POP / Albums: Not much of an enigma

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ENIGMA

Enigma 2: The Cross Of Changes

(Virgin CDVIR 20)

COLDCUT

Philosophy

(Arista/BMG 74321164262)

STAYING-POWER is a problem for today's producer-remixers when it comes to their own releases: with little by way of original material the problems of the difficult second album can be more pronounced when all that you have is a style and a few samples.

This pair of production outfits attacks the problem in different ways. While the single 'Return to Innocence' suggests a seamless continuation of the original Enigma method of gossamer, airy nothingness with a Native American Indian vocal line, elsewhere there are signs that Michael Cretu - who is Enigma - is being re-positioned in the marketplace as something closer to Mike Oldfield. 'The Dream of the Dolphin', in particular, sounds like an Oldfield off-cut, while 'Out from the Deep' features some awful progressive-rock bombast once its 'Dear Prudence' arpeggios are done with.

Cretu's also acquired a ham-fisted theosophical 'message' to go along with what remains of his devotional ambient-house music, bleating away about life, God, truth, and, that sort of stuff. One might have thought it was not the best point in his career to start calling himself Curly MC.

Coldcut duo Jonathan More and Matt Black already have more notches to their musical belt than most production teams, having been responsible for both the remix of Eric B & Rakim's 'Paid in Full', and for launching the careers of both Yazz and Lisa Stansfield. On Philosophy, they unveil another notable talent, Janis Alexander, whose cabaret leanings only get the better of More & Black on a dull cover of 'Autumn Leaves'. For the rest of the album, she sparkles on a series of fat-sounding funk-soul constructions like 'Chocolate Box' and 'Pearls', while Coldcut themselves apply the kind of panache to jazz-funk sample-grooves like 'Fat Bloke' and the title-track which few of the current crop of jazz-rap producers can equal.

There are failures, of course - the overblown soul anthem 'Peace and Love' is dragged out for far too long, and 'Sign', a half-baked ambient- house piece in the Enigma vein, featuring portentous recitation of star-signs - but the successes far outweigh them. And who else these days could replicate the mood of Marvin Gaye's 'I Want You' as well as they do on 'Kinda Natural'?

MATERIAL

Hallucination Engine

(Axiom 314-518 351-2)

THE latest of Bill Laswell's exercises in multi-cultural fusion music blends expertly wielded instruments with names like qanoum, ney, daff and ghatam alongside more commonplace western (rock / jazz) instrumentation, on a series of compositions which drift closer to the contemporary ambient-house mode than on previous albums.

The usual jaw-dropping line-up of musicians has been assembled, with Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell from the P-Funk crew working alongside Sly Dunbar in the backline, while the likes of violinist Shankar and saxist Wayne Shorter lend their dominant character to their featured tracks. Shorter, in particular, brings welcome echoes of Weather Report to the space-funk workout 'Black Light', while his famous sax figure from that group's 'Cucumber Slumber' is driven along by tabla and the liquid tones of Jonas Hellborg's fretless bass on this album's cover version. William Burroughs, who worked on Material's Seven Souls album four years ago, is also featured on a version of 'Words of Advice for Young People'.

BITTY MCLEAN

Just to Let You Know . . .

(Brilliant BRIL CD 1)

BITTY MCLEAN put together the demos from which this album is largely constructed while working as a tape operator at UB40's Birmingham studio. No surprise, then, that it should share the group's approach, dealing in pleasantly uplifting old-style reggae without even the merest hint of ragga obstreperousness, and mingling Bitty's own compositions with a selection of judiciously chosen cover versions. The result may not set the world on fire, but Bitty is nevertheless a welcome addition to the UK reggae scene.

Unfortunately, Bitty's originals are rather put in the shade by his covers, which include Justin Hines's 'Here I Stand' and Leroy Sibbles's 'Stop this World' at the rootsier, protest end, and a jaunty reworking of 'Dedicated to the One I Love' at the more romantic end. 'What Goes Around (Come Around)' is simply not strong enough to survive in this company.

THERAPY?

Troublegum

(A&M 540 196-2)

THERAPY?'S Andy Cairns is very much a Johnny One-Note, both in his caricature Mr Angry voice and in his lyrical approach. A brief scan of this album's lyrics furnishes the following selection of idle boasts: 'I'm in hell and I'm alone', 'I think I've gone insane', 'I'm not afraid to die, I'm just scared of going to hell', 'Don't belong in this world or the next one', 'I'm ashamed of the person I am'. . .

The last one, of course, was written by Ian Curtis, who at least had the courage of his convictions when it came to introvert gloom-mongering. Therapy?'s cover-version of Joy Division's 'Isolation', however, renders it indistinguishable from the rest of their cornball-psychotic grunge-punk thrashes. As social complainers, they're more specific than grunge, less death-fixated than thrash-metal, foisting instead a stew of regret, reproach and resentment. And as for Cairns's fanciful claim to 'know how Jeffrey Dahmer feels': no you don't, you silly little twerp.

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