ALBUMS / Now, this won't hurt at all

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ICE CUBE

Lethal Injection

(4th & Broadway BRCD 609)

THE production hook-up with Quincy Jones' son QDIII underlines Ice Cube's position as the pre-eminent bankable (but largely unbroadcastable) black artist of his generation. More directly, it lends Lethal Injection a style which Cube's previous releases lacked; most of these raps creep along on predatory funk grooves dotted with gently menacing wah-wah guitars, backing vocal samples from people like Evelyn 'Champagne' King, and the bleak whines of a synthesiser with all the appeal of fingernails scraping on a blackboard. It's a potent brew, strongly evocative of Seventies blaxploitation movie soundtracks, whose confluence of black anger and superfly criminality is echoed in Cube's work.

Following the de rigueur deadpan, bad taste joke, we're plunged into a catalogue of black resentment, aimed scattergun-style at white women ('Cave Bitch'), police helicopters ('Ghetto Bird'), white folks in general ('Enemy'), white folks' religion ('When I Get To Heaven'), and a society which condemns black men to criminality before they're born ('What Can I Do?'). It's the last two titles that raise Cube above the dumber gangsta rappers. These are articulate, albeit furious, analyses of cultural conditions whose anger doesn't cloud their logic. Unlike Snoop Doggy Dogg, Cube's brain resides above his waist.

TOM WAITS

The Black Rider

(Island CID 8021)

THE Black Rider involves the reinterpretation, or re-imagining, of material originally written for the Robert Wilson / Tom Waits / William Burroughs collaborative opera of the same name. Waits's job was, as he puts it, to 'find a music that could dream its way into the forest of Wilson's images and songs'. He searched in the oddest, most barren places for the right sounds with which to animate those myth- dreams: the eerie, mutant bird-tones of the musical saw; the plaintive hoots of a train whistle; a bassoon's suspicious noodlings; the pious ruminations of a church organ; and, on 'Aint No Sin', a combination of plodding marimba and bass clarinet that could have stalked off of Troutmask Replica. Most basic of all, the string arrangement of 'Russian Dance' rests on a percussive track furnished by a quintet of stomping boots. Or should that be a dectet?

These methods bring out the echoes of the old and the enduring in the songs, which are a kind of combination of cowboy story and East European fairytale, with Waits switching between the roles of fairground barker, funereal narrator and, on the title-track, a devilish tempter of bizarre faux-Jewish dialect.

At times, the ancient twang of dead strings and the dry-gulch clunk of percussion bring to mind Ennio Morricone, another musical narratist gifted with the ability to tell stories in sound; but Waits remains essentially sui generis, a law unto himself. There is odd myth in his madness.

SPIN DOCTORS

Homebelly Groove

(Epic 472896 2)

THE SHAMEN

Different Drum

(One Little Indian TPLP42CDR)

TWO more ersatz-albums rattled out for the Christmas market. The Spin Doctors', as you'd expect from a group so thoroughly mired in old rock methods and attitudes, is a live retread of most of the Pocket Full of Kryptonite album, whilst The Shamen's, equally predictably, is effectively a remix of the Boss Drum album.

Both, clearly, are playing to their strengths, though one might question the Spin Doctors' decision to leave off the hit singles in favour of some new material of dubious quality: tracks like 'Yo Baby' have spanking rubber-band bass and funky drum licks, but both the guitar and vocal parts (and title) sound jerry-built. There is enough enthusiasm here to explain why the Spin Doctors are highly regarded as a gigging unit, but the ten tracks comprising Homebelly Groove are so long (almost eight minutes apiece) that most of them dribble into guitar soloing of the most hackneyed Seventies kind. Didn't Sid Vicious die that we might be spared such tosh?

The Shamen album is much more agreeable, with The Beatmasters drafted in to handle the hits like 'Ebeneezer Goode', 'LSI', 'Phorever People' and 'Boss Drum', which are slicker than before, while various other remixers offer ambient- style interpretations of the other tracks. Mark McGuire's reworkings of 'Spacetime' and 'Librae Solidi Denari' really get to grips with 3-D sound of spacey dubs, while Maurice's instrumental mix of 'LSI' rather over-estimates the appeal of its repeated sax figure. Richie Hawtin's extra-ambient mix of 'Ebeneezer Goode' strips the song down to a dreamy synth- line, over which a looped laugh circles like a vulture. Not a hit, but nice anyway.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Common Thread: The Songs Of The Eagles

(Giant 74321 16677 2)

THERE'S a certain irony in finding the cream of New Nashville in thrall to these California Cowboys, though on reflection it's no great surprise: The Eagles were, after all, the first to indicate that this once marginal genre could tweak the American consciousness to such a commercially satisfying extent. Indeed, it's impossible to conceive of such casual-but-smart country- rockers as Diamond Rio ('Lyin' Eyes') and Little Texas ('Peaceful Easy Feeling') without The Eagles' prior example.

Here, the sound is dominated by sugar- candy tones - ultimately traceable to Rick Nelson - applied to sweeping harmonies. There's a session musician's scrupulousness to most of these tracks that goes beyond tribute; indeed, when Travis Tritt inserts a little whoop of joy into his note- perfect 'Take It Easy', it's shocking in its spontaneity. The choices lean heavily towards the ballad end of the group's output, with 'Best Of My Love', 'New Kid in Town' and 'Tequila Sunrise' given serviceable treatment by, respectively, Brooks and Dunn, Trisha Yearwood and Alan Jackson. The high point, though, is Clint Black's 'Desperado'. The song's weary beauty could have been tailored to fit this latterday master of wasted-life eulogies.

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