RECORDS

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The Independent Culture
REM: New Adventures in Hi-Fi (Warner, CD/LP/tape). The first time I heard this album, I was shocked by what a stinker it was. That horribly thin, squeaky organ, that childish piano, that lazily thrashing guitar, that out-of-tune singing, and, crucially, that dearth of beautiful melodies. REM seemed desperate to establish that they were still "alternative", and that being the biggest band in the galaxy wouldn't compel them to succumb to commercial pressures. It's a fine sentiment, but not necessarily one that makes for a fine album. And it seems perverse when you remember how gorgeous their production and arrangements have been. The practical reason why this album is an old adventure in lo-fi is that it was taped at soundchecks and in dressing-rooms during last year's Monster tour, when the band were, to use the technical term, mucking about. Hence, it is closest in tone to Dead Letter Office, REM's B-sides compilation, and the songs tend to drag on long after their ideas have left the building. Give it enough listens, though, and you'll learn to love this album as a fresh and invigoratingly unpolished collection of (for the most part) commendable rock songs. REM are too clever to make a disastrous record, and, success breeding success as it does, Hi-Fi will sell millions anyway. But let's not go too far. Some have said that this is their best-ever album (those "some" being largely members and employees of the band). If it were, which songs could you honestly say were better than those on Green or Automatic for the People? "Binky the Doormat"? "Zither"? I don't think so. Nicholas Barber

Neneh Cherry: Man (Hut, CD/LP/tape). If anything, Cherry's first album since 1992's Homebrew is almost too easy to like. Man has something old (rock/soul/ acoustic guitar) and something new (trip hop/samples), something feminist ("Woman") and something sultry ("Kootchi"), and is populated with both familiar faces (Bernard Butler's tortured solo on "Man", Tricky's parched mutterings on "Together Now") and fashionably exotic ones (Youssou N'Dour on the seductive groove of "7 Seconds"). A comfortable, languorous record that won't upset anyone, this Cherry dish is sweet, nourishing and easy to digest. NB

Pet Shop Boys: Bilingual (Parlophone, CD/LP/tape). "Death to Britpop!" Neil Tennant might well be proclaiming in his arch, detached fashion, as he launches a counter-offensive against retro-parochialism, armed with a roomful of technology, and aided by a Russian choir, some gypsy children, a flamenco guitar and a Spanish phrasebook. However, except on the fluttering "Se a vide e", these devices are not quite incorporated into the songs, but balanced on top of the measured and trebly Euro-disco which we've come to expect - and how futuristic or revolutionary is that? Still, Pet Shop Boys fans seem to approve, and there is no doubt that beneath the machines a big heart is beating. NB

Arto Lindsay: O Corpo Sutil / The Subtle Body (Rykodisc, CD). Imagine Lou Reed backed by an industrial version of Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, and you're halfway to the sound of this entrancing album. New York art- rock guitarist Lindsay as brought up in Brazil and he has taken the sand- between-the-toes sound of bossa nova, enrolled colleagues such as Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Bill Frisell to distress it into post-modern form, and set the tunes to his own very effective lyrics and delicate voice. Though the album is indecently short, one track in particular, "Nobody in Bed", is so exquisitely melancholy that you can quite happily play it for hours at a time. Phil Johnson

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