Albums: Going belly up with Suede - Andy Gill on Suede's highly hyped and deeply average debut. Plus Ice-T

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SUEDE Suede (Nude 1CD)

UNRIVALLED darlings of a music press casting around for something - a trend, a band, a fad, anything - to fill the void left by the Madchester scene, Suede have found their modest charms inflated way beyond their due. It's shaping to be the kind of bubble that suddenly goes pop, but doubtless that kind of live-fast, die-young style would appeal to them more than a long, protracted decline.

As debuts go, Suede is reasonable, its singularity of vision compensating for the echoes of early Bowie songs such as 'Starman' and 'Space Oddity' in tracks like 'The Drowners' and 'Breakdown'. No chances are taken with the mix, which is brittle and trebly in standard white-English-boy manner, as opposed to the blacker, bass-heavy moves of latterday American production. This is music for the boys who don't dance, who prefer an evening's self-pitying wallow in their bedroom; dolorous ballads hold gentle sway here - some betraying their obvious Smiths influence.

The studied androgyny of the sleeve photo (two lesbians kissing in soft focus) is echoed in many of the lyrics, where sex and drugs are prominent, though in an ambiguous, enervated manner. Suede are self-consciously dissolute, and thus cleave to a Seventies mindset that's one part each of arrogance and alienation to two parts affectation. The most obvious example of the latter is Brett Anderson's distinctive flounce of a voice, the vocal equivalent of his permanently exposed midriff and floppy fringe, petulant in its florid cockernee, and with a habit of stretching words like 'fly', 'she' and 'well' into two syllables. I suspect that it's this, rather than his passe ambi-sexuality, that most riles the band's detractors.

BRYAN FERRY

Taxi

(Virgin CDV 2700)

SINCE he began making solo albums, Bryan Ferry has managed the trick of retaining his colour-supplement cred whilst making the least challenging music of his career. Here, yet again, he irons the complexities and idiosyncrasies out of another selection of covers without breaking a sweat, for people who want to listen without breaking a sweat either.

His version of 'I Put A Spell On You' is typical, with Screaming Jay Hawkins's Grand Guignol melodrama (and the brilliant cri de coeur 'I don't care if you don't want me, I'm yours]') drained off and replaced by Greg Phillinganes' strings which smooth the track out into just another love song. Doris Troy's 'Just One Look', likewise, suffers a completely revised melody which works to the song's detriment.

The album features a selection of guitarists chosen for specific functions. Michael Brook on 'atmos guitar' adds an effective touch of Lanois-style ambient space to Ferry's song treatments, giving the singer, by proxy, a jolt of the Enos, texturally speaking. This works to best effect on 'Rescue Me', where the woozy ambient flotation of the backing reduces Ferry's voice to an appropriately semi-amorphous presence, truly in need of rescue.

ICE-T

Home Invasion

(Virgin/Rhyme Syndicate RSYN 1)

'YOU'RE just making me backtrack,' Ice-T complains on 'Ice M/F T', and he's right: the flood of publicity and outrage which followed the 'Cop Killer' debacle and his subsequent departure from Warner Brothers has effectively held up his irresistible forward motion. This, his belated fifth - but first post-riot - album sounds too like a retread. Ice is helping casual listeners play catch-up here, and old hands may experience a sense of deja vu.

The split with Warners resulted from their unease about the cover illustration for Home Invasion, which builds upon Ice's most subversive political slant - his explicit targeting of a young white audience - by depicting a white suburban youth lost in graphic fantasies whilst listening to the rapper on his headphones. 'I tell you what we did, we stole your fuckin' kids,' he crows on the title-track, but he doesn't seem to have anything new to offer them beyond the usual gangsta boasts like 'G Style' and 'Addicted to Danger', and bitch derogations like '99 Problems'.

Musically, the loops and breaks seem tired and muted where before they bit hard. One or two of the jazzier-flavoured loops are pleasant in a moody kind of way, but overall there's a punch shortfall compared to earlier releases.

Of the split with Warners, little is said, save for the dramatic vignette which prefaces 'It's On', sardonically equating record distribution with drug-dealing. But even this is a re-hash of Ice's old shtick about 'dope rhymes and dope beats', just a different angle on the same old metaphor.

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