ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS

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Super Furry Animals

Radiator

Creation CRECD 214

While continuing to mine the rich vein of whimsy they opened up with Fuzzy Logic, get increasingly excessive with Radiator. It's all about having more - more musical modes, more drugs, more tangents to fly off at and more thoughts.

This last requirement is probably the most vital, judging by the way they keep proselytising on the matter. "We have ways of making you think," they chant assertively in "Hermann Loves Pauline", extending the idea further in "Download" to claim that: "There are people who think, and people who don't, and the people who don't are the ones who have most" - a questionable assertion with the apparent aim of reassuring their poverty- struck fans of their innate pre-eminence over flash car-driving thickos.

It's a classic prog-rock ploy, this equation of wealth with shallowness, so perhaps it's entirely appropriate that their music here should be constantly growing beyond the songs' natural bounds, with all kinds of scat-sung extrusions, counter-melodies and fizzy synthesiser noises bubbling up from between the verses. On "Placid Casual", the song which follows the introductory "Furryvision*" theme, they sound like nothing so much as one of Frank Zappa's less well-rehearsed bands, with lumpy riffing on clever-clever chords and an ill-disguised smirk of superiority creasing callow pop features.

However, their determination to throw in not just the kitchen sink but a matching bathroom suite of styles, effects and sounds makes obstacle courses of some songs, as if SFA are deliberately testing listeners to see whether they're smart enough to appreciate this music. In places - on "Hermann Loves Pauline", particularly - they over-egg the pudding shamelessly, adding extra shiny musical ornaments until everything in the song sounds token, a mere novelty. Despite their excesses, though, there is usually a firm kernel of melodic appeal operating at the heart of SFA's songs, enabling the true pop lustre of tracks such as "Demons" and "She's Got Spies" to shine through regardless.

DR JOHN

Trippin' Live

Eagle EAGCD003

It's probably some indication of musicians' traditionally shaky grasp of business matters that, despite the prior appearance of at least one indifferent concert recording bearing Dr John's name and playing, Trippin' Live is pointedly sub-titled "his first official live album".

Thankfully, he has chosen a good one to officially start with, the week of shows he did at Ronnie Scott's in January last year being as satisfying as any he has played in recent years, not least through the presence of a small horn section featuring such New Orleans stalwarts as tenor-man Alvin "Red" Tyler and Ronnie Cuber, the world's grumpiest baritone saxophonist. Whether adding smirking punctuation to the Doctor's rap about a faithless lover in "Renegade", or working a little Charles Brown vamp over the closing choruses of "Kin Folk", this kind of seasoned veteran can be relied on to bring an extra dimension to a stew as spicy as a Crescent City gumbo.

The show covers the usual range of New Orleans styles, starting with Professor Longhair's rhumba-rock trademark "Tipitina" and including hits such as "Such a Night" and "Right Place, Wrong Time" before closing with a nine-minute version of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene". This kind of stylistic cross-fertilisation is typical of Dr John's band, whose members combine elegance with musical erudition.

"What I like," says the Doctor in his sleevenote, "is guys that can play the same arrangements every night but do things differently. If you don't mix stuff up, life can get ho-hum, you know?" Indeed - notwithstanding the absence of anything from the Gris-Gris album, there's plenty to hum about Trippin' Live, but not a ho in sight.

GRAVELANDS

Gravelands

Dressed to Kill DTKING50

My, but this is tasteful - an Elvis impersonator singing dead rock star hits in the style of the King. Mmmm! I'll take that with extra cheese, please. It's at least as tasteful as any of the other commemorative opportunities so far exercised upon the dubious pretext of Presley's demise, possessing an instinctive grasp of pop culture rather than the sickly blend of sentiment and commercial manipulation which killed his potential in the first place. Effectively, it's a spirited attempt to reclaim Elvis for bad-taste rock'n'roll.

Some of these songs - "No Woman No Cry", "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" - are such universal standards that it is surprising Presley never recorded them himself; here, as imagined by Belfast's Jimmy Brown, they have the authentic overripe texture of Vegas Elvis. A redneck juke-joint version of "Blockbuster" is the most effective and "Riders on the Storm/ The End" the spookiest, Brown chillingly locating a shared sinister appeal between the the King and the Lizard King.

A brooding folk-blues version of "Working Class Hero" is rather less convincing, despite the discreet insertion of the phrase "goddam peasants" where John Lennon preferred an earthier expletive; but as for the version of "Voodoo Chile", you can all but picture Elvis, limbs dramatically akimbo and white suit straining, as he karate-chops that mountain down with his hand. How can he not have done this?

It makes you wonder how Presley's later career might have progressed if he was recording material by writers as good as Marley, Gaye, Lennon and Hendrix, instead of the hacks who eventually poisoned his well. Less intriguingly, it's a damn good laugh, too.

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