Hot tracks: Mayday's History Of Tomorrow, and more

ASIAN POP

HISTORY OF TOMORROW

Mayday

B'in Music International

3.5 stars

The passing of time and growing older are themes that top Taiwanese band Mayday have explored before, on works such as Poetry Of The Day After (2008), and continue exploring on their ninth album, where they ask: "How did they get here? What comes next?"

"If we had never met, where would I be?/If we had never known each other, this song wouldn't exist," singer Ashin ruminates on opening track What If... With other songs touching on similar themes (Best Day Of My Life, Beginning Of The End), they cast their gaze to the past and look to the future.

In the five years since their last album, The Second Round (2011), two more members have got married, leaving Ashin as the sole bachelor. Perhaps those developments have prompted some of the introspection here.

What remains constant is the band's ability to come up with compelling hooks that are by turns sunny, sweet and stirring.

One of the most moving numbers here is the poignant Here, After, Us as Ashin's voice taps directly and deeply into the emotions: "Only hope that the future you will be happy/That's what the future me wants most of all."

While some of the tracks feel a little calculated - Party Animal fills the quota for a fast-paced arena anthem - the staunch friendship among the members remains genuine. There is a touching ode to their bond in Brotherhood: "Brothers, how have you been, it's hard to imagine what things would be like without you."

Fans of the band would feel the same way.

Boon Chan


POP

GLORY

Britney Spears

RCA

3 stars

Allied with superstar producer Max Martin, Britney Spears was a pop tastemaker in the early 2000s. Now it seems she has to take cues from the current crop of pop giants, including Justin Bieber, for the acoustic guitar-laced Just Like Me, and even Selena Gomez, on the sultry, atmospheric Just Luv Me.

But the biggest influence on the album could still be the Britney of old. There is a little throwback to the fun, pop cheekiness of Oops!... I Did It Again (2000) on Clumsy, complete with an "oops!" just before the dance break and chorus.

Glory could do with more genuine moments, such as the surprisingly romantic Man On The Moon with its sense of yearning.

But its overall Auto-Tuned sheen is what listeners have come to expect of Spears. Sho knows her pop sensibilities have got her this far and does a fine job of playing to her strengths on the latest 17-track work.

Her sexuality is also, unabashedly, her strength, so the slinky R&B track Make Me featuring Californian rapper G-Eazy is a great choice for a lead single in an album that frequently explores the 34-year-old's sensuality.

Following 2013's lacklustre offering of Britney Jean, Spears' ninth album Glory feels triumphant. With plenty of party girl anthems - from the come-hither Do You Wanna Come Over to the cartoonish Private Show - she seems to be having more fun that anyone else in the business.

Anjali Raguraman


CLASSICAL

ELGAR SYMPHONY NO. 1

Staatskapelle Berlin / Daniel Barenboim

Decca 478 9353

5 stars

The first of Edward Elgar's two symphonies, in A flat major and first performed in 1908, has been described as the musical equivalent of St Pancras Station, London's neo-Gothic edifice. That is a fair assessment, given its grandiose stature and almost 52-minute duration over four movements.

To sustain that length in concert or recording is no mean feat and the Berlin Staatskapelle, led by veteran pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim, gives a magnificent performance. There is no pompous, flag-waving histrionics and the broad Andante nobilmente e semplice (slow, noble and simple) of the opening movement gets exactly what it deserves.

There is a Brucknerian grandeur that later escalates to extremes of vehemence at the pinnacle of climaxes.

The mercurial second movement, in contrast, generates plenty of excitement before cooling off in the sublime longeurs of the Adagio. The exciting finale builds up inexorably into a massive stand-off, where the first movement's theme of nobility returns with the warmth of a familiar embrace.

Elgar certainly knew how to stoke emotions to feverish highs. This new album matches the best of the Brits on record and is a must-listen.

Chang Tou Liang


OBSCURE CLASSICS

ROZYCKI PIANO CONCERTOS

Jonathan Plowright, piano

BBC Scottish Symphony / Lukasz Borowicz

Hyperion 68066

5 stars

The Polish composer Ludomir Rozycki (1883-1953), a contemporary of his celebrated compatriot Karol Szymanowski, was an arch-traditionalist. While Szymanowski was experimenting with new-found harmonic directions, Rozycki, better known for his symphonic poems and operas, was stuck in the hallowed past.

However, his model was not Chopin, but rather Liszt, Paderewski and the Russian Romantics, particularly Rachmaninov. Both the First Piano Concerto (1917-1918) and Second Piano Concerto (1941-1942) were composed during wartime, but there is little or no hint of strife or tragedy.

The First is more ambitious at 32 minutes in three movements, almost over-shadowing the more compact Second in two movements. With lush harmonies, luscious melodies and Jonathan Plowright - British pianist and authority of all things Polish - in commanding form, the results are nothing short of spectacular.

Both finales are touched with the glitter of show business and film music, especially the Second's. The 10 minutes of the single-movement Ballade In G Major (1904) brings to mind British film composer Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto, but with a major difference. All of Rozycki's were actually written in Warsaw, which make for invigorating listening for the jaded.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Hot tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe