POP ALBUMS / Return to the stone age

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- The Stone Roses

The Second Coming

(Geffen GED 24503)

By any but Donald Fagen's standards, five years is an absurdly long time to take between debut and sophomore albums. The inevitable result has been incrementally-hoisted expectations which the group couldn't possibly hope to fulfil as a succession of Next Big Things such as Nirvana, Suede and Oasis chipped away at their constituency. Following the debut's ''I Am the Resurrection'', they continue occupying the blasphemous high ground with The Second Coming and its 11-minute opening track ''Breaking Into Heaven''. This is actually two discrete tracks: the introductory water and jungle sound effects becoming a gentle ethnic-ambient shuffle which dies four-and-a-half minutes in, to be replaced by a more standard prog-rock song on which guitarist John Squire keeps his foot rocking on the wah-wah pedal for another six minutes.

It's Squire's album: he writes most of the songs, and spends most of the album demonstrating his facility with Hendrix / Page guitar flourishes. Unfortunately, Squire has also drawn his lyrical inspiration from gnarled old rock sources too - lines are lifted wholesale from The Doors and Guns N' Roses. It must be disconcerting to present yourself as the future of rock 'n' roll, only to find that you're as hidebound by rock's past as Lenny Kravitz.

Apart from the occasional track like the steaming groove of ''Begging You'', the album is a succession of let-downs: ''Ten Storey Love Song'' is insipid, while the droney ''Your Star Will Shine'' simply reminds one of their debut LP. At times, The Second Coming just sounds like a Seventies guitar shop: would-be axe heroes trying out standard metal licks. Some future of rock.

- Various Artists

The Unplugged Collection, Volume One

(Warner Bros. 9362-45774-2)

MTV's Unplugged series has become a standard-bearer for the anti-technological slant of Nineties AOR, replacing the post-Graceland mini-boom in ''world'' music as the last bulwark against all things samplery and synthesizery.

Based on the misconception that pure talent will shine through in the most naked surroundings, it usually shows how dependent talent is on a more sophisticated sonic environment: there's nothing naked about the strings on Soul Asylum's ''Somebody to Shove'', or k d lang's band of violin, vibes, slide guitar, piano and backing vocalists alongside the usual guitar / bass / drums. What is gained by outlawing electric instruments - particularly since all these ''acoustic'' sounds are undoubtedly being sent through rackfuls of effects machines, none of them exactly steam-driven?

Of the exceptions, Rod Stewart is probably the dinosaur who profits most from acousticisation, while REM's ''Half a World Away'' is replete with grace and emotion. But the most startling track is Neil Young's riveting pump-organ version of ''Like a Hurricane'', drawing heavily on the intimacy which remains the show's greatest virtue. But this 16-track Unplugged Collection is far too much of a haphazard rag-bag of styles. Would-be purchasers are advised to invest instead in Young's Unplugged album.

- Bob Dylan

Greatest Hits, Vol 3

(Columbia COL 477805 2)

Like most of his recent LPs, this album is clearly intended to cover up the writer's block Dylan has been suffering for years. The last original new material he released was on 1990's Under the Red Sky, and that was little more than nursery-rhymes and lists. There's one unreleased track here: ''Dignity'' was originally recorded by Daniel Lanois for Oh Mercy, but the remix here by Pearl Jam producer Brendan O'Brien is utterly naff. The sheer length of time since Dylan's More Greatest Hits in 1972 means that unarguably great moments like Blood on the Tracks and Oh Mercy receive only the same token one-track coverage as nadirs like Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove.

There's plenty of great moments here: ''Knockin' on Heaven's Door'', ''Tangled Up in Blue'', ''Series of Dreams'', ''Ring Them Bells'' and ''Forever Young'' - but any Greatest Hits should include ''Blind Willie McTell'' and ''Foot of Pride'' as well as more from Blood on the Tracks, at the least. Someone at Columbia ought to have treated the project with a little dignity.

(Photograph omitted)

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