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The clue’s in the title: Angels And Ghosts.

It’s as if production duo Rich Machin and Ian Glover hadn’t made their intentions clear enough by calling themselves Soulsavers. Not that anyone expects Gahan – who, when discussing his 1996 drug overdose, once claimed, “my screaming soul floated above me” – to collaborate on a collection of pop ditties about bunnies, but he and his new musical soulmates clearly mean to make no secret of the fact that their second collaboration finds the Depeche Mode singer addressing the “darker side of myself, which torments me” against a largely ominous backdrop. The boys have perfected their vocabulary, and now they’re going to use it.

That said, this isn’t an album devoted solely to doom-laden hand-wringing. In fact, so joyful are Gahan’s epiphanies that opener Shine – which begins with the rattle of slide guitars and uplifting gospel harmonies – sounds as if it could have dropped off Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. The choir also make their presence felt on All Of This And Nothing, in which Gahan moves “from the dark” to a chorus in which he’s become “the sun that rises while you’re sleeping”, and Don’t Cry, a slow-paced rocker full of crunchy guitars and reassurances that “it’ll be alright”. But the choir is equally apparent on the stark Lately, in which, over little more than resonant guitars and piano, Gahan lays bare the emptiness of his soul, and on the desolate strains of The Last Time, which reveals that Jesus “lives in downtown LA/ He’s coming, he’ll be here”. Redemption, you see, could always be around the corner. It’s certainly close on One Thing, the album’s centrepiece, where, with his voice exposed and vulnerable thanks to the song’s simple piano and string arrangement, Gahan laments the possibility of a happiness that remains – for now – out of reach.

In the end, the mood remains anguished, as on You Owe Me, whose atmosphere – with Gahan declaring that “there’s nowhere left to hide”– is so close to funereal that you’d think they’d hired The Bad Seeds. Angels And Ghosts offers an opportunity to hear Gahan in a fresh environment, one that may at times recall Depeche Mode, but – thanks to its non-electronic setting – never mimics it. The devil, perhaps, is in that detail. WW



A journalist recently described the experience of listening to Björk’s Vulnicura as “like going to the dentist”, and true, it was one of her most forbidding albums, described in these pages as “often draining, yet (…) fulfilling for those prepared to immerse themselves”. So, with its focus on strings a potentially palliative antidote to the first version’s electronic complexity, this companion – described by Björk as “a reveal” where “the acoustic [instruments] stand on their own for the folks who wanna indulge even further into the wooden timeless side of this music with no techno” – might be expected to provide a more painless entry point to the record.

That, though, is to deny its songs’ density, and of course Björk’s intricate melodies and string arrangements, many of which have been embroidered by Una Sveinbjarnardóttir.

Though there’s more space in the album’s nine songs – History Of Touches is missing, but there’s an extra version of Black Lake recorded on the world’s only viola organista, designed by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 1400s – it’s not as though they’re transformed into anything less opaque.

Opener Mouth Mantra is pretty bewildering, Björk’s voice eddying through swathes of cello and violin as though trying to find its way in a turbid fog.

Family, on which her vocals don’t appear, establishes a queasy wall of imperceptibly detuned violins from which, after three minutes, its players materialise, retuning their instruments before a fluttering flyby of strings. And though Lionsong’s exquisite melancholy may offer a welcome sedative effect, even the dentist won’t be whistling this one.

Ultimately, what Vulnicura does is lay bare not so much the vulnerable frame beneath the surface of this difficult breakup album, but Björk’s own fascination for contemporary classical music. If you enjoy Arvo Pärt’s tintinnabuli, then the 10-minute interpretation of Black Lake could be for you, and some of the more ‘avant’ arrangements will satisfy admirers of Györgi Ligeti. In other words, she’s not made it easier by stripping things back. She’s merely – curiously – transformed it into something even more ornate. WW



It can’t have been easy being Janet Jackson these past 49 years: before she was four, her brothers had already enjoyed their first US No. 1 with I Want You Back, and from that point on her family was at the centre of a blazing spotlight, and not always for the right reasons. Even the accidental flash of her nipple – despite it being hidden behind a metal plate – was enough to cause her homeland to melt down in 2004. No wonder she keeps her private life so private, something that makes Unbreakable that little bit more special: you get the sense that she’s opening herself up to the world for the first time in years. The fact that it closes with an ostensibly private studio conversation between her and Jimmy Jam – half of producers Jam and Lewis – underlines this.

What Unbreakable also seems to reveal particularly strongly is that Jackson is a stylistically adventurous star who’s not afraid to employ a cute sense of humour from time to time. “Incoming!” a voice cries before Missy Elliot pays tribute to her heroine on the vigorously squelchy BURNITUP!, while the appealing shuffle of The Great Forever boasts an inadvertent, girlish sneeze interrupting Jackson’s advice that “hate will only divide”.

Another thing Unbreakable exposes is just how much Janet sounds like her late brother: it’s genuinely disconcerting how that same hint of vocal helium is evident on The Great Forever, or even in her very first lines on the album’s opening song, its title track. Frankly, by the time the album ends with the jubilant Jackson 5 funk of Gon B Alright, you may find yourself wondering if some of the conspiracy theories about The King Of Pop’s passing aren’t perhaps true.

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About Classic Pop

The results are in! The latest issue features the Classic Pop 'Top 100 Albums of the Eighties' - as decided by our readers - including the classics of the decade, some cult favourites and a few wildcards to boot. PLUS! We give the Classic Pop verdict on David Bowie's new album 'Blackstar'… Elsewhere in the issue we investigate the classic pop of Christmas, delve into Sparks' weird and wonderful back catalogue, survey Simple Mind's classic album 'Once Upon A Time' and take a closer look at the leftfield sleeve art of John Foxx. Interviews include Visage's Steve Barnacle, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, Susanna Hoffs, McAlmont & Butler and modern synthpop duo Hurts.