Pop: Various Artists Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by `The X Files' Warner Bros 9362-46079-2

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The Independent Culture
With its stylish take on paranoid conspiracy, the TV series The X Files reflects the pervasive contemporary unease in a manner strikingly equivalent to that of The Prisoner a quarter of a century ago - but, being American, on a larger (and better marketed) scale. Not that its appeal is confined to the US; in the UK, X-Files videos are currently out-renting all-comers, and Mark Snow's enigmatic theme tune sits high in the singles chart. Something is out there, and who knows? It may be the truth.

Though basically an identical blend of aliens, shadowy angles and paranoia, as in the original cold-war sci-fi series, The Outer Limits, The X-Files has added a new twist in having the conspiracy allegorise not communism but capitalism. As such, the series' popularity eerily parallels the rise of anti-government forces like the various militiamen (such as the Montana Freemen), in promoting a view of centralised government per se as inherently corrupt and conspiratorial: post-1989, there's simply no other state left to oppose except the state they're in.

How best to represent this mood musically? The Outer Limits favoured jarring modern orchestral flourishes, but these days viewers need more subtle prompts, like the jaunty spookiness of Snow's theme. Having relied heavily upon it to soundtrack earlier episodes, the series creator, Chris Carter, first introduced rock music with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' sinister, evocative "Red Right Hand"; Carter and co-compiler David Was (Not Was) Weiss then hit on the idea of commissioning music specifically inspired by the show.

It's an intriguing mix of artists, mostly chosen from the US indie-rock fringes: the likes of Foo Fighters, Soul Coughing, Filter and, of course, the portly sci-fi fantasist Frank Black. The attitudes, too, are varied. At one extreme, The Meat Puppets' wide-eyed, disingenuous "Unexplained" applies their trademark sense of natural wonder to UFOs; at the other, Danzig's "Deep" is just grey and doomy.

In between are more cryptic responses: the arch-conspiracy-theorist William Burroughs doodle-drones his way over REM's "Star Me Kitten"; PM Dawn are in typically hazy, ethereal mode with the abductee hymn "If You Never Say Goodbye"; and Elvis Costello and Brian Eno offer a studied, numbly rational impression of outsider alienation on the six-minute "My Dark Life". None, though, can really hold a candle to Cave's "Red Right Hand" in capturing the show's sense of fatalistic futility: it's a shared soul thing between him and Carter, like dark companions stumbling across each other's paths.