ALBUMS / The good, the sad and the saucy

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David Byrne

(Luaka Bop / Sire 9362-45558-2)

THE title implies this might be some sort of personal statement. And the booklet with the CD contains some rather alarming black-and-white photographs by Jean-Baptiste Mondino of what would appear to be the singer's bodily hair. Also, an X-ray of his teeth. Has David Byrne decided to open himself up to us?

That would be quite a shift of temperament for a man who has, in the past, been entertainingly reserved and queasy about the emotional and physical openness which pop champions so readily. Luckily for us, it's a route Byrne doesn't take on this nevertheless frank and fine album. 'I can barely touch my own self,' he sings. 'How could I touch someone else?' This is first-degree Byrne: distanced, awkward, funny.

The musical textures are largely stripped of the sense of fun which distinguished Uh-Oh (1992) and several arduous plane journeys away from the richly detailed Colombian carnival sounds of Rei Momo (1989). This is a rarer, sparer album, working with the patter of a drum, some basic cyclical riffs, the odd drone or squeal. Passages may remind you most of the Velvet Underground, especially where Byrne's voice dips, like Lou Reed, into the lower registers.

The songs, as ever, centre on the world outside rather than the world within. 'Self-Made Man' may be pop's first and last word on genetic engineering. Some of the lyrics are spoken, rather than sung, in that wonderful, non-judgemental tone Byrne has. On the rambling 'Strange Ritual', the narrator travels the world: 'Saw people in a remote village proudly wearing their digital watches. Saw a young Indonesian girl possessed by the spirit of Mutant Ninja Turtles.' You can imagine how these words might sound coming from an ironist or someone with an axe to grind. Byrne takes the humbler route of the curious observer - not angry, just quizzical.

Those who wish the man would hurry up and sign back on with the old team can at least take comfort in the several areas of this album where the name of the band appears to be Talking Heads. On 'Angels' in particular (coming out as a single early next month) the bass guitarist Paul Socolow thumps along like Tina Weymouth on 'Once in a Lifetime'. Elsewhere, a mournful little acoustic ballad called 'My Love is You' comes across like something McCartney might have written for the White album. And stronger still is 'Buck Naked', a stark appraisal of the joy of running nude down a state highway which includes one of the greatest celebratory lines never to have made it into a gospel hymn: 'Bare-assed for sure in the eyes of God'. Praise be.


And She Closed Her Eyes

East West 4509-93898-2

AS David Byrne sings on 'Sad Song': 'There are those who are happy, there are those who are wise, but it's the truly sad people who get the most out of life.' In which case, Stina Nordenstam is living life to the full. On this, her second album, the Swedish singer-songwriter lays a hefty claim to be hailed the Queen of Sad, sadder even than the band Blue Nile in whose marvellously miserable wake she often appears to be swimming.

The voice is remarkable - a quiet, muted, broken thing like the girlish tone which Rickie Lee Jones occasionally goes in for, sometimes just a smear of breath with a 't' or an 's' at the end of it, recorded astonishingly close. But where Jones has harder tones at her disposal, Nordenstam sticks to the one, nibbling your earlobes for an entire album. It's the kind of voice which, if it rubs you up the wrong way, will have you breaking ornaments and screaming for mercy. But it's a sound which, if it appeals, takes up an eerie residence in your mind for good.

More impressive and more abstract than 1993's Memories of a Colour, the new album looks harder for drama, sometimes finding it in background recordings of anguished trains and steady rain. Otherwise, the instrumentation is simple. And sometimes, as on 'Hopefully Yours' or 'Something Nice' or 'Viewed from the Spire', a couple of dragged acoustic guitar chords, a quiet drum and an elastic bass lean against one another and form, as unlikely as it may seem, an openly appealing kind of pop. Sad but true.



Columbia 474738 2

NO expense spared on the latest album from Julio - not so much an album, actually; more a 42- minute seduction routine, with pop's top brass shouting encouragement from the wardrobe. Crazy boasts duets with Art Garfunkel and Dolly Parton, who joins in on the heart-bursting ballad 'When You Tell Me that You Love Me'. Julio's resourceful accent gives the song an additional twist - he calls out to Dolly at one point, apparently desperate to reassure her about his fillings. More successful is the wonderful Sting number 'Fragile', on which Sting himself supplies the central acoustic guitar figure and some willingly breathy backing vocals. And though you would always reach first for the Sting original (on the album . . . Nothing Like the Sun), Julio's brave stab will serve as a reliable stand-by in case of


Albert Hammond produces, giving the album the aural equivalent of the old satin sheets and champagne routine - lots of plush synths and sexy ticks and tocks on wooden percussion instruments, which would probably have aphrodisiac properties if ground down and sprinkled lightly over the smoked salmon. The album overcooks somewhat at the end, with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Singers crowding around Julio in an emotive take on 'Song of Joy', written by 'L Beethoven, arranged by Albert Hammond' as the credits inform us. L may have found it a little too saucy for his taste.

Andy Gill returns next week