ALBUMS / Chips with everything, please

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THE ORB

Pomme Fritz

(Island/Inter-Modo 524013-2)

WHILE most ambient / trance outfits seem to be working towards an idea of musical satori in which, Zen-like, the world is contained within a single, endlessly repeated phrase, the Orb press ahead with their own itinerary. The six tracks here clock in at only 44 minutes, but this brevity has been achieved by hoovering up all the longueurs that normally occlude ambient-house albums, leaving just the musical essence.

As with their recent collaboration (as FFWD) with Robert Fripp and Thomas Fehlmann, Pomme Fritz transplants ambient-progressive music back into the fertile multicultural mulch of post-war German avant-garde and experimental rock music, particularly Can: their 'Future Days' appears, distantly, in the opening bars of the first track 'Pomme Fritz (Meat 'N' Veg)', and casts its spell over the rest of the pieces.

This title-track runs contrasting rhythms across each other, as an array of riffs and aural detritus is dubbed over the top; the rhythmic density continues in 'More Gills Less Fishcakes', which projects a cacophony of vari-speeded vocals over a frisky percussive backdrop - it sounds like one of the celebrated 'world music' spoofs which appeared in the Seventies under the general rubric of Can's 'Ethnological Forgery Series'.

There's much more of a dissonant, musique concrete sense of musical rupture to this album than in most trance and techno, including virtually all the Orb's previous work. Only 'Bang 'Er 'N' Chips', which trips along on a dainty techno arpeggio, and 'Alles Ist Schon', which harks back to the pre-techno synthesiser sketches of Cluster, conform to the standard notions of frisky repetition. Elsewhere, the vocal-loop trickery of 'We're Pastie to Be Grill You' is done in a manner that owes more to Stockhausen or Zappa than Steve Reich, the loops eroded into something rough and prickly rather than used to fashion a discreetly hypnotic backdrop. It's the kind of attack on the contemporary dance-pop aesthetic which must have gone down like a lead balloon at the record company, but which suggests one possible route out of the ambient-house cul-de-sac. A rare case of conspicuous bravery in the face of overwhelming genre pressure.

J J CALE

Closer to You

(Virgin/Delabel CDV 2746)

IN ROCKBIZ terms, J J Cale is the most reclusive of artists, retaining his close, private relationship with the fertile soil of Blues and Country which underpins his music - characterised here as 'Brown Dirt' - by avoiding publicity in almost Howard Hughesian manner. The inner-sleeve photo of a grizzled, barefoot J J shows him starting to resemble the great Warren Oates, that other Seventies cult figure who combined earthiness with enigmatic presence.

Being so remote from the vagaries of musical fashion, it's no surprise that Closer to You is much the same as previous Cale albums, although it's not quite up to the standard of its immediate predecessor, Ten. There are changes afoot, none the less: while half the album features J J with a simpatico band of studio musicians, the other half finds him getting more remote from the business, multi-tracking guitars, vocals and synths over synthetic drum tracks. Not that you'd notice the difference, mind: his songs still trace the short path from shuffle-boogie to comatose Country in relaxed, intimate manner, although the leanings of 'Closer to You' - 'Wish I was your underwear, hanging round your waist / Every time you shaked that thing, I'd get a little taste' - are more intimate than relaxed.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Gloryland: World Cup USA 94

(Mercury 522 384-2)

CONSIDER the ways in which the forthcoming World Cup might be musically represented, and you can quickly come up with a whole series of opportunities which this album misses. How about, for a laugh, an album comprising each participating country's official team song? Or, for sociological interest, an album of each country's typical fans' chants? Or even, since this is nominal music we're dealing with, a Globestyle or Earthworks type of multicultural affair, mingling the shuffle of a Colombian cumbia or Brazilian samba with mysterious Bulgarian voices, a blast of new German techno, and whatever nul-points lunacy the Norwegians might come up with. You know, the sort of album you might want to actually listen to.

Instead, what the 'official' World Cup people have come up with is a bloated 'official' product featuring that most graceless of victory chants 'We Are the Champions' and lashings of similarly anthemic old tat from Tina Turner, Kool & the Gang and Gary Glitter, a few token huzzahs for Italy, Germany and Mexico by such as the Scorpions and Santana, plus new, specially recorded (lucky us]) stuff from the Moody Blues and Fleetwood Mac, and no fewer than two contributions from that well-known football authority, Daryl Hall.

James have carried through their threat of trying for the World Cup anthem by re-casting 'Low, Low, Low' as 'Goal, Goal, Goal', which is at least, one hopes, pertinent, while Jon Bon Jovi's flatulent 'Blaze of Glory' seems oddly inappropriate even for non-participants like England. Their performances might be more accurately simulated by the musical slapstick of Spike Jones.

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