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The Fall

The Twenty-Seven Points

Permanent PERM CD 36

"Parental Advisory", warns the message on the sleeve, "Explicit, Incompetent Music". Thank heavens for that. The "incompetent" bit, anyway. Not sure about "explicit", though: the twisted turns of Mark E Smith's poesy become no clearer when transferred to a live double-album. Some tracks even become more baffling: "Glam-Racket" here is preceded by the announcement "Prozac - it's a good life bowing to a tyrant," and ends with a pointed voice of complaint staining the paltry smattering of applause.

The songs come mainly from 's Nineties albums, the Infotainment Scan/ Middle-Class Revolt period, with a few vintage pieces such as "Mr Pharmacist". Not that there's that much stylistic difference: the likes of "Free Range" and "Hi-Tension Line" are typical Fall rant-a-billy, and Smith's verite-collage approach is as acute as always, as when a gloriously dissonant version of "The Joke" leads into a recording of the singer not laughing at someone's jokes, then into the floppy grind of "British People in Hot Weather". So: a new Fall live album - just like a new Fall studio album, only without the great hi-fi sound.

Axiom Funk Funkcronomicon On the sleeve, the legend Axiom Funk covers up the old Funkadelic logo, almost. But there's no mistaking the tawdry Pedro Bell horror-fantasy illustration, which could be straight off one of the early P-Funk albums. Appropriately so: Funkcronomicon is effectively Bill Laswell's reconstitution of the Mothership, with Clinton, Bootsy, Bernie, Blackbyrd, Mudbone and the rest slapped into as good a shape as they've been in since the late Seventies, augmented by dependable Laswell associates like Sly & Robbie, plus such deserving funk-era guests as Sly Stone and Herbie Hancock.

Sounds good? It is: P-Funk material such as "Cosmic Slop" is re-tooled in shiny new bindings, while the late Eddie Hazel receives his due testimonial on the ecstatic Hendrixisms of "Orbitron Attack" and "Pray My Soul". Hendrix, in fact, is the guiding spirit of the project, with covers of "Trumpets and Violins, Violins" and an outstanding "If 6 Was 9" inhabited by Bootsy Collins with all the relaxed grace of Jimi and, if anything, a soupcon more cool. If that's possible.

Martin Denny was a star of the Tiki cult of ersatz Polynesiana that swept America in the Fifties, ensuring that the South Pacific soundtrack and bamboo furniture became staples of every playboy's den. His albums, invariably featuring sultry babes gazing alluringly from their sleeves, became a byword for sophisticated primitivism: their stereo imaging, in particular, made them favourites among hi-fi buffs, in much the same way a later generation bought Pink Floyd LPs just to test their stereos.

Denny's music was built on piano and vibes but incorporated gamelan, koto, gongs, shakers, congas and all manner of bird-calls and jungle-noises from percussionist Augie Colon. In its day, it was as avant-garde as easy-listening music got; in retrospect, it was effectively the first ambient/world music hybrid.

Also available in the same series are Voice Of The Xtabay and Other Exotic Delights, by the stratospherically-voiced, glass-endangering Peruvian chanteuse Yma Sumac, and Robert Mitchum's mercifully brief foray into Jamaican patois, Calypso - Is Like So....

Today's folkies are more organised than their Sixties counterparts, at least as regards political action. The Levellers, for instance, have funded an activist contact book, which must be like a prospectus for the undecided enemy within. Fair enough, but they might have been better occupied working a little more diligently on their music. The inaptly- titled Zeitgeist uses the same old folk-punk tub-thumpery to make the same old complaints about the same old folk devils - police, politicians (boo!) - hoisted up inside their musical wicker man.

Their rainbow coalition of complaints inevitably leads them into contradictions, most glaringly between the anti-lottery anthem "Hope Street" and the song of small-town stasis "Leave This Town". One song lambasts the fantasy of a better life; the other criticises someone for not fulfilling their fantasy of the same. This "damned if you do, damned if you don't" approach just fills their songs with a sense of fear, despondency and ubiquitous victimhood.

The pessimism is endemic to their mindset: I'm reminded of the socialist polemical battles of the Seventies, when the sentence lacking the word "struggle" was a rarity indeed.

Like those marginalised Trots, The Levellers are trapped by their own self-defeatism: the state of constant revolution they so loudly advocate implies an acceptance that things will never get any better - if they did, the revolution would be over. In which case, it's remarkably apposite for The Levellers, who on this showing will never get any better either.

ANDY GILL

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