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Comeback kids

Music

Comeback kids

Noteworthy new or recent releases

Wrong Way Up by Eno/Cale: So long were the avant-garde/underground shadows that Brian Eno and John Cale cast at the time of this electro-pop hookfest’s first appearance that not even the version of “Spinning Away” recorded 10 years later by the proven hit-makers Sugar Ray could gain chart traction. Five years later, the electro-pop hookfest’s 15th-anniversary edition fared no better. This third time probably won’t be the charm either, if only because the young people hip enough to know who Cale and Eno are constitute a statistically insignificant sliver of the streaming demographic. Even less numerous are the streamers who’d understand what “hi-IQ Thompson Twins album” means. But that pretty much sums things up. And it’s a compliment.

Miami by Starflyer 59: What motivates Jason Martin to keep offering his increasingly anachronistic shoegaze pop to a world that has all but stopped attending to anything that doesn’t go viral on impact? This five-song EP provides one possible answer: so he could reach the point at which a song about middle-age exhaustion (“This Recliner”) comes as naturally to him as singing, “So I close my eyes and I’ll pray to God” (“Once More”). Both of those songs, incidentally, refer to “get[ting] in” and “get[ting] out,” thus establishing a connection between the claustrophobia currently afflicting much of the world and proving that, no matter how little the form of Martin’s music changes, its content isn’t that anachronistic after all.

Bloody Noses by Richard Thompson: Thompson is a world-class guitarist who knows his way around a studio. So he doesn’t need a lockdown-violating band or engineer to cut an unplugged EP that stands with the best of his recent work. He’s also never less than serviceable as a lyricist. So, with the exception of the expletive in the otherwise affecting waltz “Survivor,” even the tropes that you’ll have trouble recalling once the song ends illuminate as they flicker past. And the tropes that linger really pack a punch—as in the case of “As Soon As You Hear the Bell,” an extended metaphor that likens life to a boxing match and that never once mentions throwing in the towel.

Got To Be Tough by Toots & the Maytals: No sooner had the happy news broken that there’d be new Toots & the Maytals music for the first time in 10 years than the sad news broke that Toots Hibbert had died. And whether he was succumbing to COVID-19 or just with it, at no point on this, his final musical testament, does he sound like someone approaching death’s door. He was doing some of the hardest singing of his career, and in laying off straight reggae until Track 4 in favor of a dense, churning R&B, he was demonstrating a stylistic agility uncommon to roots icons pushing 80. “Was doing,” “was demonstrating”—in Hibbert’s case, the past-progressive tense will take some serious getting used to.

Encore

After Bob Marley, there was no more consistent or ebullient purveyor of reggae (by way of rocksteady and ska) than Toots Hibbert, whose legacy as the leader of Toots & the Maytals stretches back over 50 years, encompasses the watershed film The Harder They Come, and includes the song that bequeathed reggae its name (“Do the Reggay”). That plus his other greatest hits (“54-46 That’s My Number,” “Pressure Drop,” “Monkey Man,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads”) and lots of high-grade filler can be found on the many compilations bearing his name.

One compilation stands out: 1996’s two-disc Time Tough: The Anthology. It does so mainly because four of its 41 tracks come from 1988’s Toots in Memphis, Hibbert’s headlong dive into the Memphis-soul songbook. Produced by Jim Dickinson and anchored by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the music cut and mined a groove that Hibbert inhabited for all he was worth. And now that he’s gone, he’s worth more than ever. —A.O.