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Neil Young Mirrorball

Reprise 9362-45934-2

"People my age, they don't do the things I do," sings Neil Young without undue fear of contradiction on "I'm the Ocean", the centrepiece of Mirrorball and another example of his late-blooming genius. Simplicity is the keynote here: an endlessly repeated rising four-chord riff, rolling over and over with wave-like implacability, while Young casts around his adopted homeland, scraping together images from an ill society in a whirl of free-association. Channel-hopping, he catches snatches of football and baseball games, and muses, "Need distraction, need romance and candlelight/ Need random violence, need entertainment tonight/ Need the evidence, want the testimony of expert witnesses on the brutal crimes of love..."

The great thing about being as prolific as Neil Young is that your releases take on something of the immediacy of journalism; the great thing about Neil Young himself is that he manages to derive a deeper inference from the flow of events. No other major artist keeps to such a prolific release schedule, but perhaps he can't help himself: a social scanner, he can't stop responding - as he notes in "Scenery", "media image slaves live by random selection". Occasionally, as with the reference to the "cancer cowboy" in "Big Green Country", he selects the perfect image, in this case the deceased Marlboro Man as a metaphor for the corruption at the root of "innocent" pioneer dreams.

About two thirds of Mirrorball is tremendous stuff, unkempt and powerful and seething with emotion. Using Pearl Jam as a basic garage band, and recording in analogue to catch the dirt and spillage between the instruments, Young keeps frills to a bare minimum - so although it's from the harder end of his oeuvre, there are few of the extended guitar-mangling breaks he usually undertakes. These songs are little more than riffs, pounding home the recurring references to Holy Wars, the home of the brave, disillusion and the premature death of ideals: another missive from front-line America.

The Verve

A Northern Soul

Hut CDHUT 27

Having acquired a definite article by way of a lawsuit brought by the jazz label Verve, Wigan's foremost psychedelic explorers plod on regardless with their second album. The musical equivalent of crushed- velvet flares sagging over scuffed plimsolls, A Northern Soul slouches in with "A New Decade" and continues that way for what is undoubtedly the longest hour of my life so far. Whether they're appending a few footnotes to "Voodoo Chile", as in "Brainstorm Interlude", or aiming both barrels at the Big Music with the swirly guitars and cathedral-sized echo of "This Is Music", the pace never raises itself above a kind of stoned stumbling.

The Verve have, on this showing, appropriated the worst aspects of both the progressive guitar rock that is their clearest historical precedent, and the baggy scene that was current at their inception: sluggish and preposterously self-indulgent, their music slops around like a heavily listing boat, pitching the listener into the inky blackness of their retro- rock abyss. It's like swimming in aspic, with no view of shore. Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters

Roswell/Capitol CDEST 2266

Mercifully, the debut album by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl's new band has little of his former group's self-lacerating introspection: tracks like the winsome "Big Me" and the single "This Is a Call" have a winning lightness of spirit and positive outlook, while the basic Foo Fighters sound owes as much, if not more, to the prototype melodic grunge of Husker Du.

Neither are they the one-trick pony some suspected. Buzzsaw punk riffs predominate, but don't overwhelm. "For All the Cows" alternates light, jazzy verses with heavier choruses, "X-Static" and "Exhausted" have some of the dense mystery of My Bloody Valentine, and "Oh George" approaches the no man's land of grunge boogie, complete with dirty slide-guitar break. The lyrics, when they make sense, seem to employ much the same slacker attitude as Nirvana, though Grohl, significantly, finds more reasons to be cheerful in that state. A strangely pleasant surprise. Dusty Springfield

A Very Fine Love

Columbia COL 478508 2

Recorded in Nashville with new-country producer Tom Shapiro, A Very Fine Love is intended to trigger memories of Dusty's justly celebrated 1969 album Dusty in Memphis, from whence cometh "Son of a Preacher Man", among others. While the best tracks here, Craig Wiseman's "All I Have to Offer You Is Love" and KT Oslin's "Where Is a Woman to Go", are certainly more suited to her style than the Pet Shop Boys-produced material on her 1990 comeback album Reputation, there are ultimately too many formulaic, identikit numbers from Nashville song-hacks included to do her many favours. "You Are the Storm" and "Wherever Would I Be", the latter a duet with Daryl Hall, typically feature stodgy power-balladry trying to pass itself off as equivalent to the operatic soul classics of Dusty's heyday, but though she goes through the familiar vocal motions with her power virtually unimpaired, at no point does it sound like her life's on the line, the way it used to.