ROCK / And I still haven't found . . .

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The Independent Culture
IT'S a sign of the corporate times that when U2 put a new album out 18 months after the last, it counts as a low-key rush release. Credit is still due to them for not milking Achtung Baby well into the next millennium. Zooropa, the spontaneous artistic expression of the TV show of the staging concept, continues the welcome drift away from the epic bluster of old, but U2 seem unsure of what to do with their new-found freedom.

This record is both fractured and flowing - a bold but not quite compelling bid to make music from the multi-media sensurround of their 'Zoo TV' concerts. The problem is U2 never look more behind the times than when they are trying to appear modern. All this global-village information-overload business is a little past its sell-by date, and even Eno-ish sound swathes supplied by Sir Brian himself cannot conceal the lack of new ideas at Zooropa's heart. In the age of the Cyberpunk pot-noodle promotion, building your title track out of advertising slogans is no longer enough.

Zooropa opens with an intriguing formless buzz, and it's hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment when this resolves itself into the Edge's familiar chiming guitar flatulence. Sometimes, in the first half of 'Lemon' say, U2 sound like just about everybody on the pop/art-rock cusp they're now trying to colonise - Blondie, David Bowie, Talking Heads - everyone, that is, except themselves. So when Bono bungs in a big proto- gospel climax, it feels rather half- hearted. It's no coincidence that the most successful song has a guest vocalist. In 'The Wanderer', Johnny Cash roams freely over a funny OMD-style backing, determined 'to taste and to touch and to feel as much as a man can before he repents'.

Elsewhere individual noises - the echoing drum slap on 'Daddy's Gonna Pay for your Crashed Car', or the Edge's deadpan vocal on likely single 'Numb' - stick in the memory more than whole songs. There are too many lists here, and not enough choruses to hang them on. 'Some Days are Better than Others' is a catchy exception, but not for all the right reasons. 'Some days are slippy, some days are sloppy, Some days you can't stand the sight of a puppy', Bono proclaims, losing his grip slightly.

Back at the Glastonbury festival, an angel in glowing white raiment takes to the pyramid stage. Whether you're inclined to view Lenny Kravitz as a maverick genius or the most evil man in rock, there's no denying that for a large portion of the crowd he is a bona- fide sex symbol. Neither the flatness of his singing nor the relentless turgidity of his guitar solos can diminish the ardour of his reception.

The music of Jamiroquai, like Kravitz's, is broken down into its constituent pasts; the difference is that singer Jay Kay has the drive and charisma required to forge something new from them. He packs the NME stage with guest musicians, including the full might of the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, and gives the festival its anthem with 'When You Gonna Learn' - 'When are we gonna bloody learn? That's what I want to know.'

Down a shady pathway, with a high concentration of chemical entrepreneurs and a rather self- conscious police car stationed at the end of it, lurks the tasteful oasis of the Jazz Stage - a lovely leafy clearing where loud, crisp hip-hop belts out under the night sky. There be-bop inflected rappers Digable Planets are little short of a revelation - confirming the promise of their first UK appearance earlier this year, and going far beyond it. Their two real live horn players are not just there for decoration - they do the work of a big band, summoning up flitting shadows of Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon for the group's three wordsmiths to weave in and out of.

This is when the whole festival idea starts to make sense. Imagine a town the size of Swindon assembled out of nowhere - coming together in a few fields in a supreme feat of organisation and then going home, poorer but quite probably wiser, after three days of severe entertainment. A warm mist rises out of the valley and veteran vibesman Roy Ayers winds the evening down with a superlative set of crowd-pleasing jazz-funk greats. He's got a fantastic wah-wah attachment for his vibraphone that enables him to make them sound like, well, blocks of wood. The night sky is alive with fireworks and in his grave somewhere nearby, King Arthur merrily taps a foot.

'Zooropa' is released tomorrow (Island, LP/CD/tape).

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