POP / Albums: Goodbye cowboy, hello creep

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The Independent Online
LYLE LOVETT

I Love Everybody

(MCA)

THE SUN has gone down somewhat on Lovett's West. We find him on the cover of his new album looking fishy on the pavements of a European city, nicely suited as ever, but accoutred with cappuccino and framed by the skyless reflections in shopfronts. To a considerable extent his songwriting has gone the same way. The mesquites and mad-eyed cowgirls of Lovett's long, dry, slightly tired Texan perspectives have been displaced in his portfolio of good chat-up material by fiercely cropped close-ups of the twisty bits of human pathology. Where once he was prepared to let the felicities of his environment do his flirty work for him, now he pulls up a chair, looks you between the eyes and tells you a few disturbing facts about himself.

Perhaps exposure to Altman and Carver has caused this maturation. Perhaps exposure to Julia Roberts. It matters little either way. The sarcastic Lyle who loves everybody is a distressingly convincing character rather than a disarmingly fraudulent one. His song titles tell the story: 'Skinny Legs', 'Fat Babies', 'Creeps Like Me', 'They Don't Like Me', 'The Fat Girl' and 'I Love Everybody'. It's a litany of tics and niggles, of weird likes and simple loathings, and it all comes out of him with the same fragrant, languorous yet detailed swing as it always did.

There are fewer Hammond organs on this album and more 'featured cellos', and the tone owes less to R than to B, although Lovett's thing is still primarily western swing. However, these tiny amendments of musical style are of no great significance to a singer / writer who only knows one tune but a thousand ways to bend it out

of shape.

MASSIVE ATTACK

Protection

(Circa)

THIS Bristolian hip hop / reggae / dance collective's 1991 debut, Blue Lines, was a classic. A real one. It had all the attributes. Memorable tunes, clever ideas, great singing, good sampling / playing. Furthermore, it had something to say for itself and, crucially, for its place and its time. It sounded local, like soul and reggae records used to. Bristol is not much like Memphis but in Blue Lines it did register as a place you might pass through and recognise from the record.

Protection doesn't sound much like anywhere at all. Producer Nellee Hooper has entered the closet from which Blue Lines emerged and flooded it with light and oxygen. Suddenly Massive Attack inhabits a frictionless atmosphere - a sonic balloon freighted with airy, open-ended grooves and allusive connections to other empty spaces. Tracey Thorn, for instance, is a conspicuous borrow from elsewhere. Protection is to Blue Lines what the Internet is to a basement studio in St Paul's. It's a place without locale.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, and Hooper is a man touched with brilliance - to wit, early Soul II Soul, Bjork etc. But in this studied ventilation of Massive's stuffy milieu something has been lost; something that can't be accounted for merely by the departure to more rarefied climes of the soulful but lugubrious Shara Nelson.

On the bright side, the veteran Jamaican crooner Horace Andy is still in the fold. His live interpretation of the Doors' 'Light My Fire' is less than incendiary, but 'Spying Glass', a poetic shaft of rasta paranoia lifted from the boxroom of his back catalogue, is as plangent as techno-dub reggae gets. Also, gloomy old Tracey T is on excellent form in her two cuts, 'Better Things' and the title track, both of which sketch scenarios palpably sourced in events of real time and space.

Not much else connects, however. Singer Nicolette is mannered and whinnying; the instrumental grooves are nondescript, if well-executed; while, sadly, the group's trademark, muttered raps, sound halting and muddy rather than like Chinese whispers from the underground. Never mind. Here's to the next one.

STILTSKIN

The Mind's Eye

(White Water)

THE SOUND of over-amplified electric guitars is by no means the social caustic it once was. In fact it seems to be something we're mostly deliriously happy to have around. Witness, for instance, the tremendous success this past summer of Stiltskin, whose theatrical 'Inside' enabled the group to make the transition from jeans-commercial soundtrack obscurity to chart-topping ubiquity on a surf of fat arpeggios and all-out fuzz attack.

Well, here's the album. And wouldn't you know it, Stiltskin are a profoundly uninteresting hard rock band, dealing in a sanitised version of the 'dynamic' grunge perfected by the lamented Nirvana. Still, the bit in the ad where the guitars go ker-smash and the Puritan girl behind the tree stands a-goggle at the slow Excaliburisation of a male torso from silken water is a shining moment in the history of rock's interface with commerce.

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