LEADERS OF THE PACK / Out of mothballs, into flames: Rock Singer Of The Year

WHY Neil Young? He's what you might call an autumn chicken. His climb back to grace has gone on for so long that he's due for another fall. And all he's released this year is a live album; and that as an instalment of MTV's 'Unplugged' series - a new institution which, in its unending quest for spurious 'authenticity', embodies all that is depressingly retrograde in the state of rock. But there's one number on Young's Unplugged that redeems the enterprise. 'Like a Hurricane' is a song so familiar that even a fan might not expect to be excited by it. Yet its author has taken this simple tune to pieces, and painstakingly rebuilt it - around a wheezing pump organ - into something new and devastatingly beautiful.

Watching Young on stage at Finsbury Park in July with Booker T and the MGs, treating his guitar like a bear might a Mountie's hat, it was easy to see and hear how his spirit has become a kind of sacred flame; a focus for all those who believe in music's power to make life better. In a year when cloth-eared Jeremiahs strove to proclaim pop music dead, done in by an unholy alliance of video games and comedians, it was heartening to see a host of new stars managing to prove them wrong. Suede and P J Harvey, last year's great white indie hopes, both delivered on their promise. Take That were an authentic teen-scream phenomenon, and pop-dance stars Jamiroquai and Dina Carroll sidestepped critical snobbery to build deservedly enormous followings.

None of these quite stepped out of their respective compartments to make 1993 their own. If the year is to be remembered for

one thing it will probably be for the breaches that were made in walls of racial and sexual exclusivity. Riot Grrrls galore, bhangramuffin crossover champion Apache Indian and earnest US funk-metallers Rage Against the

Machine were just some of those swarming through the gaps.

Amid the polemics there were adventures in pure sound too. Orbital and, in his quieter moments, The Aphex Twin led a rewarding flight into electronic serenity, but this was not the only way forward. Flick the FM radio dial in any city on a Saturday evening and serenity is the last thing you will come across. The gleeful jabbering of innumerable Jungle / Ardcore techno pirate stations makes a thrillingly bewildering soundtrack to a busload of different futures.

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