This Week's Album Releases

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Q-Tip | Amplified Arista

Q-Tip | Amplified Arista

ASTONISHINGLY, THIS is the first solo album from the Tribe Called Quest rapper, despite a career stretching back as far as 1989 - plenty of time for virtually every inhabitant of the borough of Staten Island to release an album under the Wu-Tang Clan aegis.

What kept him? Whatever the reason, it's been worth the wait for Q-Tip's idiosyncratic take on standard hip-hop mores, from his search for new coinings for old-skool bragging tracks such as "Wait Up" and "Higher" ("I'm so irregular/ Ear for the cellular") to his decision to extol the virtues of a Rover - albeit one with a television in the back - in the car rap "Let's Ride".

Most revolutionary of all, in the irresistible, springy single "Vivrant Thing" he even confronts the hip-hop terror of cunnilingus, usually regarded as demeaning rather than devotional in the frightened, macho world of rap.

But with his plea to "push it to my level, let the G evolve", and his assertion that "I don't do 'bitch' / I don't do tricks / I stay doin' me while you stay layin' bricks", it's the track "Go Hard" that offers Q-Tip's most concentrated effort at raising peer-group consciousness.

"Now picture this," he marvels, "a man with his whole life in order." How weird is that?

Various Artists | The Sopranos Columbia

THIS is a splendid, emblematic narrative with which to close the 20th century, combining as it does two of the powerful traits that have driven the American Empire - the fascination with outlaw transgression, and the agonised introspection with which materialist alienation is so desperately combated. It's America taking a long, hard look at itself, and trying to reconcile its deadlier contradictions.

The only tracks on this soundtrack album which attempt to confront the same issues are Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" - a crude reminder of a pecking-order beyond the purely earthly - Nick Lowe's "The Beast In Me", where surface calm disguises repressed rage with all the grim tenacity of Tony Soprano, and Elvis Costello's "Complicated Shadows", a bruising, unsentimental reflection on outlaw morality addressed to "All you gangsters and rude clowns/Who were shooting up the town/When you should have been looking for somebody to put the blame on". Not that the rest of the album wants for either attitude or style: these songs have been chosen (and, more importantly, sequenced) with the meticulous care and attention expended on the series in general, balancing archetypal mobster cliché (Sinatra's "It Was A Very Good Year") with local colour (the blue-eyed New Jersey soul of Little Steven's "Inside Of Me") and the fugitive paranoia of Springsteen's "State Trooper". Even the less pertinent tracks - Cream's "I Feel Free", Van's "Mystic Eyes", Bo's "I'm A Man" - are straight aces, exhilaration distilled into three-minute shots of R&B.

It's the two cuts that open the album which really lend it distinction, though. A typical Fat Possum blend of the raw and the cooked, "It's Bad You Know" combines RL Burnside's Hooker-esque boogie with a computerised drum programme, the old bluesman's repeated invocations of the title hanging like dark, ancient doubts about the song's deceptively confident progress, recurrent reminders of the latent horror of the gangster lifestyle. One of the year's more baffling pop mysteries, meanwhile, is how The Alabama 3's "Woke Up This Morning" failed to be reissued despite months of free promotion as the show's theme. As it is, this churning gospel-house groove offers one of the more pleasing of post-modern ironies: it's not the first time that an English group has sold US-inflected R&B back to the Americans, but it's the first time they've bought it as the theme to such a quintessentially American television series.

Sunshine Club | Home Glitterhouse

IT'S BEEN a great year for sadcore, and this album makes a fine addition to classics by Bonnie Prince Billy, Smog, Low, Wheat and others. Sunshine Club are based around the songs and delicate vocals of Denise Bon Giovanni, whose muse appears exercised most by the mysteries of love and the ties of blood. The band has been described as sounding like the offspring of Nico and Neil Young, though that rather overstates the Crazy Horse dynamics of a song such as "Lonesome Valley" and undervalues their broad musical palette. There's certainly a Nico-esque air to songs like "Cocoon" but the band's inherent warmth overrides its gloomier tendencies. Recommended.

Lazycame | Finbegin Hot Tam

AS HALF of The Jesus & Mary Chain, William Reid was an early recipient of Alan McGhee's support, and has sustained his prickly approach to the world. This, the first of many projects, was intended to appear in a pornographic sleeve, though the contents are offensive enough in their own right.

"God" and "400 Mile Town" are Reid's idea of sadcore - desultory strummings accompanied by slurred, stumbling vocals, while "Rokit" offers a combination of dentist's drill and road drill.

Better by far are the wistful piano instrumental "Blue June" and the understated "Complicated", with its gentle guitar fills and air of opiated naïveté.

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