ALBUMS / Pearl one, jam one and cast off: Andy Gill hears an abused Pearl Jam, the sexy Cocteau Twins and a lavatorial William Burroughs

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(Epic 4745492)

NOW that their 10 debut has outsold Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam have some claim to the title of hottest band around, which is a thoroughly depressing prospect. Originally titled Five Against One, then untitled, this follow-up is now apparently to be known as Vs - as in 'versus' - though nothing appears on the sleeve to verify this.

Both suggested titles are appropriate to the material, which as before is calculated to appeal to teenage self-pity, feeding fantasies of victimisation rather than fornication or any of the other classic rock 'n' roll desires. It's Victim Rock, one long extended litany of plaints against potential abusers, defilers and traitors which only lets up occasionally, and then only to itemise the positive qualities of rats (as opposed, implicitly, to humans). In 'Daughter', the girl 'holds the hand that holds her down'; the subject of 'Go' appears to be fending off an abuser; that of 'Dissident' is betrayed to his oppressors by his lover; whilst 'Drop' is a call for 'troubled souls (to) unite' against, er, parents, by the sound of it. The alternative, as suggested by the narrator of 'Indifference', is to (metaphorically, one hopes) take poison till you're immune. Some choice.

There's little escape from the tidal wave of reproach: only in 'Rearview Mirror' does another victim make their getaway, one small crumb of cold comfort in what has become for them virtually a sub-genre - though in none of Eddie Vedder's lyrics is there the depth of objective intelligence contained in, say, 10,000 Maniacs' 'What's The Matter Here?'. His singing, meanwhile, is the same tortured, quavery rumble of portent as before, while the music is merely doggedly competent - with the notable exception of 'Indifference', whose quiet, organ-fuelled moodiness and subtle guitar play is left stranded at the end of the album, as if the group are embarrassed by its gentleness.


Four-Calendar Cafe

(Fontana 518 259-2)

THE Cocteau Twins would never be embarrassed by gentleness, but then they don't have a sharp edge or pointy corner between them. Nor, usually, do they have much in the way of meaning, though Four-Calendar Cafe finds Liz Fraser making what are, by her standards, giant strides of comprehensibility.

The most striking example of her new-found legibility is the opener 'Know Who You are at Every Age', which, besides being an unusually forthright title from these masters of the fluffy-bunny titular confection, also contains a surprisingly serious lyric. Later, 'Bluebeard', which should have been the first single in preference to the more sluggish 'Evangeline', finds her querying whether her man is 'the right man for me, or are you toxic for me?', though toxicity has never sounded quite so appealing.

Not all the songs are quite as decodable: 'My Truth' may well be a marvellously ironic title, for all its revelations, while 'Essence' is a typical Cocteau Twins' swoon of euphoria and speculation as to 'where do all the baby beans go when they die away'. Or it could be 'beams', I suppose, not that that improves one's understanding: it's language, Jim, but not as we know it. Love remains the Cocteau Twins' subject par excellence, the hedonistic textures and breathy vocals forming a perfect feather-bed backdrop to the more inchoate of sexual emotions.


PulpIntro: The Gift Recordings

(Island IMCD 159)

OFTEN lumped together with neo- glam-rockers Suede, largely through sharing the same producer (Ed Buller), Pulp are like a more wry, intelligible Fall; there's the same affection for weedy, reedy organ sounds, and the same suburban nightmare milieu, though lyricist Jarvis Cocker is a less embittered, drier songwriter than Mark E. Smith, perhaps closer in spirit to Difford & Tilbrook or Costello: 'The night was ending, he needed her undressed / He said he loved her, she tried to look impressed'.

There's the same withering wit and deadpan observation in this nine-track compilation of Pulp's first three singles as in an Alan Bennett play, Cocker creating a distinct and recognisable world out of the trivial kitsch of suburban realism: mauve PVC sofas, T-reg Chevettes, crocheted halter-tops and polo- necked jerseys covering up love- bites. Here, girls are stood up by fellers, sit at home and eat chocolates, while the lads spend all day in the housing benefit office: it's more glum than glam, this world, though Cocker arranges it into satisfyingly complete songs. 'Babies', especially, is an entire play in four minutes, with a beautiful narrative arc, punchline and all, bouncing along on a poppy guitar riff. Also of particular note is 'Sheffield: Sex City', a lustful wandering around the town in which the opening list of suburbs - ' . . . Frecheville, Hackenthorpe, Shalesmoor, Wombwell . . . ' - is as evocative as any American journey down Route 66. A57 Revisited, sort of.


Spare Ass Annie & Other Tales

(4th & Broadway BRCD 600)

WILLIAM Burroughs's degenerate drone is entertaining enough on its own, its grizzled old gunslinger's world-weariness being one of the few effective spoken-word strategies of recent years. His collaborations with Bill Laswell's Material on the Arabic-flavoured Seven Seals and with a variety of rock and jazz musicians on the classical / jazz-flavoured Dead City Radio are followed here by one which partners him with the Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy and producer Hal Willner, who apply layers of metallic funk, jazz samples and orchestral arrangements to such Burroughs staples as 'The Last Words Of Dutch Schultz', 'Dr Benway Operates' and 'The Junky's Xmas' - the latter an especially heartwarming quarter-hour tale of junkie generosity set to a backing track which alternates a predatory funk groove with dead-straight chunks of orchestral carols.

The most immediately likeable track is 'Words Of Advice For Young People', a hilarious barrage of Lord Chesterfield-style instruction which incorporates a contemptuous denunciation of both Faustian pacts and the self-righteously pious. 'If you're doing business with a religious sonofabitch, get it in writing,' advises Bill. 'His word ain't worth shit, not with the Good Lord telling him how to fuck you on the deal.' Burroughs's affection for bodily mutancy, meanwhile, is present in good measure on tracks like 'Spare Ass Annie' and 'Did I Ever Tell You About The Man Who Taught His Asshole To Talk'. And they say the British are obsessed with toilet humour . . .

(Photograph omitted)