ROCK / Records: Disciples of the binary code: Andy Gill on releases from digital proselytisers, eccentric expressionists, genre queens and a disco pod

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(Food FOODCD 8)

'THIS time the revolution will be computerised.' Mike Edwards updates Gil Scott-Heron on 'Zeroes and Ones', the gung-ho digital anthem that opens Perverse. Four years on from the Jesus Jones debut 'Info Freako', he's still in thrall to the white heat of new technology. And rightly so: Perverse simply couldn't be made without digital technology, which enables the group to layer their samples and instruments with a clarity otherwise unattainable.

Edwards, who writes and directs the band's material, has a good grasp of the dynamics of sound, particularly sounds that work on an almost psycho-active level, touching off adrenaline surges with a frosty whine, a power chord or a soaring buzz of synthesiser. It's mostly impossible to tell what instruments are actually involved - indeed, the group's line-up doesn't specify instruments, only wavebands. The bassist, Al Jaworski, deals with the 20Hz to 4kHz range, while guitarist Jerry De Borg operates between 300Hz and 8kHz.

For some, this typifies Jesus Jones's cold, emotionless machine pop. But that's to underestimate the fervour of Edwards' digital proselytising in songs like the single 'The Devil You Know', which offers an explicit condemnation of the retro-era we're living in, a time of almost perpetual repeat of earlier forms. Brian Eno said recently that the future of pop music lay in more curatorial realms, by which I take it he meant that what was now interesting about pop was the combination of original forms in a variety of hybrids. Edwards is the perfect exemplar of this principle, and the true precursor of Jesus Jones is probably the early Roxy Music, with its classicism bent into new, fantastic shapes by its futuristic zeal. If Edwards were a little more louche and ironic, there'd be little to separate them.


Story Of My Life

(Fontana 514 159-2)

Pere Ubu share Jesus Jones's principles regarding sound, but apply them in an eccentric, expressionist manner that can be utterly moving, thrilling and dumb, all at once. They'll never sell as many records, but they retain a fiercely devoted following more in proportion to their influence.

This, their 10th LP proper (not counting live albums), is typical of their work: amusing, galumphing, creepy, sad, occasionally even poppy. Take 'Postcard', the kind of New Ironic Americana in which David Byrne specialises, a list of bizarre postcard subjects ('A catfish in a top hat from New Orleans / Flaming watermelons from Dallas, Texas'). It's a slight, joky number that balances well with a track like 'Last Will & Testament', a genuinely moving meditation on a line from the poet Langston Hughes. But Ubu never make unjust demands on one's emotions, leavening pain with humour. 'I stepped on a bee when I was four,' sings David Thomas on the title-track, 'I slammed the door of a '57 Chevy on my hand when I was six. Little did I know that darker clouds were gathering on the horizon of my life.'


Tears Of Fire - The 25th Anniversary Collection

(Epic E3K 52741)


Play Me Backwards

(Virgin CDV 2705)

TAMMY, Queen of the Counter- Feminist Caucus, exemplifies what country music's critics dislike about it: this three-disc retrospective is full of the lachrymose and the grotesquely sentimental - not just 'Stand By Your Man', so derided by Hillary Clinton, but appalling things like 'No Charge', in which a child's quite reasonable list of charges for chores is cruelly demolished by Mom's list, beginning: 'For the nine months that I bore you, no charge'.

The soapy tone of Tammy's songs and life is reflected in the accompanying booklet, an extraordinary document by Dolly Carlisle of Nashville, Tennessee that's utterly useless if you're looking for an in-depth critical biography, but strange and wonderful indeed if you're into hosannas to Richard Nixon and lines about 'modern women . . . taking to the streets in massive rallies, many ripping off their brassieres.'

Joan Baez, one such modern woman, now the abdicated Queen of Folk, has spent more time in international activism than folk-singing over the last decade, but Play Me Backwards marks a return to form - it's her most substantial album since Diamonds and Rust (1975). It uses a light, flexible backing that blends a variety of exotic percussion flavours with country intonations from dobro and lap steel guitars. The writing credits are divided between Baez and songwriters such as John Stewart, John Hiatt, Janis Ian and Mary-Chapin Carpenter, whose 'Stones in the Road' is one of the stand-out cuts. Of her own material, the title track's affirmation of her principles - 'You don't have to play me backwards to get the meaning of my verse,' she sings, in ironic commentary upon the absurd backwards-masking / Satanic messages claims - is perhaps the strongest.


Into the Skyline

(Polydor 513935-2)

BRITAIN's answer to Debbie Gibson clearly wants to become Britain's answer to Madonna, and to that end has enlisted the services of dance producer Shep Pettibone to do for her songs what he did for Madonna on The Immaculate Collection - that is, to make it all sound the same.

Consequently, she's lost the sense of versatility she once had. Pettibone's drum programmes mould her talent too tightly, and they're so protracted that you're sated by the fifth or sixth track. Cathy's marketing uses her image as a DIY girl, a pop star who writes her own material rather than rely on a production line, but with most of these songs, it's questionable whether this is such a good idea. Her themes are predominantly romantic, but in a non-sensual way, with a couple of unconvincing, platitudinous anthems, 'We've Got to Fight' and 'Change Will Come', thrown in.

It sounds prefabricated, and shoddily so at that. We're used to teeny pop being anodyne and emotionally dilute, but at least it's sometimes fun. You can't hear much fun at all here - just a career being mapped out and followed with as little imagination as possible. Somewhere in Norwich, I suspect, a pod lies empty in a back garden.

(Photographs omitted)