Siamese Dream (Hut CDHUT 11)
DON'T be surprised if 1993 turns out to be the Year of the Pumpkin: a quantum leap beyond Smashing Pumpkins' debut album, Siamese Dream is the latest in a line of American guitar-rock masterpieces that stretches back via the Pixies' Doolittle and REM's Murmur to the distant heyday of the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers. Like many of their contemporaries, they offer a development of the original Husker Du grunge formula of big, noisy guitars overlaid with heartache harmonies, and in singer-songwriter Billy Corgan, who also co-produces with Butch (Nirvana) Vig, they possess an idiosyncratic, enigmatic nerd frontman in the Stipe / Francis vein.
Playing to market strengths, Siamese Dream opens with a clutch of fairly straightforward grunge numbers, getting gentler and milder as it proceeds. With enormous self-confidence, Corgan takes bold risks with the arrangements, rarely sticking to simple verse / chorus structures: 'Hummer', for instance, opens with a squiggly guitar loop which gets swept away in the song's rush to a resolution of Byrdsian grace; while 'Silverfuck' sweeps flamboyantly between all-out thrash and more delicate, detailed passages, before climaxing in a burst of sheer, delirious noise that delights with its audacity. But whatever style or direction an individual song takes, it's always done with an engaging intimacy: Corgan's songs may grasp the nettle of alienation like many another contemporary, but unlike most, he sees no reason to alienate his listeners. One for the time-capsule.
THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN
The Sound of Speed
(Blanco Y Negro 4509-93105-2)
LIKE many rock greats, the Jesus and Mary Chain have built a career around a few carefully-chosen chords, a gimmick (their liberal use of feedback) and an attitude, the latter two elements being mutually indicative. Unfortunately for them, their artistic triumph, this Platonic form of degenerate, druggy sleaze-rock, is ultimately as much a blind alley as, say, Kraftwerk's purer musical archetype, with as few turnings off the original course. Which leaves them, almost a decade on from their fresh, startling beginnings, very little further down the road, and in grave danger of repeating themselves once too often.
The Sound of Speed doesn't do them any favours, either. It's not really an album as such, more a catch-up collection comprising a motley bunch of B- sides, out-takes, covers and needless alternative versions of things like 'Sidewalking' and 'Reverence'. They need to be more concentrated than this, more distilled.
There are signs that they realise this, too: one of the four newest songs, 'Write Record Release Blues', finds them bristling under the record company whip, clearly tired of churning out more and more product; several other tracks, meanwhile, seem to be suggesting satiation and self-disgust with their inability to resist the blandishments of their deviant lifestyle. But this is still their trump card, as demonstrated by 'Deviant Slice', a drug-rush song done in the style of Devo, which catches them at their sharpest. Other than that, the most interesting tracks here are the cover versions of songs like 'Guitarman' (Elvis done in the vein of Dylan), 'Little Red Rooster', and Leonard Cohen's 'Tower of Song', whose exhausted languor makes a surprisingly smooth transfer to Mary Chain mode.
Hand on the Torch
(Blue Note 0 7777 80883 2 5)
ACTUALLY an 11-man jazz-rap project, US 3 goes the obvious step beyond Gangstarr rapper Guru's recent Jazzmatazz album in applying rap's sampling methods to the original jazz tracks, rather than getting old jazz- funkers to churn out a new riff. Liberated from old Blue Note releases, the grooves here come effectively pre- sold, with the easy familiarity of old friends.
The single 'Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)', for instance, uses Herbie Hancock's 'Cantaloupe Island' as the basis for its irresistible rolling riff; the other obvious single, 'Tukka Yoot's Riddim', is if anything even more infectious, featuring a ragga rap toasted over Grant Green's 'Sookie Sookie' groove, topped with a fluid tenor break from Ed Jones, one of several able young Brit jazzers who add their own embellishment to the masters' tracks.
So far, so good; what's baffling, though, is the presumption that these great instrumental tracks are improved by the raps of Kobie Powell, Rahsaan and Tukka Yoot, none of whom are sufficiently original or inspired to justify fronting such sophisticated settings. And using the Horace Silver sample on 'Eleven Long Years' is just a mistake: if it sounds familiar, that's because it's better known as the intro to Steely Dan's 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number', a far more accomplished and subtle utilisation of the groove.