New Music Reviews – Real Lies, Burna Boy, and The Smile

This week we have Nigerian Afrobeats superstar Burna Boy, Radiohead side-project The Smile, and the smooth monologues of London duo Real Lies.

Real Lies

Lad Ash

2022, 9/10
The sophisticated monologues of London electronic duo Real Lies have an obvious precedent. It’s hard not to compare them with 1980s synth pop-duo The Pet Shop Boys – among other similarities, including Real Lies remixing a Pet Shop Boys track, both bands feature former music journalists as lead singers. In a 2019 interview, vocalist Kev Kharas told the Islington Gazette that “‘West End Girls’ …. has always evoked what London is to me: these grim, romantic, sweeping strings and the sense that when you listen to it you’re at the centre of your own film.”

Real Lies started as a trio, but singer Tom Watson left the band during the long seven year interval between their two studio records. This leaves the spoken monologues of Kharas as the band’s only vocalist. The band have endured a tough few years since their 2015 debut Real Life, dropped from a lucrative record contract at the last minute. But Lad Ash represents a strong comeback from adversity, a sophomore album with an unusually long gestation.

The entire record is strong, but ‘An Oral History of My First Kiss’ stands out, both for an amazing title, some gorgeous music, and some of Kharas’ best lines.

There’s an awkward gap between childhood and being properly teenage. A peripheral shadowland of not quite being enough. From early on, I was obsessed with the adult world, staying up late with talk radio and strange Channel 5 sex comedies, and at wedding parties I’d be trapped in the glare of the full beams, groups of family friends and older second cousins stood about in circles – drinking, flirting, smoking… telling jokes and working up a sweat to early 90s ‘chart dance’ – less a genre or a scene, more a self-fulfilling Prodigy. I’d eat chicken legs and wonder what it was that they were all so excited about, at the same time dimly aware there were conversations happening close by between girls who were weighing up the prospect of you and laughing.

An Oral History of My First Kiss

‘An Oral History of My First Kiss’ isn’t the only highlight. Kharas’ declaration that “I’ve never been a part of something/So bliss to reminisce” is his most memorable line. ‘Late Arcades’ also captures the majestic sweep of ‘West End Girls’, while ‘Dream On’ utilises the crashing beats of 1990s house. The synths on ‘The Carousel’ are simultaneously glitchy and unpredictable, and glimmeringly beautiful.

It would be easy for this nostalgic and romantic music to tip into self-parody, but Lad Ash is front-to-back classiness.

Burna Boy

Love, Damini

2022, 7.5/10
Nigerian Afrobeats star Burna Boy is back with his sixth studio album. There seems to be a recent marketing decision for major releases that bloated 18-track albums with masses of guest appearances are the most lucrative. To its detriment, Love, Damini is a prime example of this trend. The first half of the record recalls the excellence of Burna Boy’s 2019 classic African Giant. The second half meanders through a incoherent mess of guest appearances.

It’s worth it for a strong first half – ‘Glory’, with its jazzy syncopation and supporting vocals from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, is a strong and spiritual opener. ‘Kilometre’ came out more than a year in advance of the record and remains excellent. ‘Last Last’ is an even better single, blending soulful verses with a hooky chorus. My favourite Burna Boy tracks are his political songs, and I enjoy ‘Whiskey’, about the oil pollution in his hometown.

The second half of Love, Damini is a tougher sell – there’s a surprisingly enjoyable Ed Sheeran song, but it doesn’t feel like it belongs on a Burna Boy record. The mellow and jazzy textures of ‘Common Person’ provides one reason to listen to the end, but it’s slimmer pickings.

Love, Damini has strong moments, particularly in the first half, but it’s too long and too incoherent.

The Smile

A Light For Attracting Attention

2022, 7.5/10
There hasn’t been a new Radiohead album since 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool. The Smile might be the next best thing. The two most distinctive members of Radiohead – vocalist Thom Yorke and guitarist Johnny Greenwood – have formed the trio The Smile. The third member is Tom Skinner, the drummer of London jazz band Sons of Kemet. Some of the material is clearly from Radiohead – ‘Skrting on the Surface’ was in Radiohead’s live set a decade ago, but is appearing on record for the first time.

Despite the different name and the smaller lineup, The Smile feels very much like a continuation of late-period Radiohead. Textures like the atmospheric guitars of the opening ‘The Same’ and the moody piano of ‘Open The Floodgates’ are straight from the Radiohead playbook, even if Skinner’s jazzy drumming provides a point of difference. The tough post-punk sound of ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’ is welcome, while ‘Speech Bubbles’ is gorgeous.

I’m not convinced that an essential album has emerged from Radiohead’s orbit since 2007’s In Rainbows, but The Smile’s debut is still worthwhile.

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  1. Was not familiar with Real Lies, but given that I’ve been a long-time fan of the Pet Shop Boys, their music is right up my alley. Now four tracks into “Lad Ash” and I love it! Also not very familiar with the music of Burna Boy, but I like “Whiskey”, so will have to check out more of his album. The Smile song is good too, so I’ll check out that album as well. I love “A Moon Shaped Pool”.

    • Thanks for listening – I think that Real Lies album is great, but understand that it’s not for everyone. They’re just not very well-known, especially outside the UK.

      I liked ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, but don’t like it as much as a lot of fans.

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