The Division Bell
(EMI CD EMD 1055)
WHAT'S the Big Idea? There's always a Big Idea with a Pink Floyd album, and more often than not it turns out to be alienation. So it proves here: the group's first studio album in seven years, The Division Bell is generic Floyd, with trails of bluesy guitar soaring slowly against an atmospheric fog of keyboard textures, an English voice quietly outlining its lonely isolation, and wistful intimations of a nicer, more innocent Olde Englande in the church bells which toll the album out.
The Big Idea this time is stifled communication, as intimated by the cover illustration of two big sculptured tin profiles talking at each other, so close they almost make one, more complete, front-view face, but still essentially separate. A Cubist joke on an Easter Island scale, it reflects the underlying theme of distance and disconnection in songs like 'Wearing the Inside Out' and 'Poles Apart' - the latter a song for a departed 'golden boy' it's hard not to read as either Syd Barrett or Roger Waters.
'Keep Talking' continues the concept, sampling Stephen Hawking's BT advertisement speech: here's this inanimate, mechanical voice, so fixed yet so free, surmounting immense natural obstacles in its urge to communicate - which it does with a lucidity few could equal. A pity, then, that the song itself has so little to communicate beyond its bald statement of apartness.
Musically, the group's slow, patient tread is exactly as remembered, save for some misdirected attempts to rock a little on 'Coming Back to Life' and 'Take It Back', the latter an appalling blob of stadium rock. It's as if they're meekly accepting this dullard mainstream as their natural home, rather than fielding the ball batted back by newer progressive-rock acolytes like The Orb and Ozric Tentacles.
(Victory / London 828 489-2)
COMMUNICATION, or the lack of it, is clearly the overriding theme du jour in prog-rock circles of a certain age. Stephen Hawking gets a mention here too, clumsily invoked for purposes best known to the group, and probably not too pleasing to the scientist: 'Far away, in the depths of Hawking's mind' may be the worst line of the Nineties so far.
Like the Floyd, Yes are sui generis, but mercifully so in their case: the vapid feel-good spiritualism of Jon Anderson's lyrics is ill accompanied by the thumpingly pedestrian beats - has Alan White bothered listening to any other music for the last decade? - and the ego-riddled soloing of Trevor Rabin and Tony Kaye. Rabin's production, meanwhile, renders songs like 'The Calling' similar to Fleetwood Mac-style soft-rock, only with daft time- changes and fiddly bits. But, as ever, it's Anderson's lyrics which demand the lion's share of contempt. They feature sentiments seemingly custom- built for ridicule ('Where will you be when you're not here / How many lives in this earth time?'), and the occasional utterance that only the terminally under-occupied would bother constructing, like 'We are made to be here now'. Perhaps, but this album is made to be in a remainder bin tomorrow.
The Funky Headhunter
(SBK SBKCD 27)
UNTIL Cypress Hill and Snoop Doggy Dog broke big last year, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice's combined album sales were probably greater than all other rap acts taken together. Things change, though, which is why both men are playing a different tune on their latest releases.
Hammer's attempt to update his image smacks of panic: out go the flapping baggy pants, in comes the woollen cap, as Hammer, sullen behind shades, tries to convince us he's really always been a bit of a gangsta. Vanilla Ice, meanwhile, has decided he's really a ganja-rapping sex machine, proferring a 'blunt' and a bag of weed in two of the sleeve photos, growing his hair out into unkempt short dreads, proclaiming his sexual proclivities in 'I Go Down' and trying on the most club-footed of reefer raps like 'Roll 'Em Up', the best line of which goes 'bong diddley bong'. He doesn't seem to have learnt much from the copyright brouhaha caused by 'Ice Ice Baby', though: 'Fame' could well have been built from (re- played) chunks of the 'Voodoo Chile' intro and the Bowie / Lennon 'Fame' riff (neither credited).
Both men cite their former multi-platinum status as evidence of their intrinsic worth, though the brags simply indicate the altitude from which both have fallen. Hammer's is the better record, though musically his tracks still rely too much on source samples from the likes of Prince, Zapp, Clinton and The Gap Band. But he's a terrible rapper really, completely lacking the ability to cast a spell by style or subject like Snoop or Ice-T. The fate of both these LPs relies on the dance routines they've devised for the videos.