MUSIC / Records

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Marvin Gaye: In Our Lifetime (Motown, CD / tape). In the early months of 1981 Gaye was on the run between London and Ostend, indulging his well-known penchant for hedonism while negotiating a record-company transfer from Motown, his home for 20 years, to CBS, where he was to enjoy his biggest hit in the year before his crazed father shot him dead. Meanwhile, in exasperation, his old company released this album, an unfinished set of eight songs pitched in style and content somewhere between the organic narcosex grooves of Let's Get It On and the erotic technotherapy of '(Sexual) Healing'. This is Gaye's most profound examination of his favourite theme: the struggle for his own soul, represented by the battle between sacred and profane love. For him, this was no Manichean affair. Here all identities are amorphous, all questions unresolved. Often it's hard to tell whether he's pleading with his God or simply talking another girl into bed. Fittingly, the music achieves an ambiguous blend of stripped funk and stoned swirl, and - unfinished or not - is often magnificent. There were no hits from this collection, but two of the tracks are classics: the ecstatic 'Love Party', with its abandoned falsetto cries towards the fade, and 'Funk Me', on which the obscure Frank Blair rivals Marcus Miller's performance on Luther Vandross's 'The Second Time Around' in the annals of 1980s R&B bass-playing. A bonus track, the self-satirising 'Ego Tripping Out', an unsuccessful single from the same era, should have been tacked on as an addendum rather than presented as a prologue to an unrelated body of thematically linked material, but even that clumsy touch can't do much harm to the work of an artist whose flaws and frailties fired his genius. Richard Williams

Ahmad Jamal: Ahmad's Blues (GRP / Chess, CD / tape). Recorded in a Washington night club in 1958, these 16 trio pieces clarify the extent of the young Chicago pianist's influence on Miles Davis's rhythm section. The graceful rhythms and the sense of space displayed in pieces like 'Autumn Leaves', 'It Could Happen to You' and 'A Gal in Calico' still sound inventive and refreshing, making the old dismissal of Jamal as a 'cocktail pianist' more ludicrous than ever. RW

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Sleeps with Angels (Warner, CD / LP / tape, out tomorrow). A suitably heavenly title, as it is hard these days to find anyone who doesn't believe that Neil Young is God. Specifically, he is the Godfather of Grunge. Now that Young has proved he can do feedback and fuzzy chords better than the young, he pulls many more tricks from his flannel sleeve. The music ranges from the tender lullaby 'My Heart' to the sinister blues of 'Blue Eden'; the mood is reflective and mournful throughout, with the exception of the hilarious, thrashing, consumer complaint, 'Piece of Crap'. The crazed title track is dedicated to the late Kurt Cobain. Less than three minutes long and still an epic, it is the memorial he deserves. Nicholas Barber

John Mellencamp: Dance Naked (Mercury, CD / tape). According to the unwritten Bluffer's Guide to Pop, Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie are the names to drop into a conversation about John Mellencamp (formerly Johnny Cougar, John Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp). The comparisons fit. This is tough, heartfelt rock for the working man, with traces of American folk. Production is stripped to guitar-and-drums basics, with most of the songs doing without bass parts (although Me'shell Ndegeocello plays bass and sings on two). The social concerns are more relevant to middle-Americans than to us Brits, and comments about 'Japanese men in their business suits' are jarring. But this is something gutsy to listen to when you've grown out of Bryan Adams. NB

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