Album reviews

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Warner Bros 9362-46602-2

If we're talking misery, Mark Eitzel is surely the heavyweight champ, bearing the weariness of several worlds upon his shoulders. Working here with Peter Buck (who co-wrote the songs) and Buck's band, Tuatara, Eitzel traces the lineaments of melancholy against a discreet musical backdrop of vibes, sax, guitar, double bass and brushed drums - superficially similar to Tindersticks' palette, but a world away in execution.

The pain and ennui and desire which oozes out of these songs is no mere romantic fantasy but clearly from the heart, and the musicians act accordingly. Buck's characteristic guitar jangle, for instance, only gets to make an appearance on "Free of Harm", the most upbeat, outgoing number here, although even then, Eitzel can't resist admitting: "I don't know what else to do with my arms", as if apologising for his interest. Elsewhere, vibes dominate, dabbing subtle watercolour tints over the songs, and evoking the doomed pastoralism of Nick Drake on the gorgeous "If You Have to Ask".

It's a more focused sound than that of last year's 60 Watt Silver Lining, befitting songs which, on reflection, seem more rounded and optimistic than any of EitzelUs previous work. The tide of hope has never exactly swelled through his oeuvre before, but here it's strong enough to carry him through logic and logistics alike, grasping the contradiction of lines like "I'm gonna move myself ahead/ And I don't know how".


The Big Chill: Vibes Vol. 1

Global Headz HEADZ CD 002

Straddling the various strands of the more laidback end of club culture, this is one of the best of the recent glut of chill-out compilations - though even here, there is a tendency to linger a little too long over a loop, or find too deep a fascination in the mundane intricacies of a drum programme.

As you'd expect, the hyperactive bustle of drum'n'bass dominates some tracks, albeit in a gossamer-light manner, with a few limpid piano chords and maybe a dab or two of synthesiser staining the pristine rhythmic purity of Mr Psyche's "Cloud" and The Modwheel's "Optimystic". Away from the jungle, the excellently named Knights Of The Occasional Table wield their string samples with wry panache over the loping groove of "Jazz Kirk", and the highly-rated Sounds From The Ground impress with "Snow", which shimmers like Can's Future Days. Good as these are, it's effectively all downhill from the first track, Another Fine Day's "Mbira Jam", in which interlaced layers of African thumb-piano tinkle gently in soothing Steve Reichian cycles, as refreshing as spring water.


Music for Pleasure

Polydor MONAC 1

Here comes the new order, same as the old order: this debut offering from Peter Hook's new band holds no real surprises, consisting mainly of slight variations on stock Mancunian rock styles - mostly those developed by his old band New Order. The opener (and first single) "What Do You Want From Me?" is typical: Hooky's bass leads the song around by its nose, with harmonic counterpoints on guitar, keyboards and vocals layered methodically over the top. Clearly disinclined to waste time learning new tricks.

As brief respite from the same Old Order, "Buzz Gum" features an Oasean indie-rock replete with descending guitar arpeggios and flat Manc vowels; and you can all but smell the handbag in the disco shimmer of "Sweet Lips". But by the time the widescreen instrumental "Sedona" closes the album with the group ambling off into some Arizona sunset, it is clear that all concerned are happy to accede to the notion that there is really nothing new under the sun.

Then again, in an age when retro is the profitable rule rather than the exception, Hooky would probably be a fool to look too far beyond his former glory.



This Way Up WAY 6299

Tindersticks' third album proper - not counting two live efforts and a soundtrack job - is as uncompromisingly downbeat as you'd expect, aswoon with the vapours of unrequited desire, wallowing happily in its own misery. They're often described as cinematic in style, but it's clearly a French movie they live in, judging by the lack of action, the fascination with romantically doomed characters, and the preeningly self-conscious music - in which case, Stuart Staples' parched Gauloise rasp serves as subtitles, distancing us even further from the fanciful desolation of the songs.

The opener "Another Night In" sets the tone straight from the off, its lachrymose strings and stuporous beat plunging us into a world where smiles are for fools and laughter is always hollow. Later on, Staples could be trying to capture the group's essential character when he sings "You've got a smile that never reaches your eyes," easily the best line on the album.

Surely, you think, this is so ridiculously overwrought that they will have to crack up over it? But they never do - like Kraftwerk, they stick stubbornly to their chosen image, inhabiting a world of gutter romanticism and stale booze which has as little connection to the real world as Kraftwerk's cybernetic fantasies.

It's as if their determination to be careworn and world-weary has resulted in a sort of emotional erosion: it's ultimately impossible to apply their desperate fatalism to one's own circumstances. Life is simply not that perfectly miserable.