RECORDS : NEW RELEASES
The The: Hanky Panky (Epic, out tomorrow) and Various: Beat the Retreat (Capitol, CD/LP/tape). Tribute albums have come a long way since the days when a gang of non-entity indie bands would take it in turns to bash out Rolling Stones tracks. Hanky Panky comprises 11 Hank Williams songs, including some obscurities, interpreted by Matt Johnson's The The. Can't be bad, really. And it's not: Williams is an evergreen American classic, and The The's current incarnation are authentic, brooding rockers. However, the bombastic arrangements sometimes pull in different directions from the simple songs, and Williams' words don't always benefit from Johnson's muttering. The Richard Thompson tribute, Beat the Retreat, seems less distorted. The best proponent of Richard Thompson's material may be Richard Thompson, but such is its range that the 16 artists featured could - on their best days - have written the songs they cover themselves. REM's "Wall of Death" could be an original, as could the jittery "Just the Motion" by David Byrne, Graham Parker's rootsy rock'n'roll "The Madness of Love", and Bonnie Raitt's country ballad "When the Spell is Broken". What we have then is a grown-up rock anthology consistent in song quality if diverse in style. Thompson thinks that the mix will alienate listeners, but for me the pleasure lies in the celtic trills of June Tabor's a cappella "Genesis Hall" leading into Dinosaur Jr's twisted, grungey "I Misunderstood". In fact, it sags only during the last few tracks, when the tempo does not vary enough, culminating in Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy's seven- minute dirge, "The Great Valerio". Otherwise, a tasty smorgasbord. Nicholas Barber
Schoenberg: Erwartung, Kammersymphonie No 1, Variations for Orchestra. CBSO/Simon Rattle, Phyllis Bryn-Julson (EMI, CD). Rattle proves yet again that hard-core modernism can be radiant and rewarding in the right hands. Michael White
Various Artists: S4C Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack, Vol 1 (ATOL, EP). The seven-inch EP lives! Four intriguing tracks from new Welsh-language talent. BT
Annie Lennox: No More `I Love You's (RCA, single). No one else has such depth, such reach, such an ability to make you feel that this gravely beautiful record (a cover of a song by The Lover Speaks) has been haunting your life for years. Richard Williams
Carter USM: Worry Bomb (Chrysalis, CD/LP/tape). Back from the darkest depths of critical disdain with an explosion of lucid social commentary and classic scruff rock. NB
Belly: King (4AD, CD/LP/tape). A right royal follow-up to Star. Sparkling, skewiff and impossible to dislike. NB
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