(Junior Boys Own JBOCD 1)
are another group who, like the Beloved before them, have ditched their initial indie-rock approach for the new gospel of sequencers. Admittedly, they had already tried to incorporate computer programming techniques into their sound when they made albums such as 1989's Change the Weather. But the change is still enormous, the indie-metal guitar sound having been ruthlessly pared away to allow the groove room to move.
dubnobasswithmyheadman has been widely hailed as something of a masterpiece, and certainly it hoists them up there among the Flukes, Orbitals and Sabres of Paradise. Karl Hyde's cut-up lyric collage adds an extra layer of strange invention to their sound. Each track is an exercise in modulation, gradually picking up impetus, breaking off, then taking up the strain again before subsiding. Rock tends to deal in brief, cathartic eruptions of energy, while this type of music involves a more considered, cerebral progress.
It's a form of sound sculpture whose roots lie as much in Seventies German groups such as Faust and Can as in the dance scene, though it's the latter's slick gear-changes that make the longer pieces - the 13-minute 'Mmm Skyscraper I Love You', for example - so seamlessly engaging. Here, each new element in the groove is ushered in by a treated percussion fill like a cartoon sound effect, while Hyde's vocals are both sinister and sensual in the manner of Jim Morrison.
Despite its technological method, the closest the album comes to techno is 'Cowgirl', which pumps and bleeps with the requisite urgency. And what really sets Underworld apart is their facility with the gentler moods and textures: the gorgeous 'River of Bass' is surely a direct descendant of J J Cale's song 'River Runs Deep', its hall-sized reverb occupied by a little but deep, elastic bass, a few delicate curls of guitar, and the merest murmur of vocal.
(Liberty CDEST 2212)
Tell Me Why
(Curb CURCD 002)
THE 'Rockin' Country' show that celebrated half-time at last Sunday's Superbowl was gaudy testament to the interchangeability of most male 'new country' performers. But I'd still take one stanza from Clint Black, the poet of wasted lives, above Garth Brooks' entire oeuvre.
Black deals sympathetically with the downtrodden and dispossessed, while Brooks' reinforcement of his core audience's prejudices with a song like 'American Honky-Tonk Bar Association' from In Pieces is pretty despicable. This redneck anthem is what Portillo and Lilley might offer up if the Young Tories reinstated their all-singing, all- dancing conference extravaganzas: 'When your dollar goes to all of those / Standing in a welfare line / Rejoice, you have a voice / If you're concerned about the destination / Of this great nation.' In the chorus, Brooks explains that the Association 'represents the hardhat, gun-rack, achin'- back, over-taxed, flag-wavin', fun-lovin' crowd.' Sounds like the same old clan to me.
In Pieces is stuffed with populist rubbish like this, chock- full of those Old American Myths about the hard-livin', hard-workin' man, the woman that leaves him, and the cowboy he thinks he resembles. It's a world of brutal values, grotesque sentiment, delusions of heroic self-interest, in which arguments are settled with violence rather than words. The narrator of 'The Night I Called the Old Man Out', for instance, hopes that one day he'll be man enough to beat up on his kids the way his old man beat up on him. Pass me that switch, Garth.
Wynonna Judd's second album is a much more daring exercise. Her choice of such songwriters as Sheryl Crow, Jesse Winchester and Mary- Chapin Carpenter suggests a far wider range of both attitudes and influences than is usual in country music, be it new, rockin', over-easy or sunny-side-up. This is reflected in the music, which adds an undertow of Hammond organ and soul horn section on some tracks, while dispensing with the more lachrymose elements - glutinous strings, whiney pedal steel guitar - for all but one song. Tracks like her mom Naomi's 'That Was Yesterday' are more blues than country, but then Wynonna's style owes as much, if not more, to Bonnie Raitt as to all the Tammys and Dollys and Lorettas of Nashville legend.
Carpenter's 'Girls with Guitars' is the centrepiece here, an exercise in female empowerment via six strings. 'She wasn't any debutante,' sings Wynonna in admiration of the girl obsessed with her guitar, 'she didn't go out for cheerleading.' What would the boys back at the American Honky- Tonk Bar Association make of an attitude like that?
Criticising country music for being conservative is, admittedly, like criticising a car for having wheels, but the genre surely needs more radical moves like this from its major stars. Left to the likes of Garth Brooks, it'll stay the same old old-hat act.
Hold On It Hurts
(Wiiija WIJ 30 CD)
THEN again, attitude alone does not suffice. The Anglo- Asian outfit Cornershop have been the lucky recipients of considerable column-inches of coverage in the weekly music press, and listening to Hold On It Hurts, it's hard to escape the conclusion that most of them are due to the band's impeccable politically correct stance than to any more intrinsic musical qualities. The majority of the album is comprised of neophyte punk fumblings - clodhopper drums, brash guitars, weedy organ - in the manner of the early Fall, but without anything to suggest they might mature into something with the power and coherence of the later Fall.
'Readers' Wives' is an improvement, lacing tendrils of sitar through a baggy beat. 'Where D'U Get Your Information' adopts more of a New Order mode, with Hooky- esque bass taking lead melody duties, and the traditional sitar / tabla backing to the Punjabi song 'Counteraction' makes a pleasant change from the run of dull punk thrashing. But ultimately the best thing about the album remains the song title 'Born Disco; Died Heavy Metal'.
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