Album reviews: AC/DC | Cabaret Voltaire | Bis | Puffers Choice
Following a series of trials and tribulations that would have seen lesser bands throw in the towel, AC/DC are back with a mixture of melodic power rock and pugnacious metal headbangers
AC/DC: Power Up (Columbia) ***
Cabaret Voltaire: Shadow of Fear (Mute) ***
Bis: Music for Animations (Last Night from Glasgow) ****
Scotch Bonnet Presents Puffers Choice Vol.3 (Scotch Bonnet) ****
In turbulent times like these, thank the gods of rock that we can depend on AC/DC for their not very rock’n’roll qualities of consistency and comfort – even as the band themselves have come through what one might euphemistically call an eventful period, culminating in the death of founding guitarist Malcolm Young in 2017.
In 2015, drummer Phil Rudd was convicted on drug charges and threatening to kill a former assistant. The following year, frontman Brian Johnson was advised to retire from touring on pain of deafness, with Axl Rose taking his place for the remainder of the band’s live commitments. No wonder bassist Cliff Williams chose to walk away. But all three have now returned to the fold joining guitarist Angus Young and Malcolm’s nephew Stevie to create their 17th album.
Completing the reunion, the elder Young makes his presence felt from beyond the grave. Power Up features a number of songs he co-wrote around the time of 2008 album Black Ice – though tracks such as the booty shaking Code Red, the routinely raunchy Money Shot and the signature boogie of Shot in the Dark might as well have been written in 1978 for all their currency.
Brian Johnson’s remarkable voice remains as soothing in its sandpaper familiarity as it is bordering on possessed on the pugnacious metal headbanger Demon Fire. He has fun chewing the scenery on Why Do They Kick You When You’re Down but doesn’t take things well on the mean, mid-paced Rejection. The melodic power rock of Through the Mists of Time throws some unintended variety into the mix while the anthemic Systems Down plays with the idea of a society on the brink of collapse. When it’s all over, AC/DC will surely emerge as survivors. Just don’t expect them to make a meal of it.
Sheffield electro punk trailblazers Cabaret Voltaire are also back in the game with their first album in a quarter of a century. Shadow of Fear is essentially a solo Richard Kirk production now that vocalist Stephen Mallinder has skipped off to collaborate with John Grant in Creep Show, and makes for a claustrophobic cocktail of industrial electro, economical but irresistible techno, hip-hop drum breaks, pitchshifted vocal samples, lo-fi oscillation, electro bubblegum and the pumping machine music of Vasto, an inexorable conveyor belt of crunchy synth effects and piston-pounding rhythm, designed to be played at earbleeding club volume for maximum immersion.
Like AC/DC, Glasgow three-piece Bis have raided their vaults to release Music for Animations, a kids’ TV soundtrack project originally recorded in 2004, which showcases their playful punk pop chops and stars our trio of heroes as the last line of defence against an alien invasion, with Manda Rin on lead vocals, backed up heartily by Sci-Fi Steven, John Disco and laser sound effects. They seem to know exactly where they are going on the Road to Nowhere, with its Magazine-like new wave momentum, while the gonzo sci-fi rock’n’roll of Good to Go and all-round cartoon anarchy on display is redolent of a west coast Rezillos.
Scotch Bonnet Presents Puffers Choice Vol.3 is a satisfying compilation of collaborations between various reggae producers, vocalists and sound systems from Jamaica, Sweden, Kenya, Switzerland, Belgium, New Zealand, the US and the UK, curated by Glasgow-based collective Mungo’s Hi Fi.
Their sweet dub version of Wild Mountain Thyme, sung by Galway vocalist Cian Finn, is a highlight of the collection, which ranges from Jeb Loy Nichols’ wearily soulful roots rocker To Be Rich (Should Be A Crime), with production by Adrian Sherwood, to the trippy Sailor, featuring Edinburgh-based MC Nem, via a humorous love-in between British MCs Tippa Irie, Daddy Freddy and Parly B.
The Kanneh-Masons: Carnival of the Animals (Decca Classics) *****
It was only a matter of time before the entire Kanneh-Mason family released an album en famille, all seven siblings doing for Nottingham what the von Trapps did for Salzburg. Talented as they surely are, and these are genuinely touching performances, Carnival of the Animals is as much a success of creative programming. Drafted in are Olivia Colman and Michael Morpurgo, who narrate poems specially written by the latter. Nor is the music limited to Saint-Saëns’ zoological suite, though it is the essential backbone to the album. On a disc directed at younger listeners, animal references are broadened to encompass Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous Flight of the Bumblebee, Bartok’s portrayal of a mosquito, some Bob Marley and much more in a variety of styles that broaden the musical appeal. The Kanneh-Masons are an extraordinary phenomenon, but they are no mere carnival sideshow – they are a class act. Ken Walton
Nordic Fiddlers Bloc: Bonfrost (Own Label) ****
A joyful shrilling of strings heralds the third album from this peerless northern fiddle trio. Between them, Sweden’s Anders Hall on fiddle, viola and octave fiddle, Norwegian Olav Luksengård Mjelva on Hardanger and Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson range with palpable zest and dynamic and harmonic empathy between their vibrant northern fiddle traditions. Thus two briskly articulated solo Shetland reels from Henderson rub shoulders amiably with a similarly spirited group polska from Sweden. In contrast come the gentle Hardanger drift of the traditional Norwegian Dravbakken and the stately, halting measure of the Swedish polska En Konstig Fan. Wonderfully bustling ensemble work informs Mjelva’s lively admonition Don’t Drink and Dance and his high-speed tribute to the celebrated Finish fiddle band, Fryg, while the album’s title air, Henderson’s Bonfrost, which takes its name from the Shetlandic term for a hard frost, its appropriately crisp pizzicato ticking steadily behind a gorgeous melody. Jim Gilchrist
A message from the Editor
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.
To subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app, visit https://www.u2swisshome.com/subscriptions
Joy Yates, Editorial Director