Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Kate Tempest / Wormburner / Paul Heaton &
Jacqui Abbott / Pet Shop Boys


Kate Tempest: Everybody Down

(Big Dada)

In which a young Ted Hughes Award poet fashions a concept album with a fully coherent narrative that engages solely as music when you don’t feel like following its well-mapped twists. Starring a coke dealer who wants out, his underemployed younger brother, and the waitress turned masseuse both have a yen for, the plot sketches an alienated love triangle hooked on a heist with a hole in it. London electronipop luminary Dan Carey enhances Tempest’s accent, which is firmly antiposh without the slightest Cockney affectation, and flow, which is unfailingly distinct without a hint of elocution lessons. The story gives London’s boho-pop demimonde family ties, and the songs are so specific about alienated love in that demimonde that you could imagine Tempest making a novel out of it. That novel is due out later this year. A


Wormburner: Pleasant Living in
Planned Communities

(Dive)

Retro is different when you sound like the Hold Steady and get compared to Harvey Danger—a considered formal choice rather than golden-age BS. Hank Henry doesn’t swallow a word as he shouts his tuneful tales into the void, and unlike Craig Finn, he doesn’t specialize in or even much notice the human dregs and heroes of the alt-rock scene. In part this may be because there’s no scene for him to be on anymore, but mostly it’s the concept of a guy who sounds like he was an English major back when you selected that course of study so you could read novels. Not only does the album feature three war songs in the war-movie sense, another medicates itself with a real smoke—Parliaments. Pretty literary—and so last century. A MINUS


Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott: What We Have Become (Virgin EMI) To my surprise—Heaton is a genius who’s been warehousing songs for years, Abbott his tartest opposite number—something about the Beautiful South concept (moment?) (band?) upped his game and I wish they’d somehow stuck it out (“I Am Not a Muse,” “When I Get Back to Blighty”) ***

Pet Shop Boys: Electric (X2) Cyborgs have feelings too, and us human beings are here to tell you about it (“Love Is a Bourgeois Construct,” “Vocal”) **


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Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter at @rxgau.
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