NEW RELEASES / They will survive: Andy Gill on the best pop album of the year - and it's only April

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PULP

His 'n' Hers

(Island ILPS 8025)

IT'S EASY enough to find the poetry in heroism, but like Mike Leigh, Pulp's lyricist Jarvis Cocker unerringly locates the poetry in more anti-heroic areas - in humiliation and embarrassment and the static cling of man-made fibres crackling in the heat of ham-fisted sexual fumblings. His 'n' Hers is full of wryly observed vignettes of British sexuality, from the bitter break-up of 'Lipgloss', through the deliciously illicit erotic interlude of 'Acrylic Afternoons', to a brace of brilliant songs about first love: the ironically inquisitional 'Do You Remember the First Time?' is balanced by the idyllic 'David's Last Summer' which ends the album, a last-minute reprieve from the glum encounters that are the band's speciality.

Cocker has a down-to-earth grasp of the blunt realities of modern life. While, for instance, Morrissey fondly hymns young tearaways, Cocker harbours no such illusions: 'Joy Riders', the opening track, bears the scars of an encounter he had with a group of 14-year-old car-crackers when his Hillman Imp broke down. 'We can't help it, we're so thick we can't think,' he croons, 'can't think of anything but shit, sleep and drink.'

Although recognisably pop rather than rock, these songs don't conform strictly to the familiar verse / chorus structure of pop songs, but traverse more dramatic terrain, which Cocker navigates with a battery of flamboyantly theatrical vocal devices. It's an approach that calls for a remarkable flexibility on the part of the band, who fortunately have developed that mysterious, instinctive symbiosis that bands acquire when they've been together a long time - this major-label debut comes 13 years after their inception. Although an element of cheap glamour still attaches to Pulp - their favourite decade would be the Seventies of their youth, their preferred fabric would probably be satin - the only kitsch moment, musically, is 'She's a Lady', a gloriously heartfelt sexualisation of Gloria Gaynor's disco anthem 'I Will Survive'. Pop album of the year, already.

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS

Let Love In

(Mute CD STUMM 123)

WHILE Pulp deal with the gulf between fantasies of love and the prosaic realities, on Let Love In Nick Cave offers an ambitious song-cycle detailing a spiralling descent from love into a violent and obsessive lust. The album is topped and tailed with the two parts of 'Do You Love Me?', the first tilting abruptly from lust to terror by sudden mentions of blood and 'crazy bracelets on her wrists and her ankles', while the second is haunted by the helpless realisation of erotic possession as addiction. Between the two, Cave picks through the pricklier regions of his libido, mourning a lost love wistfully on 'Nobody's Baby Now', but depicting love in terms of demonic possession in 'Loverman'.

His taste for mythic figures and ghastly portents continues with 'Red Right Hand', a stroll down one of Tom Waits's more sinister alleyways, in which the hand of the title portends something deeply troubling about God's omnipotence; it's complemented by 'Ranging Jack', a frantic account of how Jack met his ignominious end. The psychopathic fervour with which Cave relates this tale is matched only by the hilarious, drunken self-pity which is 'Thirsty Dog' - 'I'm sorry I ever wrote that book, I'm sorry about the way I look' - which prompts misty-eyed reminiscence of the Cramps at their peak. As the album progresses, Cave gets more and more overwrought and lachrymose, weeping into his beer through 'Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore' and the Leonard Cohen-styled 'Lay Me Low', until you feel that at any moment he might put his arm around your shoulder and drool 'You're my besht mate, you are' into your face. Which, given his views on love and sex, is perhaps not the happiest prospect.

ROLLINS BAND

Weight

(Imago 7278 721034 2)

SINCE his earliest days with the seminal Californian punk outfit Black Flag, Henry Rollins has been the furrow-browed drill- instructor in the indie bootcamp, and now, with his punk-metal band, he proffers a Survivalist Rock which treats weaknesses of any kind - drugs, violence, deception, boredom, whatever - as the ultimate horror.

While his spoken-word releases reveal the most naked, visceral side of the writer / singer, Weight is undoubtedly Rollins's most powerful musical effort, the addition of avant-jazz bassist Melvin Gibbs bringing a spiky funk undertow to their music, which as a result is closer to Living Colour than to Pearl Jam. Henry, meanwhile, is on top form, castigating lazy, self-important celebrities in 'Icon' - 'It doesn't matter what you say, they find meaning in it anyway' - and taking a well-aimed sideswipe at gun-toting gangsta-rappers in 'Civilized': 'With that gun in your hand, you're just another pig to me'. But his protest, in 'Wrong Man', over the feminist stereotyping of male behaviour sits uneasily next to his attitude in 'Step Back' - this is a torrent of aggression that would scare even Mike Tyson, with Rollins bellowing 'Do you really want to mess with me?' in your face from precious few inches away: he sounds like a bully, wielding his physique instead of his mind. Perhaps he prefers it that way: why else should he muse, in 'Disconnect', about switching off his mind and being less cerebral, more animal?

But there's a sense in all his work that Rollins needs this tough, muscular exoskeleton to protect that core of sensitivity and beauty which his spoken-word performances, especially, suggest he's discerned in his inner being. Inside that hard exterior beats the heart of a real man.

JIMI HENDRIX

Hendrix Blues

(Polydor 521 037-2)

COLLATING prime blues performances from all parts of his career, this is one of the most effective compilations of Hendrix available, 72 minutes which leave you in no doubt as to how deeply his talent was rooted in Mississippi mud and Chicago grit. It's never been in much doubt over here, but in America, where 'Red House' was left off Are You Experienced?, the guitarist's image has from the start been encouraged to drift free of its blacker moorings, in the direction of the whiter heavy metal he both invented and immediately superseded.

'Red House' is included here, alongside covers of blues standards like 'Mannish Boy' and 'Born under a Bad Sign' and a clutch of blues originals, including some dazzling out-takes from the 'Voodoo Chile' sessions. The two versions of 'Hear My Train Comin' ' that bookend the album sum up his talent succinctly: on the acoustic opener, you can hear his frustration at the limitations of his instrument, while on the concluding 12-minute electric version he flies high and free, way up into the wildest, bluest yonder.

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