Jon Hopkins can seemingly flit with ease from making sophisticated, challenging music to collaborating with such biggies as Coldplay. The Englishman has also worked with Brian Eno and his minimal techno is often compared to that of the godfather of ambient music. That’s the case again on this compelling album, particularly in its second half in which the gentle, textured sounds are both soothing and melancholic. But it’s in the album’s opening half that Hopkins truly lets his imagination run riot, not least on the bruised, ominous sounding ‘Neon Pattern Drum’ with its disembodied arrangement and harsh percussion. Even more ambitious and challenging is the lengthy ‘Everything Connected’, an epic, soaring shape-shifting beast bursting with ideas and composed with such invention and elan that you’re still engaged once its 10-and-a-half-minute run-time has concluded. The best track is ‘Emerald Rush’ — a gloriously propulsive carpe diem anthem offset with ghostly, wordless singing. It will surely sound remarkable live — although Irish admirers will have to wait until October before Hopkins makes it to Dublin’s Vicar Street. Not everything about Singularity is quite as engaging and some of Hopkins’ more austere compositions feel badly underdeveloped. But when it works, it’s great.
Musicians decamping to another country for tax-saving purposes is nothing new. Ireland welcomed a slew of big-names in the early 1990s and all those years David Bowie spent living in Switzerland in the ’80s wasn’t simply because of the alpine scenery.
The practice began about half a century ago. It may have been the Swinging Sixties, but musicians had to cough up a huge proportion of earnings to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs — as much as 93pc for high-earners — and they were looking for ways to avoid it. George Harrison expressed the frustration he and his peers felt in ‘Taxman’ from the Revolver album in 1966.
And if the Beatles felt irked by having to pay so much in tax, the Rolling Stones felt exactly the same and after the release of their extraordinary ninth album, Sticky Fingers, in 1971 they offered the middle finger to the revenue collectors and departed Britain en masse. It subsequently turned out they had spent all the tax money they owed and needed to leave the country promptly.
Mick Jagger, newly married to Bianca, moved to Paris while Keith Richards rented a crumbling mansion, Villa Nellcôte, in Villefranche-surMer, near Nice on the French Riviera. The rest of the members relocated to the south of France.
They had already begun work on what would become Exile on Main St, the sprawling double album that’s seen by many as the band’s greatest work and regularly comes top of those best ever albums polls.
Unable to find a suitable recording studio in their adoptive country, they turned Richards’ basement into a makeshift studio and with a floating cast of guest musicians — including Gram Parsons, purveyor of the selfstyled ‘Cosmic American Music’ — in tow, they delivered the most ambitious work of their long, long career.
Nellcôte, which had had a Gestapo association in the Vichy France of the war years, would prove to be a wonderfully atmospheric — and decadent — place to record and many have suggested that the place had a major influence on the murky and dark songs that emanated.
Keith Richards later called it the first grunge record, and while it does have hallmarks of a genre that would take over the world 20 years after its release, its sound encompassed a huge array of styles and influences including hard rock, country, soul and gospel.
As the work of a band that had already secured their place in the rock canon forever more, they no doubt felt they could do what they wanted and if that involved a quadruple album of percussion-and-chanting, their label, Atlantic Records, would surely have obliged.
While it’s long been acknowledged as a classic of 1970s rock and the point that marked the apex of the band’s creativity, reviews at the time of release were decidedly mixed. Rolling Stone praised the record for its “tight focus on basic components of the Stones’ sound as we’ve always known it”, including blues-based rock music with a “pervading feeling of blackness”, but suggested the song quality was uneven. It predicted that “the great Stones album of their mature period is yet to come”.
Others noted that the album didn’t have the immediacy of the band’s previous work, nor was it as accessible.
Years later, when talking about the album, Richards noted its slow-burning qualities. “When [Exile] came out,” he said, “it didn’t sell particularly well at the beginning, and it was also pretty much universally panned. But within a few years the people who had written the reviews saying it was a piece of crap were extolling it as the best frigging album in the world.”
Rolling Stone seemed to have changed its tune, too. Exile on Main St was named by the magazine as the seventh best album ever released in a 2012 guide to their top 500 albums. And that iconic ‘chequerboard’ cover was surely an inspiration to Dublin designer Steve Averill when it came to creating the artwork for U2’s Achtung Baby.
In his book on Exile on Main St, Bill Janoviz, the American music writer and lead singer with Buffalo Tom, described it as “the greatest, most soulful, rock ’n’ roll record ever made” because it seamlessly distills “perhaps all the essential elements of rock & roll up to 1971, if not beyond”.
John Perry, in his book Exile on Main Street: The Rolling Stones, The former Supergrass mainman demonstrated his solo smarts with 2015’s and this third album is easily as expansive and quirky. There are nods to Bowie and T Rex and Coombes seems just as comfortable in piano ballad territory as he is with driving synth-pop. His old band were famed for their catchy choruses and there are plenty of those here including the cosmic ‘Shit (I’ve Done It Again)’.
The ‘chequerboard’ cover was surely an inspiration when it came to creating the artwork for U2’s