Pop: This Week's Album Releases

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The Independent Culture

The Contino Sessions (Concrete)

THE TWO years since Death In Vegas' debut Dead Elvis have seen several changes in the darkcore duo, the most significant of which has been Steve Hellier's replacement by engineer Tim Holmes, now a full member alongside DIV grey eminence Richard Fearless.

I don't know whether it's this change in line-up, or their support slot on the Chemical Brothers' American tour, that has made the greatest difference, but the Death In Vegas of The Contino Sessions is a very different beast from that which produced Dead Elvis, much more confident and assertive about its sonic worldview.

Like most new music of the Nineties, it looks back in order to move forward - and in this case, dragging the revolutionary trudge of Public Image Ltd's ground-breaking Metal Box into the era of sequencers, samplers and synths.

The opening "Dirge" is typical: a rumbling Wobble-esque bassline rolls over a plodding drum-machine beat and layers of strummed guitar, with real drums lumbering in a couple of minutes later, hauling the track towards its agonised conclusion.

The result is doomy psychedelic mood-music, though lacking the astringency of John Lydon, which gave PiL's original blueprint such brusque power. This shortfall is redressed by having guest vocalists of appropriate mien appear on some tracks. The Jesus & Mary Chain's Jim Reid adds menacing insinuations to the guitar distortion of "Broken Little Sister"; Iggy Pop declaims a serial-killer apologia over the fatalistic metal-machine grind of "Aisha"; and most colourfully of all, Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie drawls a stream of beat poetry in the laconic vein of Dylan's "Tombstone Blues" across the dark, whiney soundscape of "Soul Auctioneer": "there are hands in my pockets pulling at my spine/ and eggs bearing insects hatching in my mind/ the stones in my shoes get sharper all the time/ and the soft, sick underbelly and the carcass of these times". Mmm, as John Thomson's "Jazz Club" host would say, nice!

Elsewhere, "Death Threat" is a lumbering techno-metal trudge decorated with telemmetry bleeps, in the manner of Ministry, while "Flying" best resembles Mogwai's dogged, methodical psychedelia lit by occasional moments of Can's visionary illumination - though at this remove it's as much nostalgic as visionary.

Rather more amenable are the persistent organ and guitar needling of "Neptune City" and the widescreen wonder of "Aladdin's Story", the most impressive piece on the album: using understated gospel choir and soul organ, DIV offer a convincing update on Exile On Main Street's blending of the sacred and the profane. Powerful stuff indeed.


Pickled Eggs & Sherbet (London)

LIKE CLINTON, Sheffield studio collective The All Seeing I are engaged in investigating the grey areas between styles - in their case, sampladelic house grooves and cabaret lounge music - though the results are rather more mannered, as perhaps befits their more sophisticated intentions.

The core trio of DJ Parrot, Jason Buckle and Dean Honer are joined by a legion of hometown singers and lyricists including Jarvis Cocker, Phil Oakey, Baby Bird and, most strikingly, Seventies crooner Tony Christie, wrapping his tonsils capably round such pithy Cocker sentiments as "A halfwit in a leotard stands upon my stage", and the droll message to an unplanned child: "If I'd used some contraception, I wouldn't be here, and you wouldn't be you."

Another Cocker lyric, "First Man In Space", gives Phil Oakey the opportunity to play his generation's Major Tom - "How come no one wants to know what I saw?" - while the Pulp frontman himself contributes a breathy vocal of his own to "Drive Safely, Darling".

But though rarely less than entertaining, and occasionally courageous in its eclecticism, Pickled Eggs & Sherbet remains a difficult album to love, poised as it is on the cusp of the indefensibly kitsch. Six parts weird, four parts wonderful.


Disco and the Halfway to

Discontent (Meccico/Hut)

CLINTON IS Tjinder Singh and Benedict Ayres, who are taking time out from Cornershop to pursue a more dance-oriented project.

For most of their indie peers, this would simply mean lashing their guitars to the not-so-tender ministrations of whichever remixer was currently in fashion, but Clinton clearly have a different agenda, both politically - as suggested by the title, and by their understated diatribes against the music industry - and musically, as witnessed by the breadth of dance modes and cheesy keyboard sounds that are in operation on the 12 tracks on this album.

Rather than being in Nineties rave culture, Clinton's hearts are firmly in the less frantic world of Seventies funk and disco, with songs such as the splendid single "Buttoned Down Disco" and the opening manifesto "People Power in the Disco Hour", striking an oddly engaging balance between disco kitsch and agit-pop.

It makes for some strange bedfellows - almost literally, in the case of the mix of Punjabi music and pornographic moans that constitutes "GT Road", the most intriguing of which may be "The Hot For May Sound", which sounds not unlike Paul Simon being backed by Booker T & The MGs. Not a bad idea, at that.


Rhythm And Stealth (Hard Hands/Sony)

IN THE four years since Leftism, Leftfield duo Paul Daley and Neil Barnes have apparently started and scrapped any number of tracks for this follow- up, desperate to stay on the cutting-edge of dance-music technology. The process has resulted in a drastic paring-away of what they presumably consider "unnecessary" elements - things like hummable tunes, instrumental flourishes, etc - leaving just chunks of ruthless rhythmic utility like "Phat Planet" (the Guinness "white horses" ad music) and "Double Flash": music that's great to dance to, dangerous to drive to, but nigh on impossible to listen to without checking your watch.

Consequently, they're heavily dependent on their vocalists, who for the most part lack the compelling character of Leftism collaborators like John Lydon. Only this year's hot hip-hop discovery, Roots Manuva, brings anything of note to the party, invigorating "Dusted" with his freestyling rap; by contrast, Afrika Bambaataa adds no discernible shocks to the vocoder funk of "Africa Shox".

With one or two exceptions, it's dull and uninvolving stuff: one can't help feeling that, in their determination to keep things sparse and functional, Leftfield have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.


One for the Modern (Island)

AS DEMONSTRABLY the least "modern" of this week's releases, Ocean Colour Scene's fourth album is inaptly titled, to put it mildly.

While peers such as Blur and Oasis are casting around desperately for new routes out of the Britpop mire, OCS plod on regardless, with a musical agenda that was surely set down in stone three decades ago by The Beatles and The Who.

If they're being really daring, they add an occasional middle-eight in the style of Traffic.

Unavoidably, they sound like pale copies. "Emily Chambers", for instance, is no "Eleanor Rigby", and "Soul Driver" would have sounded dull to us even in the late Sixties, its ancestral home.

There's a deadening gaucheness about the muscly, no-brainer music which also seeps into the lyrics, with the anti-arms trade single "Profit in Peace" not so much stating the obvious as stating the oblivious, since its agit-pop-by-numbers approach requires no difficult decision-making or conscience-scouring on the part of either band or fans.

In fact, the most "modern" Ocean Colour Scene get on this album is "No One At All", which apes Wilco's "She's A Jar" but which, typically, avoids the spiky sentiments of that song in favour of their own limp title refrain.