POP / ALBUMS: A philosopher's life is not worth living

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CRASH TEST DUMMIES

God Shuffled His Feet

(RCA 74321-20152-2)

A SMARTASS start - a scratchy stuck-needle sound - leads into a sampled breakbeat loop, and eventually into the title-track. It's a tortuous way into an album, but appropriate for a band whose songs make an art of not jumping to conclusions.

The single 'Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm' is typical of the Dummies' style, which is a Canadian cousin to the smart indie-pop of They Might Be Giants: self-conscious, literate wit mixed with oddball musical eclecticism. How it became a hit is anybody's guess, though much of its appeal is probably due to the novelty value of Brad Roberts's languid baritone voice, a rarity in pop.

Roberts studied philosophy, and the songs he writes dance around the edges of philosophical speculation, using that deep voice to anchor their rather whimsical approach. Rhetorical questions stud the lyrics - 'Why does God cause things like tornadoes?'; 'How does a duck know what direction South is?'; 'How come all my body parts so nicely fit together?' - while the likes of Sartre and T S Eliot crop up in a song about ageing.

Co-produced by the Dummies with Talking Head Jerry Harrison, the album has a relaxed, sophisticated folk- rock sound in which subtle washes of synthesised string-textures flesh out the tracery of guitars, mandolins and accordions. With Roberts' baritone a source of constant reassurance, this is warm and pleasant listening, though it's somewhat lacking in romance: when Roberts eventually gets round to thoughts of love, in 'Swimming in Your Ocean', all he can do is apologise for getting distracted during sex by thoughts of God and UFOs. What was that about the unexamined life not being worth living?

MICK RONSON

Heaven and Hull

(Epic 474742 2)

THE LATE Mick Ronson was one of rock's greatest sidekicks, his mercurial brilliance as a guitarist helping to lift the songs of David Bowie and others. It's appropriate, then, that this posthumous release is dominated by duets and collaborations.

Of special note are 'Trouble with Me' - on which Chrissie Hynde oozes over a slow, sexy computer-funk groove while Ronson curls out the most perfect wah-wah figures since Hendrix perfected the art, and 'Life's a River', featuring John Cougar Mellencamp groaning over a chord progression built to match his sombre style, before Ronson caps it with a blistering solo in fearsome Neil Young fashion. A couple of low-key instrumentals add spice to the running-order, before the whole thing is capped off by a live version of 'All the Young Dudes' which features Bowie, Hunter, Elliott, the Leps' Phil Collen, and the remnants of Queen. Despite the variety of styles featured, however, the finished album is more consistent than any of Ronson's previous solo work; a shame, then, that he's not around to benefit from it.

DES'REE

I Ain't Movin'

(Sony Soho Square 475843 2)

DES'REE'S second album continues her debut's formula of gentle spirituals for the Nineties, using religious language - of heralds, higher grounds and movements of the soul - with vaguely millennial overtones. Musically, too, it's much as before, though she's drafted in Jeffrey Smith and Peter Lord Moreland to helm some tracks, resulting in an understated funk feel alongside the more familiar folk-soul.

Throughout, there's an impression of earthly confusion (as in 'Crazy Maze') eased by spiritual balm, as in the almost mantric repetition of the single 'You Gotta Be', while the explanatory sermons which preface the songs introduce us to Des'ree's family, an apparent fount of aphorisms and homilies: 'People can drain your soul in so many ways. My late Grandfather always said, 'Never let your eyes reveal what your mind is thinking, sometimes you have to act foolish to catch wise.' ' Wise words, certainly, though she needs a little more help in songs like 'Living in the City', whose celebration of urban cafe lifestyle is interrupted by a mention of 'people lying homeless', which sounds uncomfortably token in the feelgood surroundings.

SENSER

Stacked Up

(Ultimate TOPPCD 008)

THE FALL

Middle Class Revolt

(Permanent PERM CD16)

SENSER are the latest hot ticket from the indie dance scene, offering a great post-modern soup of modern rock modes. On Stacked Up they blend funk beats, thrash guitar, computer sequencing and sampling, with a rap missive from the frontline of crustie / raver dissent, courtesy of the Anglo- Saudi rapper Heitham Al-Sayed.

At their most basic, they proffer Rage Against the Machine-style assertions of individuality (on 'States of Mind') and slam the gangsta-rap lifestyle (on 'Peanut Head'). The articulate directness of Al-Sayed's raps is often in stark contrast to the rest of the music but, when it all comes together, it's as exhilarating a sound as any around: the juddering surge of paranoia that is 'Age of Panic' is the most succinct summary of contemporary social ills likely to make the charts this year, while 'What's Going On' (not the Marvin Gaye song) makes sense of the 'future primitive vibe' into which they tap so assuredly.

With 'Middle Class Revolt', aka The Vapourisation of Reality, the Fall approach contemporary mores in the opposite manner to Senser, with typically enigmatic lyrics harnessed to what is probably their most focused music since This Nation's Saving Grace. The single '15 Ways', a mutant outgrowth of Paul Simon's '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover', continues the distorting-mirror pop of The Infotainment Scan, while the searing 'Hey] Student' takes up the psychobilly baton from earlier Fall garage- punk classics like 'Fiery Jack' and 'Mr Pharmacist'.

Mark Smith is on typically acerbic form on songs like 'Reckoning', 'Not Up to Much' and 'Surmount All Obstacles', while managing to define himself (one presumes) in 'M51' as 'just a well-read punk peasant' - which, to use John Lennon's phrase, is something to be.

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