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NICHOLAS BARBER

Pretenders: Viva El Amor (Warner)

"They don't make 'em like they used to," sighs Chrissie Hynde on Viva El Amor's cracking opening track, " Star", as she grinds today's wannabes beneath her heel. But there's no doubt that she makes records like she used to. The Pretenders' last studio album came out five years ago, and their methods have altered since then as little as Hynde's hairstyle and eye make-up. Not that there's anything wrong with another batch of spiky, sharp-tongued, radio-friendly guitar-pop songs, and the Pretenders definitely show Geri and Natalie and co how it's done. But this album is not quite the event it should have been after so long a wait. While 1994's Last of the Independents leapt out of the speakers, the production on Viva El Amor is comparatively thin and lacklustre. It's really only Hynde's unique voice, caught between a sneer and a sob, that gives the functional music its personality.

Jazz

PHIL JOHNSON

Julius Hemphill: Blue Boye (Screwgun, ScrewU 70008, distributed by New Note)

The late American saxophonist Hemphill (a co-founder of the fabulous World Saxophone Quartet) recorded this remarkable double album of solo improvisations in 1977, in a basement studio so cold he kept his coat on while playing. Originally released on Hemphill's own, impeccably obscure, label, it sank without trace - literally so, as the master tapes have disappeared. His protege Tim Berne has now painstakingly re-mastered it from existing vinyl copies and put it out on his own eminently collectable label, whose distinctive "poor- art" style of graphics and packaging are among the most impressive of all attempts to make the CD format look as good as it sounds. The music - a kind of artist's sketchbook of often inspired doodles - is sometimes "difficult" but Hemphill plays with great beauty and feeling, at times recalling the unforced brilliance of Charlie Parker.

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