Records: New releases

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The Independent Culture
Sinead O'Connor: Universal Mother (Ensign, CD/LP/tape). Apart from shredding photos of the Pope, huffing out of tribute concerts and guesting with Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel, what has she actually done since 'Nothing Compares 2 U'? This album is the answer, and it's a complete vindication. All her turmoil about child abuse, woman abuse and Ireland abuse is here in black and white. Universal Mother puts its cards on the table with an opening speech from Germaine Greer, and kicks into the strident funk of 'Fire on Babylon'. Sweetness follows in two exquisite lullabies, kept from sickliness by their honesty and the quiet clarity of the instrumentation. 'Red Football' is 'Wooden Heart' taken to extremes, starting winsome but growing into a terrifying rock opera, and the intensity is kept up by Nirvana's 'All Apologies'. As a low guitar lurks, O'Connor's fragile voice barely contains the anguish that explodes in Kurt Cobain's rendition. After that, the materials get back to your basic loveliness, which is something of a relief, before the roused finale of 'Famine', a Republican rap, and the frail 'Thankyou for Hearing Me'. A harrowing and beautiful album. Nicholas Barber

Blondie: Blondie / Plastic Letters / Autoamerican / The Hunter. Deborah Harry: Rockbird / Def Dumb & Blonde (all Chrysalis, CD). These re-released albums may be known as the ones which aren't Parallel Lines or Eat to the Beat, but there are no duffers among them, and Blondie stands with Television's Marquee Moon and Talking Heads 77 as one of the enduring classics to burst from New York's CBGB scene. It's an inspired, busy, theatrical album, driven by the dynamic interplay of Clem Burke's rolling drums, Jimmy Destri's fairground organ and Harry's sassy, brassy voice. Plastic Letters is almost as good, and by Autoamerican they've reached their renowned disco phase. You can tell from her exploding hairdo on The Hunter's cover that things were going wrong by then, but it's still a swansong worth hearing. And even the solo albums are more than decent pop records. NB

Steve Swallow: Real Book (Xtrawatt, CD/ tape). Straightforward hard bop in the Blue Note idiom is hard to avoid these days; your local burger restaurant is probably playing some right now. But seldom is it done with as much cunning and imagination as tenorist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Tom Harrell, pianist Mulgrew Miller, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Swallow display here. The key is the quality of Swallow's composing: in another time, several of these tunes would have become jazz standards. Richard Williams

THE IoS PLAYLIST

THE BEST SOUNDS OF THE MOMENT

Peter Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse. BBC Phil/Davies (Collins, CD). Clarity, conviction and chilling atmosphere. Michael White

Suede: We Are the Pigs (Nude, single). Bernard Butler's last stand. Sounds like the sleazy 'Animal Nitrate'. And why not?NB

Oasis: Definitely Maybe (Creation, CD/LP/ tape). Never mind how little they try to say, listen to those guitars. NB

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Sleeps with Angels (Warner, CD/LP/tape). Archetypal Young, but still full of surprises. NB

Bryan Ferry: Mamouna (Virgin, CD/LP/ tape). Ten new songs, done with a croon, a swoon and an ear for a tune. Tim de Lisle

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