1. Conflict of Interest
At the ripe old age of 36, Ghetts (the east London MC Justin Clarke) has been a fixture of the capital’s rap scene since practically “the dawn of grime”, said Alexis Petridis in The Guardian. From his first mixtape in 2005, he has won “constant acclaim” from critics, and the approbation of his peers, while shifting his style from “raging aggression” to something more insouciant and conversational. This third album is his first for a major label, and with its “unusual, beautiful arrangements” – even a string and brass section – and “brilliant, sodium-lit melancholy”, it should propel Ghetts “into the big time”.
The 16 tracks “cast Ghetts in various roles” – from son, father and boyfriend to role model and teenage criminal, said Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the FT. A varied cast of A-list guests, including Dave, Skepta, Emeli Sandé and Ed Sheeran, play important roles in several songs. And the music is “boldly conceived and thoughtfully structured”: the album amounts to a “coherent work of drama”. It seems “Ghetts is ready to seize his moment”.
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2. English Music for Strings
Sinfonia of London (John Wilson)
For this outstanding new album with the recently revived Sinfonia of London, conductor John Wilson has “gone for all the Bs”, said Richard Fairman in the FT. The four composers represented here are Britten, Bridge, Berkeley and Bliss – and “if the intention was to pull off a showpiece disc, he could hardly have planned it better”. The players have “brilliance to burn”: their rendering of Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge is the “most exhilarating of recordings, arguably the first to rival Britten’s own”. And Arthur Bliss’s Music for Strings is a “superbly wrought piece, delivered with the panache” that fills the whole disc.
Wilson’s “handpicked band play with a depth of sonority and variety to challenge the greatest ensembles”, agreed Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times. But it is “not all virtuoso flamboyance”. The “exquisitely crafted” Serenade by Britten’s friend Lennox Berkeley, and a touching Lament by his teacher Frank Bridge on the Lusitania disaster, “completes an original and fabulously well-played album”.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Carnage, by Nick Cave and his long-time Bad Seeds collaborator Warren Ellis, is without doubt a “pandemic masterpiece”, and perhaps “the greatest lockdown album yet”, said Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph. Its themes are isolation, loneliness, loss and the “hard emotional graft of endurance, all set against a backdrop of apocalyptic threat”. Five of the eight songs are moody and “spookily beautiful”, pushing further into the “ambient electronic terrain” that characterises this pair’s film work. The other three have a “hypnotic throb and angry energy”, in particular the “savage, surrealist and bitterly comic” centrepiece track, White Elephant.
The album extends a “late-career” run, in which Cave has set “poetic imagery and mystical metaphor against graceful, strings-led music”, said Will Hodgkinson in The Times. There are “doom-laden, biblical” moments but, ultimately, the album contains hope: “a suggestion that communal catastrophes can only go on for so long. Then new life emerges from the wreckage, like daffodils at springtime.”
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