RECORDS

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McAlmont & Butler: The Sound of Mc-Almont & Butler (Hut, CD/LP/tape). Being the dynamic duo's two singles, "Yes" and "You Do", with the eight B-sides that were spread over the various formats, and one new track. The music was written, produced and almost entirely played by Bernard Butler, formerly the guitarist of Suede and a fellow whose progress, from Suede's debut, through Dog Man Star, to this, has been positively Beatles- esque in its swiftness. Here he has crafted some gorgeous pop - rich, luxurious and grandiose - and, in contrast with the weirdness of Suede's last album, the excesses to which he is prone are balanced by David McAlmont's limpid lyrics and awesome, skyscraping-yet-tender soprano. The arrangements vary from just vocals and hymnal organ on "You'll Lose a Good Thing" to the orchestral fireworks of "Yes", with plenty of wild guitar in between. And all "at a special value price". Now, it seems, Mac & Bernie can't decide whether to dissolve their partnership or not. Maybe it would be more poetic if they did, so that this album could stand as an unsullied classic. Spoil yourself. Nicholas Barber

Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks: Orange Crate Art (Warner, CD/tape). It is rather poignant that this illustrious pairing - who last worked together on Smile, the Beach Boys' mythically abortive attempt at a riposte to Sergeant Pepper - should time the release of their next collaboration to coincide with the apex of Beatles necrophile brouhaha. The 10 original songs here are Parks' alone, as are the production and the arrangements, but the vocals are unmistakably - at times almost disturbingly - Wilsonian. In fact on highlights like the bizarre title track and the stirring "San Francisco", he sounds more like himself than he did on his own recent solo comeback record. And if a more authentically odd record than this lyrical tribute to the Californian male menopause has been released this year, then I haven't heard it. Ben Thompson

Mussorgsky: Song cycles and songs (Songs and Dances of Death, etc). Anatoli Safiulin, bass; Nikolai Demidenko, piano (Hyperion, CD only). Here are some of the most depressing songs ever written: "no life lived without its sorrow"; cradle songs crooned by Death, not mother; and if the Reaper's out of action, there are "the tears, the parting, the grief!" to fall back on. But how inspirational the Russian blues can be: harmonic wildness, Slavic Debussyism, settings short in length but operatic in scope. Anatoli Safiulin is a forbidding, dark-toned bass so very Russian you almost wonder if he's kidding. His "Song of the Flea" ("Ha! Ha! A flea? Ha! Ha! Ha!') is majestic hammery, while Demidenko is impressive and unrestrained. Good, miserable stuff. Dermot Clinch

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