POP / Albums: Destination zero: Andy Gill on the dead-beat sound of the Manic Street Preachers, and the upbeat lyrics of Sugar

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The Independent Online
MANIC STREET

PREACHERS

The Holy Bible

(Epic 477421 2)

SUGAR

File Under: Easy Listening

(Creation CRECD 172)

THOUGH British-provincial rather than American-suburban, The Holy Bible shares with grunge its borderline-nihilist dissatisfaction and low-level musical imagination. Both grunge and the Manic Street Preachers would probably trace their roots to punk, but in Manic's case it's punk Situationism reduced to pure style, drained of power by the self-consciousness of its constant references to Plath and Pinter and a thousand politicians.

There's an enormous gulf, though, between the group's professed revolutionary sentiments and the huffing conformity of their bland hard-rock style, with its polite hooks and guitar breaks. This is largely due to their working methods, which separate lyrical and musical chores out between different halves of the band. The anorexic arguments of '4st 7lb', for instance, are well- wrought - 'Four stone seven, an epilogue of youth / such beautiful dignity in self-abuse' - but they don't belong in this setting, singer James Dean Bradfield shoe-horning the words into mundane structures which bear little relation to the subject at hand.

The same holds true whether they're dealing with death camps, anorexia, political correctness or the erotic appeal of demagoguery, all of which get run up the flagpole here, some flapping a little harder than others. Their anger, though, hardens into misanthropy: there's little here but disgust, for one and all, expressed with unattractive puritan fervour. It's as if they've peered into the abyss for so long, they can see nothing but the abyss peering back at them.

They should listen to Sugar's Bob Mould, who's peered long and hard into that abyss, but had the strength to turn his back on it. 'It's such a groovy thing / Your hating everything,' he scolds in the anti- hipster song 'Granny Cool', 'You've wallowed in yourself so long / And dragged your other friends along.' This is as sharp a take on youthful misanthropy as any, Mould letting the music carry the message naturally, with dense wedges of melodic power. File Under: Easy Listening marks a welcome return to the melodic grunge style of Sugar's 1992 debut after the more wracked introspection of last year's Beaster, with Mould demonstrating in songs like 'Panama City Motel' how to deal with matters like alienation and displacement without alienating his listeners.

JEFF BUCKLEY

Grace

(Columbia COL 475928 2)

JEFF BUCKLEY has inherited his father Tim's cheekbones, and a lot more besides: there's a similar delight in the giddy possibilities of the human voice, and a similar interest in applying it in ambitious, elaborate settings.

The opener 'Mojo Pin' is typical: Buckley's voice floats in on a delicate breeze of guitar, solidifies into words and tracks its way through an arrangement that's more maze than accompaniment.

The arpeggiated chords of the title-track follow a more straightforward sequence, though as the album progresses, Buckley ventures in search of more abstruse chord progressions and textures - the Eastern- flavoured strings of 'Last Goodbye', the churchy harmonium that introduces 'Lover, You Should've Come Over' - through which his lyrical musings upon love slither their serpentine way. It's undoubtedly one of the year's most impressive debuts, though he's still a bit too young to carry off Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' with complete conviction.

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