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RECORDS: Reviews

George Michael: Older (Virgin, CD/LP/tape). George Michael is in a no-lose situation. He fell out with his last record company, Sony, because they demanded that he produce more commercial material. So if you were to say that Older suffers from a lack of strident tunes, pop- vitality and lyrics that make any sense at all, he could reply with a smile of vindication: "Exactly!" But that's not to say that he's been adventurous enough to alienate his fans; the album sounds as if he wrote, arranged, produced and sung it on tiptoes. "The Strangest Thing" is too close for comfort to Lionel Richie's "Hello". "Spinning the Wheel" is like Portishead playing a Take That ballad, but not as interesting. And for this we've waited five-and-a-half years? As Paul McCartney once said, "Plastic soul". As John Lennon once said, "Musak to my ears". Nicholas Barber

Various Artists: Kids (London, CD/tape). Those already bored with all the fuss about Larry Clark's grisly teenage porn-fest might find solace in this excellent soundtrack album. Far from the usual melange of major- label tat, this is a fine selection of original work from some of the leading lights of the thriving US lo-fi underground. The major player is inspirationally overwrought Sebadoh songsmith Lou Barlow, whose intriguing spin-off group Folk Implosion scored a crossover hit in America with the hypnotic "Natural One", but Daniel Johnston's crazy cameo - in tribute to Casper the Friendly Ghost - all but steals the show. Ben Thompson

Palace Music: Arise Therefore (Domino, CD/LP/tape). On first, second and third hearings, this fourth album from Louisville troubador Will Oldham is a bit of a disappointment, but prolonged exposure to its sombre magic reveals it to be the most extraordinary piece of hardcore introspection since Nick Drake's Pink Moon. Far more austere than last year's Viva Last Blues, this is a record of shadowy absences and dark departures. The music - muted piano, spindly guitar, hopalong bass and occasional drum-machine - is prairie sparse, and Oldham's voice is cracked and parched as a donkey's bridle, but his eloquence refreshes the parts other lyricisms cannot reach. BT

Flynn and Flora: Native Drums (distributed by Vital, CD/LP). Intelligent, spacy, trip-hop drum'n'bass by a Bristolian duo whose roots go back to the Fresh Four's "Wishing on a Star" hit of 1989. Stitched together on the sound-recordist's equivalent of the kitchen table, using an antique sampler and drum machine, the music arranges bits and bobs of jazz, house and movie soundtracks into a satisfyingly ambient whole, while the rhythmic legs whirr round at the customary 160bpm. Phil Johnson