"Recently I put my iPod on shuffle, and it decided that it would find three Waikiki songs within twenty minutes. My initial thought was ‘this is kinda better than I thought it was.’ At the time, I was so hard on myself, thinking ‘this isn’t good enough,’ and I listened to it and thought, ‘this is pretty good.’”
Juanita Stein seems to always have been tough on herself. Perhaps it’s a result of growing up in a creative household - her mother is an actress, her father a musician. Or perhaps it is born of a ceaseless need to react against type. Regardless, this perfectionist streak has driven some of her most thrilling and well-received music, as well as the numerous left-turns that have punctuated her career so far. Seated in TMN’s office discussing her third Howling Bells album, the dark, ethereal The Loudest Engine, Stein admits that kicking against outside forces drove the band’s sound back to the sinewy shoegaze of their debut album, which they initially left behind for similar reasons.
“It’s never really intentional, it’s just the ebbs and flows of making music and being in a band,” Stein explains of the band’s many stylistic shifts. “The first album is always a long, long leadup; it’s just years and years of writing and you are not conscious of what you are writing. I think what happens is you become aware of what you are because of the press; they bottle it really well. They put you in this category, saying ‘this is what we think you are.’ We have a tendency to wanna react against something, so we say ‘no, we can also do light instead of dark, and we can do less shoegaze things’, and we just reacted and went for something completely different. Then [Radio Wars] came out and the press said we were really, really bright and we were like ‘**** you, we wanna go back to being dark and groovy.’”
The album was recorded with The Killers’ Mark Stoermer in Las Vegas. The bands toured together a few times, and despite The Killers’ glitter- spun Orbison-meets-Springsteen sound sitting a million miles from that of Howling Bells, Stein and Stoermer soon discovered they shared “the exact same taste in music... You don’t have to play the same music to love the same music.”
Taking influence from Syd Barrett and various Krautrock bands - “Joel [Stein, Juanita’s brother and Howling Bells’ guitarist] moved to Berlin,” she offers by way of explanation – the band tracked the album in Vegas, and absorbed some of the culture that exists away from the famous strip. “There’s this entire spooky, suburban life that goes on,” Stein almost whispers. “We really enjoyed that.” This feel is carried over onto the striking cover art, a shot taken upon completion of the album by a friend of Stoermer’s.
“Heather Hyte, she was just a really cool chick we hung out with a lot, and at the end of the session we asked her to come out to the desert with us and take a whole lot of photos,” Stein explains. “Luckily for us she was really good at post-production and washed everything out and embellished the psychedelic vibe that we were going for.”
With this interview taking place prior to the record’s release, Stein is expecting their stylistic shift to again be highlighted by the media. However a few Mazzy Star comparisons (“They were embedded in my childhood,” she offers) are nothing compared to the pressure she felt when breaking up successful band Waikiki one album into their career.
“It literally was a situation where I found myself on stage singing all these songs and just felt like it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. It just wasn’t. We all have those lightbulb moments at some point, you’re working a dead-end job, or you’re in a relationship and you’re not very happy and you wake up one day and go ‘this is not where I want to be’ and that’s what happened. So I did everything in my power to change that.
“Like everything in life, it’s really comfortable to stay put, you don’t have the courage to change,” she continues. “It was really important to me to change, I wanted to break out of the comfort zone, which was a big reason why I moved to London, because I really wanted to break out of the comfort zone.” This move to London could have sunk a lesser artist, but Stein was determined to throw herself in the deep end.
“For the first two years I hated it,” she admits. “It’s just challenging, it’s not easy to live there and it’s not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. It’s a little brutal. If you are not good, people will let you know. You can be under the illusion that you are a good band for a while in Australia, but in London they will just annihilate you. It’s extremely artistically driven as a culture, which is why I wanted to get there and immerse myself, because it’s something that I really missed. Because it’s a serious job over there, if you are a musician they take it really seriously. That’s the biggest difference; there’s more weight to it”
Although she remains relentlessly driven, she is aware of the limitations of constantly trying to avoid being categorised. “I get really intent on bettering myself and I don’t know if this is true, but I feel part of bettering yourself is proving you can do something else. That shouldn’t be the case. If you do something, you should do it well. But you can’t be everything. I love Radiohead, but I can’t write songs like that. I ****ing love Jay-Z, but I can’t do a hip hop album.”
Howling Bells - Firing All Cylinders[/center] Having performed some of the biggest stadiums and arenas around the world alongside giants of music The Killers and Coldplay, Howling Bells have evolved from unassuming indie outfit to accomplished purveyors of rock. The band have returned to the studio to document this echelon transition, resulting in Killers-assisted production The Loudest Engine. Though originating in Australia, the outfit have since evolved into citizens of the world. Speaking while in transit in Berlin, guitarist Joel Stein lets us in on the creative bonds which led to the recording of the new album.
Having listened to The Loudest Engine, there’s this distinct sense of rawness and space. Does that come from a certain sense of freedom?
We just wanted to be a band, we didn’t want to be inhibited by production. We just wanted to get in and play, keeping everything as organic as possible. It was an unconscious effort, if you know what I mean. I guess the beauty of just walking into a studio and playing the music is that you don’t have to feel trapped by anything else taking over, or pushing your instrument or your sound somewhere else. There definitely was a lot more freedom than before.
You’ve toured extensively with The Killers, at what point did you guys line up [bassist] Mark for production duties on the new record?
We did a few tours with them, then we were in this crazy club in the middle of America or something, and that’s when we bonded over music. Mark’s taste in music was virtually the same as our band’s. We didn’t speak about production or anything, it was just a nice few drinks like you have with your mates, either talking about women or music. We happened to talk about music [laughs]. It was just really nice to hear someone speak exactly the same way you feel about John Coltrane, Miles Davis, all these artists that we love. That was a while before he produced the album. But when we were looking for producers, he just basically asked us if he could do it. We more than obliged. Sounds pretty simple I guess. It was nice how it happened.
What do you reckon he ended up bringing to the table?
He brought ideas, I guess. Really nice ideas. Sometimes with our band there are too many cooks in the kitchen. I guess with mark he restrained that, but not in a bad way. It was nice to have a set of ears that were outside the four people in the band, you know? He gave us clarity, and for me that was very important. You kind of feel like you’re spraying colours everywhere and you can’t see what’s going on, you kind of feel blinded in a way. It’s nice to have an outside voice saying, “Well no, this red doesn’t go with this green.”
What was your guitar arsenal looking like in the studio?
It’s hard to remember because I’m always changing. I was using an old Fender from the ‘70s with a Vox. Both were fairly old. Then I ended up using two Fenders and a Gibson – this old Gibson from the ‘70s which I can’t really put down. There’s like this glue at the back of the neck just stuck to my hands, I can’t get rid of it [laughs]. I just turned everything up really loud, played really loud. It was fun. You’ve been in two diverse bands over the past decade, have you built up a similarly diverse guitar collection?
I don’t have that many guitars, actually. I built my own, I have a Strat, I have my Gibson – that’s all I really have. I guess if I had the choice I would pick up a really old Les Paul and a really old Strat, but they’re going for something like fifteen thousand dollars.
Doing shows alongside these massive acts in suitably massive venues, did you find it was ever difficult to adapt to that environment?
It’s funny because different bands adapt in different ways. It’s hard for me to say how we adapted, because I guess the four of us in Howling Bells just believe it doesn’t matter who you ****ing are or what you do, it’s all about the songs. If you have a great song you can fill a hundred-thousand-seater stadium. I guess that’s the best way I can put it [laughs]. I guess if you have yourselves a good sound guy, they can help you adapt. I just think it’s about the song.
By Lachlan Kanoniuk
The Loudest Engine is out now through Shock Entertainment.
The problem with producing a flawless debut album widely regarded by many as a genuine classic, is that there will always be those who demand that subsequent albums endlessly repeat variations on the same theme. To adopt such a narrow-minded viewpoint means refusing to accept that for artists, exploring different musical directions is all part of the creative process. This appears to be the reaction Australia’s finest musical exports, Howling Bells have garnered from certain areas of an increasingly capricious musical press and as such may be forgiven for believing that producing such an immaculate debut has become something of a double-edged sword. Their sophomore album ‘Radio Wars’ received a decidedly unenthusiastic critical reception with many reviewers appearing disappointed that the band hadn’t rigidly adhered to the musical template set down on album number one.
However it’s highly unlikely that a selection of ill conceived, luke-warm reviews would have changed ‘the Bells’ approach when it came to writing and recording their third album. If you exist only to seek the approval of others than invariably you will lose your way as an artist. Singer Juanita Stein describes the band’s latest album ‘The Loudest Engine’ as “a modern psychedelic record more folk and rock than our last two albums” which “will change people’s perspectives of the band.” The album is a seductive, edgy and at times downright explosive affair, and sees the band come out with all guns blazing assisted by Mark Stoermer (of The Killers) on production duties. ‘The Loudest Engine’ defiantly has a trippier vibe in comparison to the post apocalyptic sound of “Radio Wars” or the sinister, claustrophobic goth-country of their debut, but rest assured the band haven’t been ingesting huge quantities of acid and communing with animal spirit guides whilst recording the album in the Nevada desert. Whilst it’s an album that rocks it’s not what you’d call an out-and-out rock album, and despite some mightily impressive guitar jams it still retains that magical, ethereal quality that make Howling Bells such an intriguing and beguiling proposition. They inhabit a world were innocence and wonder are seemingly stalked by an unseen, intangible darkness. Songs such as “Into The Sky,” “Don’t Run,” “Sioux,” “The Faith” and “Baby Blue” all serve notice that you write Howling Bells off at your peril on an album that delivers from start to finish and plays to the bands many strengths. Juanita’s vocals veer between coquettish seduction and strident imperiousness whilst the band demonstrate just what a formidable musical unit they have become, deftly mixing light and shade with subtlety and raw power. A great album from a wonderful band who I hope continue to make the music THEY want to make for many years to come.
Manchester’s Academy 3 plays host to the last gig of Howling Bells mini tour to promote ‘The Loudest Engine’ and finds the band on spectacular form. Juanita is almost impish as she somewhat coyly charms the audience and the natural camaraderie that is apparent between the band members combined with the obvious love displayed for their craft immediately translates to an enthusiastic audience. Tonight’s set list, somewhat surprisingly, contains only one song from the ‘Radio Wars’ album, the epic Orwellian ‘Cities Burning Down’ as the band instead decide to weave some choice cuts from their debut album with new material. Live, the slow burning folk rock, torch song “Sioux” takes on mystical quality with Juanita transforming herself into some sort of ethereal high priestess, whilst the album’s title track sees Joel wigging out with some incredible guitar licks. In many ways ‘The Loudest Engine’ makes perfect sense live, giving the band plenty of scope to ‘rock out.’ The evenings entertainment is drawn to a fitting conclusion with an encore that includes a thunderous version of the classic ‘Low Happening,’ and new song ‘Live On’ as once again Howling Bells demonstrate just why they are still one of the best live acts around. Long may they continue to chime!
A quick word about opening act Cold Specks, the conduit through which Canadian singer songwriter Al Spx performs. With a voice imbued with more soul than New Orleans , Al mesmerised the audience and by the end of the set had them shouting for more, which is quite a rare thing for a support band. Ones to watch for sure
Prior to The Manchester gig, we went backstage and had a chat with Brendan Picchio, the Howling Bells bassist about the album, stadium gigs, the kindness of Chris Martin, Juanita’s impromptu Alice Cooper impression and life on the road.
VP: Would you say the intention behind the new album was to do something very different from Radio Wars, to take another musical leap so to speak?
BRENDAN: I guess you’d hope every album is a progression of sorts. It was a long writing process for ‘The Loudest Engine’ a lot of it done on the road, but rather than progress or move forward I think the predominant feeling was to make a record that was true and honest and from the heart. After all there are only 12 notes on the music spectrum, there have been thousands of bands from The Beatles through to the present day, and maybe there’s a feeling that everything’s been kind of done before. I think we accomplished what we set out to achieve, at the time we were all in a very good head space, very happy, positive and emotionally connected as a band.
VP: As a band you seem to straddle genres and I think the critics find it hard to pigeonhole you, but you’ve always managed to produce music that has a slight darkness imbued within… Juanita said this record sounds 70’s tinged and psychedelic which happened almost accidentally?
BRENDAN: Yeah I think some of tension, musically speaking comes from Joel’s guitar playing which has certain intensity to it. With regard to the album Juanita’s right to a degree, in terms of this album technically speaking we went for a kaleidoscope kind of sound, but it also has a raw airy feel to it. We were very inspired by The Doors documentary we’d watched just before going into the studio. I remember before recording Joel sent an email saying ‘No way am I doing this album unless we record it to tape’ and everyone’s like ‘get the **** out of here, everything’s on digital these days’. Then the next day Mark [Stoermer–producer] said ‘Hey guys I’ve found a tape machine!’ And that was it! We went old school and recorded to tape, we did like maybe four takes, listened, picked one, overdubs, done! It was basically the band in the room playing takes which was really a lot of fun.
VP: Your debut album was quite rightly universally praised, did this lead to any kind of pressure when making subsequent albums, a weight of expectation perhaps?
BRENDAN: I didn’t feel any pressure personally as I tend not to think that way but I think maybe some of the guys in the band may have done. Mind you when we get in the studio it’s just four people trying to make a record to the best of our ability. We generally don’t read reviews as it’s just an opinion, I mean hell, I don’t even trust my own opinion sometimes [laughs]. All I can say is we put our hearts and soul into what we do, and if someone doesn’t like out heart and soul – well…. **** ‘em ! [laughs]. If you try to concoct some sort of idea of what people are expecting of you it’s never gonna be true and honest. It’s like being with your wife or girlfriend and trying to figure out what she wants you to say rather than what you genuinely feel.
VP: So how did Mark Stoermer from the Killers get involved in producing the album?
BRENDAN: He’s a genuinely lovely guy; he’s here tonight, I’ll introduce you, we’ve toured with them a few times already and they are very quiet guys. Mark actually seemed initially to be the most serious. In fact the first impression you get is maybe he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, he wants to be left alone or he’s upset about something and you best stay away. It’s strange how things happen but it turned out that Mark was the guy we got on with the best. It was funny because when we flew over to Vegas to meet Mark our flight was seriously delayed and we didn’t get in till midnight. Mark had been waiting for us at the airport arranging stuff for us, since like 10 AM ! I mean this guy could get anyone to do this for him, but there he was getting his hands dirty and doing it himself. When we arrived he was all smiles, hugging us, cracking jokes and we were like ‘Who the **** is this guy!” [laughs] It was there where we really forged our relationship. He’s a fantastic human being and I loved his style of working, it was very free and natural, lots of jams happened, it was a real pleasure.
VP: On the title track, ‘The Loudest Engine’ it took me a while to extract the meaning from the lyrics but apparently it’s a kind of homage or love-hate song about your relationship with your tour bus! ?
BRENDAN: We all do that too! Try and work out what the lyrics are all about [laughs] But yes it was written by Juanita about a particular bus we were on. She’s trying to describe what it means to a band on the road, kind of like the mother ship, you respect it but also resent the time you have to spend on it.
VP: So do you find yourself going ‘stir crazy’ at times on the tour bus ?
BRENDAN: Well we haven’t toured for two years so we have crammed in all that energy and horseplay into the last five days! It’s been nauseating You can’t move without somebody grabbing your nether regions! But there’s a limit and we kinda know how far we can push each other!
VP : Just before the tour you did a great session for Marc Riley on the BBC, which really wet my appetite for seeing you live again.
BRENDAN: Yeah, we’ve done a few before, but he’s a really great guy, so funny, and he certainly knows his stuff. It was a lot of fun!
VP: Fun!? . . . FUN !? But I thought the press had pinned you guys down as ‘Alt-Goth-country- doom merchants!‘
BRENDAN: Ha! There’s nothing gothic about us, except maybe the debut album cover, people just love labels!
VP: Ok so prior to the album’s release you went down the “Pledge” music route and released a digital EP, what was the thinking behind that?
BRENDAN: Really we felt that as we had been away so long we wanted to reconnect with our audience, I don’t really like to use the term ‘fans.’ I mean when we played London there were about fifteen people down at the front who were at our very first gig and have stuck by us. We thought this would be a nice way to involve people without going down the traditional route of through a label and would give us a chance to have some fun.
VP: So the internet/digital age is in many ways a bitter sweet pill for bands? Great to communicate with your fans but not great for sales?
BRENDAN: It can be hard for bands, yeah, because nobody is really making that much money, so you always have to think ways of doing things. With the Pledge campaign the fans were very generous and it all went back into the band fund and enabled us to fund this tour. I mean it’s not like we pocketed it and went down the pub! So yeah it is getting harder definitely but at the end of the day we do this for the pure love of it. Love it, or get the **** out, that’s the choice! Every album and tour we somehow manage to do it and I certainly hope we continue pulling cards out of our sleeves to carry on doing this because we just want to make music.
VP: You’ve seen the other side of music too, the huge tours alongside The Killers and Coldplay. How does that compare to the more intimate shows. Is it nerve wracking playing to stadium sized crowds?
BRENDAN: Luckily I don’t really get nervous; walking out in front of 15 people or 50,000 people is all the same to me. Obviously you feel more distant from the crowd due to the scale; mind you I’m always interested in other bands fans reaction to us because I believe we are a good enough band to merit people’s attention. Y’know with Juanita’s voice and the way we craft the music around it, I think it’s interesting. But really the big tours you have to take them with a pinch of salt, and personally you reach a point when the money runs out! Let me take you through a day on a big tour:
A limo picks us up from the apartment then drives us to an air force base; you walk through security feeling like you own the joint. These flights are amazing you can do what you like really, then you land 45 minutes later where a motorcade with police outriders picks you up takes you through security to the stadium. You then eat some good food and play a show in front of 50,000 people. You fly back ……and then realise. . . . you can’t afford a cab and have to walk back to your girlfriends place! [laughs] That certainly gives you perspective, but you get to have these incredible experiences. I wouldn’t trade my band’s history and experiences for a billion dollars.
VP: Isn’t it tempting to do a bit of mad partying on tour?
BRENDAN: We used to at first, but jeez we’re getting on, we’re in our thirties now ! These days we’re pretty clean living and probably bigger foodies than drinkers. Maybe if you were on the same level as your Coldplays you might take advantage ( not that they do) , but at our level you have to be on your toes and you don’t want to let people down. I mean every time you suck live might lose you some fans and then other people in your team have to take up the slack, I think we have too much respect for what we do to let each other down. Buy hey we still get to meet crazy people and have amazing experiences!
VP: Talking of Coldplay what was that tour like, I know other Howling Bells fans that aren’t really keen on them, but it must have been a great opportunity to get your music out to an even bigger audience?
BRENDAN: Well from our point of view we were really happy and fortunate to get the chance to be involved in such a huge production, and y’know what? They are genuinely, honestly really nice guys, seriously! Like when Juanita broke her guitar on tour and the next day a brand new one arrived wrapped with a big bow, we were like ‘****! A new guitar!” But this is how they roll. They are lovely to all their crew, seriously great guys, and they work ****ing hard. So y’know you really have to respect them for that!
VP: Finally Brendan, off the top of your head, what would you say is your most memorable band moment?
BRENDAN: Jeez man, this is a tough one, so many…arrrgh…. OK I think maybe when we sold out our first headline London show at ICA and we were like ‘holy crap, we sold it out ! And I remember there was no air conditioning and my shirt was stuck to me after the gig and had to be literally peeled off my back! Juanita came off stage looking like Alice Cooper as her makeup had run down her face and her hair was plastered to her forehead!
Everybody looked disgusting, but we were on such a high, which may have been in some part due to a lack of salts and dehydration induced euphoria! We nearly died that night it was so hot but it was a great gig!
Howling Bells - Power play (in conversation with Lalita Augustine)
Aussie Indie band Howling Bells are back with a new album, ‘The Loudest Engine’, released last month on Cooking Vinyl. Recorded in Las Vegas, with The Killers’ Mark Stoermer producing, the band toured the album with a clutch of live shows, including a date at Glasgow’s Oran Mor. With support from energetic seven-piece Glasgow outfit Aerials Up and touring support from London’s finest in Canadian blues Cold Specks, the combination of all three acts made for a raw, energetic night. Frontwoman, Juanita Stein, certainly has her own kind of swagger, with her commanding presence on stage. Captivating and somewhat sensual with her performance, she mostly danced across the stage while belting out better known Bells songs such as ‘Setting Sun’, ‘Low Happening’ and ‘Cities Burning Down’. Offerings from The Loudest Engine sounded promising with current single, ‘Into The Sky’, ‘Gold Suns, White Guns’ and ‘The Wilderness’. Both previous album ‘Radio Wars’ and ‘The Loudest Engine’ have not lived up to fans’ expectations after the belter of a debut with their eponymous album. ‘Howling Bells’ was included on Album of the Year lists when it was released back in 2006 and was celebrated for its combination of elements of pop, country, blues and rock. It will be interesting to see how the songs on ‘The Loudest Engine’ grow on fans, although they sounded pretty decent performed live. All in all, this was an evening of power, energy and a great eclectic mix of music.
Before the gig, I had the pleasure of speaking with Juanita Stein in the Oran Mor’s atmospheric auditorium and we had a wee chat about the band and how things have been going for them with the new album:
When did you guys form?
We started in Sydney, Australia, about 7 years ago now and we all moved over to London and have been here ever since. We all live in East London, Joel moved to Berlin a little bit ago, so now it’s just the three of us.
Where did the name the Howling Bells come from?
We formed and the name just came from a bunch of words that we felt best represented the music and that particular combination of words sat the best with us.
What’s it like being based in London, when you are all from Australia?
We felt like we needed a change and a different perspective. Having all come from very musical families, we were very familiar with the British musical landscape and we felt like if we were to immerse ourselves into the scene, it would be easier to access that inspiration.
Who are the songwriters in the band?
Predominantly Joel (Juanita’s brother and lead guitarist of the band) and I, although we have all contributed at different times, and the balance has been different for every album, for “The Loudest Engine”, the balance has been half and half Joel and I.
What inspires you guys to write?
It’s different every album, every season, every month. For this album we drew a lot of inspiration on being on the road, we travelled a lot and have done a lot of tours in the last couple of years, we wrote a lot of these songs parked in the tour bus in various different cities, some were in America, some in Europe.
What was it like writing on the move?
I think songs and art is best inspired when you’re not so restricted in your execution of it and it’s nice when it happens and there’s a theme to it, which happened with this album.
You’ve been characterised as a dark, gothic band, how do you feel with this definition?
I think there are elements of darkness and moodiness, I think our band is more moody than dark and there’s a difference, but people are free to interpret it as they wish. Our music is definitely moody and atmospheric but at the end of the day, it’s all pop music isn’t it?
The new album has a more rock and roll approach, would you agree with this?
I think after our second album we had experimented a lot more synthetically with keyboards and it was a tad more electronic than anything else we had done. With this record, we wanted to make a distinct effort to keep it raw and earthy and grounded, making it easier for ourselves to interpret in a live format, so I think it did come out a bit more dirty and rock and roll like.
You recorded the album in Las Vegas with Killers’ bassist Mark Stoermer producing
It was a fabulous experience, Mark and the Killers are all based in Las Vegas so we went and recorded in their studio. I think the environment and the backdrop which was literally the desert, had quite a profound effect on the music. Mark was great, he was super in-tune and inspired and very much on the same level as we were.
Bands and artists you like?
Joel and I grew up pretty much into Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, a very rich diet of 60s and 70s music, I guess Brendan (Picchio – bass guitar) and Glenn (Moule – drums) were the same. There’s an endless stream of bands and artists nowadays and it’s rare if you meet someone today and you’re into exactly the same bands, everyone’s off into their own trip into quirky and interesting music.
What are your favourite tracks from the Loudest Engine?
Right now that we have started playing live, it has changed my opinion on some of the tracks, I really love ‘The Wilderness’, and ‘The Loudest Engine’ is fun to play. There’s a moody track also called ‘Gold Suns, White Guns.’
How has playing the new tracks been for you?
It’s been a short tour of only six shows but the reaction has been great, it’s really liberating to play new songs.
What else after this tour?
We go on a tour in November with Elbow round Europe which will be cool, in December and January, we are looking to get back to Australia to tour there.
THAT feeling you got when you eagerly listened to Coldplay's Paradise and realised you wanted to like it more than you actually did? Welcome to Mylo Xyloto.
It's not terrible at all, but Coldplay should be releasing jaw-dropping albums at this stage, not ones that leave any room for disappointment. Especially after the creative watershed of Viva La Vida triumphantly rebooted the band after the overblown stadium-rock-by-numbers of X&Y.
Chris Martin is his own worst critic, so it's odd Mylo Xyloto sounds less like the concept album he promised and more songs they had ready to record. Even Brian Eno's input sounds minimal, beyond a few digital squiggles and interludes.
First single Every Teardrop is a Waterfall remains the best song here, a bona fide modern anthem that pushed their usual boundaries by tapping into club culture, not just old U2 albums. How was it not a massive, world-enveloping hit? Paradise seems too classy for radio in 2011 and there's no Viva La Vida II here.
Hurts Like Heaven is great, even if the bridge sees them recycle Viva's wonderful 42 (the "You thought you might be a ghost" bit).
Charlie Brown has good ideas, but few you haven't heard Coldplay do already. Major Minus has a nice bluesy swagger to mix up the '80s U2 feel. They revert to the innocence of their debut Parachutes on the sea-shanty-as-played-by-The-Edge vibe of Us Against the World, or the even more simple UFO. Up With the Birds features Australia's Juanita Stern (Howling Bells) on guest vocals in the mix.
The album's big money shot (at least for radio) is the Rihanna duet Princess of China. It's a hot mess. Part stomping electro, part moody Sigur Ros sample and part thrilling pop song. It kind of works - Rihanna virtually steals the show in her parts, which is no mean feat.
It's still a strong album, just a slight side-step after Viva La Vida's creative leap.
They're in Rolling Stone according to their Facebook. I'll be buying one tomorrow.
And Juanita looks stunning. But that's hardly news...
Hang on bro. Would hate to see you go out and buy the latest RS issue expecting to see the HB feature that unfortunately is not in there. You can download PDF's of the last two issues here, and not see it in either one. I believe that feature is in Rolling Stone Australia. If you read the caption inside the picture closely it says, "Juanita Stein is due back in Australia in December". That version of the magazine seems to be unavailable as a download anywhere, so it's certaintly not a 100% guarantee that it's in there, but most likely.