Album reviews: Coldplay, Harry Nilsson, Harmony Woods
What you should, or should not, be listening to.
Philadelphia makes a surprise appearance on Everyday Life, the pointedly political and surprisingly effective eighth album by British soft-rock band Coldplay. Sorry, it’s not flattering. The rueful “Trouble In Town” addresses anti-Muslim violence and police brutality, shining the light on the latter with a 2013 audio clip of Philly police officer Phillip Nace harassing a man during a traffic stop.
Everyday Life wears seriousness on its sleeve. Though only 56 minutes long, it’s being marketed as a double album, with the first half labeled “Sunrise” and second “Sunset.” It employs African and gospel choirs, includes a frustrated rant called “Guns,” and its title cut is a piano ballad that struggles to find answers to big questions. “How in the world am I going to see,” Chris Martin sings, “you as my brother, and not my enemy?”
Yet, despite the warning signs, Everyday Life is not ponderous, rarely gets tripped up on its own pretensions, and in fact is the most enjoyable, relaxed, and understated Coldplay album in years. Take note, U2: It aims to speak to global issues from a liberal universalist point of view, but avoids most pitfalls of the white-guy rock band casting themselves as saviors. (The band has said that it won’t tour until it can be carbon-neutral, so expect it to cross the Atlantic soon on climate activist Greta Thunberg’s catamaran.)
“Arabesque” ventures into Afro-beat without embarrassment, sampling Fela Kuti, the genre’s inventor, while enlisting the Nigerian singer’s son, Femi Kuti, and grandson, Made. Elsewhere, the Brit foursome broadens its reach by drawing from jazz composer Alice Coltrane and Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison.
Perhaps the most simply elegant song is “Cry, Cry, Cry,” a smartly reworked take on "Cry Baby,” the song written by Philadelphia producer Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns, originally a hit for Philly soul man Garnet Mimms before becoming identified with Janis Joplin. — Dan DeLuca
Make Yourself At Home
(Skeletal Lightning, ***)
Although Philadelphia is a national epicenter for indie rock, it also has a thriving, vibrant DIY scene, and for the past several years, Harmony Woods, the project of 20-year-old Drexel student Sofia Verbilla, has been one of its local luminaries. Make Yourself At Home is her second album; 2017’s Nothing Special came out when she was still an Abington High School senior. Verbilla is a student of second-generation emo bands such as Modern Baseball and The World Is A Beautiful Place, and the latter’s Chris Teti helped produce the sharp and rousing Make Yourself At Home.
“Sometimes you can get everything that you want and still not be happy,” Verbilla repeats in “Sagittarius,” at first sounding wistful but then turning it into a forceful accusation. That’s characteristic of an album that examines problematic relationships, often at the moment the speaker realizes the unhealthy consequences.
Verbilla has a clear, captivating voice, and she’s an astute writer, given to memorable slogans that lock into place with strong pop-punk hooks. She likes to start songs slow and calm before bursting them open and raving them up — a reliable emo convention. At its best, on the catchy “The City’s Our Song” or the propulsive “Ghosts,” Make Yourself At Home confirms that Verbilla is, indeed, something special. — Steve Klinge
Losst and Founnd
(Omnivore ** ½)
Among new albums by dead guys that have been completed by friends and family, Harry Nilsson’s Losst and Founnd comes in second to Leonard Cohen’s Thanks for the Dance.
Still, it’s nice to have new music from Nilsson, the John Lennon drinking buddy known for hits such as “Without You,” “Coconut,” and “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the latter written by Fred Neill. (He also owned the London flat where both Keith Moon and Cass Elliot died, though he wasn’t there either time.)
Nilsson died of a heart attack in 1994 at age 52. At the time, he was working on a comeback album that was left incomplete. Losst and Founnd gathers those work tapes and polishes them up with sometimes too-slick production by his friend Mark Hudson, with contributions from Nilsson’s son, Kiefo, and old pals Jimmy Webb and Van Dyke Parks.
A new appreciation of Nilsson is already underway. His “Gotta Get Up” is the theme song for the Netflix’s dark comedy Russian Doll, and pop heroine Carly Rae Jepsen interpolated “He Needs Me” on “Everything He Needs” from her new Dedicated.
Losst and Founnd isn’t prime Nilsson. But it has its winning moments, sung in a smoother, lower register than fans from the ‘70s are familiar with. A fair share are Beatles-eque: “Love Is the Answer” quotes Lennon’s “Mind Games,” and “Listen, the Snow Is Falling” is a sly Yoko Ono cover. The pleasantly nostalgic “U.C.L.A” name-drops Penny Lane and Ringo Starr and laments a world that has passed him by. Twenty five years later, it has a chance to catch up. — Dan DeLuca