RECORDS / The smug and the paranoid: Lindsey Buckingham - Out of the Cradle (Mercury 512 658-2); Glenn Frey - Strange Weather (MCA MCD10599)

WHEN the former creative mainsprings of mega-grossing West Coast harmony groups get round to releasing solo albums, the potential smugness quotient can reach toxic levels. At its worst, it's as if commercial success afforded a greater insight into world problems and higher consciousness than that of mere mortals. The situation is just about avoided here by Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac), but is vaulted into feet-first by Frey (The Eagles).

Other strange coincidences link the two: both, for instance, work with a sole collaborator; and both choose to preface some of their songs with little instrumental preludes which serve as plinths, the better to gaze upon the ensuing artwork. Both, too, claim their current albums showcase their guitar work more than previous outings. But from there, the two diverge, their musical differences signalled by their widely differing characters.

Frey is an outdoors kinda guy, an all-skiing, all-golfing, home- run-hitting sports nut whose obsession with games has run to caddying on the PGA tour and appearing on sports programmes as a trivia buff. The view from his Colorado home is reassuringly straightforward, comprising routine social griping like 'Love in the 21st Century' (impersonal sex); tired old sex-as-food metaphors like 'Delicious'; and escapist fantasies like 'River of Dreams'. At its most aware, a song like 'He Took Advantage (Blues for Ronald Reagan)' begins as a standard lament for love betrayed, and ends with a conclusion specifically aimed at ol' sleepyhead: 'And now he's walking away / He doesn't care what we say / We weren't too hard to deceive / We wanted so to believe'. At its least aware, 'I've Got Mine' is Frey's 'Another Day in Paradise', a scold for the rich in a world marked by poverty, another case of blasting away at one's own foot in the name of self- righteousness.

Buckingham, on the other hand, is a shy, reclusive type. Many of his songs deal with loneliness and paranoia, without making grand claims for themselves as lessons to set the world to rights. Musically, Out of the Cradle is more varied and interesting than Strange Weather (and the last Fleetwood Mac LP, come to that), ranging from the Chris Isaak- styled rock classicism of 'Street of Dreams' to the Latin pop of 'Soul Drifter', an almost too deliberate stab at a summer-holiday song. There's even a lighter re-run of Buckingham's 'Big Love' riff, for a song called 'Doing What I Can' - which is only fair do's, seeing as the original was a solo piece generously donated to keep the Mac's Tango in the Night afloat.

The dominant influence, though, is Brian Wilson, whose footprints are all over the album, from the aching ballad 'All My Sorrows' to the over-dubbed vocals of 'Say We'll Meet Again', from the preoccupation with introvert tendencies to the photos of Lindsey in situ in the studio, a lonely boy finding succour through his toys. This is Buckingham's Pet Sounds, and it very nearly lives up to it, too.

DR JOHN

Goin' Back to New Orleans

(Warner Bros 7599-26940-2)

AS THE title implies, Goin' Back to New Orleans is a belated sequel to Dr John's 1972 Gumbo album, on which he anthologised the New Orleans R&B sounds of the Fifties and Sixties. In fact, this is more of a prequel, dealing as it does with the Crescent City's jazz and blues roots, from a rollicking version of Leadbelly's 'Goodnight Irene' up to Fats Domino's 1957 hit 'Blue Monday'.

In between, a varied selection of great names from the city's musical heritage - Jelly Roll Morton, Dave Bartholomew, Joe Liggins, Huey 'Piano' Smith and, of course, the Doctor's piano mentor Professor Longhair - are covered with perhaps a little too much care and respect. The high spots come early on, in the Mardi Gras Indian tune 'My Indian Red', with its sinuously syncopated rumba rhythms, and in the opening 'Litanie des Saints', which co-opts the Neville Brothers on to a track inspired by the city's 19th-century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. An oddly lush, sophisticated blend of one of Gottschalk's melodies and some typical Indian gris-gris chants, it utilises both African and Catholic litanies, as befits the city's peculiar mix of religions.

JIMMY NAIL

Growing Up in Public

(eastwest 4509-90144-2)

HE'S doubtless a most diamond geezer, and talented screen personality to boot, but it has to be said that vocally a little goes a long way with Jimmy Nail. Not as little, admittedly, as with Dennis Waterman, that other singing street- thesp of cops'n'comedy fame; but beyond the fourth or fifth track, Growing Up in Public strains one's attention to breaking point.

It's not a particularly bad album as such, in that polite Brit-soul mode perfected by Paul Young. Nor indeed is Jimmy's voice that unpleasant, in a fragile, Blue Nile- esque manner, although it is considerably weaker than it seems on the current No 1 single, with its canny reliance on spoken verses and female vocals. When he actually gets round to singing whole songs, it becomes clear that Nail and his writing partners, Guy Pratt and Danny Schogger, are writing at the upper end of Jimmy's register, where he's straining to hold notes and thus unable to devote as much attention to expression. It gives the album an overly restrained feel, lacking in the excitement and abandon of authentic R&B and soul.

There are some nice songs here though, particularly 'Real Love', which sounds like a proper pop standard - Eltonic, even. But 'Only Love (Can Bring Us Home)' tries too hard to be anthemic, as if it's auditioning for a celebrity charity event. Of the celebs - Dave Gilmour, George Harrison, Gary Moore - lending helping hands, only Moore stamps his personality with any real force, the closing 'Absent Friends' acquiring a tougher blues spine from his guitar fills.

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