IGGY : AVENUE B (Virgin)
Iggy Pop has made a career out of exposing himself. In his younger days, that meant yanking down his trousers mid-concert. Now, as an honest, uncompromising singer-songwriter, it's his inner self that he exposes. There is still some swaggering hard rock on Avenue B, but the pre-punk wild man prefers to paint himself as a vulnerable and lonely - if incurably lascivious - figure. The first line of the album is, "It was in the winter of my 50th year when it hit me: I was really alone," and from there on Pop ruminates on his mortality and his inability to sustain relationships. On some tracks he speaks over noir-ish strings, on others he croons falteringly along with a quiet acoustic band, like a small-hours lounge singer. But fear not, the gloom is always pierced by the old devil's refusal to take himself too seriously. Pop may never fill stadia or make any more truly essential records, but he'll never give a damn, either. While his contemporaries struggle and strain for relevance, he gets on with being funny, literate, philosophical and even poetic. Who would have thought that a middle-aged, long-haired flasher could be so dignified?
LEFTFIELD: RHYTHM AND STEALTH
It's now almost half a decade since Leftfield re-defined the boundaries of house music with their genre-defying, half-a-million-selling, debut album Leftism. Strangely, no one since has managed, or perhaps even tried, to emulate their winning formula of pulsating, anthemic, ethnic techno, so they've done it themselves. Rhythm and Stealth has been three years in the making and it shows. Partly because there are sounds on it, the result of much studio experimentation and perfectionism, that are unlike anything heard before. The pounding, apocalyptic bassline of "Phat Planet" which you'll recognise from the current Guinness advert, reportedly took three months alone. But perversely the first single to be released will be "Afrika Shox", which is somehow both brand new and retro and like the rest of the album, doesn't sound like anything else on today's scene. Indeed the nearest point of comparison remains Leftism. It's a darker, less euphoric album, with no obvious crowd pleasers like "Open Up" or "Original", but that's not to say there's anything inaccessible about it. Tracks like "Phat Planet" and the infectious "Double Flash" give you no alternative but to surrender to the rhythm. Dance first, notice the subtleties later. The high point is the sublime techno dub of "Dub Gussett" and there's even a successful foray into ambient with "El Cid", a lush combination of floating chords, surface noise and other sounds I can't really describe. At this early stage I still prefer Leftism, but thankfully Leftfield have overcome the hurdle of the "difficult second album" without succumbing to the temptation to make a difficult second album.
CHARLIE HADEN LIBERATION MUSIC ORCHESTRA:THE MONTREAL TAPES
Live recording from a 1989 festival devoted to the music of bassist Haden, who chose to re-group his big band with a radical conscience for the final night. First formed in the late-1960s, the LMO (whose initials were meant to recall those of Third World freedom-fighters) mixed Spanish civil war songs with original compositions such as Haden's "Song for Che", and arrangements by Carla Bley, most notably on the excellent 1982 music-for-Nicaragua set, Ballad of the Fallen. This performance is a little shambolic at times, but there's some stunning, full-blooded, blowing from Joe Lovano, Ernie Watts and Ken McIntyre on saxophones, Ray Anderson on trombone and Tom Harrell and Stanton Davis on trumpets. Haden plays a beautiful bass solo on his own "Silence" and the set ends with a 37-minute (honestly) version of "We Shall Overcome" in which the original tune is happily almost entirely absent. Truly a blast from the past, although Ballad of the Fallen on ECM remains the Liberation Music Orchestra album no Old Labour home should be without.
JOHN IRELAND: SONGS (Hyperion, 2 CDS)
The lesser figures of the English Pastoral school were generally better at atmosphere than structure. In other words, they were miniaturists who could capture a moment or colour a text but not necessarily sustain an argument. And though John Ireland produced a creditable and, these days, unconscionably neglected Piano Concerto, plus the odd evocative symphonic rhapsody, the best of him by far went into his songs. There were more than 100 of them. They turn up with some regularity at the tail end of English recital programmes and the occasional mixed- repertory disc. But I know of no attempt to collate them encyclopaedically as Graham Johnson has done with typical thoroughness in this double-issue. And yes, it does prove worth the effort. He has actually screened for quality, so you only get 69 of them. And while they sometimes set texts - by Hardy, Houseman, Masefield, Yeats: the song liberttists of the period - which were set by others more effectively, the wistful melancholy of the Ireland versions has a special charm that lives beyond its sentimental packaging. To do them justice needs the artful artlessness of crafted folk-song singing; and on these discs, Lisa Milne and Christopher Maltman manage it more covincingly than John Mark Ainsley, whom I find slightly mannered. But these are fine performances, magnificently tutored and accompanied by Graham Johnson. And not exactly under siege with competition.
CD OF THE WEEK
THE ALL SEEING I: PICKLED EGGS & SHERBERT
An anonymous trio of producers who assemble strange, oddball jigsaws of thin, squeaky Eighties synthesisers, clipped beats and samples: not the most obviously commercial of pop groups. But on the All Seeing I's debut album, they have a little help from their friends. A crowd of Sheffield luminaries sing along, and the five Jarvis Cocker lyrics here are typically funny and affecting studies in self-disgust. Two have already been released as singles - "Walk Like a Panther", featuring cabaret star Tony Christie and "1st Man In Space", with the Human League's Phil Oakey. On the album, another Cocker lyric is gasped by the man himself and two others are crooned manfully by Christie. But, as with UNKLE's celebrity get-together, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. The tracks that aren't touched by the hand of Jarvis can get wearyingly repetitive. And over the course of an album, TASI's clever but cold beeps and honks and clicks and squelches become hard to put up with. It might be an idea to stick to singles.
NICHOLAS BARBERReuse content