POP / Albums: It's a marvellous night for a trance dance

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Chrysalis CTCD42

THE title is Swahili for 'beehive of culture', aptly enough since the impression is of an all-singing, all-dancing, all- clothes-designing commune in a perpetual ferment of colourful creativity.

As before, most of the songs deal specifically with the black American experience, that being the cultural area AD view as being in most need of radical change. They may have sold five million copies of their debut album, but the intervening years have seen an even greater upsurge in the popularity of the gangsta rap of Snoop, Dre and Cypress Hill.

AD continue to stress discipline, history and activism, asking in 'United Minds' whether listeners 'know about the Panthers, the Move organisation, Kwame Nkrumah, the Zulu nation, or just Nikes and Pumas?'. To aid their outreach programme, they've called upon much the same touchstone sources as before - Al Green, Clinton, Isaac Hayes, Weather Report's Joe Zawinul - but in a less obvious fashion than previously. The celebratory nature of tracks such as 'Fountain of Youth', 'In the Sunshine' and the single 'Ease my Mind', meanwhile, makes it clear that AD's power-to-the-people stance is one of power offered to the people, rather than imposed upon them.


Not A Moment Too Soon

Curb CURCD 010

TIM McGraw is the latest Hat Act to grasp the middle- American musical consciousness, this album having assumed top slot in the pop chart, elbowing aside Pink Floyd and chanting Benedictine monks on its way.

It's becoming a common occurrence as American musical taste polarises along explicitly racial lines and more and more white folk get swept up by country dancing, though quite why McGraw should have won this particular lottery is anybody's guess. Like Garth Brooks, Louisiana boy McGraw is less a writer than a personality, with a fetching little country catch to his voice, which he tends to over-use. He's perhaps closest in sound and style to John Anderson - another of the co-producer James Stroud's satisfied clients.

Tracks like 'It Doesn't Get Any Countrier Than This' and 'Give It To Me Strait' are fairly standard rockin' country stuff, replete with honky-tonk piano, whirligig fiddle and wheedling steel guitar. A few of the tracks, like the hit single 'Indian Outlaw', display a more adventurous spirit than usual for the genre. But ultimately the scale of McGraw's success remains something of a mystery. And that mini-Zapata moustache will never be back in fashion, dude.


Trance Europe Express 2


Artificial Intelligence

Warp LP 23

THE ambient house wave continues to swell, as these two double-CD sets demonstrate. The Trance Europe Express 2 set is the better, casting its net wider, from the oceanic to the anaesthetic, while Artificial Intelligence focuses solely on Warp artists.

Of these, the best - Dutch disc-twirler Speedy J and Cabaret Voltaire's Richard Kirk - are also featured on TEE2 alongside a host of studio boffins hiding behind pseudonyms. The Irresistible Force, whose 'Lotus Position' is one of the album's more delicate, glistening pieces, is in fact DJ Mixmaster Morris. FFWD features the collaborative efforts of Robert Fripp, Thomas Fehlmann, and Orbsters Alex Patterson and Thrash. Their 'Lucky Saddle' harks back to the Can of Future Days, an aural environment assembling itself almost by accident from scraps of sound. Less enticing is 'Safety' by Scanner, who dully trawls the digital airwaves for overheard telephone conversations and other aural detritus.

The AI set starts strongly, with Mark Franklin's gently growing 'Release to the System', but too many of the pieces depend on one idea - a Gothic mist of chords, a puttering rhythm or a wobbly flange effect - stretched out for way too long. Away from the dance-floor the appeal of that excessive repetition is considerably less enduring.


Take Me To God

Island CID 8017

ON his second mature album, Jah Wobble continues plotting his roots on a cosmopolitan, pan-global scale, with varying degrees of success. Most of these multi-ethnic hybrids, however, are at the very least refreshing, whether they feature the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan on a Celtic-eastern blend ('The Sun Does Rise'), or Abdel Ali Slimani on a rousing Rai stepper ('I'm an Algerian'). But though Wobble's collaborators range as far afield as Colombia, Norway and Senegal, the most important of his fellow musicians here has to be the group's resident guitarist, the excellent Justin Adams.

(Photograph omitted)