BRIAN ENO has turned into the rock music equivalent of a Hollywood script-doctor, a highly paid expert drafted in to sprinkle a little of what the Troggs once memorably called 'fairy dust' over recordings perhaps lacking that certain je ne sais quoi.
On his old colleague Bryan Ferry's new album, for instance, he's credited variously for sonic emphasis, sonic ambience, sonic awareness, sonic distress and something called 'swoop treatments', which seems to involve wibbly synthesiser noises. The result is the first Ferry album in some time that actually sounds the way a Ferry album should, all aswoon with an attack of the amorous vapours. It's perhaps closest in mood to Roxy Music's Avalon, and the presence of their old Roxy colleagues Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay alongside Ferry and Eno on some tracks has aroused the intriguing prospect of a reunion of the original band.
Eno's treatments serve to suspend the singer in a shifting ambient space, giving an impression of abject helplessness. Beneath the veneer of sophistication, he implies, lies an emotional chaos way beyond the singer's control. For his part, Ferry does a decent job of evoking the contradictory tugs of heartache - on the best track, 'The Only Face', he renders the turmoil of fatal attraction in a few weary lines: 'You make me nervous / You telephone / You drive me crazy / I want to be alone'. But the settings that he and co-producer Robin Trower have devised for these songs sometimes teeter perilously close to characterless funk, with battalions of guitarists employed to layer several different styles - atmos guitar, drift guitar, scratch guitar and Arab guitar are just some of the descriptions used - over each track.
On the James album, Eno's strategy as producer was different: recording the group's Laid album, he had the band occupy two studios at once, jamming new grooves in one while the album took shape in another. From the producer's point of view, this is a cunning way of getting those pesky musicians out of the control-room, and it apparently also helped keep interest levels up. Whether this is reason enough to release the resultant pieces as an album is another matter entirely. Mixed in one day, the 23 tracks that make up Wah Wah are of variable quality, with digital delays and other effects applying layers of interest where little might otherwise reside. The best tracks are those which develop into something slightly more structured, like 'Basic Brian' and 'Honest Joe', but too many simply state their musical case and leave. One is left with the feeling that these James jams might best have been worked on further, until they turned into more complete compositions.
BODY COUNT - Born Dead (Virgin / Rhyme Syndicate RSYND 2)
WHEN Ice-T puts a Parental Advisory sticker on his albums, he's not joking. By far the most sensitive song on his thrash-metal band Body Count's second LP is 'Hey Joe', and as you may recall, it's about killing a woman.
It's a pretty sorry album, to be honest - perhaps a little more technically accomplished than the Cop Killer debut, but lagging miles behind the likes of Anthrax in terms of song construction and musical invention.
''Masters of Revenge' is old hat, a lump of excruciating trudge-metal in Black Sabbath-style, and when the band do manage to (literally) get up to speed on tracks like the homicidal nightmare 'Last Breath' and the thrash'n' threat opus 'Drive By', they're wasted on poor material. The anti-militarist rant 'Shallow Graves' is the best thing here, the litany of horror at least applied to a purpose, but overall Born Dead simply illustrates the infantilising power of heavy metal - compared to the predatory grace of his rap albums, the more Ice-T swears and threatens here, the more silly he sounds.Reuse content