Tribute, by John Newman
The relationship between dance music and soul singers has always been symbiotic. Dance music producers need the grit and texture of a human voice to flesh out their songs, and singers need a context in which to be heard, even if it’s not their native style. This has been going on, especially in England, for decades, though more often it’s the singers who’ve played second fiddle.
Enter John Newman, a veritable Fatboy Slim sample come to life, and part of the current stream of young British singers who got their starts singing on club records. (See also the excellent Sam Smith, who broke through on a song by the garage revivalists Disclosure and is soon to release a solo debut.)
Newman got his break singing on Feel the Love and Not Giving In, a pair of singles by Rudimental, a sort of organic club music outfit that’s been among the most popular young British acts of the last couple of years.
In environments like that, voices full of character do the trick best, and Newman’s tone is signature. He’s got a 1950s-informed nasal, narrow voice that he squeezes out with real power, finished off with a scratchy edge. It’s a success at cutting through even the most propulsive of beats.
But Newman has different designs with his first album Tribute (Republic), which debuted at No. 1 in Britain in October and is just being released here.
Notionally, there is dance music here, especially on the peppy and bright single Love Me Again, which sounds like a big beat song in which the singer wins out over the producer and culminates in a swell of Billy Joel keyboard attitude.
Losing Sleep and Cheating owe a great deal to the modern soul revivalism pioneered by Amy Winehouse and her early producers, and Newman is clearly obsessed with vintage soul: The video for Love Me Again features a group of convincing Northern soul dancers. But he may truly be the inheritor of the flamboyant piano-soul-man tradition, in the vein of Joel and Elton John (even if piano isn’t really his instrument).
His singing is strong throughout, and the way he falls off the notes, as in Out of My Head, smacks of maturity and flair. And he’s a traditionalist as a songwriter. (Newman receives a writing credit on every track here.) He’s given to familiar swelling arcs and circumstances of impossible love, as on the magisterial Easy.
Taken all together, there are indications he wants to be part of an even more powerful British tradition than dance music: The pageantry of Running and Gold Dust echo Adele echoing Shirley Bassey. Maybe he’s advertising his availability for the next Bond theme song. (Newman will play the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday.)
— Jon Caramanica, NY Times News Service
Wig Out at Jagbags, by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
Stephen Malkmus keeps his listeners guessing, from song to song and sometimes from moment to moment. His guitar-centered band, the Jicks, alludes to styles from the 1960s to the 1990s, twisting them all with a shifty meter, a wandering chord progression, a melodic detour, a willful swerve. His lyrics free-associate, assuming various personas with frequent glimpses of lucidity. The songs can be candid, arch, ingenious, arbitrary, revealing, mocking, exalted, trivial, ramshackle, ironclad, parodic, inventive, succinct and meandering. What they’re not, usually, is single-minded.