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King L

Great Day for Gravity

Circa CIRCD32

Last time around, on 1993's Ten Short Songs About Love, one-time Danny Wilson mainstay Gary Clark was still in the throes of his quality- pop infatuation, crafting skillful homages to Steely Dan and Brian Wilson. Two years on, horses have been deftly switched to find him fronting a band whose dirty guitars sound like the antithesis of all he once held dear. About time, too: Great Day for Gravity is at least as good as anything Clark's done before, his barbed lines and natural melodic gifts given a little spine and immediacy rather than polished to a dilettante shine.

The main touchstone here is Neil Young in wall-of-grunge mode, particularly on raw, dark numbers such as "Greedy" and "That's How It Works". clearly aren't afraid to crawl when necessary, Clark and his new guitar partner Neill MacColl scraping trails of jagged feedback and reverb across the songs. Elsewhere, there's a residual sunny West Coast vein to songs like "First Man on the Sun" and "Back to Loving Arms", the latter miraculously combining Eagles-y close harmonies, cool white-soul vocals and big rock swagger in roughly equal proportions. In places, there's a spooky similarity to the transatlantic jangle-pop of Clark's fellow Scots Del Amitri, who have also taken the Neil Young rejuvenation course recently, though they'd probably be less willing to describe their music as soul music with big, live guitars.

Lightening what might otherwise be an oppressively dark album are a couple of light singalong numbers, the country-styled drinking song "Hoping They'll Be Open" and gently acerbic "Don't Believe in Hollywood", Clark's account of movie biz attempts to manipulate his music. "Don't believe in anywhere where the sky is always blue," he sings. "Don't believe in Hollywood, cos it don't believe in you." Wise words indeed.

'Clark is fronting a band whose dirty guitars sound like the antithesis of all he once held dear. About time, too'

Julian Cope

20 Mothers

Echo ECHCD 5

Cope's albums are getting more and more like diaries, all the more so in the case of 20 Mothers, which deals with a variety of family matters - trying to reach his mother in "Try Try Try", making up with his brother in "Wheelbarrow Man", ruminating upon mysteries of fatherhood in "Cryingbabiessleeplessnights" and "I'm Your Daddy", and confronting the trying reality of geriatric Alzheimer's in the jolly, bittersweet "Senile Get".

Family matters aside, as diaries go, they're less eventful than you might imagine: Cope's days, it seems, consist largely of strolling and loafing and reading, the lucky chap. At times throughout these 20 tracks, you might wish he'd read something other than gnostic-mystic tracts, but there's more than enough raw musical energy here to back up his indulgences. There's more variety than on any of his albums since Peggy Suicide, too, including a blistering approximation of White Light, White Heat Velvets ("By the Light of the Silbury Moon"), sleek, winsome techno-pop ("Just Like Pooh Bear"), a Scott Walker-style blast at businessmen ("Greedhead Detector"), and enough vintage Mellotron to float an ark. In the past, such lack of focus has rendered Cope's albums the musical equivalent of lucky-bags, but 20 Mothers is a grower, broadening its appeal with every listen. It may well turn out to be his finest hour.

Frank Zappa

Strictly Commercial: The Best of Frank Zappa

Ryko Disc RCD 40600

This is the first Best of Zappa since the sardonically titled Mothermania more than a quarter of a century ago, and for obvious reasons, it features Frank in mainstream rock mode - hardly his longest suit, but still surprisingly broad in range despite the absence of his more overt jazz, classical and operatic strains.

The usual complaints apply. There's not enough from the early albums (no "Plastic People", "Hungry Freaks Daddy", "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" or "Who Are the Brain Police"), and too much from Zappa's curmudgeonly late-Seventies and early-Eighties period, with a string of sledgehammer/ walnut exercises like "Dancin' Fool", "Disco Boy", "Fine Girl" and "Be in My Video" portraying him as the master of leaden sarcasm.

The tough, industrial sheen to tracks such as "Dirty Love" and "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" is nonetheless attractive, and "Montana" - an everyday saga of raising dental floss on a ranch - remains probably the most downright outre single ever released. The lone inclusion from Freak Out!, however, puts it all into perspective: "Trouble Every Day", the social unrest observation, remains as sharp and pertinent today as it was in the aftermath of the Watts and Sunset Strip riots nearly three decades ago.

Bert Jansch

When the Circus Comes to Town

Cooking Vinyl COOK CD 092

The pioneering Scottish folkie is having something of a renaissance at the moment, hosting a new folk club in London and having his old Transatlantic albums reissued. This, his first for Cooking Vinyl, is as decent a record as any he's made in the past decade or two, with his Scots blues-burr as warm and individual as ever on material that tacks with geographic uncertainty between roving songs ("Open Road"), homesick wanderers' hankerings ("Back Home") and hums of happy isolation ("Walk Quietly By").

The jazz shadings he brought into Sixties folk are tastefully present in Mark Ramsden's occasional soprano sax, but more earthily in evidence in the blues undertow Jansch applies to several tracks. Further memories of forgotten times are present in the distant echo of Davy Graham's "Anji", which haunts the melody of "Just a Dream", a song which, appropriately enough, laments the passing of more permanent virtues and values: "Now we don't know what we should learn/ What books to read, and what books to burn."

The Charlatans

The Charlatans

Beggars Banquet BBQCD 174

As Madchester bandwagoneers, the Charlatans always lacked the spirit and conviction of Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. Wouldn't you know it - just as they're ready for a comeback, they find themselves trumped again by the raggedy-ass genius of Shaun Ryder, whose Black Grape project makes this sorry offering seem all the sadder by comparison. The Charlatans features far too many shapeless songs, with lyrics that whine on and on to no great purpose, and music that appears to baulk at the merest hint of invention.

It starts badly. "Nine Acre Court" is like a chunk of incidental music for a movie lacking incident. It gets progressively worse. "Here Comes a Soul Saver" sounds like a copy of Primal Scream's copy of the Stones' raunch, flimsy and third-hand. "Crashin' In" plumbs the deepest depths of all: this is music as drudgery, just a few more minutes to be got through before something more interesting happens in their lives. Why bother?

Fem 2 Fem

Animus

The Hit Label AHLCD CD 33

A lipstick-lesbian band performing man-made songs with lyrics betraying the crassest of sexual cliches - this project has class written all over it. Were it not for the utter lack of panache with which the group realises its vision, it might have slipped straight off Malcolm McLaren's drawing- board.

Their ambitions appear to stretch little further than the pornographic, whether they're offering soft-focus synthetic eroticism in an Enigma-tic style ("Animus"), stomping their way through Euro-techno pulses such as "Naked Heart", or trying on a tougher, leather-jacketed groove such as "Insatiable". This kind of doomed-romantic glam-sleaze hokum is easier to swallow in straightforward Hi-NRG style, when its exploitative overtones are upfront. Despite the thin veneer of personalised butch/ fem imagery, they sound mostly like Madonna in need of an irony transplant.

ANDY GILL

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