Pop: This Week's Album Releases

Preaching, but not reaching
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The Independent Culture
MANIC STREET PREACHERS

This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours

Epic

It is grim out west. Or so it appears from This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours - though it is, admittedly, hard to tell, given the complete absence of irony in the Manic Street Preachers' work. On this showing, the Welsh trio is almost as humour-free a zone as Paul Weller, which is a very grim state to be in indeed.

The epic pomp-rock of Everything Must Go has curdled here into something rather more indigestible, with individual tracks echoing the Joy Division creep of doom ("I'm Not Working") and, rather more distressingly, the meat-and-spuds rock ordinaire of Bryan Adams.

For a band which has made copious mileage out of projecting an image of rebellious intelligence and sensitivity, there are some desperately embarrassing moments here, most notably the clumsy Welsh nationalist hand- wringing of "Ready For Drowning", where the portentous church-organ introduction is supplanted by a chorus which actually asks that age-old question so beloved of confused old hippie types, "Where are we going?", without a trace of irony.

Elsewhere, lyricist Nick Jones' intelligence appears to be primarily employed in stroking the maudlin sensibilities of the Manics' notoriously self-pitying fans, with lines as cynical as, "It's not trivial like they think" and songs like the obvious single "Nobody Loved You" - a sort of co-dependency anthem of low self-esteem, one of several tracks that might refer to the departed Richey Edwards.

Hardly anywhere on This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours (a title borrowed from Aneurin Bevan) do Jones and co challenge the cosy assumptions of their audience, particularly in musical terms.

You would not gather, from these turgid, middle-of-the-road arrangements, that there had been any musical developments in rock'n'roll beyond Bon Jovi, which hardly backs up the Manics' much-vaunted revolutionary credentials - if they can't bring any daring or innovation to what is, after all, their primary medium, why should we expect any sharper insight applied to such secondary concerns as their world view or their political opinions?

Only on one or two occasions do they stretch a little, musically: "Tsunami" (curiously, they're the second Welsh band in as many weeks to use this title) features electric sitar and strings, in a sort of corseted psychedelic euphoria that is clearly less than second nature; and the concluding "SYMM" employs a reverse-drum effect and guitar playing which is more bluesy than brusque, a triumph of sorts for James Dean Bradfield.

The song itself is one of the more striking pieces on the album - a reaction to the Hillsborough tragedy in which Jones admits his own inability to add anything to the situation save the query, "South Yorkshire mass murderer/How can you sleep at night?"

This is his opinion; tell him yours.

JUNIOR DELGADO

Fearless

Big Cat

PAIRING THE Seventies reggae star with a succession of unusual production collaborators - from Jerry Dammers to Smith & Mighty - Fearless is a splendid piece of work, surely set to be the reggae album of the year. It is not perfect - there are a few fillers and one out-and-out disaster in the sub-Mondo tropical stylings of "Temptation" - but the freshness and diversity of the tracks, and the roaring of Delgado's militant roots, provide more than enough highlights to compensate.

Delgado's voice has a pained hoarseness reminiscent of several soul legends and he uses it to powerful effect on tracks such as "Hypocrites" (a condemnation of tobacco and alcohol merchants) and the self-explanatory "Sons of Slaves".

The producers, meanwhile, employ a variety of strategies to spice up the basic reggae style: Kid Loops stamps a sprightly drum'n'bass martial feel on "Sons of Slaves"; Sumo's elastic-sprung techno-dub groove to "Fussin' and Fightin'" is utterly infectious; and Jerry Dammers brings the requisite unsettling urban soundscape to "Armed Robbery" with his multi-layered hybrid jungle/reggae/dub backing.

PULP

Live At Glastonbury

Island

THE PRECIPITOUS decline of the Britpop industry has been no more shockingly reflected than in the relative commercial failure of Pulp's This is Hardcore. Hence the attempt to revive its dormant fortunes by the addition of this live album, available for an extra pounds 1 with This is Hardcore, or on its own for a fiver.

Frankly, it is hard to see how this will help. Apart from Glastonbury survivors who fancy a souvenir of their time in the trenches, I cannot imagine why anyone would want both albums, given that all bar one of these seven tracks (the lacklustre "Live Bed Show") is featured on the studio album, and in more efficacious surroundings at that.

Furthermore these are not, for the most part, songs which lend themselves to live presentation the way that anthems such as "Common People" and "Disco 2,000" did. While "The Fear" is a good way to open a studio album in terms of impact, it is a mistake not to open this show with "Party Hard", which prompts an enormous rush of enthusiasm - but unfortunately too late to salvage the album. It is not a bad record as such, just an unnecessary one.

KENICKIE

Get In

EMI

LAST YEAR'S At The Club debut depicted a peppy, irrepressible Kenickie, slyly drawing on all manner of girl-group predecessors from Shangri-Las to B-52s, by way of Bananarama and The Go-Gos. Though it retains a modicum of that spirit in tracks such as the summer pop anthem "Stay In The Sun" and the Roxy glam stomp of "Magnatron", Get In could hardly be more different: if At The Club was a party-hearty night on the tiles, this is surely the come-down the morning after, an obstacle course of reflection and recrimination. Lauren Laverne reveals an introspective capacity which defies her sassy, blonde-bombshell image.

Life has become a more complicated matter for Lauren judging by the acidulous cynicism of "60s Bitch". Her bandmates, fortunately, prove well up to the challenge of the new material, negotiating its emotional twists and turns with settings which strike a fine balance between experiment and melodic appeal. The result is a fine pop record which airs contemporary concerns in a more pleasurable, and more sincere, way than the Manic Street Preachers manage.

MOLOKO

I Am Not A Doctor

Echo

MOLOKO'S 1995 debut Do You Like My Tight Sweater? was one of the more interesting outgrowths of trip-hop, an intriguing blend of Mark Brydon's cunningly constructed backing tracks and Roisin Murphy's peculiar vocals, which eventually sold an impressive quarter of a million copies. This follow-up seems unlikely to emulate that success: the intervening three years, it seems, have done little to hone the group's style to a sharper cutting edge - instead, the Sheffield duo have blunted their appeal by waywardness, mistaking the irritatingly zany for the attractively oddball.

The result is an album tainted on all levels (music, words and vocals) by an overly mannered, self-conscious approach. Murphy's vocals just seem like a series of bad parodies of Beth Gibbons and (I kid you not) Bryan Ferry, whilst Brydon's grooves are frustratingly fragmentary.

Occupying an uncomfortable space between jungle, funk and techno, tracks such as "Be Like You" are as over-freighted with smug cleverness as a late-period Prince album; and neglect to leaven them with anything approaching a decent tune.

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