Album Reviews: Watercolour blues

Andy Gill's round-up

ERIC CLAPTON Pilgrim (Reprise 9362-46577-2)

Pilgrim is so featherlight of touch, and so bereft of the kind of overt, upfront passion we have come to expect from blues guitarists, that it's hard to get excited about it one way or the other. The closest Clapton comes to transmitting that sort of deep blues feeling is the slow, impassioned "River Of Tears", and even that comes discreetly shaded with a watercolour tint of strings to ease the pain.

There are other blues offerings: St Louis Jimmy's ill-health plaint "Goin' Down Slow" is taken at a relaxed pace, as befits its subject, and elsewhere there's a live-sounding blues boogie, "Sick and Tired", and a mild blast of metallic funk or two ("She's Gone" and "One Chance"); but most of the album is taken up with subdued AOR essays meticulously stitched together using Protools computer studio technology by Simon Climie, once half of the pop-soulsters Climie Fisher. Not that this is a bad thing per se - the increased attention to detail pays dividends in places - but compared to Clapton's last few outings, there is a distinct air of diffident restraint holding back some of these tracks, keeping them as neat and unruffled as his Armani threads.

In terms of subject matter, Pilgrim involves a sort of 12-step approach to 12-bar business, with a ballad ("You Were There") about someone's support during "the days of wine and madness", and another song, "Circus", about Clapton's deceased son Conor, sparked by coming across his unused toys: "It's sad, so sad ... the circus left town". But whether this kind of blues- as-therapy works outside the most personal realm remains open to question; at times here, you simply feel embarrassed about intruding upon another's grief.

MORCHEEBA Big Calm (Indochina ZEN 017CD)

Starting as it means to continue, Morcheeba's second album opens with Skye Edwards gazing out over "The Sea", while the multi-instrumental genius Ross Godfrey sprinkles tiny guitar droplets over his brother Paul's lazy, laid-back groove, and a string section shimmers lightly on a nearby bandstand. It's a Big Calm indeed, this aquatic reverie, and the album never quite manages to drag itself away from the sun-kissed beach mood, even when exploring the more hazardous territory of "Shoulder Holster" and "Bullet Proof".

For one thing, Skye's gentle caress of a voice imposes its own imperatives of relaxation; for another, the brothers Godfrey appear to operate in such a haze of ganja that they're virtually incapable of devising any but the most smooth and mellow of grooves. Not that I'm complaining - compared with the tense, nervous offerings of fellow trip-hop operators such as Tricky and Portishead, it's a relief to hear music that doesn't set out to scare.

And in Ross Godfrey, Morcheeba have a protean musical talent, equally understated and tasteful whether trailing whiskery tendrils of sitar through "Shoulder Holster", adding funky clavinet and electric piano to "Friction" and "Let Me See", or sliding shiny curlicues of pedal steel guitar around "Part of the Process". Country trip-pop - now there's a genre to ponder.

TORTOISE TNT (City Slang 08705-2)

25 years after the drum solo became an indictable offence in rock'n'roll, Tortoise have the misplaced chutzpah to start their third album with a full 30 seconds of shimmery cymbals and jazzy flurries introducing a title track which unfurls into a cripplingly methodical guitar instrumental. After a few formulaic minutes, it dissolves amidst a patchwork of mumbles and found noises, before resurfacing with a little horn embellishment. It is the most drearily underwhelming opening to an album I have heard - though one entirely in keeping with all that follows.

Then again, it's a mistake to call Tortoise a rock'n'roll band - the chances are that if any of them were found accidentally rocking or rolling, they would be politely asked to leave. No, this is "post-rock" instrumental music, a pallid conflation of jazz and prog-rock which relies, in Tortoise's case, on the excessive use of mallet instruments such as vibes and glockenspiel - nice as novelty touches, but imposing a numbing petrification on vast tracts of TNT, where tracks such as "Ten-Day Interval" sound like pale copies of Steve Reich's gamelan-inspired pieces. There are one or two moments when discernible rock influences are allowed to creep in, such as "The Suspension Bridge at Iguazu Falls" - which by the sound of it is suspended somewhere midway between Frank Zappa and Steely Dan, though crucially lacking the pith and vinegar of either. Dull, dull, dull.

LIONROCK City Delirious (Concrete HARD 32LPCD)

As the DJ behind such Manchester club institutions as Spice and Most Excellent, Justin Robertson was a seminal influence on the likes of the Chemical Brothers, and could lay claim to the title of Big Beat Godfather. This second offering from his Lionrock ensemble exhibits the eclecticism he instilled in the scene, along with a nice line in propulsive, elastic grooves which add a touch of twitch and sway to the Big Beat imperative.

Robertson's samples come from more disparate sources than usual in dance music - there's some lovely Lalo Schifrin-style movie-theme horns in "Electric Hairdo", and a creepily effective Dr John horn line in "Wet Roads Glisten" - with a particular affinity for ska influences on the "new skank" hit single "Rude Boy Rock". It adds up to perhaps the most effective album- length evocation of edgy urban dystopia since Sabres of Paradise's Haunted Dancehall, but while the music is rarely less than inventive, the downbeat, deadpan poems (it's hardly rapping) by MC Buzz B detract from pieces such as "Rock Steady Romance" and the title track. Rappers can paper over shortcomings with vocal attitude, but when MC Buzz B starts on about the means of production in "Amazing New Product", it just sounds like a lecture.

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
people
Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environment
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Life and Style
Fraud contributes 11p to a £2.00 box of half a dozen eggs
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

    Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital