RECORDS

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The Independent Culture
Rock

Blur: Blur (Food, CD/LP/tape). Blur are in a no-lose situation. If you point out that their new album has fewer great songs than usual - "On Your Own" and "Death of a Party" being the most striking exceptions - and that some of their lo-fi arrangements are self-indulgently lazy, then they will just argue that they've made a challenging record which makes no concessions to the market-place. Which is true - if you don't count the US indie marketplace. There is not a single trumpet parp to be heard on Blur, and stories about stifled suburban nobodies have been ousted by inchoate lyrics, vocals that ring with dictaphone distortion, and lots of Graham Coxon's wonderfully warped and ramshackle guitar. The irony is that this Pavement approach will date faster than the supposedly old- fashioned methods of Parklife. One pretty song, written and played by Coxon, is a fuzzy, distant demo that would have fitted on a Beatles' Anthology. In years to come, he'll wish he'd taken the time to tart it up. Whether or not the album is a bold flouting of expectations or a cowardly retreat from the Britpop fray, it does sound irreverent, invigorating and irrepressibly creative, and the band's trademark diversity has not been lost. Blur's expertise now is such that even their most sloppy work is more interest- ing than some of their rivals' best efforts. Nicholas Barber

CLASSICAL

Robert Carver: Missa Dum Sacrum Mysterium/O Bone Jesu. The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (Collins Classics, CD only). Surveys of British music tend to forget that there was a time when Scotland had its own monarchy, its own Chapel Royal, and an artistic service industry which flowered with brief but spectacular distinction during the early-16th-century reign of James IV. James's composer-in-chief was Robert Carver, a monk from Scone and a polyphonist of rare accomplishment. Half a millennium on, his music has begun to filter back into notice; and this disc establishes his credentials in forthright terms, with ravishing accounts of the big, richly textured mass Dum Sacrum Mysterium and the extraordinary 19-part antiphon, O Bone Jesu. As always, The Sixteen provide immaculate ensemble-singing, finely balanced and with sensitivity to text. For anyone unfamiliar with this corner of unaccompanied choral repertory, Carver makes an off-centre but inspiring place to start. Michael White

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