If you thought The 1975 were just another group of tween heart-throbs, think again. This Manchester band certainly have a legion of teenage followers, but they are also responsible for a sizeable chunk of genuinely innovative alternative pop and rock reaching mainstream audiences in the last few years. The running time of their second album is almost as long as its unpronounceable name. Thankfully, it’s also surprisingly splendid.
In the words of director and artist Simon Frederick: “Black is the new black”. And few things this year have brought delight, joy and open-mouthed awe to me than the sight of black sisters rocking natural curls with pride. Alicia Keys, Solange, Corinne Bailey Rae, Fleur East, Nao and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, to name but a few of the music world’s natural hair heroes.
But what has hair got to do with music – and Lion Babe specifically? More than you’d think. Hair is an express of the self. And anyone who knows what it’s like maintaining an afro, day in, day out, will tell you that – just ask Erykah Badu, India.Arie or Solange. Jillian Hervey, Lion Babe’s majestic frontwoman, wears a mane of golden curls that look as though they were a gift from the goddess Oshun herself.
Hervey’s natural hair journey – as well as the fact she is the daughter of singer and actress, Vanessa Williams – brought her face to face with taunts, teases and pressure for her to conform to her attacker’s standards of beauty. But, as she told Glamour magazine earlier this year, returning to natural hair led her to feel “very comfortable in my skin and really confident about who I was”. The Lion Babe of today could not exist without this comfortable, confident brown-skinned wonder woman.
Listen up, fellas: ladies don’t like indecisive men. Shura, Aleksandra Denton’s valiant alter ego, knows this only too well, because much of her debut album is about break-ups, make-ups and the complications of young love.
Girl group M.O are nothing new on the well-worn spectrum of pop. On ‘Who Do You Think Of’, entire choruses are encapsulated by song titles, the soundscape is almost indiscernible from other popular chart songs of the last 12 months, and the texture of these Sugababes substitutes voices – at least on this track – is nothing to write home about.
Still, M.O’s line-up includes Francesca ‘Frankee’ Connolly (pictured, centre), one half of one-hit wonders, Mini Viva. So I’ve been compelled to delve a little deeper, and M.O’s debut EP gives patience pop lovers more reason to stick around.
British soul-singing, songwriting wonder, Michael Kiwanuka, has returned, and he’s bearing a red-hot classic.
Polydor Records, 1999This month sees the return of a pop band that signifies my generation is now firmly in the category of ‘nostalgia marketing’ in the eyes of the music industry: S Club 7. The announcement last November that Tina Barrett, Paul Cattermole, Rachel Stevens, Jo O’Meara, Hannah Spearritt, Bradley McIntosh and Jon Lee would be returning – with a reunion performance on BBC Children in Need and a 2015 UK tour – sent ripples of ecstasy through my Facebook feed (occupied, as it is, nowadays by engagements, work outings and the occasional overboard night out).