ALBUMS / Doom, gloom, more doom: Andy Gill finds that A stands for Aaron, Anthrax and Aztec

ANTHRAX - sound of white noise (Elektra 7559-61430)

NOBODY ever accused Anthrax of good taste - the sticker on this latest release boasts of a 'special skull print' on the CD box - but in replacing the excessively permed sore thumb of singer Joey Belladonna with the grungier John Bush, they at least display good sense.

Their last album for Island, the Attack of the Killer B's compilation, showed them several lengths ahead of their heavy-metal colleagues in adapting to contemporary musical techniques such as sampling, remixing and rapping, the latter in their ground-breaking collaboration with Public Enemy on 'Bring the Noise'. They've not abandoned such crossovers - PE deejay Terminator X scratches on '1,000 Points of Hate', and Twin Peaks maestro Angelo Badalamenti adds his familiar doomy drape of strings to 'Black Lodge' - though this time around they stick closer to home, straddling traditional hardcore metal territory and nihilistic industrial grindcore.

It's still recognisably Anthrax, despite the changes. The familiar grey chug of Scott Ian's riffing remains indomitable, and their hyperbolic terminology is fully present and correct: on this album you will find sacrifice, rage, pain, death, mass delusion, crucifixion, terror, hatred, schism, distress, evil, nightmares, rapture, explosion, blood, a bit more pain, and moot. Moot? That's right, moot. As in 'to the point that is moot'.

That's the appealing thing about Anthrax: between the routine death- metal nightmare scenarios one has come to expect, there's a vein of articulate rhetoric which throws up surprisingly intelligent assessments of modern life (particularly regarding the censorial pressure from left and right), along with the occasional barb of humour. Take the opening couplet to 'C11 H17 N2 O2 SNa' (apparently the chemical formula for sodium pentathol): 'If one day you'd backed up a promise you made / We'd have to make it a holiday.'

DIRE STRAITS - On the Night (Vertigo 514 766)

BOLSTERED by massive cheering, this live album opens with a huge build-up which grows and grows and then suddenly dissipates into the polite canter of 'Calling Elvis'. It's bathetically funny in a John Shuttleworth way, but the song's not quite that entertaining.

It doesn't stop the Straits (the Dire?) from milking it for all it's worth, though, sailing this slight song beyond 10 minutes with both the expected Knopfler guitar break and, somewhat less welcome, the kind of flailing percussion break that Ray Cooper habitually inserts into virtually every big-name Wembley concert. Except that it's not Ray doing it here, it's Danny Cummings behind the roadie's nightmare forest of pots and pans. Then there's a series of little flourishes, instrument by instrument, before the whole (nine-piece) band winds up for the final chord, repeated faster and faster until everyone's thrashing away madly. It seems such an ostentatious way to conclude such a diffident little song, but it's not the only victim of overkill. 'Romeo and Juliet' is inflated to 10 minutes by sax and pedal steel solos, and the remaining eight tracks add a further 55 minutes between them.

AARON NEVILLE - The Grand Tour (A&M 540 100)

EVEN diehard Nevillites like myself may baulk at The Grand Tour, which offers diminishing returns on the formula of Aaron's previous successful solo album, Warm Your Heart. There's the Linda Ronstadt duet, in this case an overtly religiose reading of Leonard Cohen's 'Song of Bernadette'; the Dylan cover, 'Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight'; the soul cover - 'Betcha By Golly, Wow' done even smoothier and creamier than the Stylistics' original, if that's possible; the song with 'brother' somewhere in the title, which all Aaron's relatives can join in with ('My Brother, My Brother'); and the gospel song, a version of 'The Lord's Prayer' stained only with a dash of hymnal choir and quiet electric piano accompaniment. All of which are acceptable, if unexceptional by Neville's own standards.

Unfortunately, too many of the remaining tracks are embarrassments which tilt the scale towards the dumper: Aaron's own 'The Roadie Song' is a frightful tribute to the builder's-bummed humpers who help keep the great timepiece of rock ticking, while a discreet veil should be drawn over the cover of Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell'.

On the credit side, Aaron's melismatic croon partners the pedal steel guitar well on the country weepie title-track.

AZTEC CAMERA - Dreamland (WEA 4509-92492)

FEW surprises here, just the usual Roddy Frame quotient of 'quality' love songs done in his usual manner with self-effacing simplicity, even the flugelhorn break and violin coda of 'Let Your Love Decide' failing to disturb his romantic reverie. Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose own recent albums have been impressive cross-cultural fusions crippled by good taste, has been drafted in as co-producer for Dreamland, which may be a mistake as he tends to compound Frame's excessively well-mannered approach.

Sedate jangle-pop items like 'Black Lucia' and the current single 'Dream Sweet Dreams' are pleasant enough, though for all Frame's focus on emotional trauma, there's precious little here to set the heart racing, and a few too many examples of his juggling romantic cliches to no particular end. Take 'Safe In Sorrow', one of the stand-out tracks, which claims 'You've been down on your knees / Building up a big brick wall / Too scared to fly / So you'll never fall'. Surely, the wall can't be that big if s/he's on his / her knees? Or is this simply slapdash metaphor-mixing?

That CD Price War: see Simon Garfield, page 26.

(Photographs omitted)

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