Silent Cynic / Shangri La Review

I did a double album review a while ago and quite enjoyed juxtaposing two very different artists, so let’s do it again with two new albums I bought the other day. In the red corner we have the queen of the ukulele, Sophie Madeleine’s Silent Cynic and in the blue corner we have Bob Dylan’s tribute act, Jake Bugg’s Shangri La.


Silent Cynic
The album opens with Parallel, which is a nice song which has the strange feature that, apart from perhaps the chorus, the backing vocals are the best thing about it. There’s nothing wrong with the song, it’s a good song, one of the best on the album, but the backing vocals are sublime. The “yea-eah” sounds a bit half-hearted, which is a nice touch because it’s not, it’s just her style, but I like to imagine it is. The “yeah-yeah-yeah” also brought back memories of Morecambe & Wise singing backing to Tom Jones, but that’s just me being nostalgic. The song makes it clear that the artist has moved on and matured since the previous album, The Rhythm You Started.

The second song, Rufio, is more uptempo and sounds very much like something She & Him would play. I think they’d do a good cover of it. Skipping Count Me Like A Number for no reason other than I don’t have much to say about it, we we move on to Beautiful Lie, which is the sort of track I like to listen to with my eyes shut, as it’s one of those slow, reflective songs that you can really feel something from. It’s a beautifully written, very emotive song, with a lovely guitar/piano arrangement. It’s one of those songs you want to send to one of these pop singers and say “This is real music!”

The the tempo picks back up with Calico, which as you may have noticed from the choice of video above, is one of my favourite songs off of the album. It’s calmly upbeat and to be honest i’m not sure what it is about it, but I really like it. Maybe it’s because the first time I heard it I thought she was singing about a Callipo ice lolly. And now I can’t get that out of my head. It’s written in the third person, which I always like in songs. It tells a story, creates a character. Aviator is pretty damn cool. When I listen to it I can’t help tap my foot to the beat. Again it has really cool music that could stand up against any songs in the charts today. Automaton is another great song that’s really really catchy. In fact I think this is my new favourite, but there’s no video for it yet. I hope there is one soon. At the moment I’m imagining something from the film Hugo. This is the song that I play over and over. Great music, perfect vocals, a chorus that I always sing along to… It has it all for me.

I’ve just realised i’m pointing out loads of really good songs and i’m now feeling slightly sorry for Jake Bugg who has to try and follow this part of the review.

Love in Monochrome next. I’m not big on love songs, but this one is rather nice, as is Let’s Never Let Love. I do like old music, and Swear, much like the earlier Beautiful Lie, sounds like it was greatly influenced by old music, from the bluesy piano/guitar to the slightly distorted vocals that sound like they’re coming off an old tape recording and the great “ooh-oh-ooh” backing vocals… I love the backing vocals on this album! I haven’t really mentioned Madeleine’s lyrics in this review, which is a shame because they’re very good. I guess again they’re mostly about love and, as I mentioned, love songs don’t really interest me as there’s an uncountable number of them out there today. But the lyrics on all the songs are generally very good, especially the choruses. And Swear in particular has another catchy chorus that doesn’t look particularly appetising… sorry, no. What am I saying? I’m in a taxi see and the driver just said that so I accidentally typed it (and then rather than deleting it just carried on with it). Um… where was I? Oh yeah, the chorus. “I swear, to never not let you down. I swear, to never not mean it…” I usually don’t like when people use double negatives – I often point them out – but in context they sound great. Along with Automaton, this is the chorus I find myself singing around the house.

The album as a bonus track called Triangle, despite the fact it’s prominently mentioned on the track listing so I don’t really understand why it’s referred to as a bonus track. If you’re reading this Sophie, please tell me. But the song is one of the best on the album. Proper catchy, upbeat guitar, more fantastic backing vocals, a bit Mexican… it’s a great song!

The only disappointment with this album is the lack of ukulele. Whereas Sophie Madeleine started out as primarily playing the ukulele and being well known for it, there’s almost no ukulele on this album. In fact I only knew there was an electric ukulele involved when I read the sleeve notes. Which is a real shame because that’s the reason I started listening to her music.

Favourite song: Automaton


Shangri La
The first problem I have with this is the title. Neil Innes, the great comedy singer/songwriter that he is, had a single called Shangri La which he sung with The Rutles (a parody of The Beatles). So every time I see this title it makes me think of that song. Which isn’t a good start for Bugg. Okay, so most people won’t have heard of The Rutles you may say, but there’s loads of songs and albums called Shangri La. There aren’t any called Silent Cynic. Just saying. So this makes it so much harder for his Shangri La to try and be different. Let’s see if it is different enough now as we delve deep into the music.

The first thing I thought when hearing the opening track was “oh god his voice is annoying”. For a moment I had to think whether I wanted to carry on with the rest of the album. But then I realised that I did like his voice, it was just i’d come to it after listening to a very different voice and needed to adjust to that style.

The first track, There’s a Beast and We All Feed It, is what I need right now. It’s a foot-tapping country-style song with some cool lyrics and rockin’ guitar harmonies. It is also consistent with his first album, which some might see as he hasn’t done anything new, but I like because there was nothing wrong with him on the first album so why change it. It’s a good song with meaningful lyrics that are sort of hidden in with the music. That’s the thing with his style, he can sing about something meaningful but I really care about the lyrics cos i’m too busy a-hopping and a-bopppin’. The second song is much like the first, which leads me to predict the album is going to be quite repetitive. Although the guitar solo on the second is very ‘cool’. It makes the whole song sound like something a really big alternative-rock band would perform.

As the first few songs progress they seem to get heavier. The guitars are more distorted and it feels like his stlye has become more influenced by punk and he’s gradually leading you into it. And then we quickly go back to the light pop song style with Me and You. Again, i’ve been listening to a song of the same name by Barry Louis Pollisar a lot the past few days, so I can’t get that comparison out of my head. This song, though, is a ‘nice’ song that reminds me why I liked Jake Bugg in the first place, because his music is influenced by a time when music was good and he really exudes that. It’s one i’ll definitely put on my phone for when i’m in a content mood and want to listen to a nice love song that doesn’t depress me.

And if I do want a more depressing love song then I can listen to A Song About Love. This is a lovely little song, although it does follow the theme of the music being better than the lyrics. All Your Reasons is another nice slow song and the first where I felt compelled to listen to the lyrics properly. The slow songs are just as good as the upbeat songs, with the likes of Simple Pleasures standing up against the faster songs.

The final song, Storm Passes Away, is perhaps the most like what I wanted to hear from this album. Simple acoustic songs that get your foot tapping and a little smile as you listen to it. This is probably my favourite song on the album.

Favourite song: Storm Passes Away

The Covers
This is yet again another example of a good and… well, not bad, but generic album cover. Only this time the girl’s got it right and the guy’s got it wrong.

Silent CynicSilent Cynic

 
Silent Cynic is a beautiful cover. Now, Sophie Madeleine is a nice looking girl [“Crawler!” – Mike] and putting her on the cover wouldn’t hinder sales, so it’s reassuring that she’s gone down the more artistic route and created a hand drawn pattern for the cover with simple type for the title and her name that’s missable on first glance. The metallic gold finish really gives it that elegant edge, and the card packaging is so much nicer than the standard plastic case. The inside is just as nice, with the track-listing on the back laid out beautifully and the two-lines used consistently throughout as a design element… it’s just a designer’s ideal.

JB01JB02

 
And then there’s the other one. Your typical pop album cover with the artist on the cover. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice photo; perfectly lit and a clever idea with the shadows and all. However, aside from the obvious compositional error of the subject being too close to the edge, the main problem I have with this is that he doesn’t need to be on the cover. In fact, if they’d cropped it so just the shadows were showing then that would be so much better. Obviously he’s a ‘pretty boy’ so they put him on the cover so young girls will buy the album [“Hey, it worked for you.” – Mike] and that’s what’s important these days. The only slight advantage that Shangri La has over Silent Cynic is the inclusion of a booklet. Although it is just the lyrics and a couple of photographs of him so it’s nothing to shout about.

But as far as the covers and packaging go, Silent Cynic wins hands down.

Comparison
The one thing that I will give both albums is that neither of them have a title track. A title track being a song that the album was named after. It annoys me greatly when bands name an album after a song on it. The album title is meant to be another aspect of the album where you can be creative. It’s similar with tour names. Comedians name their tours with funny things, like Peter Kay’s ‘Mum Wants a Bungalow‘ tour. Whereas most musicians just name their tours after their latest album. Come on! It’s a chance to get an extra “Ah, nice!” from the listener.

Surprisingly I found myself listening to Silent Cynic and thinking “Nah, he’ll never top this” and then when I listened to Shangri La later I really liked it and thought “This is better” but then I listened back to Silent Cynic and thought “No it bloody well isn’t!”. I think I was in the mood for each album when I listened to it. After hearing one style for a long period you fancy a change so it’s a case of flitting between the two. And that’s what I noticed about both artists, is their style. While Madeleine has ‘matured’ and gone from simple ukulele songs to big layered guitar songs, Bugg has kept his style and revised it. While i’m disappointed at the lack of ukuleles (in both albums) it is still nice to have something new to listen to and when I am in the mood for this sort of music I have these two very good albums.

Would I like them to do a duet?
Probably not.

Update!

I was cleaning out my room earlier (it’s that time of the year) and I found the envelope that the Silent Cynic CD arrived in. I smiled at it and then went to throw it away, until… I noticed something inside. This:

SM03

This was because i’d bought the album buy donating on a funding site, which is how I got the album early. But what a nice touch! A lovely little sentiment that was simply added to say thank you and make the customer smile. I know everyone who donated got one, i’m not an idiot, but this proves why Sophie Madeleine is so great, because she’s not a celebrity. She’s just a normal person making music for the love of it. You wouldn’t get Katy Perry making little thank you cards like this in her latest album. And now if anybody ever questions my marvellousness, I have this to prove it. Thank you Sophie Madeleine.

Silent Cynic: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Shangri La: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Our rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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