(Circa CIRCD 25)
YOU'D never guess, listening to this week's mainly complacent releases, that the Great British record-buying public is being squeezed by recession and quality is at a premium.
In Neneh Cherry's case, it may simply be the result of working in isolation in her Swedish home studio with her hubby / co-producer, Cameron McVey - perhaps she just doesn't realise how rough things are getting. After all, she's having the time of her life, bringing up her child in relative wealth and security, and bestowing upon the world the fruits of her musical intelligence. Which, roughly, amount to a bunch of extremely simple samples held together with scrappy hip-hop beats, over which she gives the world a damn good talking-to. Some of the ideas here are just embarrassing: fitting the Moonlight Sonata to an ill- matched drum pattern on 'Somedays', for instance, is the kind of thin joke that should have been left as an out-take.
Homebrew may be hipper than her debut album, what with the guest contributions of Michael Stipe and Gang Starr jazz-rapper Guru, but the music lacks the tuneful solidity of songs like 'Buffalo Stance' and 'Manchild', despite the fairly blatant attempt to reprise the latter in the two-chord string-synth pad of 'Move with Me'. There's nothing remotely compelling about the album.
(Epic 472626 2)
MIND YOU, at the side of Sade's first album in four years, Neneh Cherry's seems like the veritable acme of inspiration. Sade's never really attempted to convey anything much beyond a kind of erotic languor, but here her voice lacks any shade of expression beyond basic Astrud Gilberto cocktail-sophisticate vacuity. 'Mama been laid off / Papa been laid off / My brother's been laid off / For more than two years now,' she sings - but judging by her zombie-trance delivery, it's failed to touch her. She seems so far removed from the anger and despair of such a situation that it renders this sort of misfortune little more than a badge of street cred. Appropriately, the song is called 'Feel No Pain'.
However, the foolishness of a cabaret artiste such as Sade trying to connect meaningfully with the negative social effects of a global economic system which has, after all, made her a very rich woman, is most absurdly brought home in 'Pearls', a song about the suffering of a poor Somalian woman who 'lives in a world she didn't choose / and it hurts like brand new shoes'. Oh no] Not that painful, surely?
(EMI CDEMC 3624)
IT MAY be partly due to the five- year gestation period of these songs that this debut album by EMI's Great Black Hope, Tasmin Archer, soars effortlessly above the latest offerings from Neneh Cherry and Sade; but a large part of its success is surely the result of her refusal to be bound by the limited career options the music business habitually offers black female singers. None of these songs panders to the dancing-queen or soft- soul archetypes, though there's more genuine soul in Archer's voice than any of the legions of Paulas and Whitneys and Mariahs churned out by the American music industry.
The team of stylists presumably drafted in to work on Tasmin's image has tried to emphasise her difference with an unusual wardrobe of ill-fitting jackets and trousers and clumpy lace-up boots, though these do scant justice to the craft and sheer grace of her voice and her songs, which range from the euphoric pop swells of 'Arienne' and 'The Higher You Climb' to more considered approaches to love, recession, child abuse and space travel, the latter on the current No 1 single 'Sleeping Satellites'.
Credit must be shared with her co-writers John Beck and John Hughes, who have ensured that no song is allowed to pass without at least a hook or two and a serviceable chorus - elements conspicuously absent from both the Sade and Cherry albums. A definite contender for debut album of the year.
(Island CID 9997-514 052-2)
THINGS have come to a pretty pass when a batty old head like Julian Cope provides one of the week's more inspired albums, but these days Cope's found a new lease of creative life in his Mother Earth fixation and what he calls his 'megalithomania', combing the countryside for stone circles and ploughing his own peculiar new-age furrow.
Jehovahkill - whose title perhaps refers to the Judaeo-Christian repression of our natural pagan energies and inclinations; or perhaps to the kicking Cope hands out here to the deity - is a three-sided album (the first since Johnny Winter's Second Winter, I believe). The tripartite structure is reflected on the CD, which is divided into sections marking the singer's progress from disaffection, through search, to affirmation, or something like that. The CD booklet, decorated with photos and diagrams of megaliths and tumuli, attempts to reclaim the cross as a pre-Christian symbol of man the divine, while each of the pieces - these aren't songs as such, more like propositions and musings set to music - is allowed to find its own shape and extension. It's consequently more of a piece than Peggy Suicide, but without that album's extreme highs and lows.
Most tracks begin as simple acoustic guitar jabberings - like the introductory, self-explanatory 'Soul Desert' - but grow through overdub accretions, some into retro-hippy jams of boundless cosmicity like 'Necropolis', some into rave chants like 'Poet Is Priest'. Others, like 'The Subtle Energies Commission', don't add up to a whole lot more than a few phased drums and splashes of reverbed keyboard, with Cope muttering the album title occasionally. But there's an odd wholeness to the project, the kind of result only possible when an artist takes a flier and pursues his personal vision, heedless of fashion.
(Parlophone CDPCSD 121)
FOR this their fans waited faithfully for over two years? Having sat out the baggy Madchester years, establishing themselves instead in America, The Sundays finally release the album they've presumably sweated blood over in the interim, and . . . it's identical in almost every respect to their debut, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Which is to say, it's a textbook indie blend of fey vocals, Smiths guitar progressions, and the occasional vault into the kind of refracted nebulosity the Cocteau Twins have made their own.
This may be just what their fans want. Heaven knows, the British indie scene long since gave up any pretence to 'progression', settling instead into the kind of cosy conservatism for which it used to deride heavy metal - now, ironically, a vastly more interesting and experimental genre.
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