RECORDS / Cuddly to muddly: Andy Gill on the soft, the slick, the elemental, the grungey and the plain old weird

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The Independent Culture
THE BELOVED

Conscience

(eastwest 4509-91483-2)

SUNSCREEM

O3

(Sony Soho Square 472218 2)

THE belated follow-up to the excellent Happiness finds The Beloved - now reduced to Jon Marsh and his wife Helena - still offering reassuring feel- good sentiments in soothing soft-pop settings, long after the second Summer of Love receded into a drug-deranged trudge round England's brown and muddy fields.

Titles like 'Spirit', 'Paradise Found' and 'Sweet Harmony' suggest the rose-coloured worldview and warm-bath music of Conscience; but the sound of the zeitgeist has shrunk from expansive acid house to the totalitarian brutalism of techno, which gives The Beloved an anachronistic feel. There are small developments on some tracks - the soul-power organ of 'Paradise Found', soaring like a cosmic Jimmy Smith, and the predatory erotic tread of 'Lose Yourself In Me', which could be Depeche Mode - but for the most part the album bombs you with fluffy love.

Despite playing real instruments and coming out of the rave culture, Essex band Sunscreem are different from the indie / dance formula bands who flourished briefly in the wake of Happy Mondays: in place of the rough 'n' ready indie aesthetic, a slicker professionalism is at work on O3 (the chemical formula for ozone).

In their favour, the singer Lucia Holm offers a more substantial presence than the usual piecemeal sampled squeals, and is less restricted by the genre's ersatz soul preoccupations. On the debit side, they're still using the same old three-chord keyboard vamp that is the techno equivalent of punk's musical primitivism, though applying it with greater sophistication. While the blend of textures has greater depth than is usual with modern dance music, it's still a small idea writ much larger than needed.

EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN

Tabula Rasa

(Mute BETON 106 CD)

WITH Tabula Rasa, the one- time industrial metal-bangers Einsturzende Neubauten move from the workshop into the open air, drawing on even more elemental forces to forge their music. 'Wuste' ('Desert'), a track inspired by the Gulf war, uses the sounds of sand, stone and burning oil and sounds uncannily like Gavin Bryars' Sinking of the Titanic, incorporating massive, slow-moving tectonic plates of sound, with whispered vocals seeping to the surface. Their method gives them room for huge, Ubu-esque swings of mood, from the martial metallic stomp of 'Interim' and the scouring 'Headcleaner' to the subtlest of tone-poems.

Equally importantly, the sound experiments of the re- formed Neubauten are more orderly and attractive than before: there's more than merely theoretical beauty to Tabula Rasa, despite the predilection for operatic forms and declamatory vocals which is part of the legacy of the German avant-garde / Expressionist tradition. Highly recommended.

DINOSAUR JR

Where You Been

(Blanco Y Negro 4509-91627-2)

ALONG with Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr were the godfathers of grunge, early exponents of grey retro-punk riffing and 'slacker' attitudes that characterise the genre. Olympians of apathy, they naturally found it difficult to raise any enthusiasm for a follow-up to their debut album Green Mind, which is why the long overdue Where You Been arrives fortuitously at the peak of the grunge fad, when in the normal course of events they would have split up by now.

Whether they deserve such luck is another matter. The first whiney croak from singer J Mascis indicates the slacker presumptions are still in full effect. The music here, and the sub-Edvard Munch sleeve illustrations, suggest an assumption of terminal cultural failure. It's only a fanciful romantic notion of spoilt middle-class brats, of course, but the longer one peers into the abyss, the closer it gets. Don't they have any good dreams to share?

JULIAN COPE & DONALD ROSS SKINNER

Rite

(Ma-Gog 1)

DESPITE his high profile over the last few years, Julian Cope has suffered enduringly average sales, and after this tangential project with long-time collaborator / producer Donald Ross Skinner they're likely to be more average than ever.

Bumped from Island in the great recession clear-out, Cope's like the actor between jobs who mounts his own fringe production just to be seen to be working: hence the independent mail-order album Rite, in which Cope's current stone-circle obsession is used as the hook for four long, drearily repetitive pieces.

It must have taken at least an afternoon to knock out: 'In Search Of Ancient Astronomies' is a backward loop with drums and electronic rumblings over the top; 'Amethysteria' is a rhythm track, with wisps of string synthesiser rolling along interminably. It's the kind of artefact that serves as a gauge of your audience's gullibility, like Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, and strictly musical considerations have no place in such peer-group bonding ceremonies. Just as well, really.

Available from Rite Offer, KAK Ltd, 7 Ivebury Court, Latimer Road, London W10 6RA. CD pounds 12.50, cassette pounds 8.50. Cheques made payable to KAK Ltd.

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