RECORDS: NEW RELEASES

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The Independent Culture
Elvis Costello: Kojak Variety (Warner, CD/tape). This contribution to the year's already Himalayan pile of cover albums was in fact recorded at the end of 1990. Costello put the whole thing together in two weeks in Barbados after the Mighty Like a Rose sessions, and is releasing it now as a stop-gap between Attractions records. Compiled and arranged with the obsessive admiration of a helpless music fan, the material ranges from 1930 to 1970, from nightclub ballad to R'n'B, from Willie Dixon to Holland/Dozier/Holland to Bob Dylan to Ray Davies. It may seem odd that Costello is releasing an album of other people's material when his identity is predicated on his own. But, faced with a choice between his own finicky songs (which tend to squeeze in so many words and instrumental frills that the melody is squeezed out) and these relaxed beauties, I'd go for Kojak Variety almost every time. Any doubts about Costello's vocal ability evaporate straight away. He is strangled and soulful on "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face", hedonistic on "Bama Lama Bama Loo", lewd on "Pay-day", and tender on "The Very Thought of You". Everywhere, his phrasing and accents are those of an expert. The musicians are of a similar calibre, and the very mention of their names will have Mojo readers salivating: country-rock veteran James Burton (who played with Elvis mark one) and art-rocker Marc Ribot are on guitar; Pete Thomas (of the Attractions) shares drumming duties with the ubiquitous Jim Keltner; and the wonderful Larry Knechtel is on keyboards. You pesky young fans of jungle-ragga-grunge-whatnot may argue that there is nothing new about this album, and you'd be right. It's not ashamed to be an old-fashioned classic. Nicholas Barber

Pavement: Wowee Zowee (Big Cat, CD/LP/ tape). So many of the best records take two or three listens to get to grips with; this one takes seven or eight. Not content to bob along in Nirvana's sad wake, Pavement paddle off in 10 different directions at once. "There is no castration fear," croons Stephen Malkmus, in the languid opening "We Dance". No, I'm not quite sure what he means either. But if at first this album feels like a wilful retreat back into art-house obscurity after the pop thrill of last year's Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, a more cunning directorial masterplan soon emerges. It is fun putting these fragments back together. The melody and wit have not been lost amid the squeals and guitar bombast, they're just buried a little deeper, so when you finally dig them up, you've earned the right to enjoy them. Ben Thompson

The London Punkharmonic Orchestra: Classical Punk (Music Collection, CD/ tape). "Pretty Vacant", "Teenage Kicks" and 16 other snot-nose pop classics played for the first time as they were always meant to be - by an orchestra! BT

Various: Routes from the Jungle (Virgin, CD/LP/tape). Invaluable jungle route-map. No pith helmet required. BT

Various: Sturm und Twang! (Big Cat, CD). A compilation of German alternative rock. Playful, danceable and proudly lo-fi. NB

Supergrass: Lenny (Parlophone, single). Oxford's official Next Big Things get more manic than ever. And a nice picture of penguins on the cover. NB

Perez "Prez" Prado & His Orchestra: Gua-glione (RCA, single). From the Guinness ad, a slice of pure genius: an irresistible big-band mambo number. Jack Hughes

NEW RELEASES

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