RECORDS

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The Independent Culture
ROCK

Baby Bird: Ugly Beautiful (Echo, CD/LP/tape). With a vast arsenal of celestial melodies to draw upon, what more obvious step than to write a couple of extended tune-free rants that only your mother's dog would want to listen to? The two longest tracks on this vengeful cornucopia of a debut - the self-explanatory "Jesus Was My Girlfriend" and the awesomely splenetic anti-music-industry rant "King Bing" - are signally lacking in the dulcet virtues of the rest. Fortunately, 13 exquisitely bittersweet pop confections remain to prove that Baby Bird are part of the solution, not the problem. Ben Thompson

Phil Collins: Dance Into the Light (Face Value, CD/LP/tape). You want to parade your objectivity and your open, generous mind; you want to be controversial and swim against the tide. Just because the critics hate Phil Collins's music, you reason, doesn't mean this record is terrible. Then you listen to it, and you have to conclude that, yes, it is. It is the usual weedy, po-faced, repetitive pap that has sold 84 million albums to coffee-table owners around the world. The only novelties are that he tries some of the African rhythms that Paul Simon imported a decade ago, and he makes reference to his elders and much betters: "It's in Your Eyes" has a thin, 1980s attempt at Byrds-y guitar; "Love Police" lifts a melody- line from "Hey, Mr Tambourine Man"; and the album finishes with a vapid, soft-rock cover of "The Times They Are A-Changin' ", complete with the bagpipe solo it was always crying out for. A record to put on while you're doing the Hoovering, or something equally noisy. Nicholas Barber

CLASSICAL

Puccini: La Boheme. Alagna, Vaduva, Hampson, Philharmonia Orch/ Pappano (EMI, two CDs). Alagna yet again, supplying stylishly on disc the role he failed to deliver at Covent Garden this month (because of the familiar problem of a young voice overwhelmed by too much work). Where recent live performances have been tame, the voice positively blossoms in the studio: a mite competitive but ultimately comfortable alongside the enchanting Vaduva, whose fresh and fragile beauty makes her just as desirable a Mimi as Angela Gheorghiu. Thomas Hampson bathes Marcello in his big, all-American personality; and Antonio Pappano is, for my money, the most impressive young Puccini conductor to have appeared for a long while. Glossy but good. Michael White

JAZZ

Annie Whitehead: Naked (EFZ, CD). Not many trombonists bare their bum on the sleeve of their albums, but Whitehead backs up her cheek with uplifting, skanking rhythms and percussive momentum that follow the dictates of her two, late dedicatees, Dudu Pukwana and John Stephens. Whitehead's own playing is emphatically rootsy and full of fat licks, though the keyboards, guitar and bass occasionally conspire to sound a little cheesy. Phil Johnson

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