FOO FIGHTERSThere is Nothing Left to Lose (RCA)
FOO FIGHTERSThere is Nothing Left to Lose (RCA)
WITH ITS sprinkling of smooch, surf and country musics, last year's Touch soundtrack demonstrated that there was more to Dave Grohl than just the soft/hard dynamic of grunge. But here he is, at the front end of Foo Fighters' third album, banging away in the same old manner, with a clutch of songs that complain very quietly in the verses and very loudly in the choruses. Which isn't to say it's entirely without merit; later on his melodic gift comes more clearly to the fore, and songs such as "Generator" and the gently ruminative "Ain't It the Life" find the Foos traversing territory more associated with Blur and even The Beatles - the latter's curvaceous guitar lines come straight out of the George Harrison textbook. The single "Learn to Fly", in particular, is a tenaciously catchy expression of the age-old drift from political activism to escapist mysticism, Grohl demanding "Hook me up a new revolution/'Cos this one is a lie", but settling for sky-scanning wishful thinking rather than any more volitional activity. As such, it's perhaps the perfect example of grunge spirit, the world's most ineffectual musical ideology.
TINA TURNER Twenty Four Seven (EMI)
COMPARED WITH the over-optimistically titled Wildest Dreams from 1996, the celebrity input has been drastically pared down here - just a Bee Gees song and a Bryan Adams cameo appearance that's been and gone before you've had a chance to notice - while the production duties have been spread around four different teams, rather than being dumped solely on Trevor Horn's shoulders. The results are surprisingly similar, though that's not, on reflection, all that much of a surprise because most of the songs collude neatly with Tina's narrative forte, that of The Wronged Woman. She's like an aural version of the Princess Diana myth, fenced in by material like "When the Heartache Is Over", "Absolutely Nothing's Changed", "Don't Leave Me This Way" and "Without You". Even the assertiveness anthem "All the Woman" ("Baby can't you see, this is me/ I'm all the woman that I want to be") implies some struggle against male definitions of womanhood, though one wishes, in vain, for that struggle to be reflected in the overly polite, Radio 2-friendly funk arrangements. The only time Tina really gets to let go here is on the closing title-track, a walloping R&B stomper which leaves the rest of the album well in the shade.
MOS DEFBlack on Both Sides (Rawkus)
"HIP-HOP is prosecution evidence, an out-of-court settlement, ad-space for liquor, sick without benefits..." And plenty more besides, judging by this furiously inventive dÃ©but from Brooklyn's Mos Def, the most exciting new American actor/rapper in years. You'll search in vain here for the usual "throw your hands in the air"s and "uh-huh, yeeeah"s that have come to serve as an index of rap's laziness and inarticulacy - Mos Def has lots to say, and the tools to say it effectively, and thus has no need to badger his listeners with limp requests to "let me hear you say whooah-oh", or whatever. His listeners, frankly, can just shut up for a while and let Mos put his point of view.
Here's a tiny fragment of what Mos has to say about pollution in "New World Water", for instance: "Monoxide/ Push the water-table lopside/ Got the fish lookin' cockeyed". An intelligent rumination on how perilously American civilisation pivots on the availability of clean water, and how thirst dictates societal tropes, it places the blame firmly on big-business polluters for the "epidemics hoppin' up off the petri dish". And here's what he has to say in "Mr Nigga" about the airport Gestapo who offer foreign visitors their first welcoming experience of British hospitality: "London Heathrow/ Me and my people/ They think that illegal's/ A synonym for negro". Which sounds close enough to the truth to bring a blush of shame to the national cheeks, at the very least.
Being able to string a dozen words together without recourse to threats or guns, Mos Def is clearly in direct line of descent from The Last Poets, Arrested Development and Freestyle Fellowship - which may be his biggest problem, as socially conscious hip-hop has always proven a far less attractive prospect among young black Americans than its gaudier sibling, gangsta-rap. It's their loss: featuring sharp reflections on a range of subjects from parochialism to pollution, fear to fat booties, rap to rock 'n' roll ("Elvis Presley ain't got no soul" - oh yes!), Black On Both Sides stands as a proud example of the heights hip-hop can achieve when its exponents put their minds to it. As Mos puts it in "Fear Not of Man", the album's opening track: "Mind over matter is soul before flesh".
MADNESS Wonderful (Virgin)
THE BOOKLET to Madness' comeback album features the legend "I knew you'd come back. We always do. Like thieves returning to the scene of the crime..." Sorry lads, but you're nicked, bang to rights and all that: this is as poor an album as Madness have delivered in their heretofore illustrious career, bereft of anything fit to sit alongside the wall-to-wall triumphs of Absolute Madness. Which is surprising, given that the seven of them have had 15 years to come up with these 11 songs - a rate of almost 10 man-years per track. Some, like "4am", are almost songs, but lack the necessary heart; others, like "The Communicator", are wafer-thin glosses on their origins as Prince Buster copyists. "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" (source of the above-quoted lines) and "Going to the Top" are more personal, dealing respectively with change and impolite careerism, while "Johnny the Horse" and "Drip Fed Fred" - the latter featuring the band's guiding spirit Ian Dury - are unengaging exercises in music-hall characterisation. Which leaves "If I Didn't Care" as the best track - worryingly so, since it's the only one they didn't write themselves.
SIMPLY RED Love and the Russian Winter (Eastwest)
WHAT'S HAPPENED to Mick Hucknall? Not so long ago, he was cranking out solid pop-soul hits with dependable regularity then, at some point between Stars and Life, that gift seems to have just drained away, ultimately leaving us with this pallid collection of production exercises masquerading as songs. While it's possible to lack either a decent melody or a decent lyric and still have a passable song, to have dispensed with both must be considered to be either carelessness or arrogance. Track after track here strolls along on the back of a hackneyed keyboard riff, an acoustic guitar figure and a shuffling hi-hat, without Hucknall and his co-producers, Andy Wright and Gota Yashiki, ever coming close to a compelling tune. Worse yet, the lyrics are a shocking blend of clichÃ©, air-headed pretension and bad grammar, with Hucknall blathering on about wanting to "look into the windows of your soul" and having "the spirit of love within you". Just what, for example, can he mean by "As we wander back into the universe, we render ourselves into a higher plane"?
The Russian winter was capable of seeing off both Napoleon Bonaparte and Hitler's Third Reich - so who knows what it might do for Simply Red?