This week, we're looking at new albums from bands Busted and The Specials, as well as the new solo effort from Steps star Claire Richards.


Some things never change.

Nearly two decades on from when the teenage members of Busted trivialised the criminal relationship twixt teacher and pupil with What I Go To School For, the three-piece are still singing about the sixth form, other bands they like, and girls. But then, it would be dull if the song topics evolved in direct proportion to their ages - a Busted album about changing nappies, whether to switch mortgage providers and when to put the recycling out would likely tank.

A more mature sound is discernible on latest record Half Way There, though it is ostensibly an homage to Jerry Finn-produced American pop-punk. And Charlie is still lamenting while strumming an acoustic guitar in the more sombre moments.

Are they targeting new fans, or delivering more of the same for those who were thankfully there the first time around? The mantra is clearly "If it isn't busted, don't fix it". A fun album.


(Review by Ryan Hooper)


It's an auspicious year for a Specials comeback. Some 40 years since the band's Jerry Dammers created the famous 2 Tone Records and released their debut single, Gangsters. And 10 years since the Coventry band re-formed, touring the US and playing with Blur at Hyde Park. Truly, it was time for some new material.

Sometimes a legacy is best left untouched. Luckily, any risk of a twee nostalgia trip was never on the table. The Specials are a group that look forward. Encore is a nimble concoction of disco, ska and reggae.

It feels like the natural culmination of the band's genre-hopping years. Its lyrics cut to the political zeitgeist and feel as sharp as the band's well-starched granddad collars. Only three of the seven original members feature but Encore still feels like part of the legacy. Left-wing activist Saffiyah Khan intones over bone-shaking dub reggae on 10 Commandments, while opener Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys is drenched in lashings of disco cowbell.

Encore's not perfect - one or two tracks feel unfinished, and sometimes the tone swings from impassioned to sanctimonious. But these are small gripes. We should be thankful for another dose of fiery political commentary and thankful that some bands - at least - are capable of comebacks that feel as vital as they feel fun.


(Review by Alex Green)


After a drunken meeting on Twitter, Matt Haig, author of the extraordinary memoir Reasons To Stay Alive, and former Razorlight drummer and songwriter Andy Burrows sparked this collaboration.

Inspired in part by Haig's books Reasons To Stay Alive and How To Stop Time (which are both tracks on this album), the overall feel of this piece is that of joyous optimism, and that's just the music. When you settle in and listen to the words and the Hoosier-like melodies, Haig's desire to live just rises, encouraging the listener to dig deeper to find that glimpse of the light in what can be a very dark and all-encompassing sky. The title track has an ELO Time-esque vibe as he almost pleads with the listener to look for the many reasons out there to stay alive.

What Burrows has done is find the musicality inside Haig's uplifting narrative, however dark life is right now, that it will lift, rise like the dawn. And for those who think that an openly inspirational piece facing the darkness that is mental health and depression could be saccharine-sweet and twee like many self-help books have a habit of sliding into, this is not that. It is so much more.


(Review by Rachel Howdle)


Claire Richards, or "Claire from Steps" as she's often known, is going it alone - a bold move for any member of any band, especially one known for their poppy dance routines and easy, breezy singles. But Richards has an ace up her sleeve - her genuinely phenomenal voice. She has the rousing vocal many will recognise from a number of Steps' biggest hits, and it's all more outstanding in her solo work.

Richards' debut album is jam-packed with melodic anthems about life and love and other themes that will make sense to an older audience (i.e. the Steps fans of yesteryear who have now grown up). To some, her style may appear a tad passe, a hangover from 1990s ballad-led pop, but she's quite rightly filling a cavernous gap in the charts. There's a dearth of this sort of music at the moment; it's refreshing to hear unadulterated songs like this again without the addition of an of-the-moment rapper/a reggae-inspired DJ/a painfully cool record producer etc.

As saccharine as you'd expect, the record does have a mildly cheesy edge, but it's as addictive as a warm camembert and bread. It's compulsive. From the poppier tracks such as Deep Waters and Brave, to soulful, power songs Don't Leave Me In This Love Alone and Liar, this is a winner. It's no wonder she's landed the chance to support Celine Dion at this summer's British Summer Time Festival.


(Review by Lucy Mapstone)


Ian Brown's voice: a slice of permanence in a world of flux. He couldn't sing then and he can't sing now. But it didn't matter when The Stone Roses were at their peak in 1989 and it doesn't make much of a difference today, either.

While the Roses, an epoch-defining band, were noted for the paucity of their output - just the two albums, though they're both classics (yes, even Second Coming) - Brown's solo career has taken a more let's-see-what-sticks approach. His latest offering, Ripples, is his seventh album since going it alone and, despite a fixation with conspiracy theories, it's not bad.

On track four (of 10), The Dream And The Dreamer, he sings of "Fat cat puppeteers" orchestrating events from the shadows. On Blue Sky Day - incidentally the best song on the album - Brown references jet planes making chemtrails, a sentiment that would appear more at home on Infowars, rather than on a record belonging to a man who had a hand in creating the greatest debut album of all time. Despite the strange subject matter, Ripples is a solid, if not fantastic effort.


(Review by Keiran Southern)