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Manic Street Preachers

Everything Must Go

Epic 4839340 2

That which has not killed them appears to have made them stronger: Everything Must Go finds the rebounding from the disappearance of figurehead/ co-lyricist Richey James with their strongest album yet, despite a lingering tendency to confuse strength with mere musical muscle-power.

Bassist Nicky Wire, heretofore given to scathingly intemperate outbursts as the surly joker of the band, has grown into the job of sole lyricist with a maturity that belies his stage persona. Of the 12 tracks here, seven are his alone, and another two co-written with the since-departed James; compared with the latter's three solo lyrics, Wire's are informed with a more intriguing mix of doubt, hope and intelligence, perhaps the result of a year's pondering his friend's disappearance. Not surprisingly, the album is full of questions. "It makes me angry, ashamed, but really alive/ It may have worked, but at what price?" he enquires on the last track "No Surface All Feeling".

Their burgeoning maturity has not, however, been at the expense of their smart-prole attitude and their guerrilla sloganeering: "A Design For Life" has the bluntly existentialist lyric "Libraries gave us power/ Then work came and made us free/ What price now for a shallow piece of dignity?", while "Interiors (Song For Willem de Kooning)" is a remarkably moving tribute to the last, declining genius of abstract expressionism. Anthems of existentialism and expressionism - it's not what you expect in our cosy Britpop era.

But - there had to be a but, I suppose - there's a discomfiting gulf between the questing intelligence of Wire's lyrics and the music to which they are set, which is for the most part redolent of the bloated bombast of Queen. It's like an old dog turning a new trick, sniffing around the tail end of progressive rock to see if it can be brought back into some semblance of heat. Maybe it can, but only at the cost of blunting their more distinctive edges.

Super Furry Animals

Fuzzy Logic

Creation CRECD 190

It must be something in the water in Wales - perhaps those tent- dwelling travellers in the hills are spiking the domestic supply? - but the refurbished notion of progressive rock isn't limited to South Wales existentialists. Like their chums in Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Super Furry Animals are making daft new music out of whimsical old styles, and though the floppy jester's hat is sometimes a little too audible, the results are rarely less than entertaining.

The single "God! Show Me Magic" tears in like Eno-era Roxy, wheezling synth-bubbles and all; that's fine, but the horns and flute of "Fuzzy Birds" veer dangerously close to the softie-psychedelia of Stackridge, which is less welcome. The moods tack back and forth for the rest of the album, through songs about computer games,alien abduction and meeting drug smuggler (and SFA cover star) Howard Marks. "Something For the Weekend" has an infectious Blurry jollity to it, while the cello and subdued mandolins of "Gathering Moss" make for a lilting slacker anthem more in keeping with the English Nirvana than their American namesake. In place of the despairing attitude of US grunge, it posits the far more inventive UK idler culture, which finds freedom, rather than despair, in exclusion; the first fruits of that freedom are well in evidence on Fuzzy Logic.

The nom-de-disque of bald-pated Boo Radleys singer Sice, Eggman features most of that band performing his compositions, rather than Martin Carr's. It's not that different, musically, from the Boos' recordings, tracing a path already well worn by the Beatles and Squeeze alike, though Sice's voice imparts an air of innocent naivete in place of their knowing irony. First Fruits occupies the hinterland where winsome teeters into twee, mixing moments of simple, fragile beauty like "Not Bad Enough" and "I'll Watch Your Back" with over-egged puddings like "The Funeral Song", where all the stereo pans and layered harmonies fail to conjure up a coherent song. A points victory.

We're all post-modern now, dependent on the past for our dominant cultural templates. Ian McNabb is no different, but his record collection, by the sound of Merseybeast, is overstuffed with Anglo-American post-hippy rock. Having achieved his life's ambition of recording with Neil Young's backing band Crazy Horse on his last album, he's casting further afield for inspiration, to early Van, to the New York blue-eyed soul of The Rascals and Laura Nyro and to what sounds alarmingly like The Travelling Wilburys. The album's appeal wears perilously thin in the later stages, where the cumbersome survivor-song "They Settled for Less Than they Wanted" and dead-hero elegy "Too Close to the Sun" seem formalist and trite.

ANDY GILL

Eggman

First Fruits

Creation CRECD 201

Ian McNabb

Merseybeast

Island 524 240-2

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