As the festive season approaches, the musical big guns are pulling out their latest albums, including rockers Muse, super-soprano Sarah Brightman and X Factor hero Olly Murs.


An industrial thud announces the arrival of another Muse album - the band's eighth. From then on, Simulation Theory takes the listener on a rollercoaster of sounds.

The band's signatures are here: frontman Matt Bellamy's falsetto vocal runs, rock opera guitars and a bucket-load of bravado. Get Up And Fight, for example, is classic Muse. But there's also a vein of new ideas running through its 11 tracks. Propaganda and Break It To Me are preposterous collisions of stadium-size vocals, UFO sounds and vocoder-warped R&B choruses. These combinations would sound absurd if it wasn't for the way Muse neatly package them.

Simulation Theory comes three years after Drones - an album of politically-driven back-to-basics prog rock. Where that album's fixation on its weighty subject matter took away from the music behind the concept, Simulation Theory does the opposite. Muse's latest is a rollicking tongue-in-cheek trip through a universe of genres.

Want proof? Just look at the album's cover, a visual homage to films like Blade Runner and Back To The Future. On their latest, Muse have returned to the embrace of knowing camp, and they sound all the better for it.


(Review by Alex Green)


How has it been nearly 10 years since Olly Murs graced our screens on the sixth series of The X Factor? You Know I Know is his sixth studio album, this time coming with a seasonal bonus of his greatest hits too.

Fans of the cheeky chappy of modern pop have nothing to worry about though. He hasn't strayed too far from his usual path with You Know I Know, creating in the most part a series of happy, party and dance-friendly tunes with the help of some celebrity pals - Snoop Dogg (on Moves) and Mr Lover Lover himself, Shaggy, on the album's title track, which is also a prime slice of classic Murs.

Not content with that, Murs has also had some magic woven by hitmaker Niles Rodgers, who plays guitar on Love Me Again and Feel the Same. Take Your Love is pure pop and wouldn't be out of place on a One Directioner's Spotify playlist. For me the best track on there is Footsteps, which is pure disco-infused pleasure - you can veritably hear him slink across the bar.

This double disc is a worthy addition to any Murs fan's Christmas stocking.


(Review by Rachel Howdle)


Sarah Brightman is back with her first album in five years following a bit of a tricky time. In case you forgot, the best-selling soprano was due to take a much-publicised trip to the International Space Station in 2015 but pulled out for family reasons. Now, having pushed through her difficult time, Brightman has come out the other side with this new record.

Brightman insists the album is spiritual, not religious, but the collection of big bodied, choral-based songs - as well as the title itself, Hymn - might have you think otherwise. Flaunting her hands-down heavenly voice, Brightman shines on every single track. The listener is transported back to a musical period that this reviewer would say is around the mid-1990s, an era of magical, epic ballads with a sometimes rocky undertone. This is an undeniably beautiful effort, no matter what genre floats your boat, and standout tracks include the anthemic, tingle-inducing Sky And Sand and Fly To Paradise, which sounds a tad Scandi symphonic rock.

The album's closer is a new rendition of Brightman's mega-hit Time To Say Goodbye, originally a duet with Andrea Bocelli. She sings it fully in English for the first time, and it is a genuine pleasure to hear again and again.


(Review by Lucy Mapstone)


Jeff Goldblum releasing a jazz album is not as bizarre as one might initially think. The actor, best known for his roles in the Jurassic Park films as well as Independence Day and, of course, The Fly, has been tickling the ivories since he was a child, and has performed with his jazz band in New York and Los Angeles for years.

His joyous first album, recorded in front of a live audience for that extra injection of authentic smoky jazz club vibe, sees Goldblum show off his hard-earned skills as a jazz pianist - and as a comedic conversationalist - while backed by his orchestra and Grammy-nominated trumpeter Till Bronner. The record includes plenty of real-life, on-stage chatter between Goldblum and his collaborators, including US comedian Sarah Silverman, for a further splash of realness.

If you're new to the genre, this is a good first step. From Silverman and Goldblum's whimsical cover of Me And My Shadow - which includes a small, humorous ode to Jurassic Park (but of course!) - to the refreshed rendition of 1930s song My Baby Just Care For Me, with stunning vocals by Haley Reinhart, the record is far from a swing (music) and a miss.


(Review by Lucy Mapstone)


As far as punchy intros to new albums go, Natural hits the bullseye for Imagine Dragons and their latest offering - their fourth album, Origin. The album, billed as a "sister album" to Evolve, is packed with everything from the band's signature rock sound with a twist to folky-sounding tunes.

The band - Dan Reynolds, Wayne Sermon, Ben McKee and Daniel Platzman - certainly aren't scared to experiment with sound, although songs like Bad Liar have the feel of their past hits Believer and West Coast has a lullaby quality to it that reminds you of a long-lost love song. Bullet In A Gun mixes things up a few tracks into the album, followed by the heavy tempo of Digital.

All in all, the 15-track offering doesn't stick to one sound or recipe and it makes for an intricate listening experience.


(Review by Deidre Reid)