Pop: This Week's Album Releases

MARILYN MANSON

Mechanical Animals

Nothing/Universal/Interscope

IN CASE you've been off-planet the past few years, Marilyn Manson is the latest American androgyne perv bogeyman, sent to terrify liberals just as much as right-wing fundamentalists. Glorifying in their anathematical stance as regards religion, morality and society in general, Marilyn and his band bear out the old Jefferson Airplane cod-revolutionary boast that "Everything they say we are, we are", diligently seeking out new and hideous forms of degradation to celebrate. And if they run out of ideas, well, so much the better. As Marilyn sneers here: "I was a nihilist, and now I'm just too fucking bored."

Following swiftly on the heels of the band's stop-gap Remix And Repent package, Mechanical Animals offers a more sinister take on the same theme as Radiohead's "Paranoid Android", depicting a modern world in which the more noble aspects of humanity have been worn threadbare by drugs and a fixation with celebrity sleaze. Which is fair enough in principle, except that even a Sunday Sport gossip columnist would have to go some to be quite as obsessed with sleaze and drugs as Marilyn Manson him/themselves. The centrepiece here is the single "The Dope Show", in which, to a backing of chunky, rough-trade rock, celebrity is celebrated as narcotic in nature. To illustrate this, the band are represented in the CD booklet as a fictive unit called Omega And The Mechanical Animals, a thinly-disguised take on Ziggy and the Spiders.

This is the shortcoming of Mechanical Animals. For all its brusque musicality - former Material singer Michael Beinhorn's production certainly gives it the focused power largely absent from its Trent Reznor-produced predecessor - it's still essentially just a retread of ideas done to death by glam and punk. As Marilyn admits in "Rock Is Dead", "Rock is deader than dead/Shock is all in your head/Your sex and your dope is all that we're fed". Which leaves them in the gutter, staring at the stars like all self-romanticising bohemians. Except that in Marilyn's view, "In space the stars are no nearer/They just glitter like a morgue". Cheers!

EELS

Electro-Shock Blues

DreamWorks

LIKE LOU Reed's rather more sombre Magic And Loss, Electro-Shock Blues is a series of reactions to the creeping mortality claiming the friends and family of Eels' songwriter E. He starts with a lovely little ditty about his sister's suicide, "Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor", and just keeps on chuckling: "Cancer For The Cure", "Hospital Food", "My Descent Into Madness", "Going To Your Funeral" (Parts 1 and 2) - a parade of occasionally droll melancholia dressed in whimsical, Beck-ish backings. It's an intelligent innocent's impressions of illness and bereavement, the depth of grief betrayed by the deceptive flippancy of the CD booklet cartoons, particularly that of a tombstone bearing the inscription "Sing Along At Home". Dead funny, eh?

This is dark, dark stuff, unflinching in its detail - "So I know you're going pretty soon/Radiation sore throat got your tongue" - yet drily elegant in its emotional responses; but like the Lou Reed album, it's ultimately of questionable appeal outside the context of E's therapeutic needs. It does, however, allow him to join Marilyn Manson in viewing drugs as a metaphor for society, though in his case rather less recreational than medicational. Here's hoping for all our sakes that the numbness which settled with "Novocaine For The Soul" really is lifting with the penultimate track, "The Medication Is Wearing Off".

FAITHLESS

Sunday 8pm

Cheeky

THIS EAGERLY-awaited follow-up to 1996's multi-million-selling Reverence holds no great surprises, unless sustained excellence is so rare as to be surprising. Faithless blends its diverse talents - the keyboard skills of Sister Bliss, the understated rapping of Maxi Jazz, the songwriting of Jamie Catto and the programming of Rollo (who co-produces with Sister Bliss) into poised, Massive Attack-style grooves, carefully augmented here by strings, percussion, and the unobtrusive guitar of Dave Randall.

Opening with the pastoral instrumental, "The Garden", as delicate as dew on spiders webs at dawn, Sunday 8pm reaches its peak with "I Want My Family Back", a crepuscular creep through murky streets, featuring Maxi's deadpan, clear-eyed rap about the pervasive anxiety of our society: "A crash in the economy robbed me of my family/And no strategy combats negative equity/So that's it/Like violence, it's drastic". A subtle, intelligent performance which helps restore faith in a genre tiresomely prone to violent boasting and sexist crowing. Elsewhere, guest vocalists Boy George, Rachael Brown and Dido provide alternative focuses of interest, the latter most impressively on "Hem Of His Garment", turning the old gospel plea inside out by admitting she has been "touched by the hem of his garment".

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS

Brothers Gonna Work It Out

Freestyle Dust/Virgin

NOT THE third Chemical Brothers album proper, but that least enticing of contemporary artforms, a DJ Mix album. But where some DJ mixes barely even bother to segue properly between their bought-by-the-batch disco cuts, in Tom and Ed's case it's more appropriate to talk in terms of sound sculpture. Here, they offer five tracks of between 10 and 20 minutes apiece, each mixed from about the same number of records, with fragments from such as Kenny Dope, Love Corporation and the Unique 3 spun into new sonic concoctions.

The most entertaining is probably the opening mix, which effortlessly spans decades by blending Willie Hutch's "Brother's Gonna Work It Out" with the Jimmy Castor Bunch's "It's Just Begun" and a couple of the Brothers' own numbers; and the fourth track, on which they pay homage to influences like Renegade Soundwave and Meat Beat Manifesto, with the latter's "Mars Needs Women" answered by the cry of "I want my planet back" from Dubtribe Sound System's "Mother Earth". Also included are their charmingly idiosyncratic remixes of the Manics' "Everything Must Go" - from which just about everything has indeed gone - and Spiritualized's "I Think I'm In Love", which brings things to a suitably chilled conclusion.

SHERYL CROW

The Globe Sessions

A&M

HER THIRD album extends Sheryl Crow's songcraft in several directions, the most appealing of which is the warm, rolling "It Don't Hurt", a carnival whirl of organ, autoharp, violin and National guitar whipped to a light froth by Crow and mixer Tchad Blake. Less appealing is the streak of Alanis- style psychodrama that has crept into songs like "Am I Getting Through (Parts I & II)", a fearsome harangue rather like overhearing an argument in a restaurant.

In between are more of the sort of songs which are Crow's stock-in-trade: glib, oddly pointless tales which sound like songs, but not in any compelling sense. There's no suggestion that you might encounter mystery or revelation in them, just a shaggy-dog narrative with an attitude. She encapsulates her own problem in the Tinseltown shallowness of "There Goes The Neighborhood", where "the movie of the screenplay of a book about a girl who loved a junkie" swiftly degenerates into apathetic irony: "We can't be certain who the villains are 'cos everyone's so pretty/But the after-party's sure to be a wing-ding as it moves into your city." The new Dylan song, "Mississippi", a singalong romp, lent a curious gipsy flavour by violin and Chamberlain strings, rather shows up her material - and shows that Bob can still crank out a surefire hit if the fancy takes him, too.

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