Nothing Special
Four Albums That Are, You Know, Fine

Last week I praised the return of Levellers, one of the best political-minded bands I know of. Well, when hope falls from the sky, it keeps on falling. Just this week it was announced that a reunited Midnight Oil, one of the most important bands in the world, will be releasing not one but two new records this year.

The first of them, The Makarrata Project, is due in the summer. It finds the Oils working alongside indigenous Australian musicians and singing about the rights of indigenous peoples the world over. Near the end of the year we should also get a new Oils album, a broad-ranging rock record dealing with the state of the world. As we lurch ever closer to a second Trump term, I need bands like Midnight Oil to channel my rage and disappointment. I’m very much looking forward to both of these releases.

It’s great to have something to look forward to, because 2020 isn’t shaping up to be particularly amazing yet. There are like three records I am anticipating – not breathlessly anticipating, but at least looking forward to – through April. The next one I cannot wait for is Rufus Wainwright’s Unbreak the Rules, out on April 24. I would love to feel something more for the records we’re getting until then, but I just don’t.

So in the meantime, here’s a few sentences about four records that are, you know, fine.

* * * * *

I would love to hear what everyone else seems to hear in Tame Impala.

It’s not that I dislike Kevin Parker or his work. It’s just that every Tame Impala record comes with such an outpouring of hype now that it’s hard to distance what he actually does from what people seem to hear in what he does. Nothing about Parker’s previous three one-man projects were magical, and I can now say the same about his fourth, The Slow Rush. It’s pretty good. It won’t set your world on fire, though.

In fact, more than any other Tame Impala record, this one feels designed to underwhelm. It’s a more patient, thoughtful thing, still living and dying by its banks of vintage-sounding synthesizers, but less showy. Songs here sometimes take a while to get anywhere (and some, like the six-minute “Posthumous Forgiveness,” take a while to get nowhere), and Parker counts on your willingness to go with him as he sets moods and atmospheres.

That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that approach, if your audience has already bought in. I found The Slow Rush to be an album that demanded repeat listens, but did not inspire them. I’m still a big fan of the groovy “Lost in Yesterday,” with its shimmy right out of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

I like a few others here too, but most of it gets lost in a sort of mush in my memory. I’m sure further listens would help untangle it, but I have so many other albums demanding my attention that I don’t know when I’ll be back to this one.

* * * * *

I mean no disrespect when I say that Huey Lewis and the News are the world’s luckiest wedding band.

Because they’re a pretty damn good wedding band, honestly. I’d dance at a wedding they were playing. I’ve liked Huey and his cohorts for nearly as long as I have been alive – their biggest record, Sports, came out when I was nine years old, and I remember hearing “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “I Want a New Drug” and “If This is It” on the radio at that age. I also remember Huey’s charming music videos, which I think did as much as anything to make him a superstar.

We haven’t heard much from Huey and the News for the past two decades. Their new one, Weather, is only their third since 2001. And now I hear that Lewis is suffering so much hearing damage that he may never tour again, and this may be the band’s final studio outing. That Weather itself is only seven songs and 26 minutes indicates to me that these were the songs the band finished while Lewis could work.

It’s a shame, too, because while this is not vintage Huey Lewis, it’s pretty good. “While We’re Young,” the leadoff song and single, combines a synthesized studio groove with the band’s trademark horns and Jonny Colla’s smooth guitar. “Her Love is Killin’ Me” is a bluesy romp with Huey picking up the harp again, “Remind Me Why I Love You Again” gets James-Brown-in-the-‘80s funky, and “Pretty Girls Everywhere” indulges the band’s love of ‘50s rock. The last track, “One of the Boys,” is pure old-school country, and Lewis’ voice straddles irony here, as it often does.

I wish there were not so many drum loops here, but that’s my main complaint. Weather is a nice final visit with Huey Lewis and the News, and if it turns out to be their last record, it touches on a lot of what made them cultural icons. In spite of myself, I will miss this band. They meant a lot to me growing up, and still do.

* * * * *

Don’t be alarmed, but Sepultura has slowly become good again.

I know the conventional wisdom is that as soon as everyone named Cavalera headed out for greener pastures, the band would fizzle out. But that simply hasn’t happened. In fact, Brazil’s strongest metal band has only grown stronger, and the new lineup – with two longtime members, a new drummer and second singer Derrick Green – has now fully gelled.

2017’s Machine Messiah was the best Sepultura album in many a moon, its songs longer and more complex than the ragers the band had been cranking out previously. And now Quadra, the band’s 15th long-player, follows that up with another winner. The band is tight, the production is elaborate when it needs to be (Strings! Choirs!) and raw when it wants to bite your face off, and the songs are killer. Drummer Eloy Casangrande co-wrote most of these tracks, so the percussive elements are top notch.

Really, there isn’t a weak moment here, and although this doesn’t quite rise to the heights of the band’s heyday, I’d say Sepultura is well worth paying attention to, still.

* * * * *

And finally, we have the Innocence Mission. And I lied above when I said these records would just be fine, because on further listen, this one is pretty terrific.

The Innocence Mission, built around married couple Don and Karen Peris, has been gifting us with lovely melodic folk music for 30 years. It’s hard to even fathom that, but it’s true – their first album came out in 1989. Their new one, See You Tomorrow, is their 11th, not counting a bevy of EPs, and after several sparser records, this one fills out the sound with pianos and melodicas and electric guitars and tympanis and other lovely accoutrements.

This means that the sound is richer, but the songs are just as pretty as they’ve always been, and Karen Peris’ voice as haunting and fragile. I would point out highlights – like the delightful opener, “The Brothers Williams Said,” or the brief “At Lake Maureen,” or the absolutely gorgeous “Stars That Fall Away From Us” – but honestly the entire thing is a highlight. It’s their best in years, and I look forward to sinking into it many more times in the coming months.

Listen and buy here.

* * * * *

That will do it for this week. More random records next week!

See you in line Tuesday morning.