ALBUMS: Lunging, sweeping, bustling, disgusting and warty: Andy Gill on Terence Trent D'Arby's urbane sprawl, Aerosmith's polished lapse of taste and Mark E Smith's ever-elegant Fall

TERENCE TRENT D'ARBY

Terence Trent D'Arby's Symphony or Damn

(Columbia 473561)

TERENCE Trent D'Arby needs a producer, someone to focus his talent more tightly. Symphony or Damn goes some distance to redressing the disastrous effect of his second album - by having half-decent songs and hummable tunes, mainly - but it lunges in too many directions, and seems too eager to impress with sheer diversity. Track by track, he changes tack: storming funk-metal is followed by twee soft-soul duet, burring Stax-style horns by clever-clever 10cc pop. It sprawls so widely he's divided the 16 tracks into two parts, 'Confrontation' and 'Reconciliation'. The latter sounds the more natural, playing to his vocal strengths. There's a leaner, more effective album struggling to get out: I'd take the gospel-flavoured 'Wet Your Lips' and self-conscious tour de force 'Turn the Page' from the first part, add them to the bulk of the second part, and ditch the rest.

NEW ORDER

Republic

(London 828431)

UNLIKE Terence, New Order here extend their style without inflating the album beyond listenable length. There's something so charming and sincere about Barney Sumner's voice that it's virtually impossible not to be swept up by the pop swell of songs like 'Regret' and 'World'. But Republic is less slavishly poppy than Technique, and a much more varied album.

Of all indie-pop groups, they've the strongest grasp of the mesmeric circularity of modern dance music. Sumner's lyrics, meanwhile, are more like episodes from some ongoing emotional two-hander, written in the first-person singular and trying to unpick some knotty relationship. It's like reading an agony aunt's correspondence while the radio plays soft and soothing.

THE FALL

The Infotainment Scan

(Permanent PERM CD12)

TRUST Mark E Smith to save his most likeable, powerful album in years for his first post- major label release. The Infotainment Scan is bristling with mystery and bustling grooves, and a succession of Seventies references offering his usual skew- whiff view of the trend-happy entertainment industry. Can it be coincidence, for instance, that the fashion-victim critique 'Glam-Racket' includes the word 'suede' twice?

The cover version of Sister Sledge's 'Lost in Music', meanwhile, is rendered strange and mysterious by Smith's quietly impersonal vocal, while the pulsing Kraut-rock groove of 'A Past Gone Mad' perhaps betrays his true Seventies roots. For the rest, disco beats and grunge riffs alike are added to The Fall's standard bohemian rockabilly drive, with a uniformly high degree of success.

For humour, a cover of Steve Bent's hilarious 'I'm Going to Spain' is rendered even dafter by Smith's off-pitch delivery, without lowering the tone of proceedings too much. It's strange to say so, but The Fall have managed to mature into one of our more consistent outfits, without sacrificing one iota of their individuality. Whether they'll ever increase their audience accordingly is open to question. Great album, though.

AEROSMITH

Get a Grip

(Geffen GED 24444)

I'M NOT SURE there's room enough in life for more than one Aerosmith album, and if so, the splendid Pump must be the one. Get a Grip has possibly the vilest sleeve illustration ever - a pierced cow's udder, disgusting even if faked; it's questionable whether any of the credit accruing from the album's manicured hard rock outweighs this lapse of taste.

As before, it's a mixture of fast, flash, direct rockers, signalled by abrupt titles like 'Fever' and 'Flesh', simple pop- metal trifles like 'Shut Up and Dance' and more lengthy bouts of metallic pomp (like the current single 'Livin' on the Edge').

Industrial-grade metal buffed to a pleasing lustre, Get a Grip is an obvious contender for hard rock album of the year, but it's probably best listened to blind.

P J HARVEY

Rid of Me

(Island CID 8002)

P J HARVEY has claims on the territory abandoned by Patti Smith over a decade ago, but where her caterwauling rode on the back of a band that knew how to work up a head of exhilarating rock 'n' roll steam when necessary, Rid of Me is one long clumsy galumph, an extended tantrum of foot-stamping and frowns. Harvey's songs are rock as therapy, the moans and shrieks of personal torment rendered as public entertainment, all the more unlikeable for the undertow of sexual revulsion running through the album.

Producer and 'grunge godfather' Steve Albini has compounded the album's generally user-unfriendly aspect with a deliberately rough production that acknowledges few of the usual niceties: when someone coughs over the strummed intro to 'Rub 'Til It Bleeds', he doesn't bother to stop them and start again, or even mix it out. Doubtless it was considered appropriate to Harvey's 'warts and all' aesthetic, though in truth there's precious little here but the warts.

(Photograph omitted)

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