POP ALBUMS / Getting back to his roots

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The Independent Online
SHANE MACGOWAN AND THE POPES The Snake (ZTT 4509-98104-2) ON HIS first solo outing, Shane MacGowan abandons the more restless global influences which, for better or worse, infected the Pogues' later albums, returning to the rock'n'rebel-song Celtic-rock style of earlier years.

It's a comforting reversion: the music can be relied upon to be little more demanding than sprightly fiddley-diddley jigs like 'Aisling', or raw thrash-a-billy rave-ups like the single 'That Woman's Got Me Drinking', leaving one to focus attention more rewardingly on the words, which are funny, thoughtful, and frequently four-lettered. 'Church of the Holy Spook' opens the album like a ragged spiritual manifesto, with MacGowan affirming his irreverent faith in the Holy Ghost, characterised as some rocking ecumenical spirit: 'the sacred blood of the Holy Ghost . . . boiling in my veins'. It's the opening statement of a surprisingly consistent and considered world view, against which the misadventures and regrets of the narrator are measured.

JAMIROQUAI Return of the Space Cowboy (Sony Soho Square 477813 2) SLICK, bland and bound straight for the top of the album charts, Jamiroquai's sophomore effort adds little to their debut's parade of Seventies funk influences. The opener 'Just Another Story' is typical: the band vamps in a Headhunters style while vocalist J K extemporises a street tale in that hip, Americanised manner that's midway between rapping and singing. It's all right as far as it goes, but, like nearly every track, it's too long.

The musicianship is tight and tasteful - the extraordinary bassline to 'Light Years', for instance, exhibits an exemplary grasp of funk space. Only 'Journey to Arnhemland' develops a sense of communality, and that's largely due to the presence of the didgeridoo player Wallis, whose low drone unites the disparate elements in a grounded, tribal whole.

Otherwise, the bases here have all been better covered before: 'Manifest Destiny' features Gil Scott-Heron- styled political-jazz ruminations, but without his barbed acuity; 'Stillness in Time' adds Fifth Dimension-styled harmonies to J K's arsenal of vocal moves; and 'Scam' features the kind of orchestral arrangement with which Rich Tufo and Johnny Pate once draped Curtis Mayfield's soul-protest funk in stark grace. There is a darker vision involved there, but at least it's not jazz-funk lite, like this.

YELLO Zebra (Mercury 522 496-2) NOT ALL jazz-funk need be as sterile as Jamiroquai suggests; 'Suite 909' opens this, Yello's seventh album, with what sounds like a snatch of Herbie Hancock's Sextant, but Boris Blank, the studio genius behind their music, takes it to another place. Yello may have been turning out this stuff for 13 years - the distance between their first single 'Bostich' and this album's 'Move Dance Be Born' is barely perceptible - but Zebra is a more than usually spectacular application of their methods.

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