'Knocked out swiftly, the tracks sound tentative and unfinished. The s ingers seem for the most part uncertain of their direction, and the music lies there immobile'

Nearly God

Durban Poison/Island DPCD 1001 524245-2

His first serious brush with expectation finds Tricky side-stepping that difficult second album problem by offering "not a proper Tricky album" but a series of collaborations with guest vocalists including Terry Hall, Alison Moyet, Neneh Cherry and Bjork, all going under the collective title of . As a second-album strategy, it's certainly better than those chosen by the Spin Doctors (a live album), Gene (out-takes and B- sides compilation), and absolutely everybody who thought a remix album might suffice - but to be honest, not a whole lot more.

Knocked out swiftly, the tracks sound tentative and unfinished, like demos. The singers seem for the most part uncertain of their role, or of their songs' direction, and the music lies there immobile, with lonely loops of slowed-down snail-pace grooves which just groan on and on, with a few minor alterations to keep your attention tagging along. There is little of the invention and arresting presence that drew such universal praise for Maxinquaye, and you can sense the collaborators' disquiet - Blur's Damon Albarn going so far as to refuse permission for his collaboration to be included.

Those that remain face up to the task bravely, with some notable successes: Terry Hall adds a much-needed melodic clarity to the wheezy harmonium and woody percussion of "Poems", and Neneh Cherry scrawls her vocal across "Together Now" in the wasted, drained-out manner of late-period Sly Stone, which suits the track perfectly. Others are not so fortunate; Alison Moyet, in particular, tries to turn the bass-grind loop of "Make a Change" into a digital-era country blues with only partial success. Perhaps because of their working history, the most complete tracks are those which feature Tricky's vocal protegee Martina, who slots into the crepuscular cafe ambience of "Black Coffee" with an ease largely absent from the rest of . Nobody else sounds quite as sure-footed in this Tricky terrain.

Palace Music

Arise Therefore

Domino WIGCD 24

Will Oldham's Palace Music plays insular, expressionist country music that has been paralysed by exhaustion. Negotiating Arise Therefore is like stumbling through a parched desert wilderness in which the last vestiges of genre still attached to last year's Viva Last Blues have been blown away, leaving only the barest ruins of songs, the scattered musings of a distracted mind. It's 45 minutes of erosion.

The album opens as it means to go on: "Stablemate" staggers fitfully in, its minimal bass/drum-machine plod augmented by an occasional bleak piano chord. Its funereal tread and hyperbolically gloomy mien makes Tindersticks seem like Chas & Dave by comparison, and things get little more amenable as the album progresses.

The best track by a dusty country mile is "Disorder", in which Oldham's unstintingly frank anatomisation of a dead relationship is borne on the group's most attractive, lilting melody. Elsewhere, his desiccated stream- of-consciousness style is ill-served by Steve Albini's next-to-nothing production, which leaves the songs terribly exposed.

The theory is obvious - a studied, faux-naif presentation of tightly wrought, highly self-aware lyrics - but the practice has left what could, with a little care and attention, be moving, emotional pieces sounding like even lazier, more offhand demos than 's, thanks to their primitive beat-box putterings and all-but-absent arrangements.

It's a shame, because Oldham is one of the stronger lyricists working today, scraping away at the dark corners of sexuality and motivation with sometimes shocking honesty. Indeed, these songs actually work far better as poems: for one thing, you can read them quicker, and readily assimilate their meaning, rather than have it dribble away in the unfathomable longueurs of these performances.

Cocteau Twins

Milk and Kisses

Fontana 514 501-2

There are no great surprises here, unless you count Liz Fraser's abandonment of the new, meaningful lyrical style tried out on 1994's disappointing Four Calendar Cafe. With the notable exception of "Half-Gifts", which all but rehashes Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" as if Brian Wilson had produced it for Pet Sounds, there are only a few coherent sentences on Milk & Kisses - well, only a few that I was able to make out, anyway.

The album, it goes without saying, is all the better for it. The Cocteaus' trademark layers of spangly guitar effects are just too fragile for anything more specific than the intimations of cuddly loveliness in the phrases of songs like "Rilkean Heart" and "Tishbite", where Fraser's multi-layered twitterings come through the speakers like a scatter of autumn leaves wafting through a glade.

It is their best work since Heaven and Las Vegas, blooming with ideas and beauty, and a lot more fun than usual - on "Ups", she can even be discerned, somewhere in the distant background, imitating a ringing telephone.

Experimental Audio Research

Beyond the Pale

Big Cat ABB96CD

On paper, this reads close to fascinating: Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember), formerly of Spacemen 3, hooking up with Kevin Martin (of God and Techno Animal), Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) and avant-percussionist Eddie Prevost, from veteran free-music stalwarts AMM. In practice, of course, it's quite a different story. The project turns out to be an unmitigated drone-fest largely devoid of non-theoretical interest, as if all concerned were wary of developing anything too close to a tune or structure.

Titles such as "Dusk" and"In The Cold Light of Day" suggest an attention to mood and moment equivalent to that of classical Indian music, where ragas are composed for enjoyment at specific times of day, but here, there is little or no discernible difference between the pieces - they all sound pretty much like a foggy, overcast afternoon. "In The Cold Light of Day" is typical - the sax and keyboard drones pulse along in the manner of Terry Riley's In C. Prevost - an old hand at catching lightning in a bottle in his (rather more eventful) improvised work with AMM - adds shimmers of bowed cymbal, and after a quarter of an hour, it stops.

"The Calm Before" and "The Calm Beyond" are shorter and slightly sweeter, like glimmers of light from an Orb soundscape, but there is precious little here to hear.As with much "experimental" music, it sounds like a nostalgic billet doux to the time when factories throbbed and hummed with industry, but it would appear there is no such life left in these cavernous, empty spaces.

The Beloved

X

Eastwest 0630-13316-2 The Beloved's 1990 debut Happiness epitomised the spirit of the second Summer of Love, harnessing the touchy-feely mood to skip effortlessly along the cutting-edge of rave innovation. Since then, Steve Waddington has been replaced by Jon Marsh's marital inamorata Helena, and the Linda McCartney syndrome has descended on the group's music, which has become even softer and altogether less interesting.

X follows 1993's Conscience in drifting toward characterless Euro-pop: there is a world of difference between their earlier, imaginative takes on dance music and the drab disco stomp of "Satellite" and "Crystal Wave". One or two tracks are bland enough to be middle-order Euro-hits, but what kind of ambition is that?

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'