RECORDS: NEW RELEASES

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The Independent Culture
Pretenders: The Isle of View (Warner, CD/tape/ video). I'd prefer an album of new material, but in the meantime this beautiful Greatest Hits collection will do fine. It borrows the acoustic-concert format copyrighted by MTV, without the stamp of the MTV logo - a trick last performed by Chrissie Hynde's ex-boyfriend's band, the Kinks. Three factors elevate The Isle of View above a time-marking fill-in. First, Hynde is such a down-the-line rocker that an acoustic set is a radical experiment. Second, Pretenders songs tend to be tuneful enough to respond gracefully to acoustic guitars, a well-judged string quartet, a simple harmonium - and, on "I Go to Sleep", Damon Albarn clumping away at the piano for no apparent reason other than to boost sales to Blur fans. Third, two weeks ago in this paper Elvis Costello judged Hynde to be "one of the greatest pop singers who ever lived". With few distractions from her vibrato moan here, The Isle of View is one of the best possible places to be to see his point. Nicholas Barber

Finn: Finn (Parlophone, CD/tape). Tim Finn is a born-again lo-fi devotee. His "supergroup", Alt, make deliberately unpolished music, and now he and his brother Neil (of Crowded House and Split Enz) are doing the same. As fraternal mucking about goes, you can't complain. Some of the melodies and harmonies may have you thinking that this is what the Beatles would have sounded like if they'd come from Down Under. Experiencing it live after a couple of tinnies, you imagine, would be great. But all too often it tips from rough'n' ready to rough, and there are a few songs that should have been saved for their Christmas get-togethers. A proper recording next time, please. NB

mZiq: In Pine Effect (Hi-Rise, CD/2LPs). The highest-profile release yet from Mike Paradinas, Wimbledon's wizard of twiddle, is unfortunately also his least focused. Where his previous albums - Bluff Limbo and Tango N'Vectif - pushed back the boundaries of electronic music without losing a distinct sense of their own identity, this one gets bogged down over the course of its 78 minutes. It would be a more effective record four or five tracks shorter, as at his best - in the delightfully jaunty "Roy Castle", or weaving a magic carpet out of two strands from Kristin Hersh's "Your Ghost" on "Phiesope" - Paradinas is a world-beater. Ben Thompson

Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage. Royal Opera/Colin Davis (Lyrita, 2CDs). And about time too. This famous recording of Sir Michael Tippett's first and, without doubt, finest opera was made in 1970 and issued by Philips the following year. Then it was deleted, the tapes were sold to the small Lyrita label, and nothing more was heard - leaving this bizarre but beautifully seductive score entirely unavailable, despite protests from every corner of the British musical establishment. To have it back and, at last, on CD is a timely joy because Covent Garden have a new production of the opera coming up next January; but they'll be hard-pushed to better the 1970 cast, which skims the cream of British singers of the time. Alberto Remedios is caught in his prime as Mark, the tenor lead. Stuart Burrows, Helen Watts, Elizabeth Harwood and Raimund Herincx give strong support. And Colin Davis is - as he remains - the most persuasive of all Tippett's champions. The result is in its way a period document, but with a brilliance and vitality that doesn't date. Michael White

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