ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS

ANDY GILL ON ALBUMS
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The Independent Culture
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Razorblade Suitcase

Trauma/Interscope IND 90091

Oasis may garner more column inches back home in Blighty, but there's no contest about the UK's biggest musical export of the moment: following the unaccountably huge sales of their debut album 16 Stone, 's follow-up, Razorblade Suitcase, has gone straight into the charts at No 1 in the USA, Canada and Australia - in fact, the entire English- speaking world except Britain, where they remain routinely reviled by right-thinking music fans everywhere.

Put it down to taste, or to the insurmountable barrier of a common language. For despite their origins, speak with an American tongue - specifically, the one that used to belong to Kurt Cobain. Time and again here, the grey, leaden chording and torrential self-pity summon memories of Nirvana, though the songs themselves can muster only a fraction of their impact: it's Nirvana-lite, MTV-friendly and polite.

Sometimes, the appropriation gets a little embarrassing. It may be that the mention in one song of a "fishhook" doesn't irresistibly remind you of the cover of Nevermind, but when the very title itself is used in another song, it's hard to think of anything else. After all, until Cobain cemented them together, the two words were never used as one.

Leavened only by a few squawks of turgid cello, 's characterless grunge is every bit as dismal as their world-view, which, like that of Pearl Jam, promotes the popular misconception of alienation as a routine condition. "I'm with everyone and yet not," claims singer Gavin Rossdale, "just wanted to be myself." So why, one wonders, be so like someone else? Especially since, like self-important indie boys everywhere, he appears to have had a complete irony bypass. How else could he offer, as a straight- faced critique of societal pressures, the pompous statement "We are servants to our formulaic ways," without realising that it applies all the more so to his own music?

Still, there's every chance that, come the next round of industry gong- giving, will be awarded some kind of Queen's Award to Industry for their export prowess. And rightly so; it's not everybody who can manage to flog so much of the Americans' old rope back to them. Well done, lads.

EXPERIMENTAL POP BAND

Woof

Swarf Finger SF009CD

Compiled from three EPs released over the past couple of years, Woof offers a surprisingly coherent account of where Bristol's Experimental Pop Band stand at the present time: straddling more genres than might seem comfortable, but enjoying the experience.

Earlier tracks like "Twentieth Century Tack" and "Skinny" involve a kind of brooding, jazz-inflected indie-pop littered with synth bleeps, only tenuously connected to any specific style; by the time of "Universe", they're lolloping nicely in a baggy manner, with a smart, laconic vocal and giddy little curls of slide guitar; and on more recent tracks such as "Oslo", a low, rumbling techno fizz has crept into their sound. Admirably eclectic, and with lyrics that seek out the dark and ironic in everyday life, the Experimental Pop Band most resemble a British provincial Beck, but finding inspiration in indie, dance and easy-listening samples, rather than folk-blues and hip hop. Intriguing.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

NBA at 50

Mercury 534322

As the only music genre with any substantial connection to basketball, you'd imagine this demi-centennial celebration of its American league would be replete with the extravagant metaphors and battle cries of rap. But no. Aside from Kurtis Blow's "Basketball" and a poor mix of Naughty By Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray", rap is conspicuously absent. Even Shaquille O'Neal, the sport's bona fide rapping superstar, is ignored in favour of a bunch of mundane soul tracks interspersed with snippets of barely intelligible commentary from presumably famous basketball moments.

Most of the songs featured here - "Good Times", "Signed, Sealed, Delivered", "Shotgun", "I'll Take You There", etc - have only the most tenuous of connections with any sport; worse yet, they're cover versions by the likes of SWV, David Sanborn and Brian McKnight, rather than the classic originals. Then again, the only time that a classic soulster puts in an appearance, it cuts the rest of the album stone dead: shaming the grossly overwrought anthems of today's female soul stars with its sincerity, the simple, moving version of "Star Spangled Banner" with which Marvin Gaye opens the album leaves all that follows out-dribbled, out-jumped and out-pointed.

ARCHIVE

Londinium

Island 524 285-2

Given a limited-edition vinyl-only release last October, Archive's debut album finally makes it on to a little silver disc, and not before time. Residents of the planet trip hop, this South London crew paste swooning, rhapsodic violins and light, jazzy guitar figures (some courtesy of Underworld's Karl Hyde) over the genre's languid breakbeats, with the customary female crooner/ male rapper combination fronting most tracks. The result is something that sounds like Morcheeba, but without the deep dub soul.

There's a faint air of over-familiarity about the album, with several tracks pursuing the same methodical route - opening with a strings-and- breakbeat skeleton, then gradually developing a more muscular presence courtesy of guitar, synth and organ parts, before slimming back to solo violin or subdued beat - but at their best, there's an exhilarating widescreen beauty to pieces like "Organ Song" and "Skyscraper" that effortlessly transcends the limitations of the genre.

Andy Gill

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