Basically, we're dealing with two opposed forms of ecstasy'

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The Independent Culture

This Is Not A Love Song

RCA 74321 496 262

Since his groundbreaking debut, There's Nothing Like This, Omar has assiduously chased the swingbeat dollar in America, with varying results. His fourth album, This is Not a Love Song, is the best of his career, a sleek succession of soft-soul caresses every inch the equal of such as Babyface.

The prime influence here is Stevie Wonder, whose sound is meticulously replicated on tracks such as "Fallin'" and "Say Nothin'" (fond of dropping his g's as he is). Cementing the association, Stevie's wife Syreeta duets on a couple of cuts, including the title-track, a smooth, frictionless glide anchored by an introductory piano overture whose main purpose is probably just to advertise Omar's abilities at the ivories. His classical chops are well to the fore on a cover of The Stranglers' "Golden Brown", too, with a harpsichord or celeste intro giving way to a swingbeat groove embellished with oboe -- an arrangement that more than bears out Omar's claims of originality.

While his debut may have struggled to justify its title, it's a dead cert that there's nothing else like this happening in contemporary soul music.


Open Wide

Candy CAN2CD

Undaunted by the death of their founder, Leigh Bowery, Minty have finally got around to recording their debut album, on which Bowery's original contributions - most notably the filthy parody of the "lip-smacking, thirst- quenching" Pepsi ad that is "Useless Man" - sit alongside the shrill vocals of his widow Nicola and the ungentlemanly tones of Matthew Glamorre.

Minty would love to cause widespread tabloid outrage with their daft costumes and questionable stage antics, but alas, nobody seems that bothered. "How can they call this art?" they sing with triumphant sardonicism in one track, oblivious to the fact that nobody is actually asking that question of them. It's easy to see, and hear, why - Minty's blend of smug performance art and glam pomp-rock is quaintly old-fashioned, reminiscent of such late-1970s acts as Deaf School, Doctors of Madness and Split Enz - the last gasps of glam before punk swept all before it.

Musically, it's a mess: most of the album is comprised of tatty tantrum- rock stabs at barn-door targets such as middle-class manners and hipster mores. Patronising and dislikeable, though not in the way they'd like.


The MayDay Mix

Ministry of Sound OPENCD005

For techno-philes and old-skool acid-house ravers, the name of Derrick May is spoken in hushed tones and usually accompanied by "we're not worthy" bowing movements - a measure of the huge influence of this Detroit techno originator.

Bizarrely, however, he has released only a couple of compilation albums of his dance singles since the late-1980s heyday of May landmarks like Rhythim Is Rhythim's "Strings of Life", opting instead for a reclusive, inactive profile. The MayDay Mix doesn't really resolve this, as it too is not really a bona fide Derrick May album, but a DJ mix performed by him using fragments of others' records.

It's expert stuff, complete with the requisite scratches, rewinds and segues of the DJ's craft, and some tracks are splendid in themselves, but the incessant pounding disco beat to which they are all attached is ultimately wearying, in the way of these things. Crucially, there is no new May material, aside from a brief introductory snippet built round a Civil Defense tape of actor Patrick Allen giving post-nuclear-apocalypse instructions on dealing with your dead, which isn't half as much fun as it sounds.


The Art of War

Sony/Ruthless REL 488080 2

A few months ago, I closed a review of The Notorious BIG's double-album with the facetious suggestion that, after his and 2Pac's murders, rappers might in future be disinclined to record double-albums, given the fatal track-record associated with them. Since then, rap acts have fallen over themselves to release huge double-disc portions of their work, with The Wu-Tang Clan's formidable Wu-Tang Forever now followed by the rather less The Art of War.

2Pac duets posthumously on one track, "Thug Luv", notable only for the overwhelming irony of featuring the ratcheting noise of a shotgun being cocked, and the explosion of its subsequent discharge, as recurring elements of the rhythm track. It is, however, one of the few numbers on which the lyrics are clearly discernible, the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony style being a bit like the jungle version of rap, except that it's the raps themselves, rather than the drums, that barrel along at double-speed. It's more like auctioneering than rapping, an indecipherable stream of syllables delivered in a menacing monotone, which rarely repay the effort required to unravel them n