Just how the Stones should sound; ROCK

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Record Retailers could well look back at tomorrow as Gold Monday. There are enough madly anticipated albums released to keep every store afloat until Christmas, and so, for one week only, concert reviews will take second place to album reviews, starting with the Rolling Stones.

One of the best Stones myths of yore is that Keith Richards, laid low by sex and drugs and more drugs, had to check into a Swiss clinic for a total blood transfusion. It's sadly apocryphal - everyone knows you can't get blood from a Stone - but on the evidence of Bridges to Babylon (Virgin, all formats), the Stones have had transfusions, maybe not of blood, but certainly of energy and ideas, from their young co-producers: Don Was, who produced 1994's Voodoo Lounge, is joined by Danny Saber of Black Grape, and the Dust Brothers, the team behind Beck's Odelay.

But don't expect the Stones to have turned into your favourite contemporary artiste (or to have "done a Bowie", in the parlance). "Might As Well Get Juiced" is given a fuzzy, futuristic makeover, and "Thief In the Night" opens like Beck's "Where It's At", with a lazy electric piano and crackling beats (I smugly scribbled "Dust Bros" in my notes, before reading in the press release that, no, it was masterminded by Don Was), but the rest of the music is still very much the Stones - and that's the point. It's the Stones as they used to sound, instead of the counterfeit Stones we've been hearing for the past couple of decades. Compare Voodoo Lounge with the new "Too Tight". The former was clean and polished; the latter is loud, unruly and organic. The old dogs haven't learnt any new tricks; they've just remembered the old tricks they used to do so well.

"You'll Never Make a Saint of Me" has more in common with "Sympathy For the Devil" than Biblical references. "Already Over Me" could be the sequel to "Wild Horses". And on "Lowdown", Richards finally reminds us why they used to call him the Human Riff. It's almost impossible to take Mick Jagger's hamming seriously, but his vivid songwriting make this the best Rolling Stones album since Give Out But Don't Give Up by Primal Scream.

As Dr Johnson might have said, a new album of original material by Bob Dylan is like Shane MacGowan walking: it doesn't matter if it's not done well, you are surprised to find it done at all. Time Out of Mind (Columbia, CD/tape) is Dylan's first release for seven years, if you don't count live albums, compilations or cover versions - and the fact that it certainly is done well is a bonus.

A 73-minute riposte to rumours of chronic writer's block, Time Out of Mind opens with the nightmarish "Love Sick". The music is spooky and stark, and Dylan's wizened croak is the voice of doom. "I'm sick of love," he spits, slipping into his latest identity as a mean ol' blooze man. He considers the album "a performance record instead of a poetic literary type of thing", but most of the backing consists of serviceable, repetitive bar-room shuffles. Daniel Lanois, the producer, has gone for traditional organ-heavy arrangements that would have been done better three decades ago. But even the 12-bars are sustained by their inimitable Dylanisms, and there are two wondrous ballads, "Make You Feel My Love" and the crushingly world-weary "Not Dark Yet". "Highlands" excites a perverse fascination, too. It's a 16-minute blues, on which Mr Zimmerman recovers some of the freewheeling, yarn-spinning spirit of "Tangled Up In Blue" or even "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream". The song's crux is a non-sequiturial conversation between the narrator and a waitress, which culminates in her allegation that he doesn't read female authors. "She says, 'You just don't seem like you do.' / I said, 'You're way wrong.' / She says, 'Which ones have you read, then?' / I said, 'I read Erica Jong.'" And you thought his powers were waning.

The Verve's new LP was pencilled into most magazines' Albums of the Year lists months ago, largely because of the singles, "Bitter Sweet Symphony" and "The Drugs Don't Work". The confidence was justified: there are plenty more hits where those came from. Urban Hymns (Hut, CD/limited-edition double LP/tape) realises the vision of Richard Ashcroft - a man whose hollow face no Spitting Image puppet could exaggerate - and Nick McCabe, a subtle guitarist. Determined to create a rock'n'roll classic, they have fashioned a satisfyingly huge sound for their third album, and given it a running time of 76 minutes - although that includes the final "hidden track", a gimmick which should have long since been put out to grass. From lush soul ballads to wah-wah-laden psychedelic grooves, the songs' rolling arrangements are nearly as important as the melodies and Ashcroft's inspirational poetry. The Verve are hippies with spirit, intelligence and enough of an evangelical attitude to invest their platitudes and their grandeur with a credibility lacked by their old mates Oasis's last album. Urban Hymns is Definitely Maybe as re-recorded by Echo and the Bunnymen.

The Verve, along with Radiohead and Supergrass, present a persuasive case for that much maligned musical underclass: white boys with guitars. Leading the prosecution is Bjork, who wouldn't touch a Stratocaster when she could be recording her vocals by screaming down a mobile phoneline, recording her rhythm parts by drumming on a biscuit tin, then adding a Numanoid synth and an accordion to round things off.

The self-produced Homogenic (One Little Indian, all formats) was released last week. Her record company are calling it her "most uncompromising album", which is another way of saying: "How the hell are we going to sell this?" Most of the songs pitch the Icelandic String Octet's strict classical parts against a terrifying barrage of white-noise beats: good if you want to evoke the scene in Carry On Up the Khyber in which a chamber orchestra plays while a palace is being blown to pieces; bad if you want to sell millions of records.

Anyone brave enough to explore Bjork's alien musical terrain - complex and crystalline here, fluid and tidal there - will be rewarded. It's more homogeneous than the kaleidoscopic Post, but the sweeping fourth track, "Bachelorette", is probably the best she has ever recorded, and her extraordinary voice remains as ingenuous and powerful as her lyrics. Both are invested with naked, intense emotions which you couldn't get from Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey unless you pushed them over a cliff. AS OASIS entertained 19,000 people in the sold-out Earl's Court centre on Thursday, the group's euphoria must have been dimmed by the knowledge that 200 music lovers had chosen instead to witness the Shirehorses at the University of London Union. The fierce rivalry between the two bands is inevitable. The Shirehorses hail from Manchester, their songs sound like other people's, and if their leaders, Mark Radcliffe and Marc "Lard" Riley, are not as dangerously charismatic as the Gallagher brothers, then they are very nearly a match for Guigsy and Bonehead.

They took the stage to the strains of "Ride of the Valkyries" (plus some farting noises) and all critical categories crumbled before them. Was it pop? Was it comedy? Was it art? Was it none of the above? One thing is certain: if you thought Radcliffe and Riley were just failed Radio 1 breakfast show presenters, you know only half the story.

A guitarist and bassist complete the line-up, but it is Mark and Lard who have to be heard to be believed. Riley, like Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix before him, changes the way the guitar is played. Radcliffe does nothing less than transcend the shackles of his own identity to become a conduit for universal, spiritual truths. He also plays the drums quite well.

Beneath a U2-beating, multi-media sensory overload - mostly footage of horses clopping through a field - the band they're calling the new Brown Sauce unveiled their crypto-situationist sonic art terror statement, fearlessly destabilising outmoded paradigms of "good music" by rejecting the blinkered, capitalist emphasis on melody, talent, attitude, looks and rehearsal. The Shirehorses understand completely what Zoe Ball can never know - that in a postmodern, premillennial world, appearing to be stupid may be the most potent form of subversion available, and that rock'n'roll is not about how many hours you've sat practising your scales, it's about standing up and playing songs by Placebo and Hanson with rude words substituted for the proper lyrics.

The group's versatility cannot be described. Whereas so-called chameleon- of-pop David Bowie spent months in the identity of Ziggy Stardust, the Shirehorses were Dick Cave and the Bad Cheese (featuring Riley Minogue), Peela Tater, Baby Bloke, the Charley Twins and literally five other bands in one evening. I have seen the future of DJs mucking around and calling each other tosspots, and its name is the Shirehorses.

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