Music: This Week's Album Releases

ESTHERO

Breath From Another

(Columbia Work WRK 489716 2)

The ever-widening ripples of trip-hop continue to spread out across the world, long after the genre's Bristol-based pioneers lost the impetus that made the first Tricky and Portishead albums landmarks of the last decade's musical landscape. Esthero are from Toronto, and they sound like Canada's Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba and Olive rolled into one on their debut album Breath From Another. A pleasant enough prospect, though the group's main strength - eponymous 19-year-old singer Esthero's warm, jazzy vocals - submerges somewhat as the album progresses.

Esthero's partner in Esthero (so to speak) is Martin McKinney, aka Doc, who has an easy grasp of modern dance styles. McKinney clearly has a liking for jazz blends, which is fine on slinky jazz-hop grooves like "Anywayz" and "Country Livin'", but prey to needless clutter when vibes, strings and horns are piled one on top of another for "Lounge", whose title should serve as a warning. But when Esthero herself is given her head, as on the obvious single "That Girl", the result is light and languid, gossamer pop bliss.

RINGO STARR

Vertical Man

(Mercury 558 598-2)

Vertical Man is testament to the enduring personal appeal of Ringo: though star-studded rubbish for the most part, it's difficult to be too hard about, the way one might if one were dealing with a McCartney or Harrison album. It's partly a matter of expectations, and partly one of ambition - in general, it's rather more successful when Ringo's not trying too hard to impress, as he does when machine-gunning phrases, Dylan-style ("E-mail jump bail man becomes a female"), to ponder the pressures of modern life in "Mindfield".

Celebrity names litter the credits, from Macca and George to Alanis and Petty, with the best contributions coming from Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Steve Cropper. The cast-list swells to include virtually everyone in the same postal district as Ringo on the choruses of "La De Da", an obvious hit single which has the dumb appeal of "Que Sera Sera"; it's here, and in "I'll Be Fine Anywhere", that one encounters the archetypal Ringo -- there's a bloke-ish complacency about both tracks, and he sounds as though the straw boater is set at a suitably jaunty angle.

GRAHAM COXON

The Sky Is Too High

(Transcopic TRANCD5)

Beware guitarists bearing solo albums - particularly if, like Blur's Graham Coxon, they have a penchant for the lo-fi scrabblings of American indie bands like Pavement. The Sky Is Too High finds Coxon eschewing the craft and melodic appeal of his day-job for a series of wilfull wallowings in shamateuristic self-pity which, crucially, lack conviction. It's as if, overly impressed by the introspection of such as Elliott Smith, he's decided to do something similar himself, despite the glaring lack of anything like as interesting an interior life.

The result is a listless parade of mope-rock, mostly comprised of grim acoustic strummings and artless mockney mumblings, with the occasional burst of distorted punk guitar (to show us the intensity of Graham's misery) and, at the end, a condescendingly fake country-blues. The poor-pitiful- me approach reaches some kind of apogee with "I Wish", in which the sheer egotism behind Coxon's sufferings is revealed through lines like: "I wish the rain would just leave me alone/I can't wear that/Stupid rain-hat". It left me wondering: Is he taking the mickey here?

THE SUPERNATURALS

A Tune A Day

(Food 496 0662)

For all its energy and well-crafted harmonies, The Supernaturals' follow- up to their 1996 debut sounds rather weak and enervated, the inevitable consequence of continuing to subscribe to the Britpop formula after the genre's appeal has curdled.

Both lyrically and musically, they cast around wildly for ideas, seeking inspiration in various retro pop forms - wannabe Beach Boys harmonies ("VW Song"), early Joy Division pulses ("Let Me Know"), Spiders From Mars panache ("Idiot") - but there's barely a line or a tune in the entire 14 tracks that has the conviction to hold one's attention. There's a misplaced interest, too, in the dreary details of life - supermarkets, road drills, plant pots, burger bars, nail clippings - which fail to resonate in the way intended. And though they may open the album claiming "You Take Yourself Too Seriously", there's precious little humour to be found in tracks like the whimsical "Submarine Song", the graceless "Country Music" and especially the parodic pomp-rock of "Everest", which merely demonstrates facility without taste.

SINEAD LOHAN

No Mermaid

(Grapevine GRACD239)

For her second album, Sinead Lohan has visited the New Orleans studio of Malcolm Burn, who's made a full-time career out of the kind of productions associated with his former mentor Daniel Lanois. Accordingly, No Mermaid resonates with atmospheres beyond the reach of her debut Who Do You Think I Am, as Burn teases out the appropriate ambience for each song.

Lohan favours this kind of elemental metaphor - elsewhere, she sings of storms breaking, of catching lightning, of diving deep, of swimming into calmer waters, of approaching harbours - though at times, one gets the impression that the surface lustre which Burns applies is disguising essentially meaningless lyrics, such is her impressionistic, non-narrative style. But when the two are in balance, the effect can be quite magical, as when distant organ and acoustic guitar impart a churchy Twin Peaks feel to "What Can Never Be", or groaning harmonium casts a dusty pall of melancholy over the broken-hearted "Loose Ends".

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