WITH TYPICAL perversity, Pavement chose just about the weakest track from their new album - the aimless "Carrot Rope" - to be the lead- off single, as if attraction were just another commercial manipulation of the music biz, to be scorned and satirised. Things being what they are, it made the lower reaches of the charts, but the mixed critical reception suggested some were rapidly tiring of the US indie kings' ways.
The perfect moment, then, to unveil the new, bizarrely competent Pavement, with an LP on which, for the first time, the various instruments sound in relative equilibrium with each other, and relatively sure about which direction a particular song is headed. Much of the credit for this must go to Radiohead/ Beck / REM producer Nigel Godrich, who has corralled the band's innate waywardness impressively; even Stephen Malkmus's vocal idiosyncrasies - on their day, the most irritating in all of rock - are rendered here with an affectionate appeal that will doubtless constitute a betrayal for their most resolutely lo-fi followers, but which enables the rest of us to engage with them more pleasurably.
It's still anybody's guess what Malkmus is singing about at any given point, but somehow his lines seem to fit their settings more congruently than before, even when he's rushing to fit 15 words into a space meant for five. The music, meanwhile, has a weatherbeaten grandeur unlike any previous Pavement album, along with a sackful of early-Seventies references to bands such as Pentangle (a folk-jazz version of "Speak, See, Remember") and The Groundhogs (the raucous blues-swing rave-up "Platform Blues", Jonny Greenwood wailing impressively on blues harp); sometimes, their more outlandish creations sound like mix'n'match experiments to see what might result if, say, a Pink Floyd cosmic miasma were stalked by a Jimmy Page riff ("The Hexx").
Though Pavement still take cavalier delight in working the narrow space between eccentricity and wilful abstrusion, they do it more profitably than usual here on tracks such as the lovely, uplifting "You Are A Light", the Wilco-esque "Major Leagues", and the folk-rockabilly ramble "Folk Jam". Thanks, presumably, to Godrich, there's an inner sense and coherence to these performances that surmounts their occasional odd manoeuvres, and that makes Malkmus's tentative instruction to "Bring on the major leagues" comprehensible as a song of accession - albeit a typically self-effacing, anti-triumphalist one.
The first solo-Spice album has natural affinities with earlier group efforts, not least in the programme of dancers, smoochers and simple toe- tappers assembled - there's even a token Spanish track, "Mi Chico Latino", for the holiday market. Sensibly, it opens with the single "Look At Me", which, like her dancing, has swagger rather than panache.
But for such a strong-willed, hearty - not to mention wealthy - lass, she doesn't half whinge: between her demands for respect and her bitchy hints at the Spice experience, there's little here to interest those not already fascinated by the Ginger personality. Which would be fine, were it not done so crassly; for each decent line such as "Wipe that Prada smile from your Rada face" (miaow!), there are entire songs that are composed by furious rifling through the cliche cabinet. Take "Walkaway", where she claims "Solitude and loneliness have been a (sic) friend of mine", before going on to ask, "Who knows just where I'm going? Does tomorrow belong to me?". No, Geri, that was the Nazis.
HYPE HAS its own specific gravity, a force that needs to be handled carefully, lest it crush the object of its attention. The slip-roads of fame are littered with the carcasses of one-time next big things that proved unequal to the pressures involved, and it remains to be seen whether Gay Dad join them, or cruise past into the fast lane of pop stardom.
On the strength of the archly-titled Leisurenoise, it's an each-way bet: buffed and polished by countless production accomplices, it's a meticulously crafted affair, with high, ringing harmonies chasing jangly soft-rock chords, but it remains hard to grasp the band's musical essence, veiled as it is behind influences ranging from the brash Alice Cooper-esque glam- rock of to a gamut of psychedelic and country-rock tropes that includes Love, The Eagles, and - more ominously - Kula Shaker. The lingering impression is of a Sassenach Del Amitri: a US-leaning pop-rock combo whose songs could do with a bit more attention before they reach the studio, rather than after.
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS
THE TRACK-TITLE "Something's Come From Nothing" is as good an assessment as any of the creative drive that lies behind the Super Furry Animals, though, in truth, they're every bit as influenced by the faded stitches of rock's rich tapestry as Gay Dad. Their chosen threads are simply more arcane, and more amusingly wielded - at no point is it possible to pin the band down to a specific stylistic pastiche.
This is a highly seasoned post-modern soup in which the various flavours blend in odd combinations: "Night Vision", for instance, occupies a place somewhere between the declamatory new wave of Joy Division and the pounding Euro-motorik of Station to Station, while "The Door to this House Remains Open" adds their usual florid psychedelia. It doesn't always work - "Chewing Chewing Gum" is the kind of folly the Smiley Smile-era Beach Boys were overly fond of - but there's enough to delight the most jaded of pop palates in SFA's mix of sample-collage grooves and Todd Rundgren-style clever- pop.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
Californication Warner Bros
THE CHILI Peppers' latest album follows a familiar course, with hyperactive punk-funk grooves, and lyrics mostly reflecting Anthony Kiedis's love/hate relationship with the West Coast lifestyle, an enviably sun-kissed way of having one's cake and eating it, over and over again. But he lapses too readily into alliterative gibberish and rhyming doggerel, as on "Around The World", a rude American travelogue that's their hornier equivalent of "California Girls".
Between the bouncing bionic funk and the reflective ballads, though, it all seems much of a muchness, and an overdone one at that - it's effectively a reversion to the successful formula of Blood Sugar Sex Magik after the tentative new steps of One Hot Minute. Sadly, the homogeneity gained through the return of John Frusciante is rather outweighed by the loss of former Jane's Addiction member Dave Navarro, an infinitely more versatile and imaginative guitarist. It's like opting for Microsoft's Windows after trying Apple Mac operating system.Reuse content