Album Reviews: Counting Crows Recovering the Satellites

Even among an unusually self-absorbed generation of American singers, Counting Crows' Adam Duritz operates at a peculiarly strident pitch of self-pity, investing the most innocuous of lyrics with excessive emotional drama. A classic solipsistic soul-barer, he just won't shut up about himself: there are more first-person-singulars in the lyric booklet to this album than even Morrissey would countenance. And when he runs out of words, there's still no respite, Duritz apparently regarding every instrumental coda as an opportunity to wail wordlessly along, in some misguided attempt to persuade us of the depth of his feelings.

There are a few signs that he realises how fatiguing this can be, as when he notes, "What a big baby/ Won't somebody save me please?" in the opening track "Catapult". But for all his vocal histrionics, Recovering the Satellites is remarkably complacent stuff, a bland blend of the most obvious influences, from REM to Springsteen, manipulated in a way that steadfastly avoids originality as if the very notion were tainted by some plague. Save for the occasional woozy whiff of Mellotron or Wurlitzer, there's none of the questing musical spirit REM exhibited on New Adventures in HiFi, for instance, just the glib surface similarity of tracks like "Angels of the Silences". And sometimes the group's lack of clear personal identity can lead them into disastrous mistakes: the hopelessly overwrought "Goodnight Elisabeth" sounds horribly reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird", but with a worse guitar solo. Which, you have to admit, is quite some achievement.

T-Bone Burnette, who produced Counting Crows' previous album, August and Everything After, has been dropped for this follow-up - which seems a little ungrateful, given that the debut went sextuple-platinum in America alone. His replacement, Gil Norton (Pixies, Pere Ubu, Del Amitri), has downplayed the folk-rock elements and given more of a crunch to the guitars on tracks such as "Have You Seen Me Lately", but despite his best efforts, there's still barely enough room to slip a cigarette-paper between them and college-rock colleagues like Hootie & The Blowfish. Which, needless to say, is not a recommendation.

MARILYN MANSON

Antichrist Superstar

Interscope IND 90086

It's complacent bands such as Hootie and Counting Crows that almost make one sympathise with the likes of Marilyn Manson, trash-thrash riff-mongers whose taste for sleaze would beggar even a Tory MP or Catholic bishop's best efforts. Naming themselves after notorious murderers - a big hand, please, for Madonna Wayne Gacy on keyboards - they reflect the seemingly limitless fascination for amoral debauch that has made murder virtually a spectator-sport in America.

Continuing the fine, upstanding work begun on last year's debut Smells Like Children, the Trent Reznor-produced Antichrist Superstar includes such charming songs as "Deformography", "Angel With Scabbed Wings" and - my favourite - the opener "Irresponsible Hate Anthem", a typical Nine Inch Nails-style industrial-metal jackhammer riff whose chorus is a screamed "Fuck It!". Singer Marilyn (like Alice Cooper, a chap) employs the most brutal of throat-shredding rasps, though vocal node damage is probably the least of the dangers facing him. For in a world where high-profile stars like Tupac Shakur can be casually murdered, it's surely tempting fate to sing, as Manson does in "Mr Superstar", of obsessive love ("I'd do anything for you") slipping into stalker territory ("I want to see you dead"). If such matters are, as the song seems to suggest, merely a matter of degree, how long before one of his more dysfunctional fans offers him their ultimate acclaim?

FLUFFY Black Eye

Virgin CDV 2817

Babe-punkers Fluffy would love to have some of Marilyn Manson's easy command of glam outrage, but being British and having at least half an eye on the mainstream pop milieu, the girls' attempts at feistiness just seem half-hearted, trapped in the contradiction between excess and accessibility.

In their favour, there's plenty of raw spirit here - "Scream" rocks like Chrome's barbed "March of the Chrome Police", no bad thing - but the songs themselves, featuring sleaze and violation in unglamorous collusion, border on the ridiculous, with embarrassing sexual metaphors and cliched notions of outrageous behaviour: "Woke up in a bed of vomit/ I lost my pink wig and I'm in hell". Ultimately, they may write all their own material and play their own instruments, but any independence of thought is concealed behind a hackneyed, exploitative image. They're just a cover version of "Cherry Bomb" away from being The Runaways.

MUNDY Jelly Legs

Epic MUNDY3CD

Eschewing the traditional Irish influences, young Dublin-based singer- songwriter Edmund Enright (aka Mundy) utilises a folk-rock variant of Britpop on this first collection, with keening guitars and low-key diction. Though faltering in places, it's an impressive enough debut, thanks to producer Youth's embellishments, which help give slight material like "Song For My Darling" a grunge-raga density of texture through skirling guitar drones.

Mundy's songs deal with the usual fare of adolescent outsiderdom, romantic confusion and displacement: in "Springtown", he sends a postcard home, while "Reunion" is an irony-free cousin to Pulp's "Disco 2000". There are few really startling images or ideas at work in these songs, but at least he has enough of a positive attitude to counter the usual glib grunge assertions that "life's a bitch" with the rejoinder "Life's A Cinch".

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