ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Faust

You Know

ReR Megacorp

With every other strain of Seventies retro-rock enjoying a resurgence of interest, it's only right that the profile of Krautrock, that decade's most extreme (and prophetic) genre, should be at its highest for two decades. There's a growing realisation that, without the pioneering efforts of groups such as Kraftwerk, Can and , half of today's popular music simply wouldn't exist: there'd be no techno, no hip-hop, no ambient, no trip-hop, no sampling, and no pan-cultural exploration, for starters. Now, thanks to the proselytising of such as The Orb, Julian Cope, Stereolab and Tortoise, there's never been a better time for a band like to re-form and pick up where they left off.

With see-through cover art echoing Clear, their epochal debut from 25 years ago, You Know makes strong claim on the group's own avant- rock legacy, opening with a fearsome battle-cry before lolloping into "Hurricane", the first of several industrial-strength slabs of churning Kraut-riff which form the spine of the album. In full flow, it's a majestic sound: clanky, galumphing percussion; throbbing, insistent bass; fizzy, distorted organ; and an undertow of white noise, static and found sound, all bound together in odd, fluctuating mixes. It's like an ancient, rickety bomber rumbling down an endless runway, never quite picking up enough momentum to lift into the air.

What's most welcome about 's return, though, is their sense of light and shade, and their humour. Too many of the post-rock bands (Tortoise, Main, Labradford) supposedly influenced by them have misplaced the keen sense of comic absurdity at the heart of much Krautrock: they deal in a buttoned-down, smartened-up version of the form which appears to eschew light-heartedness and melody as mortal sins, and whose overall greyness is a gross slur on their influences. That's never a danger here: the rippling acoustic guitars of "60 60" and quietly brooding organ of "LUOiseau" offer gentle, contemplative counterpoint to the heavier riffs, while the bathetic tubas of the nursery-rhyme "Men from the Moon" stand ready to puncture any untoward pomposity.

It's not in the same league as their first two classic albums, but You Know is welcome nonetheless; for the sad fact is, you rarely get the chance to hear anything quite this headstrong these days.

Tony Ferrino

Phenomenon

RCA 74321447112

A volcanic pustule of

easy-listening talent exploding upon the international showbiz scene, Tony Ferrino combines the Latin-lothario looks of a Spanish waiter with the charm of Fred West on this, his British debut.

Seeking to extend his continental notoriety, the material on Phenomenon has been hand-picked to display the full diversity of Ferrino's talents, which range impressively from the cheeky Euro-pop samba of "Taxi Taxi" to the darker environs of the adulterer's autobiography "Other Men's Wives". Like many continental artists, however, Ferrino sometimes misjudges the UK market: the taster title-track from his musical version of Silence of the Lambs suggests that, like Spinal Tap's Saucy Jack, the show may be a little too challenging for the British stage. But elsewhere, on songs like the shining, Steely Dan-slick disco anthem "Lap Dancing Lady" and the Bjork duet "Short Term Affair", the Portuguese singing sensation brings new meaning to the term "charm offensive".

Flesh-N-Bone

Trues Humbly United

Gatherin' Souls

Def Jam 533 539-2

Behind the mangled syntax of the title lies one of the more unusual developments on the gangsta-rap front, that of apparent conversion to evangelical Christianity. In a genre noted for its ruthless amorality or, at a stretch, its lip- service to the Nation of Islam, that's a more original stance than you might think.

Along with his brothers Layzie, Krayzie and Wish, Flesh-N-Bone is part of Cleveland's Bone, Thugs & Harmony family which, Fugees aside, was the American rap phenomenon of 1996. His solo album uses the same blend of super-fast sing-song raps, smooth vocal harmonies and slinky soft-soul backing-tracks as employed by the parent group, but with more overt testifications of peace over violence, even on tracks as territorial as "Northcoast" and "Empty the Clip". Taking his cue from a "Reverend Run Sermon" in which the Run-DMC rapper characterises the likes of "the Reverend Snoop Doggy Dogg" and "the Reverend 2Pac" as the street preachers of their age, Flesh- N-Bone's tales of inner-city tribulation here are couched as cautionary sermons of fire and brimstone in a contemporary context, with the cemetery gates looming over the action like Calvary crosses.

Popsicle

Popsicle

Telegram/WEA 0630-16989-2

Sweden's Popsicle serve up Scanda-pop in Cardigans style: warm and bright, neatly buttoned and deceptively comfy, with a nice line in heartbreak laments. Unfortunately, they lack both the attractive blonde singer and the ironic humour which have elevated the Cardigans to international renown, relying instead upon a series of sugar-coated indie strategies which prove rather less engaging.

Too often, their formulaic approach renders songs mechanical and soulless: "Third Opinion" pointlessly sets a falsetto of Neil Youngian fragility against shoe-gazingly methodical strumming, as if working out some by- numbers hybrid exercise; and while "Sadly Missing" may offer an archetype of indie melancholy, it resolutely fails to convey that mood to the listener. There are occasional successes on Popsicle, most notably the obvious singalong single "Dusty Roads" and the wry, bittersweet pop of "Please Don't Ask", but I'm afraid the old joke about there being hidden shallows to their work applies more often than not.

Rick Wilson

Suitable Language

Third Force TFCD 001

It's not pop, rock, or jazz, though there are elements of all three in percussionist Rick Wilson's solo debut, which acknowledges no boundaries in its search for the musical discourse of the title. With assistance from former members of avant-rock outfits Henry Cow and This Heat (along with ex-James trumpeter Andy Diagram), Suitable Language might, on the face of it, appear heavy going, but there's a grace and lightness to the album that is entirely winning. In large part, this is due to Wilson's expertise with the small percussion - seed pods, clapsticks, rainstick, etc - with which many of the tracks are decorated, while the international flavour added by Wilson's eclectic samples and Ansuman Biswas' santoor broadens the music's appeal across rigid generic boundaries. The result is a fascinating confluence of ambient, sampling, ethnic and free music that deserves to reach a far wider audience than just the mailing-list of The Wire.

Comments