RECORDS / The ego-friendly approach: Andy Gill reviews new releases from George Harrison, Henry Kaiser & David Lindley, Clint Black and Mariah Carey

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The Independent Culture

Live In Japan

(Warner Bros/Dark Horse 7599- 26964-2)

MORE AND more often these days, big stars behave like corporations, allying and combining to maximise reputations. Eric Clapton is a case in point: sharing a bill with Elton at Wembley, sharing a stage with George Harrison in Tokyo and Osaka.

It's not just a stage he's sharing here, either; Eric's entire band has gone along for the ride, which must have saved George the trouble of putting his own band together and running them through 'Here Comes The Sun' a dozen times. After all, that must be a pretty thankless task even if you are getting the royalties. A pity, then, that Eric didn't save George the bother of turning up at all. For if not entirely old rope, it must be said that the greater part of Live In Japan consists of fairly threadbare twine. Songs are ground out, steamrollered with professionalism; dull craft prevails where a little sparkle is called for; and even George himself seems hard-pressed to summon up much enthusiasm - he comes close to impassioned just once on 'My Sweet Lord', extended here with a coda of Indian deities' names.

Leading off with a trio of Beatles oldies such as 'I Want To Tell You' and 'Taxman', the set is soon languishing in solo-land, a long haul through minor Harrisongs 'Cheer Down', 'Devil's Radio' and 'Dark Horse', before climaxing with that founding statement of the Harrison / Clapton partnership, 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', complete with typically tasty Clapton guitar break. The project feels tired and lazily self-aggrandising, and that's two CDs worth of tired, too. George might well have considered whether this is a proper use of the Earth's resources.


A World Out Of Time

(Shanachie 64041)

IF CLAPTON and Harrison represent the corporate celebrity structure, this alliance between avant-rock guitarist Henry Kaiser and Jackson Browne's slide guitarist David Lindley offers a cottage-industry perspective on matters musical, especially since it features them in collaboration with leading lights of the Malagasy music scene. Originally intending simply to record native musicians, the pair threw off their pith helmets and went native, adding their own parts to the indigenous music where they felt it would help, and teaching the locals songs such as 'I Fought The Law'; at one point, they even have a Malagasy pop group playing an Okinawan folk song.

On one level, the album is an invaluable addition to the Madagaskira compilations of a few years back, presenting the island's rich variety of music, from the poetic public-speaking form, Kabary, to the eclectic African pop of a group such as Rossy. More fascinating, however, are the results of the Malagasy / California collaborations. Kaiser and Lindley's imaginative contributions liven up what might otherwise be just another set of ethnic- music cliches. Particularly effective are the combination of Lindley's distinctive slide guitar with Tarika Sammy's valiha (a kind of tubular zither made of bamboo), and Kaiser's typically oddball solo on Rossy's 'Ambilanao Zaho', which, it is claimed, duplicates the song of the indri lemur, one of the island's native animals. Well I never.


The Hard Way

(RCA 07863660032)

THE UNPRECEDENTED - frankly, absurd - success of Garth Brooks has raised stakes enormously in country music; so instead of merely doing multi- platinum business like his last two albums, Clint Black might reasonably expect The Hard Way to go through the roof. His problem is that he's probably the most talented of the new 'hat acts', and in country, sentimentality has it over quality every time.

Not that Clint's a slouch as regards sentiment; The Hard Way is replete with regret, broken hearts, long hard roads and other staples of the genre, presented with a practised stiff upper lip and lump in the throat. Black's speciality, signified in his debut album title Killin' Time, is in songs that deal with resignation and failure, usually bittersweet bar-room ballads; here, the song 'Buying Time' applies the same principles to marital infidelity, with lines that mash together cliches: 'Maybe we were dealt a losing hand / I'll have to let the cards fall where they may'. It looks like sloppy writing, but in a genre as reliant on commonality as country music is, the closer a song sails to cliche, the better it works: a line such as 'A man has his will but a woman has her way' carries suitcases full of cultural presumptions, but totes them with a jaunty, undercutting irony.


Unplugged EP

(Columbia 471869 2)

THESE SEVEN tracks were recorded as part of an MTV* series in which well-known musicians forgo the use of electric instruments, a winnowing-out process alleviated here by Mariah's use of a seven-piece band abetted by a string quartet, five-piece horn section, and choir.

Basically, the EP serves as an excuse for Mariah to prove it really is her, rather than a studio engineer, doing those stratospheric falsetto squeaks that constitute her Unique Selling Point. It's an impressive little trick, certainly, but is it really necessary to do it quite so often? Likewise, there's no denying the sheer technical facility brought to bear on the set - which includes 'Emotions', 'Vision Of Love' and her latest single, a cover of the old Jackson 5 hit 'I'll Be There' - though its clinical nature is ultimately off-putting: this is the least emotional of supposedly 'emotional' singing and playing. Like the navel-gazing end of jazz- rock fusion, all the emphasis is on technique rather than interpretation, embellishment rather than evocation. So while one can admire her admittedly extraordinary gift, it's hard to be moved by her singing.