AL­BUM OFTHEWEEK

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Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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