Vet­er­ans re­turn for bet­ter or worse

Cher’s al­bum of ABBA’s great­est hits is one to avoid

Waterloo Region Record - - Arts & Life - MICHAEL BAR­CLAY ra­diofreecanuck­istan.blogspot.ca

CHIC “IT’S ABOUT TIME” (UNIVERSAL)

Gui­tarist Nile Rodgers found a new mu­si­cal lease on life af­ter he ap­peared on Daft Punk’s 2013 smash “Get Lucky” (and two other key tracks on “Ran­dom Ac­cess Mem­o­ries”), at which point he started tour­ing again un­der the name Chic, the group he founded with bassist Bernard Ed­wards, who died in 1996, and drum­mer Tony Thomp­son, who died in 2003. Rodgers is a Zelig fig­ure in pop mu­sic of the last 40 years, not only for his mas­sive hits of the disco era with Chic (“Good Times,” Sis­ter Sledge’s “We Are Fam­ily,” Diana Ross’s “Up­side Down”), but also with David Bowie (“Let’s Dance”), Du­ran Du­ran (“Wild Boys”), INXS (“Orig­i­nal Sin”) and dozens of oth­ers — even the Spoons, from Oakville, Ont.

There’s no mis­tak­ing that this is a Chic al­bum, de­spite the ab­sence of two found­ing mem­bers. Nile Rodgers’ sig­na­ture rhythm gui­tar is in­stantly rec­og­niz­able, and the op­u­lent old-school pro­duc­tion val­ues age well with more mod­ern ac­cou­trements. In its hey­day, Chic had two fe­male vo­cal­ists, nei­ther of whom are back for this in­car­na­tion. There is a core vo­cal group here, but also a de­pen­dence on guests like Hailee Ste­in­feld, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Craig David and Nao. The re­sult is a bit more hodge­podge than it has to be; some of the best tracks here are the ones with­out guests. Mean­while, Lady Gaga cov­ers Chic’s own “I Want Your Love” — ef­fec­tively, but un­nec­es­sar­ily. There are also some odd throw­backs to new jack swing — an R&B style of the early ’90s largely un­re­lated to Chic’s legacy, which resur­faced only re­cently thanks to Bruno Mars; what’s it do­ing here?

One cho­rus goes, “I dance my dance / I’m in a trance / liv­ing my life like it’s now or never.” It is now or never: Rodgers has been side­tracked with health prob­lems in re­cent years, but it’s clear he’s got a lot more to give. This is far from his finest work, but it’s good to hear him back in the spot­light and fully in charge.

Stream: “Till the World Falls,” “Dance With Me” fea­tur­ing Hailee Ste­in­feld, “I Dance My Dance”

CHER “DANC­ING QUEEN” (WARNER)

Why on Earth does this ex­ist? Dis­clo­sure: I’m a huge ABBA fan, al­beit one who has zero de­sire to see them do a holo­gram tour and who has boy­cotted “Mamma Mia!” since its in­cep­tion. Their mu­sic is their legacy, and their mu­sic is per­fect: why mess with it? Cher has a cameo in this year’s “Mamma Mia!” se­quel, a cameo that was so well re­ceived that some­one con­vinced her to record a full al­bum of ABBA songs, which now sits be­side the two of­fi­cial “Mamma Mia!” film sound­tracks (and more than one the­atri­cal cast record­ing) as com­pletely un­nec­es­sary. Cher’s is par­tic­u­larly galling, how­ever, be­cause the ar­range­ments are so faith­ful — only the oc­ca­sion­ally mod­ern drum ma­chine and the singer’s now-trade­mark use of Vocoder Au­to­Tune — that these are not cover ver­sions; they’re merely poor fac­sim­i­les. Cher her­self is far from be­ing in fine voice, which just makes the whole af­fair no bet­ter than a bad night at a karaoke bar. Avoid at all costs.

Stream: “One of Us,” “SOS,” “The Win­ner Takes It All”

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS “DIS­TANT SKY EP” (BAD SEED LTD.)

Against all odds, 61-year-old Nick Cave keeps get­ting more pop­u­lar, year af­ter year. His goth-tinged, death-ob­sessed, tor­tured-writer shtick should be get­ting tired by now; in­deed, many of his songs bor­der on camp. But for a guy who was al­ways har­row­ing to be­gin with, his live shows have be­come even more in­tense, in ways that only a vet­eran per­former like Cave and his band can do. Even if his records are in­creas­ingly sub­dued — like 2013’s “Push the Sky Away” and 2016’s “Skele­ton Tree,” recorded af­ter the death of his teenage son — the fury and chaos he’s ca­pa­ble of con­jur­ing live is some­thing to be­hold. So while he pre­pares for his first tour of hockey rinks — he plays Toronto’s Sco­tia­bank Arena on Oct. 28 — Cave has re­leased this EP, fea­tur­ing one track from each of his last two records, and two tracks that have pro­vided the cli­max in his live sets for the past 30 years (!): “Mercy Seat” and “From Her to Eter­nity.” If you’re late to the game or sit­ting on a fence, “Dis­tant Sky” is as strong a tes­ta­ment as any to Cave’s pow­ers.

Stream: all of it

BEAK “>>>” (TEM­PO­RARY RES­I­DENCE)

As a key mem­ber of Por­tishead, Ge­off Bar­row has made three of the great­est Bri­tish records of the last 25 years. Prob­lem is, those three al­bums are spaced pretty evenly over those 25 years, and there’s no sign of a new one any time soon. What else does Bar­row get up to in his spare time? Since we last heard from Por­tishead, on 2008’s “Third,” Bar­row has turned his at­ten­tion to this project, which is not that much more pro­lific: a de­but in 2009, a sec­ond al­bum in 2012, and here we are six years later. Much like that last Por­tishead record, Beak draws heav­ily on Ger­man art rock of the ’70s, pri­mar­ily the group Can: funky live drum­ming with dron­ing ana­log synths, puls­ing bass and icy, new wave gui­tars. It’s en­tranc­ing, mys­te­ri­ous and mag­i­cal, with a warmth that comes from its old-school ap­proach: this very much sounds like a live group of mad sci­en­tists trip­ping over wires, play­ing synths on the verge of break­ing down. No dig­i­tal trick­ery here. It’s a mat­ter of time be­fore they’re tapped to score a dystopian sci-fi sus­pense flick. Beak play the Mod Club in Toronto on Oct. 17.

Stream: “The Brazil­ian,” “Brean Down,” “RSI”

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