Arts: Why the sun is rising in the west

After a spectacular decade, pop now seems stuck in the doldrums. But there are signs of new life - across the Atlantic. By Fiona Sturges

As with almost every facet of our existence, there is a feeling that a millennium will mark some sort of watershed in music. Pessimists speculate that independent record companies will either be forced into liquidation or be subsumed by the major labels who will step up their output of manufactured tat. A more optimistic view is that the advent of a new century will flush away the industry's evils, from Britpop's obsession with retro and boy/girl bands to the tyranny of the big labels. Neither will happen, in my lifetime at least.

For the next 12 months, it will be business as usual with teen acts continuing to spread across record labels like a rash. Boyzone may have reached the end of an unfeasibly long road but they have already spawned suitably saccharine offspring in the shape of Westlife. Reduced to their constituent parts, the solo Spice Girls met a mixed reception this year but, as their recent tour demonstrated, their appeal as a unit shows no signs of abatement.

However, while it's true that, at this portentous moment, pop is stuck in neutral, things are simply not as bad as they seem. After years of Britpop's smug effrontery, the past couple of years have heralded the return of American indie-rock in the guise of acts such as Smog, Will Oldham and Wheat. My hopes are pinned on Nashville's Lambchop to continue this trend next year with their new album, Nixon (City Slang). The band remain curiously uncelebrated in their own land but have slowly gathered a cult following here. Fourteen musicians, headed by the charismatic Kurt Wagner and his weary, semi-spoken vocal style, Lambchop offer an unlikely blend of soul and country replete with understated strings, choirs, horns, and the obligatory steel guitar. As a critic on this paper put it: "It's real music for real people."

New Jersey's Yo La Tengo have always been on the fringes of American rock, though their wilful experimentalism and mercurial live performances have guaranteed them a quietly fanatical following. Among their fans is the movie director Hal Hartley who regularly uses them to provide soundtracks for his films. Yo La Tengo's guitarist, Ira Kaplan, was once described as "the Jewish Jimi Hendrix" - some recommendation - yet, in some ways, that undermines the tenderness and subtlety of their sound. They return in February with their 10th album, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador), a hypnotically fragile collection of songs that explores themes of love, marriage and history.

At the opposite end of the rock spectrum, there are a clutch of US bands that are guaranteed to have parents and offspring at loggerheads. If you watch MTV you will know that Limp Bizkit are already huge in America with their videos on a seemingly permanent loop. Limp they most certainly are, though their empty-headed blend of rap and anthemic rock has got angst- ridden, baggy-trousered teens in a fever.

Rap-metal crossover bands Korn and Filter will also be doing the rounds in 2000, as will Rage Against The Machine, the granddads of polemical funk-rock who are trying to relive their glory days of 1993. As far as this particular fad is concerned, I'm with the parents.

Closer to home, three major players from 1997, Radiohead, Oasis and ex- Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft are all releasing albums. Thom Yorke's penchant for soaring vocals and maudlin sentiment has led to a recent proliferation of Radiohead imitators - Travis, Coldplay, Ben Christophers and Muse, to name but a few. So can Radiohead astonish us once more, or will they turn on their disciples and become, say, the undisputed kings of samba?

In the words of countless gameshow hosts, it's make or break time for Oasis. The band that spearheaded Britpop - sorry, Damon - return in February with a new album Standing On the Shoulder of Giants (Creation). The Gallagher brothers' last album, 1997's Be Here Now failed to match expectations; it will take a very special album indeed to propel Oasis back to the dizzy heights of the mid-Nineties. It is unlikely that the recent changes in personnel will make a difference. Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs has been replaced by ex-Ride bassist Andy Bell; but would anyone really have noticed if they had swapped him for a bloke in a local pub band?

Richard Ashcroft is due to release a single in April and an album set for the summer will feature steel guitarist BJ Cole, bassist Pino Palladino and former Verve drummer Peter Salisbury. Determined to surpass his success with The Verve's Urban Hymns, Ashcroft recently stated: "I really want to seize the moment this time around." Oh, please.

Bar the Chemical Brothers, the early Nineties innovators in the dance world (notably Underworld and Leftfield) are no longer the giants of the genre, having released disappointing albums this year. But a sparkling debut from Basement Jaxx proved there's still life in dance music yet. No doubt it will continue to sub-divide and mix genres, forcing the music press to come up with increasingly absurd classifications.

The next Madonna album is nearing completion, with a little help from her friend William Orbit. We are also awaiting albums from Primal Scream, Embrace, the Wannadies, Elastica and Smashing Pumpkins. You can see Beck live in March, Prefab Sprout and Brand New Heavies will play in April.

But will there be any real surprises? There is always the odd shock debut to look forward to - who could have predicted the rise and rise of soul sensation Macy Gray this year? But the most outlandish promise recently came from My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields, whose last album, Loveless, ran up such huge studio bills that it nearly bankrupted Creation in 1991. He has vowed to release a new album, sometime in the next millennium.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before