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Rock - Released January 1, 2012 | Virgin EMI

Since officially embarking on a solo career in 1995, former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler has been quietly and consistently amassing an unassuming horn of plenty, maintaining his prior outfit's penchant for fusing meticulously crafted English blues-rock with sardonic, radio-ready AOR pop, while introducing elements of traditional folk and country with the effortless gait of an artist who has spent his years as both a student and a professor. On Privateering, his seventh solo outing, Knopfler has crafted his most ambitious and pugnacious collection of songs to date, going all in on a two-disc set that pits all of the aforementioned influences against each other without ever succumbing to the convenience of their architectures. Upon first spin, Privateering feels a little like a garage sale, offering up long cold plates of once warm, late-night porch jams that feel like pre-studio session warm-ups, but the album's stately yet schizophrenic nature, which pits lo-fi, studious, yet ultimately forgettable exercises in rote American blues like "Hot or What" and "Gator Blood" with amiable, highway-ready rockers ("Corned Beef City") and incredibly affecting, spooky folk-pop ballads like "Redbud Tree," "Kingdom of Gold," and the magnificent "Dream of the Drowned Submariner," all three of which owe a couple of polite high fives to Dire Straits songs like "The Man's Too Strong" and "Brothers in Arms," reveals an artist in complete control of his arsenal. Could the album use some trimming? Sure, but Knopfler is that rare gunslinger who can make even the wildest shot look like it was completely intentional, and his steady voice, mercurial lyrics, and instantly recognizable guitar tone, that latter of which falls somewhere between the rich, lucid beauty of David Gilmour and the Pan-like spell-casting of Richard Thompson, provide just the right amount of ballast to keep a ship as big as Privateering buoyant. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Rock - Released September 26, 2005 | Virgin EMI

Mike Oldfield, one of the legendary figures of British progressive rock, returned with this ambitious two-disc set. 2005's Light + Shade is divided into two parts: the "Light" portion featuring upbeat and melodic tunes, and the "Shade" disc leans to moodier and more atmospheric compositions. As is his custom, Oldfield plays all the instruments on Light + Shade, as well as handling most of the recording himself; several of the selections from the album became part of the score for the virtual reality games Maestro and Tres Lunas. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2014 | Virgin EMI

Six years after the classical Music of the Spheres, Mike Oldfield returns to his version of rock. Man on the Rocks is a slick production that recalls the AOR sounds of the late '70s and early '80s. He plays many instruments here but concentrates mainly on guitar. Among his collaborators are bassist Leland Sklar, keyboardist Matt Rollings, drummer John Robinson, guitarist Michael Thompson, and the Struts' vocalist Luke Spiller. Though these songs are housed in tightly written, hooky pop/rock melodies with conscious source checks from Queen and Toto to the Rolling Stones and the Steve Miller Band, they are among -- if not the -- most deeply personal entries in his catalog. Opener "Sailing" contains pained, troubled lyrics, yet its Celtic-flavored singalong chorus and ringing slide guitar solo add contrast and elevation. "Moonshine" is a poignant Irish immigrant's song. The opening guitar vamp deliberately evokes U2 (though one can convincingly argue that the Edge got it from Oldfield). A sweet backing chorus carries the refrain as martial snares, fiddles, accordion, pipes, and whistles increase the drama until an epic guitar break carries it out. The title track is one of the set's finest moments. Enormous drums, a chorale, sweeping strings, washes of organ, synth, and blazing guitars frame Spiller's anthemic vocal. On "Castaway," the pulsing keyboards and guitars recall Queen and Oldfield's guitar blisters, spitting angular riffs, and spiraling prog changes. "Dreaming in the Wind" begins as an acoustic rocker illustrated by strings, guitars, organs, and a fine lead vocal. Oldfield's guitar transforms it, melding arena rock, folk, and prog to its core. "Nuclear" again suggests Queen, but its thudding tom-toms, guitar layers, and orchestra are classic Oldfield. "Chariots" uses big zig-zagging synths and fat phased guitars working a Bo Diddley beat; it's where Toto meets Jim Steinman, but the deliberate excess works. This set does run out of steam near the end. The long ballad "Following the Angels" is repetitive and dreary. "Irene," where Oldfield takes on the Stones, is clever but feels out of place here. The closer, a read of William McDowell's hymn "I Give Myself Away" strays far too close to CCM. It's easy to dismiss Man on the Rocks as simply "dad rock," but it's more complex than that. These songs, all framed inside classic pop/rock, are beautifully written and played. Their fine lyrics contain complex emotions of crisis, struggle, resolve, and redemption. Oldfield is one of the few remaining musicians with the songwriting, production, and playing chops who could helm a big league session like this, let alone pull it off. Imperfections aside, this is a strange, oddly compelling addition to his catalog. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Rock - Released March 9, 2015 | Virgin EMI

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Rock - Released March 9, 2015 | Virgin EMI

Scaled smaller than 2012's double-album Privateering, Tracker also feels suitably subtle, easing its way into being instead of announcing itself with a thunder. Such understatement is typical of Mark Knopfler, particularly in the third act of his career. When he left Dire Straits behind, he also left behind any semblance of playing for the cheap seats in an arena, but Tracker feels quieter than his new millennial norm. Some of this is due to the undercurrent of reflection tugging at the record's momentum. Knopfler isn't pining for the past but he is looking back, sometimes wistfully, sometimes with a resigned smile, and he appropriately draws upon sounds that he's long loved. Usually, this means some variation of pub rock -- the languid ballad "River Towns," the lazy shuffle "Skydiver," the two-chord groove of "Broken Bones" -- but this is merely the foundation from which Knopfler threads in a fair amount of olde British folk and other roots digressions. This delicate melancholy complements echoes of older Knopfler songs -- significant stretches of the record are reminiscent of the moodier aspects of Brothers in Arms, while "Beryl" has just a bit of the "Sultans of Swing" bounce -- and this skillful interweaving of Knopfler's personal past helps give Tracker a nicely gentle resonance. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released February 17, 2017 | Virgin EMI

Scottish singer/songwriter Amy Macdonald presents her fourth studio album, Under Stars, following 2012's Life in a Beautiful Light. The album was recorded over two-and-a-half years, with help from producer Cam Blackwood (George Ezra, Florence + the Machine) alongside additional sessions with production duo My Riot (London Grammar, Birdy). Under Stars was released by Virgin/EMI. © Liam Martin /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2013 | Virgin EMI

Distinctions 5 étoiles Rock and Folk
There's a lot of pressure involved with being the rulers of the underworld, and nobody knows it better than Black Sabbath in 2013. Inarguable legends and at least partially responsible for creating heavy metal as we know it with their classic '70s material, Sabbath have spawned generations of followers and become one of the final words of the genre. There have been countless reunions and mutations of the band following vocalist Ozzy Osbourne's first dismissal in 1978, and even 13 doesn't quite deliver on fans' decades-long desires to see all four original members back together. Original drummer Bill Ward sits the record out due to disputes over the recording contract, with Audioslave/Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk providing beats in his stead. Despite this considerable absence, 13 comes closest to recapturing the desperate feel, plodding grooves, and unparalleled metal magic of those first classic Sabbath records than anything the members of the band have done since, in any permutation or combination. Kicking off with two sludgy tracks, each over eight-minutes long, the Rick Rubin-produced 13 takes a few moments to get its legs. Once warmed up, however, each element falls somewhere between studied re-creation of the past and logical progression, be it Tony Iommi's spooky guitar tone, Ozzy's nasal howl, or the panic attack dynamics and sense of nuclear dread that made the moods of Sabotage and Vol. 4 so thick. Sharp tempo changes and caustic drop-tuned blues metal riffs make up tracks like "God Is Dead?" and the doomy "Age of Reason." Many of the album's eight tracks stretch past the seven-minute mark, full of heavy compositional shifting. The mellower acoustic track "Zeitgeist" rewrites the spacy "Planet Caravan" from second album Paranoid, revisiting the same cosmic motif of that song, complete with Iommi's most Django Reinhardt-influenced soloing. The lyrics, all penned by bassist Geezer Butler, are focused on internal religious and mental conflicts, with final track "Dear Father" tackling living with memories of abuse. The album is heavier, more precise, and more interesting than the past several decades of output from the bandmembers would suggest. Without fully replicating the energy of their untouchable first six records, Sabbath have risen to the unique challenge of not becoming self-caricatures, turning in something new while still reactivating the strengths of their younger days. The backwards-looking tendencies of 13 are something the band is fully aware of, as signified by the reappearance of rain and church bells sound effects on the last track, the same sounds that opened their first album in 1970. The influence of early Sabbath has become so omnipresent that it's come back to influence its very creators four decades later, but the results are unexpectedly brilliant, apocalyptic, and essential for any die-hard metal fan. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Pop - Released July 21, 2017 | Virgin EMI

Returning for a third dip into the well of smart pop, former Beautiful South members Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott offer Crooked Calypso, a robust marriage of plucky wit, confidence, and heart. Since rekindling their musical partnership in 2014, the two singers have turned out a distinctive brand of musical merrymaking that has resonated with U.K. audiences. There's something refreshingly organic about their big productions, which layer strings and horns over a whip-tight rock combo that sways nimbly between Motown, R&B, and old-fashioned rock & roll within the breadth of just a few notes. As ringleaders, Heaton and Abbott make a winning and surprisingly egoless duo swapping lyrics, harmonizing, and keeping their party buoyant with the effortless grace of lifelong entertainers. Approached with any less skill, the effect of songs like "I Gotta Praise" and "The Fat Man" would come off as uncouth or corny, but the two manage to walk a perfect line of tone that successfully delivers their often barbed witticisms while conveying an underlying sense that they're not only in on the joke, but are also at the butt of it. It's this crafty togetherness that has made their first two records chart successes and helps Crooked Calypso succeed on the same level. From the heartfelt Irish folk tribute "Blackwater Banks" to the unstoppably hooky "People Like Us," this is an engaging and fun listen that is easy to repeat again and again. © Timothy Monger /TiVo
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Pop - Released October 23, 2015 | Virgin EMI

After the critical and commercial success of 2014's What Have We Become?, which catapulted to number three on the U.K. albums chart for the artists' biggest hit since their Beautiful South days, Paul Heaton and the previously retired (from music) Jacqui Abbott rejoin a year later for the equally satisfying Wisdom, Laughter and Lines. Songwriter Heaton's comprehensive knowledge of and enthusiasm for pop music is on full display again, with songs that hit on Motown, reggae, honky tonk, post-punk, and Eastern European folk, among other styles. Also returning are the songwriter's acerbic wordcraft and talent for ear-catching melodies. The opener, "(Man Is) The Biggest Bitch of All," shows off all of these as a jaunty, '70s Motown-like tune that has Abbott responding to an offer with "Come away with who?...The man who promised that he'd love me 'til the very end/Or the one I caught in family bed…wearing my best friend." "The Austerity of Love" ("the propensity, the depravity, the austerity...") delivers its message via bright reggae, and Heaton does his best Morrissey impression on the consummate "The Horse and Groom" ("This arthritic pain in the pouring rain/Whilst inside on the jukebox Tammy sings again"). Heaton also takes on social issues, per usual, as in the mocking "Lonesome and Sad Millionaire" and the anti-monarchy (among other establishments) "Heatongrad." Songwriting aside, there are also the legendary voices, which go great together now as ever on an album recommended for all who can embrace biting (and very often funny) lyrics and the lovingly nostalgic trip through musical styles. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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Pop - Released September 21, 2015 | Virgin EMI

Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook reunited in 2007, but for the first few years the revived Squeeze were nothing more than a touring act, ducking into the studio to re-record their hits in 2010 (the perfectly fine Spot the Difference) but taking their time to write a new batch of songs. That long-awaited reunion record, entitled Cradle to the Grave, finally appeared in the autumn of 2015, eight years after the reunion started and 17 years after Squeeze's last album, Domino. Remarkably, especially given its mortality-obsessed title, Cradle to the Grave doesn't play like a revival, nor does it seem concerned with modern fashion. Difford and Tilbrook simply pick up the thread they left hanging in the '90s, acting as if no time has passed. Happily, the pair does not seem as knackered as they did on Domino, a record where they seemed to limp along out of habit. Without consciously reviving any specific Squeeze era -- the closest companion this album has may be the early-'90s efforts, such as Play and Some Fantastic Place -- Cradle to the Grave relies on the sharp melodic construction of Tilbrook and Difford's diffident wit, a combination the crackles throughout this lean 44-minute record. Although there's little doubt this is first and foremost a pop album constructed almost entirely out of tight three- to four-minute tunes, what Squeeze celebrate is classic pop aesthetics, not sound: perhaps the Tamla-Motown bounce of the title track is expected, but the glitterball disco that follows on "Nirvana" is not, and the record is filled with such sly curveballs, finding a bit of earthiness in the majestic contours of the Beach Boys and splendor within boozy singalongs. When applied to such sturdy songs, these grace notes make Cradle to the Grave feel nothing less than celebratory, an affirmation of Difford and Tilbrook's special chemistry as songwriters and bandleaders. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released September 30, 2016 | Virgin EMI

Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman's loud and direct approach isn't an entirely new concept, although perhaps it has a new purpose in the context of recent political upheaval. Historically speaking, this kind of worldwide political agenda is accompanied by an outcry from the artistic community, with music playing a pivotal role in calling out social injustice. Instead, current rock trends rely on introspective or self-indulged lyrics, soft electronica, and folksy harmonics. Slaves, alternatively, offer a much-needed release of pent-up anger and frustration for an increasingly disenfranchised youth. When asked why they were releasing their second album, just one year on from their debut, Vincent commented "If you stop making music, you stop being relevant." How self-aware that statement is depends on interpretation, but their popularity suggests that their particular brand of social angst is not only relevant, but a necessary rallying cry for a generation all too often described as apathetic. Lyrically, they target general topics such as the rich elite or iPhone addiction, as opposed to singling out anything specific. In a sense, their overall vagueness is the key to their broad appeal; they represent two average guys who are sick of modern attitudes, the key difference being that they are not afraid to say something about it. A difference that they are very aware of; track one, "Spit It Out," directly addresses the comfortably numb masses, with a renewed vigor that serves to underline their message. The first half of the record follows suit, with the addition of Mike D's -- who produced the record -- influence. On the surface, Mike can be heard in the form of an awkward verse ("Consume or Be Consumed") or the inclusion of two skits ("Mr. Industry" and "Gary"), but overall Take Control sounds like typical Slaves. Perhaps it was at Mike D's behest, but the latter half does play with a few new ideas, in general slowing the pace down. Most notably is the relatively sentimental "Steer Clear," a direction that Slaves rarely demonstrate and certainly haven't to this degree -- it even includes some subtle synths and a backing harmony. Then there's the more directly electronic "STD's/PHD's," although you can rest assured that it channels the sound of Nine Inch Nails more than James Blake. It should come as no surprise that the second half suffers for its subdued pace; after all, Slaves are fashioned around the idea of being abrasive, not insightful. Take Control also features its fair share of forgettable numbers, such as "Fuck the Hi-Hat," which sounds like it was recorded accidently by a rogue studio mike. However, trying to differentiate from their debut comes down to splitting hairs, owing much to the short amount of time separating the two. Again, the level of self-awareness is debatable, but naming the last track "Same Again" seems more than coincidence. Not only does it sound like a promise that Slaves won't be reinventing the wheel anytime soon, it comes across as a vague threat; they are effectively saying that they will shout at you as long as it takes for you to confront your everyday demons, in politics, in society, and in yourself. © Liam Martin /TiVo
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Classical - Released June 9, 2017 | Virgin EMI

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 15, 2015 | Virgin EMI

"The chilled beat and elastic bass of JERK draws on Galvin's love of 90's hip hop influences....Even in his darkest moments Only Real can't help but capture the glow of summer." © TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2005 | Virgin EMI

L.O.V.E., the second album from British soul diva Terri Walker, marked the follow-up to her Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Untitled. Combining modern R&B with classic soul elements, her sophomore set develops Walker's trademark sound, and includes the single "Whoopsie Daisy." © TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1998 | Virgin EMI

Big Country's Restless Natives & Rarities is a collection of B-sides, rare tracks, and alternate mixes recorded for Mercury from 1982 to 1995. The set takes its name from a soundtrack score Stuart Adamson completed in 1984. The 22-track double disc includes the Holy Grail of Big Country collecting: the long out-of-print and much sought-after 34-minute soundtrack to William Forsyth's 1985 Scottish comedy. Long-time fans will find this compilation worth the price for the score itself, which is reminiscent of Mark Knopfler's film work. Other highlights are "Balcony" from Against All Odds and some genuinely great B-sides never available on CD, including "The Longest Day," "Kiss the Girl Goodbye," "On the Shore," and "Song of the South." Though this album is made for the diehards, it will also appeal to the casual fan who owns a few of the early albums. Many fans consider the later Big Country releases to be inessential. Restless Natives & Rarities is somewhat of a return to the glory years and, as such, it is one of the most essential additions after the band's important albums from 1983 to 1988. Well worth tracking down. © JT Griffith /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 8, 2016 | Virgin EMI

Growing pains and coming of age create a heart-swell on the genre-blurring debut LP from Manchester trio Prose. Home of the Brave combines the confessional rapping of Mike Murray, the guitar of Lee Royle, and the strong songwriting and production of Dave Stone, resulting in an excitingly different sonic option. Murray is frequently compared to Mike Skinner (the Streets), but aside from the fact that they are two British lads with buzz cuts who can rap, Prose's music veers closer to the intensity of Eminem at his most confessional, Lukas Graham at his most wistful, and Twenty One Pilots at their most boundary-smashing. Home of the Brave can be neatly divided into thirds, with each portion thematically and sonically satisfying in different manners. The first four tracks are urgent and yearning, allowing Murray's heartfelt lyrics to wax nostalgic on tales of youth and memory. "Ballad" is the knockout highlight, a poignant and earnest number that seethes with frustration and rage. "Caravan" heaps on the sentiment, longing for simpler times when video games, sleepovers, and young love were life's biggest concerns. The midsection is the energetic heart that gives life to the album. "Mountains" is their big Oasis number, which includes the best singalong chorus that Noel Gallagher never wrote. A pair of rousing ditties -- "Half the Man" and "Further" -- inspire body-rocking and head-nodding, the few moments on the album that are purely fun. In the concluding third, Prose go inward once again, tapping into a more emotional well. "All Too Familiar" is deeply introspective, almost desperate in its earnestness, while "Have It All" and "Let Us Down" are moving tearjerkers. After a journey from heartfelt innocence to powerful anthems, Prose cap off the brooding coda with "Mr. 1 & Mr. 2," a rage-filled street tale that is packed with tension and Murray's closest tribute to Eminem on Home of the Brave. With so many sonic pieces to this puzzle, the rap-meets-indie-guitar idea might sound jarring. But at the core, they are both forms of confession, stripping the bells and whistles away, baring the soul. Combining youth, hope, and a dose of gravity, Home of the Brave is a strong debut from a fearless trio unafraid to toy with genre while staying true to their message. © Neil Z. Yeung /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Virgin EMI

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2004 | Virgin EMI

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Pop - Released January 1, 2003 | Virgin EMI

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Pop - Released January 1, 1990 | Virgin EMI

The Soup Dragons' Lovegod is packed with contradictions; the synthesizers and breakbeats don't match the psychedelic cover art, and the guitars seem out of place within the slick production. If Lovegod is where the Soup Dragons supposedly found their sound -- and it is -- they still hadn't fine-tuned it to the level it would reach in a few short years. This isn't to say that Lovegod isn't an enjoyable album, though; in fact, it's quite the opposite: of the late-'80s/early-'90s explosion of British rock bands who made danceable rock music, the Soup Dragons were one of the most interesting and most fun. Lovegod is far from an exception to this rule, and several of the band's best songs are included here: the hit "I'm Free," "Mother Universe," and the title track. What makes Lovegod frustrating, however, is that it feels as though the band is being held back. Given the way they let loose later -- on Hotwired and Hydrophonic -- on this album they sound too mannered, too rigidly following the rules implied by the overly stiff beats. It's not a disappointment, it just means that in retrospect, Lovegod was more of a transition album, more of a blueprint to come, than the statement that would define this band's unfortunately short career. © Jason Damas /TiVo