RECORDS: Skunk Anansie: Paranoid and Sunburnt

Skunk Anansie: Paranoid and Sunburnt (One Little Indian, CD/LP/tape, out tomorrow). Still only 19 months old, London four-piece Skunk Anansie can already lay claim to a Bjork collaboration, an upcoming Hollywood film cameo, and a file of press cuttings bulkier than the Sunday Times. As this attention is largely due to a dangerously energetic live show, and the novelty value of a skinhead black lesbian singer, the obvious question must be: does the band stand up on a purely aural level? The obvious answer is yes. The political lyrics whack you as hard as a pneumatic drill, and the music whacks you as hard as the politics. I know from personal experience that to compare their "skunk rock" to heavy metal is to ask for violent reprisal - and the traces of fat funk bass, ska drumming and gospel backing vocals certainly distort the genre's definition - but it's no coincidence that they have been voted Band of the Year by metal mag Kerrang!. But those who dare to stick with it will come across melodies as nagging and distinct as those of any Britpopper, and an extraordinary voice that shivers, sulks and screams within the space of one angry sentence. And if it sounds as if the guitarist was being wrestled to the floor by the singer during the recording process, that's because he was. Nicholas Barber

John Coltrane: The Heavyweight Champion - The Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino/Atlantic Jazz Gallery, seven-CD box set). Trane's "Giant Steps" is one of the canonical texts of jazz modernism, and mastering its tricky changes is an essential rite of passage for all aspiring saxophone players - some students have even learnt to play it backwards and found that it still sounds right. With nine versions of the track in this completist box (including seven false starts and incomplete takes consigned to the final "out-takes" CD), you'd think that the tune would begin to pall; but, astonishingly, it still commands your attention. As do the seven versions of "Naima", one of the most beautiful ballads ever recorded. The inclusion of alternative versions as part of the unfolding narrative of the master's two-and-a-bit years at Atlantic, disturbs the eternal verities of the listening experience quite a lot, but in a labour of love this intensive (with gorgeous pictures, facts and info in the accompanying booklet) most people who buy it will be happy at the trainspotter's fetish for detail. And the inclusion of relative rarities, such as the versions of Ornette Coleman's "Focus on Sanity" and "The Invisible" (with Don Cherry on trumpet and Ed Blackwell on drums), as well as the first, classic recording of "My Favourite Things", with McCoy Tyner on piano and Elvin Jones on drums, takes this box set to the top of any serious jazz fan's Christmas-present list. Phil Johnson

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