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David Bowie: Outside (RCA, CD/LP/tape). A funny thing about David Bowie fans is that they're always going on about how he's a chameleon, and how he re-invents himself for each record. But then when he releases a new album they all start comparing it with his past glories. Here the key words appear to be "late Seventies, Eno-produced, Berlin period". References of a less historical nature can be made to all the young dudes that Bowie has been associating with recently: Tricky, the muttering madman of Bristol trip-hop; and Trent Reznor, the industrial-noise terrorist behind Nine Inch Nails and the startling Natural Born Killers soundtrack. So while some Bowie fans will be pleased to hear him crooning some accessible songs (and a few unlistenable ones) in all the different voices he has used over the years, those in the mood for something more adventurous will be captivated by the jagged, Talking-Heads-gone-techno, Blade Runner soundscape that he and co-producer Brian Eno have created. Or else you can just admire Mike Garson's grandiose piano sprawls, and Reeves Gabrels's jarring guitar. The fact that it is all wrapped up in "A Hyper Cycle" - which is not a really good bike, but a cyberpunk story about a gumshoe investigating an "art-ritual murder"- doesn't prevent Outside from being Bowie's best album since whenever it was he last made a decent record. Nicholas Barber

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince: The Gold Experience (Warner, CD/LP/tape). Prince is another of those stars whom everyone remembers as being fantastic, but who never gets around to releasing fantastic records. The Gold Experience even resembles Outside in that the songs are linked together by sci-fi monologues. Unlike the Bowie album, however, TGE does not mark an exciting career renaissance. It claims to be a break from the past - "Prince esta morto" says a voice on the record, just to remind us - but it sounds like Prince to me. Good Prince, sometimes. But diluted Prince, more often. It's an eclectic selection of rowdy hip-hop, singalong college rock, spring- taut funk, and Prince's favourite subject. On "Shhh" he whispers to his ladyfriend: "Sex is not all I think about/ It's just all that I think about you." Very reassuring, I'm sure. "I Hate U" is a remarkably bilious stew of love and loathing, the wicked brother of "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World". "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" remains a sun-dappled pop classic, for all its over-enthusiastic sound effects: "tears of joy ... (plop!) ... can't get through hours (tick tick tick!) ... if the stars ever fell ... (zoom!)" etc. It sounds as if Prince has spent too long tinkering in the studio. Indeed, the effort that has gone into the production tends to be its undoing, in that even the heavily sexual material ends up sounding antiseptic and plastic. "Be wild," he says. If only he would. Overall, the presence of some 24-carat music makes the fool's gold all the more frustrating. When he's good, he's really very good. When he's bad he's downright irritating. NB

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler Symphony, Nobilissima Visione and Symphonic Variations on Themes of Weber. Berlin Philharmonic/Abbado (DG, CD). Received hostility to what critics damn as the academicism of Hindemith still runs high: witness the grudging acknowledgement John Drummond paid to the composer's centenary in the Proms this year. But genius will out, and by the time the centenary observances get seriously under way, with the Royal Opera's November production of Mathis der Maler, I predict some changes of heart - heralded by this superb disc of Hindemith "standards", which serves as a reminder of how invigoratingly unacademic his music can be in the right hands. With strong, controlled direction from Abbado, fulsome playing from the Berlin Philharmonic, and a rich but cleanly engineered sound from DG, the hands here are unequivocally right; I defy any listener not to be won over by the sweeping breadth of Hindemith's melodic energy. If this music has fallen from fashion - and I can't believe there aren't small but significant cells of Hindemith enthusiasts straining at their closet doors - the time has come for reinstatement. Michael White

Money Mark: Mark's Keyboard Repair (Mo' Wax, CD/ LP/tape). With 19 songs at an average length of two minutes each, this debut solo album by the Beastie Boys' carpenter-turned-keyboard-maestro Mark Ramos-Nishita necessarily has a fragmentary feel to it. The overall effect though is entirely fulfilling: the listener glides at will between a happy host of different cocktail hours, while Ramos-Nishita's natty organ doodles conjure up the diverse spirits of US jazz giant Wild Bill Davis and our own legendary Mrs Mills, empress of pub piano. He can sing a bit too, with a nervous croon on the insistent opening "Pretty Pain" and a suave drawl on the beguiling "Got My Hand in Your Head". Best of all, "Insects Are All Around Us" tells you how to tell the temperature by listening to crickets - "Count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and add 40". Ben Thompson