ROCK / Out with the old, in with the older

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The Independent Culture
IN 1991, Peter Buck of REM opined that they had 'taken the guitar, bass, drums thing as far as it would go'. Three years on, they have done the same with the mandolin, symphony orchestra, saxophone thing, so it's back to basics with Monster (Warner, out tomorrow).

'Love Comes in Strange Currencies' is 'Everybody Hurts' with a dash of 'Country Feedback'; 'Bang and Blame' is 'Losing my Religion' with a reggae beat; 'I Don't Sleep, I Dream' is . . . well, it's the REM we know and love.

Only the volume is different. As the single 'What's the Frequency, Kenneth?' begins to demonstrate, this is REM at their noisiest. Buck's guitar crackles and buzzes, fuzzier than Michael Stipe's designer-stubbled head. And as ever, it's done with style. 'Tongue' and 'Crush with Eyeliner' rank alongside their best material.

The lyrics centre on sex and the media, although analysing Stipe's musings is like trying to find pictures in the clouds. It is such a joy when you recognise something in the opaque fluffiness that you want to believe it a masterpiece. But for what it is worth, he is smitten by a sad tomato, he is not your magazine, he wants to take you on, and he is curious as to what the frequency is, Kenneth.

In London it was psychedelic rock week. Traffic played in Hammersmith for the first time in 20 years, which is roughly how long the instrumental breaks lasted. Rare as it is to be stuck in an interminable traffic jam when you're already at the concert, the guitar solos were so long that they had keyboard solos in the middle of them.

Today's Traffic - recidivists Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi, with session players on bass, wind, percussion and keyboards - are in the middle of the road, knocking out pub-band R'n'B. The new songs are more lively than they are on Far From Home (Virgin), but they don't match the Eastern promise of '40,000 Headmen' and ye olde folke of 'John Barleycorn'.

At the end of the concert, what should descend from the flies but a traffic light. It summed up the proceedings: mildly entertaining, but uninspired.

Ride's Albert Hall show was as psychedelic as you can get: 'A Day in the Life' over the PA to set the mood; songs that build slowly in a haze of guitars; vocalists Mark Gardener and Andy Bell stretching every word. The music was cooking, but if punk is a flambe, this is a simmer. It is no doubt best enjoyed on LSD or at least while smoking a Lib Dem cigarette. Ride were aided by an organist, and, in a surreal moment, a row of boy choristers. Whoever designed their lighting was just as important. Robotic rigs projected huge shadows behind the band, covered the walls with stars and turned the audience purple. And, the final component of superlative psychedelia: embarrassing lyrics. Bell sings: 'Take my hand / Lead me to the promised land.' You need a few drugs to stomach that.

The surprise winners of the psychedelic play-offs were the Lightning Seeds. Until now, they were a one-man band with Ian Broudie playing all the instruments. On Thursday at the Borderline the Lightning Seeds sprouted and blossomed into a five-piece rock band.

Quite a difference. Critics have popped tracks like 'Marvellous' and 'Lucky You' into the marquee-sized folder marked 'perfect pop', but some songs on the new album, Jollification (Sony), suffer from sterile production, with Broudie's vapid sub-Neil Tennant voice over a disco backing.

But add a bit of mean slide-guitar and energetic bass and drums and it sounds fantastic. Let's hope Broudie keeps his sidekicks. With his brains and their brawn the Seeds are blooming marvellous.

Traffic: Manchester Apollo, 061-273 3775, tonight; B'ham Symphony Hall, 021-782 8282, Mon; Newcastle City Hall, 091-261 2606, Wed; Sheffield City Hall, 0742 73525, Fri; and touring.