This Week's Album Releases

<b> JIMI TENOR | Out Of Nowhere, THE CORRS | In Blue, BEENIE MAN | Art And Life, MIDFIELD GENERAL | Generalisation, 23 SKIDOO | 23 Skidoo </b>
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The Independent Culture

JIMI TENOR | Out Of Nowhere (Warp)

JIMI TENOR | Out Of Nowhere (Warp)

Finnish techno-pop genius Jimi Tenor starts his third album as if determined to distance himself completely from anything as declassé as pop, eschewing the comforting embrace of beat and hook for the shrill, discordant orchestration of the title-track.

Unsuspecting listeners may initially suspect they've been sold the wrong CD, the menacing tone clusters and dramatic, dynamic changes more closely resembling something by Berio or Webern than by the man who last year gave us the righteous funk groove of "Total Devastation".

Admittedly, it's something of a red herring, but only a little one, as the rest of the album finds Tenor investigating a wide range of musical territory on the borders of jazz, post-rock and film music, without ever stumbling across anything that could be classified as out-and-out pop.

It's a courageous, hugely ambitious work that seeks to set Tenor apart from his peers in the techno/sampling scene, leaving him occupying a niche alongside Barry Adamson and David Holmes in the field of cinematic soundscaping. A little niche, maybe, but one which expands, Tardis-like, to encompass a potentially vast area, from kitsch cop-show ambience to gothic pomp to the noirish strolls that comprise the genre's stock-in-trade.

"Hypnotic Drugstore" is typical, in scope if not in style: an Indo-jazz fusion with sitar drone and theremin whine overlaid with jazzy flute and keyboards, it starts out like music from some Seventies Euro-porn flick, before developing a more muscular aspect courtesy of Jimi's rousing tenor sax break. I'm reminded of the genre-defying musical gymnastics of Was (Not Was), an impression that is heightened by the falsetto-soul stylings of "Spell", where the lush string arrangement blends with Jimi's fragile vocal to produce a Curtis Mayfield hommage that is fit to stand alongside those of Lambchop's Kurt Wagner.

It's the daring orchestrations - recorded for financial reasons in Poland with the Orchestra of the Grand Theatre Lodz - which give the album its distinctive character (or characters), however. And what characters they are: inspired by the soundtrack to Tarkovsky's sci-fi epic Solaris,

"Blood On Borscht" whips together choir, orchestra and fuzz-guitar riff into a huge, obstreperous slab of sound akin to the pomp-rock of Magma, while the jazzier arrangement of "Night In Loimaa", with flute and jazz-guitar lines chased by tense strings, recalls the film scores of Henry Mancini - at least until developing a berserk, Zappa-esque dwarf processional of scurrying woodwind at its conclusion.

These are not minor talents from whom to draw inspiration, and their influence serves notice that Jimi Tenor has somewhat bigger fish to fry than simply serving the 4:4 needs of the dancefloor.

THE CORRS | In Blue (Atlantic)

The third album traditionally marks the point at which a band's initial appeal finally hardens into something less pliable and personal, as they make the transition from band to brand. The trick is to accomplish this transition without sacrificing the freshness - the Corr appeal, if you like - that first attracted one's audience, and it's questionable whether The Corrs have pulled this off with In Blue.

Already marginalised by the time of Talk On Corners, the more folksy, Celtic elements of their début have been reduced further, to just the closing instrumental "Rebel Heart", which it comes as no surprise to learn was commissioned for a BBC documentary on the 1916 Easter Uprising. In their place has risen a strain of understated funk-rock which sits surprisingly well with the group's trademark harmonies, though whether it's quite what their fans want to hear remains open to debate.

With some of the tracks dating back to before Talk On Corners ("Radio" was apparently written the day after "So Young"), the material retains its essential Corr-ness, but the productions hint at grander ambitions, especially the three tracks co-written with the perfectionist, Mutt Lange (Mr Shania Twain to you), whose mercilessly crafted, demograph-busting modern pop settings perfectly encase the band's harmonies like Treets, in a crisp candy coat that renders them shiny and untouchable, not so much talking on corners as soaring in cathedrals.

BEENIE MAN | Art And Life (Virgin)

Beenie Man's Virgin début capitalises somewhat belatedly on the success of his 1998 hit "Who Am I?", to the point of reprising that song's "sim-simmer" catchphrase on "Girls Dem Sugar", the album's probable first single.

It's one of several tracks that is produced by The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), who bring the same kind of idiosyncratic, infectious grooves that proved so irresistible on Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money". As with ODB's hit, Kelis features on another Neptunes production, the patriotic big-up "Jamaica Way", though the duo's most intriguing cut here is "Ola", a great dancehall number in which honking baritone sax helps to keep bouncing the beat along.

Elsewhere, Beenie Man's dependable Shocking Vibes Team furnish five more tracks, while the remainder are shared out among the likes of Steely & Clevie, Dave Kelly and Beenie's old mentor, King Jammy.

As before, the rapper's equally at home on rude-boy boasts and gangsta threats as he is on more spiritually-inclined material like the title-track, although if one's minded to borrow a bassline as distinctive as the Staples' "I'll Take You There" - as he does on "I've Got A Date" - it might be advisable to have something of equivalent worth to say, rather than just flannel. Apart from that, this may be his strongest set yet.

MIDFIELD GENERAL | Generalisation (Skint)

Damian Harris, who is Midfield General, is one of the pivotal figures around whom the big-beat scene revolves, though unlike such as The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, he's only just got round to releasing his début album, having previously been too busy running the Skint label.

Aided here by Indian Ropeman, he sticks firmly to the Fatboy Slim formula of a breakbeat, a loop, an acid squelch or two and a vocal sample, though with a less reliable pop sensibility than Norman Cook's.

It's bags of fun all the same, opening with the emblematic big-beat anthem "Devil In Sports Casual", on which a massive breakbeat and siren synth carry the looped ranting of a religious nutcase denouncing Damian's music as an omen of godlessness, claiming "you make the music go back, you hear Satan speaking".

"Reach Out", which follows, proves the opposite is actually more the case, with a Linda Lewis sample taken from the early Seventies looped into a climax of gospel grandeur.

Harris's sources are refreshingly left-field - elsewhere, a subtle Elvis Costello sample features in "Coatnoise", and what sounds like the mellotron from the Moody Blues' "Nights In White Satin" underpins "Stigs Inn Love" - but his choice of vocal collaborators is more questionable, especially the unamusing whimsy of alleged comedian Noel Fielding on "Midfielding", which does nothing more than spoil a half-decent backing track.

23 SKIDOO | 23 Skidoo (Virgin)

Along with peers such as Cabaret Voltaire, The Pop Group and A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo were one of the first new-wave bands to reaffirm the potency of funk- and jazz-based rhythms in rock music, as it emerged from the shadow of punk's caucasian petulance at the end of the Seventies.

Since then, they've concentrated more on backroom duties, remixing artists such as Ice T and Seal, and giving early breaks to the likes of Roots Manuva and Deckwrecka through their Ronin label. Two decades on, their original blend of terse industrial funk and ethnomusicological forgery has been diluted to a more pallid, techno-jazz-funk fusion style, with meticulously layered percussion tracks carrying decorative swirls of flute, trumpet and trombone, and on a couple of tracks, the sax extemporisations of Pharoah Sanders.

But while perfectly acceptable as background or incidental music, it's hard to find much to actually listen to here: the emphasis on rhythm has resulted in a melodic shortfall which leaves it difficult to differentiate between tracks unless they have a reggae rhythm (the melodica dub "Meltdown"), or a commanding performance from one of the guest rappers - chief among whom is Roots Manuva, whose "stone-tough rhyming" on "Where You At" blows the rest of the album away in much the same way as did his contribution to Leftfield's Rhythm And Stealth.

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