NEIL YOUNG | Silver & Gold (Reprise)
The three-year gap between Silver & Gold and its predecessor, 1997's Year Of The Horse, is the longest hiatus of Neil Young's solo recording career, and on this showing, his muse hasn't reacted too well to the rest. The vast majority of songs deal in largely unrewarding fashion with domestic contentment and the redemptive power of love, set to the most dilute of country-rock arrangements.
The cast of stellar session musicians - which includes Jim Keltner, "Duck" Dunn, Spooner Oldham, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt alongside long-time pedal-steel player and co-producer Ben Keith - searches vainly for ways to illuminate Young's pallid material, but the results have all the colour and definition of a pair of old jeans (but not in a good way). "Daddy Went Walkin'" is typical, with Young presenting lines like "Corduroy pants and an old plaid shirt/ Daddy went walkin' just to feel the dirt" in the kind of sing-song nursery-rhyme metre usually reserved for songs about dogs called Blue or Shep. The only shaft of light comes in the chorus, with a melody-line borrowed from Abba's "Dancing Queen".
The album's best tunes are to be found in the title-track and "Razor Love", songs written 18 and 13 years ago, respectively. The latter's image of a "razor love which cuts clean through" also stands dramatically apart from the impressions of wistful nostalgia that dominate elsewhere, not least on "Buffalo Springfield Again", a bland rumination on Young's Sixties band. "Like to see those guys again/ And give it a shot," he muses. "Maybe now we can show the world/ What we got". Well, maybe. It certainly couldn't have much less of a spark than this.
CYPRESS HILL | Skull & Bones (Columbia)
Since the majestic Black Sunday, Cypress Hill's star has steadily waned, to the point that Skull & Bones finds them trying to jump on the Limp Bizkit rap-metal crossover bandwagon, with rather more haste than style. A double-album featuring 11 standard rap cuts and six thrash-metal tracks, it marks the return of the wayward Sen Dog to the fold, though his contributions are largely confined to witlessly obscene tirades appended to B-Real's routine moans and boasts. The material tacks schizophrenically between criminal braggadocio and complaints of how hard it is being a rich rap star, with no glimmer of a suggestion that they may have made any causal connection between attitude and aggravation. The redeeming drug humour of earlier albums, meanwhile, has virtually disappeared, restricted here to the brief "Can I Get A Hit". Rage against the mundane, anyone?
>LEE 'SCRATCH' PERRY | On The Wire (Trojan)
This first new release from Lee Perry in years was originally recorded in the late Eighties, but not finished off until recently. It's always good to hear from one of music's bona-fide mad geniuses - so good, apparently, that Trojan have opted to leave the tracks topped and tailed with Perry's introductory babblings, which only serves to elongate his random catechism of "history, mystery, prophecy" far beyond its optimum length. "Lee 'Scratch' Perry On The Wire" opens with a minute of coughing and ululation before the backing track even starts - as if Perry were just getting his lyrical Dada warmed up. Once started, he's like the Duracell bunny, rabbiting on until he winds down eight or 10 minutes later. Musically, the tracks mostly follow the efficient lines of his classic mid-Seventies work, with only "Keep On Moving" displaying the sonic eccentricity we've come to expect from the Upsetter.
DAVID GRAY | White Ladder (iHt/Eastwest)
After several fruitless years with EMI, singer-songwriter David Gray decided to go it alone, building his own studio and recording the songs that make up White Ladder under his own steam, releasing the album on his own label last year. It proved a surprise success in Ireland, topping the chart for six weeks earlier this year. I wouldn't go as far as Joan Baez (who apparently thought Gray the best lyricist since Dylan), but he has a pleasing knack for articulating emotional concerns simply and effectively - mostly matters of the heart, though worries over money problems and bad habits creep almost unbidden into songs such as "Nightblindness" and "We're Not Right". His voice, however, is his strongest asset, with a tart, nasal quality that casts its own shadows, particularly over the album's one cover, an Astral Weeks-styled version of Soft Cell's "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye".
GUS GUS | Gus Gus Vs. T-World (4AD)
The sleeve design of Gus Gus Vs. T-World pursues an aesthetic of natural abstraction oddly appropriate to the music, which despite its technological origins, possesses the organic quality suggested by Future Sound Of London on albums like Lifeforms. The Icelandic outfit concentrate here on the more dancefloor-friendly side of their output, with seven lengthy slices of what could best be called slow-flux techno - repetitive loops building slowly through gradual filter sweeps and barely perceptible alterations. Tracks such as "Anthem" and "Northern Lights" start with an ambient shimmer or gently modulated synth figure, developing impetus through layers of interlocking percussion, eventually reaching a frantic pitch of activity. Care and attention is paid to the shape and timbre of individual sounds, resulting in a pleasing balance of minimal lines and meticulous detailing.