This week's album releases

23 SKIDOO | 23 Skidoo LEE GRIFFITHS | Northern Songs MORCHEEBA | Fragments of Freedom MIDFIELD GENERAL | Generalisation
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The Independent Culture

23 SKIDOO | 23 Skidoo (Virgin)

23 SKIDOO | 23 Skidoo (Virgin)

Formed way back in 1979, 23 Skidoo are a pioneering post-punk band who released loads of albums in the early 1980s. Since then they've done the occasional remix, but have concentrated on running their label, Ronin - home to British hip-hop stars Deckwrecka and Roots Manuva. The latter features on this, their first new material in 16 years, which is a bit of an ambient-jazz-funk-fusion affair. Legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders does all the hard work on "Kendang" and "Dawning" (though his smooth, mellow style sounds like it comes easily to him), and the rest of the album is full of horns, guitars and even a flute. But it's the beats that give the album cohesion, and the little details of electronica that give it beauty. LAURENCE PHELAN

LEE GRIFFITHS | Northern Songs (ZTT)

Now that David Gray's astonishing success has opened the door for British folk-rock singer-songwriters, someone else should step through quickly before it slams shut again. Lee Griffiths could be the very man. A 27-year-old Mancunian, Griffiths must be the first person to have been compared in reviews to both Nick Drake and Lenny Kravitz, and there is some logic to the analogies: Griffiths combines tenderly sung acoustic balladry with hefty, funky soul and Beatles-inspired Britpop. Hence, even when he's singing about drug addiction, unemployment and wasted lives, the choruses are big enough to keep the casual listener's attention. And while it's a shame that Griffiths' earnestness is never tempered by levity, at least his political convictions give him something to be earnest about. NB

Comparisons with Jeff Buckley are valid up to a point, those with Radiohead less so: the inspiration spread so thinly across Parachutes would furnish them with maybe a fraction of a riff of a sub-section of one song. The only thing here approaching that quality is the single "Yellow", whose methodical grunge chording is, ironically, somewhat at odds with the more delicate guitar shadings employed by Jon Buckland elsewhere. There's a pleasing cast to the melodic contours of one or two other songs, notably the brief opener "Don't Panic", but the overall impression left by Parachutes is one of having to make do with rather meagre rations - a vocal tic, an arpeggio or two - simply to indulge yet another indie band's wan attitude. Still, as long as sixth-formers have bedrooms to mope in, there will always be a place for the Coldplays of this world.

MORCHEEBA | Fragments of Freedom (East West)

Initially labelled as paranoid, edgy trip-hoppers, Morcheeba proved with their second album, 1998's Big Calm, that there were more colours on their palette than black and grey. Big Calm became a dinner party staple, but the trio still got "sick of the misery [and] drunken self-pity" which they heard in its songs. Fragments Of Freedom is its antidote - a positive, sun-drenched album inspired by Morcheeba's collection of disco, funk and soul LPs. The group's slide guitars, laid-back beats and multi-cultural bits and bobs are all present and correct, but now they're accessorised with sleek disco strings, wah-wah guitar, chunky brass and gospel backing vocals. There's also enough scratching and rapping (courtesy of Mr Complex, Biz Markie and Bahamadia) to reassure you that the group know which decade this is. In short, Fragments of Freedom is an amazingly commercial summer pop album with generation-crossing appeal, so you'll have to boycott every bar in the country if you don't want to hear it. But it does suffer from that familiar Morcheeba problem: you can't helping wishing it were just a tiny bit better. Melodically and lyrically, Skye Edwards and the Godfrey brothers are never bold enough to carry the album from dinner party music to party music, and Edwards's voice, sweetly coy coo that it is, keeps to one emotional level. On the chorus of "Love Sweet Love", she suddenly hops out of her usual range and the effect is startling. For a moment, you glimpse the stunning group Morcheeba might have been - and still might be.

MIDFIELD GENERAL | Generalisation (Skint)

Ever since Norman Cook achieved ubiquity, each new big beat producer with a penchant for daft samples has had to suffer comparisons with him. It's certainly going to happen to Damian Harris, aka Midfield General, but then, it was their shared tastes that led to Harris setting up Skint and releasing Fatboy Slim's records. Since then, he's discovered plenty more stars and released a couple of recordings of his sets at his Big Beat Boutique club, but this is his debut album. It sounds rather like Fat ... no, I'm not going to say it, because although it's got the looped vocal samples, the 303 basslines, the build-ups, the party atmosphere and the big beats, it's also got rather more variety and a quirky, eccentric style of its own. LP