Pop CD Releases

LIMP BIZKIT | Chocolate St*rfish And The Hot Dog Flavoured Water JOHNNY DOWD | Temporary Shelter ALL SAINTS | Saints & Sinners JOHNNY CASH | American III: Solitary Man ALABAMA 3 | La Peste
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LIMP BIZKIT | Chocolate St*rfish And The Hot Dog Flavoured Water (Flip/Interscope) Just as Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was to Generation X, so is Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst to the generation which succeeded it - one we'll call, for simplicity, Generation Y, or more appropriately Generation Why?, there being few excuses for the abject abnegation of values which currently characterises young white America's reaction to the world around it.

LIMP BIZKIT | Chocolate St*rfish And The Hot Dog Flavoured Water (Flip/Interscope) Just as Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was to Generation X, so is Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst to the generation which succeeded it - one we'll call, for simplicity, Generation Y, or more appropriately Generation Why?, there being few excuses for the abject abnegation of values which currently characterises young white America's reaction to the world around it.

Durst is the most populist of modern American antiheroes: by comparison with other current spokesmen of their generation such as Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, there's nothing remotely challenging about either Durst's worldview or his band's music, which is comprised of varying blends of Jane's Addiction alt-metal, ranting hip-hop anger and grunge defeatism.

Where the aforementioned spokesfolk, and others such as Cobain, Eddie Vedder and Rage Against The Machine, sought some explanation for America's Prozac culture - either in their own character or that of their country's institutions - Limp Bizkit's songs revert to an almost pre-sentient, inchoate rage, the same selfish, knucklehead reaction that fuels gun-toting high-school killers.

For Durst and Co., there's no moral duty attached to their work or their followers - it's simply enough that their fans are fans, even when (as at the last Woodstock débâcle), those fans are crushing and gangraping young girls in the moshpit. It's the kind of gang any thicko can join, rather like its UK equivalent, the Oasis gang.

Chocolate St*rfish And The Hot Dog Flavoured Water - the scatological "humour" is indicative of the level of discourse throughout the album - is one long, mystifying barrage of whining self-pity interspersed with threats, pebbledashed with expletives. "My Generation" is typical, with lines like "We won't ever give a fuck until you give a fuck about me and my generation" - a circularity of apathy and nihilism that leads Fred right up his own, er, chocolate st*rfish.

"Hot Dog" neatly encapsulates the pointlessness of Limp Bizkit's "protest", with Durst claiming "Ain't it a shame that you can't say 'fuck'", while disproving his own point no fewer than 46 times. At no point do the album's accumulated whines and moans develop a coherent shape or argument, which would have obliged Durst to offer, if not actual solutions, then at least some explication of the problems - which wouldn't have left him much time to work on more pressing matters, such as his own Flawless label, and his three movie projects currently in development.

Perhaps that's why the dominant odour given off by Chocolate St*rfish And The Hot Dog... is one of mere ambition - not in any aesthetic or ethical sense, but simply as an enthusiastic accession to the corporatisation of youth protest.

JOHNNY DOWD | Temporary Shelter (Munich) If Limp Bizkit reckon life's already a bitch, they ain't seen nothing yet, as a cursory listen to Johnny Dowd's Temporary Shelter would attest. The New Jersey singer/songwriter/ removal man's third album continues the vein of doomed romance, haunted fatalism and murder balladry which gouted gore across its predecessors, Wrong Side Of Memphis and Pictures From Life's Other Side, but the musical backdrop over which Dowd's bleak tales are croaked has changed considerably from his earlier alt.country-blues style, with the Gothic organ and alarmingly atonal guitar chords here set adrift in avant-dub soundscapes that owe more to King Tubby and Pere Ubu than to Hank Williams and George Jones.

Studded with brilliant, blackly comic lines - "I know how love can be like hitting your head against a wall"; "Mama talks to Jesus - I wonder if she ever mentions me?"; "Metaphor is useless when you need a pair of gloves/To protect you from the violence of a father's love" - the album sketches out a family as dysfunctional as anything in RD Laing, but lit from within by conflicting shafts of love, hope and despair, however sordid the circumstances. It's a remarkable achievement, wielding the full power of Dowd's fiftysomething disillusion - uneasy listening, but recommended to fans of Tom Waits, Smog and Nick Cave.

ALL SAINTS | Saints & Sinners (London) If Mel, Nat and Nic were ever serious about continuing All Saints without Shaz, Saints & Sinners buries the notion once and for all. As co-writer of 10 of the album's 14 tracks, Shaznay is clearly the group's creative mainspring; if, as seems to be the case, All Saints are chasing the crazy-sexy-cool TLC formula closer than ever before, then Shaz is the Lisa Left-Eye of the group - though not, one hopes, quite that bonkers. The after-effects of the girls' brief separation are still discernible - most notably in "Distance", which finds Shaz "...on the other side of the world/Alone without my girls" - though any lingering cracks in their relations are concealed by their vocals, which present a unified, richly harmonious front.

The new single, "Black Coffee", illustrates the pains taken, its vocal arrangement meticulously pasted together from myriad separate overdubs, sometimes of just one voice adding one word to a huge bank of vocals. Retained from the group's debut album, producers Karl Gordon and Jonny Douglas reaffirm the girls' grasp of American R&B styles, while high-profile draftee William Orbit shows again on tracks like "Surrender" and "Dreams" that he's one of the few producers able to humanise the Euro-house synthetic trance-pop sound. It's not perfect - the horrible Latino cash-in "One More Tequila" sounds token - but Saints & Sinners is as catchy and catholic a collection as could be expected.

JOHNNY CASH | American III: Solitary Man (Columbia) As interpreter par excellence of the seedier side of life, Johnny Cash could be considered something of a spiritual godfather to Johnny Dowd and the sadcore crowd. It's certainly a connection encouraged by Solitary Man, the third Cash album recorded with producer Rick Rubin, which includes a stunning version of Bonnie Prince Billy's "I See A Darkness" on which Billy himself (Will Oldham) contributes backing vocals.

Oldham's profession of introverted melancholy fits perfectly with Cash's renowned Man In Black persona - almost as well, in fact, as Nick Cave's "The Mercy Seat", the latest in Cash's illustrious line of prison songs, its florid, Dylanesque organ and piano protesting too much, methinks, on behalf of the singer's innocence. The gently resolute tones of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" are also well suited to Cash's mordant fatalism.

Less successful is a version of U2's "One" which presents the eco-anthem as earnest folk-rock declamation, with sparse piano chords adding emphasis to the acoustic guitar, before the swelling organ overcooks things in the later stages. That's a small gripe, though: for the most part, Solitary Man reinforces Cash's reputation as song stylist, recasting familiar material in ways which reveal new layers of meaning.

ALABAMA 3 | La Peste (Elemental) It's surely no coincidence that Alabama 3's second album should arrive in the same week as the second series of The Sopranos, which bears their title-theme - but then again, they probably need all the help they can get to sell an album named after Camus' The Plague and featuring a couple of human skulls on the cover. Which is a bizarrely contrary first impression to give of an album that contains more enjoyable Black Grape-style skunk-funk grooves than anything on Stupid Stupid Stupid. And with more pertinent social commentary to boot. Frontman Larry Love ponders such questions as "How long we gonna wait until we get the keys to the Mansion On The Hill?/ How long we gonna waste our time in the bus to the welfare line?", and offers scarily recognisable evocations of threadbare social fabric in songs such as "Walking In My Sleep" and "The Thrills Have Gone". Still operating fruitfully at the convergence of country, funk, gospel and drug culture, the group's ambivalent attitudes are reflected in "Cocaine (Killed My Community)" - a slinky techno-dub account of pharmaceutical temptation - and the lovely "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlife", a Stones-y country-gospel hymn to outsider culture that links well with the highly articulate sleevenote essay on pop hegemony (a tract that Fred Durst might profitably peruse). Infectiously intelligent.

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