SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR: Kitchen Disco: Live At The London Palladium (Cooking Vinyl)
Verdict: Quarantine Queen comes alive
ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS: The Boy Named If (Alive At Memphis Magnetic) (EMI)
Verdict: Raw revamps and classy covers
WEYES BLOOD: And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow (Sub Pop)
Verdict: Lavish torch songs
Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s live-streamed kitchen discos added some much-needed cheer to the 2020 lockdown.
Helped by her musician husband Richard Jones, who filmed the chaotic Friday night house parties on his phone, she donned a sequined catsuit and sang her heart out as the couple’s five young sons wandered in and out of the scene. She has since turned the concept into a brand — and brought the same populist touch to the stage when she swapped the comfort of her London home for the commotion of the live arena on this year’s Kitchen Disco tour. Her first live album, out today on double CD and digitally, recaptures the feel-good spirit.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s persona, part prim Sunday School teacher, part saucy Butlin’s Redcoat, is infectious
‘Did anybody else impulse buy a horse during lockdown? Nah? Just me,’ she says at the start of a Palladium gig from which the bulk of these 24 songs are drawn. The trusty steed, it turns out, is a life-sized plastic horse that doubles as a stage prop, but it’s still an unusual purchase.
Her persona, part prim Sunday School teacher, part saucy Butlin’s Redcoat, is infectious. ‘Maybe I’ll loosen up my dressing gown,’ she quips. ‘Who knows where the night will take us?’ Where it takes us is on a career-spanning ride that runs from her glorious early solo hits Murder On The Dancefloor and Take Me Home (A Girl Like Me) through to this summer’s Hypnotized, a single made with electro artist Wuh Oh. More importantly, it also includes a romp through such floor-filling classics as Abba’s Dancing Queen and Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody.
In a bid to recreate the free-for-all essence of her live-streams, the tour saw her accompanied by a wheel of fortune, spun to decide the next number. A stunt once employed by Elvis Costello — his was the Spectacular Spinning Songbook — it throws up versions of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long and Madness’s Our House.
The show sometimes verges on mirrorball karaoke, but there are moments where Sophie underlines her solid clubland credentials: a mid-concert medley of hits from the late 1990s and early 2000s includes a cover of Moloko’s Sing It Back and her own Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love), the song that famously pipped Victoria Beckham to No.1 in 2000.
She’s also bold enough to take on one of Madonna’s mightiest songs, Like A Prayer, and get away with it… just. Braver still, she brings her children out for Murder On The Dancefloor. With her husband on bass, it is a proper family affair. High-spirited and frivolous, it could be an ideal Christmas party playlist.
Bringing a lockdown venture to vibrant life is also the basis for Elvis Costello’s latest. His last album, January’s The Boy Named If, was packed with noisy rock and roll tunes, although it suffered from being recorded remotely — via ‘electrical wire’ as he puts it — rather than by musicians together in a room.
He’s since returned to the studio, this time face-to-face with backing band The Imposters, to revisit four tracks from The Boy Named If plus a handful of covers, a forgotten gem from 1983, and an unexpected, yet satisfying, collaboration with Japanese female rap duo Chelmico.
Bringing a lockdown venture to vibrant life is also the basis for Elvis Costello’s latest
The project is billed as an ‘alive’ album as opposed to a live one made on the road. In binding together so many different strands, it’s sometimes a hodgepodge, but there’s also something raw and exciting about a band becoming reacquainted with one another after months apart. The original Boy Named If was last week shortlisted for best rock album at the Grammys, and the punchy remakes here echo its melodic strengths.
What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love? is played with greater heart and soul. Guest guitarist Charlie Sexton, a Dylan associate, adds muscle and invention to the wall of sound. The covers pay homage to the greats, with McCartney songs featuring twice. Costello’s version of Wings’ Let Me Roll It is over-sung, but his hushed Here, There And Everywhere is a joy.
Elsewhere, there’s an excellent, Stax-style overhaul of 1983’s Every Day I Write The Book… and that unlikely detour into J-pop. Elvis discovered Chelmico as he was watching an anime cartoon with one of his sons, and the Tokyo duo’s remix of Magnificent Hurt adds lively, danceable layers to the original. He can still spring a surprise.
Californian singer Natalie Mering — aka Weyes Blood (pronounced ‘wise blood’) — guested on Lana Del Rey’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s For Free, and there’s a touch of Lana’s lush torch balladry to her latest solo release. The second part of a proposed trilogy, it strikes a bittersweet balance between the despair of 2019’s Titanic Rising and the more optimistic third instalment to come.
Californian singer Natalie Mering — aka Weyes Blood (pronounced ‘wise blood’) performs at Primavera Sound 2022 in Barcelona
‘Sitting at this party wondering if anyone knows me, really sees who I am,’ she sings on It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody. The mood is one of isolation, but the musical setting is one of poised grandeur, with her woes backed by strings and the glissando harp of a Disney fairy tale theme. The elegant arrangements contain memorable pop melodies.
There are throwbacks to the pandemic. The Worst Is Done tells of being locked down alone in LA. Considering the subject, it’s remarkably upbeat and there’s also a yearning sense of hope to the tender centrepiece Hearts Aglow. Roll on part three.
- Sophie Ellis-Bextor plays Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, on December 30 (ticketmaster.co.uk). Weyes Blood starts a UK tour on February 8, at the Roundhouse, London (weyesblood.com).