’t last long, and I got to work with a mate of mine, Shaun, who was into music. During this period we used to go to an awful lot of gigs, and he came into work one morning rather upset because he had two tickets to watch Paolo Nuitini at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre but nobody to go with. Being the stubborn little sod that he can be, he’d refused to ask me before that morning in case I berated him for his venture into ‘Pop’ music. Regardless, he swallowed his pride and asked me, and never being one for missing an opportunity to watch a live gig, I agreed. The deal was that if I’d drive he’d pays for the tickets. All of a sudden a boring Tuesday had become quite an adventure.

I had obviously heard some of Nutini’s singles – at the time Last RequestRewind, and Jenny Don’t Be Hasty were all over the radio stations. I actually quite liked him on first listen – particularly Last Request, which is a swooning, deeply-felt ballad about wanting one last moment with a lost love. By the time I’d heard These Streets, a mature autobiographical song by Nutini, I’d decided that I really liked the sound of this young fella. Of course, the aforementioned singles made up a sizeable chunk of the album These Streets – his emphatic debut album. So, on the quiet, I was quite happy to be going.

The gig that night, at The Apollo Theatre in Manchester, was a hoot. A great atmosphere with a really excitable young crowd. I left very impressed indeed – Paolo was a nervous but energetic performer, and his band were superb. It occurred to me that he had a bit of Van Morrison and Rod Stewart about him; maybe even John Martyn, or Ray Charles. I vowed to pick up a copy of the album, which I did the very next day, and found myself, for the first time in a very long time, hooked on a Pop record.

Any album written about a relationship breakdown usually gives me cause for concern – especially when written by a 19-year-old. However, there’s a believeability that stems from a complete honesty in the songwriting, and a passionate, soulful delivery from this great young singer. Uncut Magazine said “a major talent has hit the ground running“; The Herald claimed these were “tunes that sound like classics.” Metro deemed the album “mesmerising,” The Sun said it was “assured and timeless,” and The Evening Standard declared Paolo Nutini “a gifted songwriter.” This was no dirge laden, all-been-done-before, cry-baby teen lament. This was a serious collection songs worthy of a serious ear.

Million Faces, the album highlight for me, is the song that first demonstrated the potential that Nutini has gone on to show. It’s his heady mix of personal reflection and social commentary that makes such tunes so engaging, and this in particular is a gorgeous love song. New Shoes is a real feel-good rocker led by Paolo’s husky, soulful delicacy, and White Lies is an adorable acoustic number with cunning chord changes. Loving You rang my Motown bells, which can’t possibly be anything short of great, and features some nicely-executed falsetto.

Autumn is another lovely, piano-based ballad, which made me think of John Mayer, but also back to the folk-rock and singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 70s. There are definitely classic influences penetrating this record – he’s a singer-songwriter with conscience and taste.  

After five days of being rained on non-stop by torrential down pours at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival, I was thoroughly depressed. It was a great hour-long set on the Sunday lunch time as the sun finally broke through the clouds by Paolo Nutini that pretty much saved my festival. I was finally in the right frame of mind after that to go on and enjoy the rest of the final day – or, drink copious amounts of cider and go crazy to The Who, which is what really happened.

Thanks for that, at least, Paolo.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

Top track trio:

Last Request

These Streets

New Shoes


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 2

Paul McCartney – McCartney III (2020)

It’s absolutely remarkable to me that a man of McCartney’s age is still doing what he’s doing at 78. The man is a melody machine. I mean, how can one guy have so many incredible, magnetic, dopamine soaked, feel-good bangers in ONE BRAIN?!

Paul McCartney is not only the most successful commercial songwriter in contemporary music history, but he is also one of the richest, has record breaking stats falling out of his jacket pockets….and most importantly….he was a BEATLE! He could have retired in 1970 when Liverpool’s famed fab-four split, and lived more than just a comfortable life. Instead, fifty years later, after already showcasing a body of solo and Wings work that the world will never see the likes of again, he’s been back in the studio completing his trilogy of indie inspiring, self penned, produced and engineered masterpieces in what only Macca could coin ‘rock-down’.

McCartney III proves one thing for sure – the man is still in love with his one true love….music. This album is far from going through the motions. It isn’t in the least bit stagnant, over-chiselled, sappy or contrived. Yet again, the genius that is (staggeringly…) heading for 80, has pulled out an absolute gem from yet another wardrobe door in his Narnia of imaginations. I’m not gushing over this record because it’s McCartney. I’m gushing over it because it’s bloody great.

As a writer myself, it always amazes me to see someone as prolific as Macca. Consider his discography: 23 studio albums credited to The Beatles, a further 26 studio albums credited to Paul McCartney, either solo or with Wings, 7 classical albums, 5 electronica albums (as The Fireman), and countless live albums, compilations, EP’s and box sets. I know his career has spanned almost 60 years, but the man has literally never stopped. That can only be down to his burning desire to create, and the need to fulfil that incredible gift that he has been given to craft a melody and pin it down with words the world over can relate to.

McCartney III opens with what is already an iconic riff – an almost eerie descent into Long Tailed Winter Bird, an all out attack on the musical senses, and the signature theme for this surprise release. It left me thinking shit, there’s so much more left in his tank! The album really takes off with Find My Way – a classic McCartney hook, and though the power of that crème-de-le-crème vocal has faded, he’s found ways to still work it. The very best in every walk of life adapt rather than disappear.

Lavatory Lil could have been on the classic B-side of Abbey Road, Slidin’ shows that Macca has been listening to the Foos (and that he’s no slouch on lead guitar), and Deep Down is the most contemporary McCartney track I’ve heard this side of the millenium. Fascinating to hear an old man singing about throwing parties every night. I’m sure Macca is no stranger to a party, even now. His eternal youth shines through this record.

The true highlight for me though is the mesmerising, 8-plus minute Deep Deep Feeling. For me, it generates a similar intensity that I Want You (She’s So Heavy) does, also on The Beatles’ seminal album, Abbey Road. The song swirls into a deep vortex of beautiful loops, and probably Macca’s most innovative vocal in years. Also….what a drummer he is!

The other highlight is the final track, Winter Bird / When Winter Comes. An outtake from the 1997 Flaming Pie sessions, McCartney has finally put the finishing touches to what is a beautifully raw, singer-songwriter masterpiece – the likes of which James Taylor, Stephen Stills, John Martyn or John Prine would be proud of.

Paul McCartney’s importance in the realms of contemporary popular music doesn’t need to be chanted from the rooftops. The man is the Beethoven of our times. Yes, he’s made better albums. Not many, but he has. I’m actually a fan of much of McCartney’s 21st century output, but I think this album probably snatches top spot of that batch from the 2006 album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which was also outstanding.

It leaves me excited for what else may come from the master tunesmith. It’s so refreshing to see the likes of Macca, Dylan, the Stones et al in the studio producing music that stands up. With his 80th birthday looming, we may be in for yet another original surprise from Paul….and if so, all hail the old guard!

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

© Mary McCartney

Top track trio:

Find My Way

Deep Deep Feeling

Winter Bird / When Winter Comes


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 1

Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (1980)

Released in 1980 at the height of the Northern Soul revival, this record by Birmingham’s quirkiest of quirksters draws on a profound Soul sensibility, whilst also experimenting with Funk, Ska, and booming powerhouse Pop melodies.

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is truly a record of its time; a powerful statement of defiance and fun by Kevin Rowland and his eight-strong army of “boys”. It’s the intense, four-dimensional soundscapes that first grabbed me when I got my hands on a second hand, semi-battered CD copy in the early noughties. New wave meant fresh air; and in a music chart dominated by Punk bands and semi-irrelevant popsters, Dexys were one of the larger waves sweeping over a changing musical landscape.

The album begins with the brilliant, cymbal crashing Burn It Down – full of balls and lifeblood and culture-shifting-angst, it’s a passionate attack on all those who dare demean the Irish and their heritage. Rowland reels off a host of Irish literary giants in defense of this great nation – Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Lawrence Stern, to name but a few. The horns are exquisite, and the vocals thumping. One of Dexy’s finest ever recordings.

Followed by Tell Me When The Light Turns Green – a rousing shifter, once again brought to life by a brilliant horn section, it’s more The Team That Meets In Caffs that pulls the ear into the speaker and wont let go. A moody, edgy instrumental, it demonstrates the true power of this band, and the voice behind them without needing voice. In fact, I ramble. The true voice of this band are those compelling horns.

I’m Just Looking is a gripping song of longing with yet another stunning brass section, followed by the epic bounce of Geno – one of the band’s staple super hits. The beauty of this band is that their music gets inside you before you realise it has to somehow get out. I’ve had many a night pumping the jukebox with Geno, much to the delight of EVERYONE. Seven Days Too Long, quite simply a Northern Soul institution, is every inch as rousing as the original.

I Couldn’t Help If I Tried is a gorgeous ballad sang with deep, raw emotion by Rowland, who flirts with falsetto throughout. It is bluesy in parts, jazzy in others, but at all times grabs you by the shirt collar. A superb change in tempo on an otherwise lively album. Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply – just about the oddest song title of them all – certainly lends an ear to the Punk movement of the time with its machine-gun bass, but the organ, coupled with Rowland’s fascinating flying-falsetto, throws the overall sound back into the Northern Soul scene. There is even a suspicion of Disco influence in this track – and that is never anything short of exciting.

And so, it seems that the only way to review this record is track-by-track. There is a spinal cord throughout the music. Love Part One is a unique, spoken word track complemented by a solo saxophone in the background, with an intrigue and poignancy: “They all dedicate lines to you/Thin lines – easy to see through/Of course they do it to be like others who/All feel something I wont pretend just for you.” Now that is cool.

The closing track on the album, There, There My Dear, is an exuberant and emphatic closing performance featuring dynamic backing vocals and a great lyric. And so comes a shock when the vinyl stops spinning and the needle clicks because your world has been nothing but Dexys indulgence for that space in time. As a complete package there are one or two dips, and it’s not looking to tear your heart out and stitch it straight back in. But, damn, it’s a cool record.

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is a powerful piece of work that captures its time so well – a time when music called for rowdiness and energy and all-out passion.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Jacob Sweetman

Top track trio:

Burn It Down

Geno

Seven Days Too Long