ROCK / RECORDS: Going public with the personal: Andy Gill listens to INXS discovering The Beatles, and Sophie B Hawkins discovering herself

INXS

Welcome to Wherever You Are

(Mercury 512-507-2)

LIKE REM, popular Australian acronym took a bit of a step back after years of sustained touring, immersing themselves in relaxed studio indulgence rather than chasing schedules. The result, Welcome to Wherever You Are, is their very own Out of Time, a work of unusual diversity and confident experimentation. On material which blends styles and influences from a range of sources play with the punch of a soul band. The lyrics, of course, aren't as intriguing or exacting as REM's, but there are compensations in Michael Hutchence's greater adeptness in the ways of erotic obsession. It's their best record by some distance, bristling with pop hooks applied in odd directions.

Beatlish influences are well in evidence, particularly from their most fruitful psychedelic era. The Indian flavour of the opening track 'Questions' - which serves as a declaration of the album's restless nature - renders it rather like one of George's contributions to the Fabs' albums, while the pop-soul ballad 'Not Enough Time' suddenly takes off in a flurry of backward guitars in its middle eight. Clearly, someone's been turning off their minds, relaxing and floating downstream with a vengeance.

The absence, after three hit albums, of producer Chris Thomas means it's both rawer than the usual sound, on straight- ahead rockers like the single 'Heaven Sent' and the lusty 'Taste It', and more adventurously sophisticated. A 60-piece orchestra is drafted into service for the anthemic 'Baby Don't Cry' and the moody finale 'Men and Women'. This last serves almost as a touchstone for the whole album, which finds Hutchence, notwithstanding his bona fide sex-god status, as bewildered as ever by the battle of the sexes. 'Making my own mind up,' he intones bleakly, 'When I can, I will.'

SOPHIE B HAWKINS

Tongues and Tails

(Columbia COL 468823-2)

IN LINE with the prevailing trend in female singer-songwriter circles, Sophie B Hawkins can be quite disconcerting in the unasked-for intimacy with which she dissects her emotions; despite its title, the single 'Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover' is one of the more restrained entreaties on her debut album.

Like some hyperactive, aerated cross between Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks and Madonna, Sophie bares heart, soul and, in the CD booklet, her entire body for our benefit. Which is generous of her, although this compulsion to share the innermost recesses of her mind can leave the listener feeling a bit like an unpaid therapist, as she muses on the age-old conflict between the abandonments of desire and the restraints of social and moral reflection. On 'California Here I Come', she even takes to reciting the Lord's Prayer, just in case we hadn't realised exactly how tortured is her soul.

Musically, the album leans heavily towards the ponderously over-arranged, which is less appealing at album-length than it is on the single, where the cushions of lush synthesiser strings offer a soft landing for her emotional pleadings. It's certainly an inappropriate way of covering Dylan's 'I Want You', which is slowed down and turned into a slice of dreary Genesis-style pomp-pop. But there's enough going on here to suggest a talent of some stature. It remains to be seen whether the excessively personal nature of her material proves a larger than usual stumbling-block when that difficult second album rolls around. Is there that much more of her to know?

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Revolution Come and Gone

(SubPop SPCD 31/186)

Singles - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Epic EPC 471438 2)

IT'S PERHAPS indicative of the genre's teen spirit that the street cred of the SubPop compilation Revolution Come and Gone is assured by the absence of anything by Nirvana, the one hit band and Platonic Form of the genus grunge-rock. The other semi-successes of the Seattle scene, dreary bands like Mudhoney, Tad and feminist shock rockers Hole, are all represented, but there's a greater range than you might expect to the label's roster.

At one end, 6 Finger Satellite, The Dwarves and Supersuckers practice routine punk speedcore; at the other, Green Magnet School stretch themselves in the angular manner of Wire. Somewhere in between are various shades of the downbeat, nihilistic rock which is Seattle's most recent - and dubious - contribution to world culture, whilst out on their own limbs somewhere are the Reverend Horton Heat, whose 'Marijuana' is a corny Ventures- style guitar instrumental in the vein of 'Tequila', and beat throwback Steven Jesse Bernstein, who reads his poetry against a jazz backdrop, like a Sam Spade voice- over. Alas, it's the latter novelty types one looks to for a little relief from generic gloom and defeatism signalled by titles like 'Fuck Em All' and the all-too-true 'Revolution Come and Gone': this is left- over culture, whatis left of heavy metal once the fantasies run dry.

The Singles soundtrack is for a movie based in and around the Seattle music scene, and thus features the requisite complement of home-grown bands - Soundgarden, Mudhoney again - alongside corporate grunge equivalents like Pearl Jam and, as a welcome bonus, a couple of tracks from former Replacements leader, teen-angst auteur Paul Westerberg. It's a fairly patchy collection, with only the Smashing Pumpkins' 'Drown' exhibiting anything like the organic flow and sheer sensitivity of Hendrix's 'May This Be Love', which turns up three tracks from the end and puts a red face on the entire project.

JOE SATRIANI

The Extremist

(Relativity REL 471672 2)

RECKONED by many to be the 'best guitarist in the world' - however that curious distinction might be computed - Joe Satriani traffics in the kind of stunt-guitar tricks and heavily-sustained snarling guitar tone that can be heard emanating at any one time from a thousand guitar shops across the western world. He's Mr Super-Widdly Guitar, flash and showy but, as this album demonstrates, almost completely bereft of any emotion that doesn't involve the six-string equivalent of the screaming abdabs.

He tries it in 'Cryin' ', one of the record's quieter moments, where the weight of his mammoth Jeff Beck influence all but overpowers Satriani's own personality, such as it is. For the rest, it's just a case of admiring those dazzling digits dancing over those silver frets. All very impressive, certainly, but tired and extremely dated, the product of a mind more at ease with performance technique than the rigours of composition. Satriani's are old-world musical skills, fine for spicing up somebody else's song with an eight-bar break, but as an albumful of instrumentals, more redundant with each passing year.

(Photographs omitted)

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