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Harry Harland (Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns)

Wait, stop running away, come back… I know what you’re thinking, why on earth would I want to listen to LinkinPark? I’m not 14 any more, I have settled my differences with my parents and I no longer want to paint my room black. Yes, I used to weep bitter adolescent tears to the dulcet tones of Crawling, but that was a long, long time ago…

However, this is not at all what you would expect. And brilliantly so.

For starters, A Thousand Suns is a proper album, the likes of which made the Beatles and Pink Floyd stand out from the crowd. By that I mean it is actually designed to be listened to, wait for it, in it’s entirety. Yes, that’s right, in this day and age when you can hand-pick tracks off iTunes (and indeed the Kaiser Chiefs released an album where you choose your own track-listing), it’s refreshing to know that some people actually appreciate the concept of putting an album on and listening to the whole thing.

The album contains a fantastically produced collection of songs held together by atmospheric and well-worked interludes, some of them spoken, others just instrumental. Gone are the chugging guitars and tortured screaming of yesteryear and in comes an impressively varied display of songwriting talent.

The first two tracks are both brief, building up the ambience to bursting point before proper opener Burning in the Skies. It’s a gentle pop song, the sort you’d expect to find on hundreds of pretty generic middle-of-the-road American soft-rock albums, but it introduces us to an interesting concept: these guys are capable songwriters, even when the decibels are turned down. Instead of screaming, Chester Bennington proves himself to be very adept at singing, and the results are there to see throughout the album.

Another short filler precedes one of the album highlights in When They Come For Me, a genuinely original and excellent song. Tribal drumming and electronic noises precede some of the “rap verse, singing chorus” formula the band made their trademark in the early 2000’s, yet minus the teen angst and heavy guitars, it’s genuinely revolutionary. Once the song has crescendoed to its climax, we reach the calmer waters of Robot Boy, and it’s just onward with the journey…

I could happily describe every track, but there is no way I could possibly describe how well the whole thing works as one solid block of music. The fills between songs ensure that moments of silence are kept to a minimum, while only closing track The Messenger is truly disposable (annoyingly, as it leaves an undeservedly bad taste in the mouth – I now skip it out altogether). At a push, I would recommend Iridescent and The Catalyst as additional stand-outs tracks, but the true joy of this album is that I can’t make that claim with any conviction, as the quality is so consistent and the sounds so variable.

It might take a couple of listens to get into, but I genuinely believe that this a very interesting and avant-garde LP. But most of all, it is a brave career move. This album has undoubtedly isolated the band’s old fanbase, who will have been hoping for more of the rap-metal that made them famous, but the band have essentially stuck two fingers up to them with this release. They have forgone an easy path to riches in search of critical acclaim, and on the basis of this, long may it continue.

Emily Bell (Baby Dee – Baby Dee goes down to Amsterdam

By the time you’ve listened to the whole of Baby Dee Goes Down to Amsterdam, your bags will already be packed, with Amsterdam on your ticket. Following her fifth album ‘Regifted Light’ which was released in March, this album gathers all her greatest tracks into one album. And on top of that it’s… shock horror… live. Originally recorded for radio, this performance marks the climax of her career and if you listen to the album, you will know what I’m chatting about.

Recorded at Amsterdam’s infamous jazz club, Bimhuis which is surrounded and sits on water with a cityscape behind makes the ultimate setting for this lady all the way from Cleveland. With Jo Carvell on the bass and Alex Neilson on the drums, Baby Dee brings her filthy laugh, dirty humour and vulnerable tone to your ears.

“Aren’t you nice to be clapping for me when I haven’t even done anything yet?” is her opening line and then we head straight into the unique sound of Baby Dee. The first few tracks are filled with the strings and with her vulnerable, haunting sound, her style almost seems like a musical. That isn’t meant to be insulting but it does sound like an act from a play where the main part is pouring her heart out.

‘Lilacs’ see the strings put aside and the piano takes over as does Baby Dee. By this point I was totally entranced. Her speaking/ singing style is fascinating and even in the uplifting tone of the song, you feel a sadness running through it. She is dramatic and this only increases. ‘Safe Inside the Day’ is much more upbeat and more aggressive as she heads into a spooky marching type sound with ‘The Earlie King’. You could imagine this song accompanying the bad guys tip toeing in a movie. The first disc ends with a few ballads as the pace slows and Baby Dee rolls out, “We promise you a happy ending but this ain’t it”, together with a dirty laugh.

Disc Two begins slowly, slightly reminiscent of the last disc but by ‘The Only Bones that Show’ there is almost a cabaret vibe and you could almost imagine dancers coming out onto the stage at this point. ‘The Big Titty Bee Girls from DinoTown’ is the comical peak of the album and it’s funny, entertaining and just shows Baby Dee’s humour at its best. By ‘Look What the Wind Blew In’, the sound becomes darker, more sombre and tragic and the rest of the album plays out like this. The vulnerability reappears and you really get to hear the voice on Baby Dee and her multi-talented style mixed in with her odd childlike comments like “That nasty drummer boy with the boom boom sticks”

Baby Dee has created a rare jewel of a live album, with a perfect flow of ballads, humour, piano, strings and cabaret style clapping. While the start of the second part loses momentum a little bit she manages to pick things up again and to be honest her music is so spellbinding you want to know what she’s going to do next. Utterly comical, utterly unique and for some reason I want to say that if there was a Dracula musical out there, she should write it, perform it and sell it. She is Dracula in a dress with her haunting sound that is aggressive yet vulnerable. I’m not even sure how she does that. It’s sad but stays humorous rather than miserable, which is definitely a good thing. This is Baby Dee’s voice at its peak and she never fails to pull it out the bag.

Baby Dee started on the streets in the 1970s and without having much faith in her talent, she went off and became a tree surgeon. With some gender changing surgery and a new outlook on life, she returned the world of music where she collaborated with the likes of Anthony and the Johnson’s to name a few. Then when things bored her again, she disappeared back to Cleveland, her cats and Rolls Royce of a piano, her Steinway, until her tree surgery ended up on her neighbours house and put an end to that career path. Jobless and penniless, thank god her talents were scouted again and her haunting sound was brought back to our ears. This chick from Cleveland has got some pipes on her and after hearing this live album, we are glad she knocked over that tree and came back into our lives. Let her take you to Amsterdam. It’s worth the trip.