Meanwhile, Brett Anderson's edgy falsetto has a new depth and dexterity. He ignites the torch songs with impassioned histrionics which recall Cabaret's Emcee, The Rocky Horror Show's Frank-n-Furter and Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond. Listening to the album, you see a film running in your head, rated X. The theme is getting out of Hayward's Heath and into the bright lights. The title, scrawled on walls around London as a novel promotional measure a few weeks ago, signposts the album's obsession with the progression from subhuman to superhuman, although stardom is seen as no less sleazy than doghood. From the suburbs to the city, it is a fable of all the Ds: depravity, drugs, desperation, death. It is, to quote 'Heroine', 'pornographic and tragic'. Blur look at today's Britain and have a good old knees-up. Suede wail until their mascara runs.
If it gets too much, 'New Generation' is a reminder that they can still play sleek rock'n'roll. At times Dog Man Star is messy and preposterous. But no record collection is complete without it. Nicholas Barber
Johnny Cash: American Recordings (BMG American, CD/LP/tape, out now). Renaissance hard-man Henry Rollins said these songs made him cry the first time he heard them. Give this amazing, 13-part odyssey of honour and redemption a chance and it might do the same for you. Five of these songs are by Cash (fit to stand with his best work of the Fifties and Sixties, and that doesn't mean 'A Boy Named Sue'); a couple are traditional; some, like Leonard Cohen's 'Bird on a Wire', are familiar; the rest come courtesy of a mighty, grizzled posse which includes Nick Lowe, Tom Waits, Kris Kristofferson, and a real surprise package in the form of metal-head turned balladeer Glenn Danzig. For all the diversity of its points of origin, this is a thoroughly coherent album, and there is a world of wisdom in Cash's sepulchral rumble.
The one-man-and-his-guitar format could hardly fail in the Unplugged era, but this record is much more daring than it needs to be - Johnny Cash is not just living off his legend, he is exploring it, testing it, pushing back its boundaries. With songs like son-in- law Nick Lowe's gorgeous 'The Beast in Me' ('The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars') and Loudon Wainwright III's hilarious 'The Man Who Couldn't Cry', he brings himself face to face with his own myth.
It's not long since he was reduced to playing Butlins and guesting on U2 albums, but with the help of producer Rick Rubin, Cash has pulled off an amazing comeback. Legal wrangles stopped this record being released in the summer, when Cash was taking Glastonbury by storm and raising the roof of the Shepherd's Bush Empire. Now it's finally here, American Recordings is too great to get lost in the autumn shuffle. Ben Thompson
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