14 album reviews

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The Independent Culture
Get used to the poor spelling, and to Eliot Sloan's warm, nasal delivery: this time next year, you'll be thoroughly sick of both. Already meteorically successful in America with their debut single "I Believe", the union in question here is that of Sloan and his co-singer / songwriter Jeff Pence, proponents of a style they call "rural soul".

What this means in practice is lushly produced, acoustic guitar-led songs whose churchy flavour, rather than searing the spirit with ecstasy, illuminates with a mellow glow of benevolence. It's an appealing formula, but risky: the combination of social concern and blind optimism in "I Believe" is the kind that sells millions, but nauseates millions more. The song is ultimately rescued by Sloan's gospel inflection, a gentle flattening of notes on the verses that keeps you listening through choruses in which the group express their firm conviction that love is the answer.

Overlook the occasional banality, and the strengths of Sloan & Pence's songcraft become clear in the number of obvious hit singles the album contains, with "Would You Be There", "End of the World', "Home", "Let Me Be the One" and "Heaven" liable to keep Home bobbing around the charts for a while yet.

Like all good writers, they borrow from the best: there are judicious echoes here and there of songwriters like Elton John and Leon Russell, and a finale that dares to emulate "Hey Jude". Most of the time, though, they sound like P M Dawn with roots, as blissed as they are blessid.

Dreadlocked thrash-metallists with psychobilly attitude, White Zombie are the kind of band who can't be bothered to backward-mask their satanic messages. They steamroller through polite conventions with irreverent glee, celebrating sex, violence and demonic possession in trash-culture gems like "Greasepaint and Monkey Brains". Not for nothing are they Beavis & Butthead's favourite group.

As if that weren't enough to recommend them, they sound great, too. There's a massive beauty to a track such as "More Human Than Human" that's almost architectural, its huge blocks of industrial riff-noise manipulated with inhuman grace and dexterity, like someone juggling bulldozers, very quickly. Immense and impersonal, it's the most fun you'll have with heavy metal all year.

As jovially jaundiced as ever, Warren Zevon gets personal on Mutineer, allegorising his chaotic relationships in songs like "Something Bad Happened to a Clown". But there's usually enough of the clown left to render a bitter chuckle, however bad it gets.

Many of the songs have been co-written with Carl Hiaasen, the Miami journalist and comic-thriller novelist. Hiaasen's ironic tone syncs perfectly with Zevon's on satires like "Rottweiler Blues", a survivalist portrait whose paranoid subject wears his bullet-proof vest to the supermarket. Home of the brave, indeed.

As with Kraftwerk, the manner in which The Young Gods' sonic breakthroughs have been appropriated by Americans - in their case, the brutal industrial thrash of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails - illustrates the inverted "special relationship" America now has with European music.

Though superficially similar, Reznor uses the style to suggest the immense pressures on the individual. The Swiss trio are less dystopian: the exhilaration of tracks such as "Speed of Night" is the thrill of freedom, a soar through the sky rather than a dive into the abyss.

Images of flying recur constantly - it's as if the American pioneer spirit and morbid European introspection had been swapped. And on this showing, the Europeans got the better of the deal.