Music: Album Round-up

GOLDIE Saturnzreturn (London 828990 2)

Massively indulgent - at a whopping two-and-a-half hours - and overweeningly ambitious, Saturnzreturn finds the majordomo of drum'n'bass straining against the restrictions of a style which he's clearly outgrown. In particular, Goldie here seems to be struggling with the emotional sterility of a form which is painstakingly pecked out over a computer keyboard to give the illusion of hyperactivity. Each additional snare-crack or rimshot that gets crammed into a bar effectively leaves that much less room available for anything as vague and unquantifiable as emotion, which is perhaps why most drum'n'bass creators rely on amorphously moody string pads and waves of synth noise beneath their juggling jungle rhythm tracks.

Goldie's way out of this emotional impasse is "Mother", an hour-long symphonic exercise which shifts from an introductory seven minutes of electronic rushing noise into an extended bout of orchestral gloom, occasionally punctuated with a dash or two of skittering percussion. A sombre swathe of strings in the vein of oppressive piety favoured by the fashionable likes of Tavener and Gorecki, John Altman's arrangement shrouds Goldie's and Diane Charlemagne's voices as they croon "I can feel my mother/ surrounds me/ beside me". Which would be fine for 10 or 20 minutes, but is wearyingly tedious spread across an entire hour: There's little sense of progression or resolution, and it seems to be the length it is simply to impress with its grandiosity: "Mother" does have the effect, however, of making the rest of the double CD's tracks seem refreshingly brief, even the 16-minute jungle-jazz opus "Dragonfly", whose fluttering flutes, chattering beats and jazz guitar chords coalesce in the album's most satisfying piece. This seems to be Goldie's more natural inclination, judging by the acid- jazz flugelhorn stylings of "Believe" and "Crystal Clear". Certainly, none of the album's big-name collaborations enjoy similar force and focus: "Truth" is a vocal tone-poem featuring David Bowie crooning over synthetic wheezes; KRS-1's abysmal rap on "Digital" does neither party any favours; and the mix of Gallagher guitar and Goldie shouting that is "Temper Temper" seems like a hand-me-down stab at "Setting Sons" crossover that simply doesn't come off. I can't help feeling that the album's needless massiveness disguises a crisis of stylistic confidence.

PEARL JAM Yield (Epic EPC 489365 2)

Continuing the more low-key, post-grunge direction of No Code, Pearl Jam's Yield is their most sensitive, and in some ways their most compelling, album so far. Instead of the sheets of buzzsaw guitar, most tracks float on beds of gentle arpeggios, and even Eddie Vedder seems more at peace with himself, less determined to impose his suffering on the world. "Faithful" is one of several tracks which seem to take as their theme the notion of "only connect". Having painted themselves into ever tighter emotional corners on previous albums, they've finally acknowledged the need to break free of dead-end solipsism - to yield, indeed. As the album builds gently and logically to the wistful, resigned "All Those Yesterdays", the impression is left of a band about to transform, the better to face the future.

VARIOUS ARTISTS And the Times They Were a-Changin' (Debutante 555 431-2)

"Nobody sings Dylan like Dylan", ran a famous advertising campaign of the late Sixties, a time when everybody but the man himself, it seemed, could score huge hits with Dylan songs. The slogan obscured a much more interesting corollary, regarding the unparalleled breadth of artists and styles to which his songs could be applied. Whether poetic, prophetic, nonsensical, elegiac or accusatory, they blossomed with enigmatic universality for all manner of artists - Jimi Hendrix, Bryan Ferry, Manfred Mann, the Byrds - all included on this splendid compilation of Dylan covers, alongside other classic Bob interpreters such as Joan Baez, the Band, Johnny Cash and Van Morrison.

The quality throughout is extraordinarily high, reflecting the way that Dylan's songs pushed musicians to perform outside their skin. Albino bluesman Johnny Winter, for instance, will never do anything to equal his coruscating "Highway 61 Revisited", while the magical pairing of Aaron Neville's angelic tones in "With God on Our Side" still represents the high water mark of The Neville Brothers' output. All told, an essential anthology - and not one of them sings Dylan like Dylan.

USHER My Way (Arista 73008 26043 2)

Teen prodigy Usher has everything it takes to be a modern soul star - the washboard stomach, the rubbery legs, the LaFace production team, and the trousers that resolutely refuse to stay up above the waistband of his underpants. A pity, then, that all concerned should have stinted so on the nine songs here, which with the sole exception of the hit "You Make Me Wanna" are so unmemorable they're virtually transparent. To compensate, Usher does his hit twice, which is nice, although it does tend to point up the gulf in quality between its springy acoustic guitar groove and the characterless ballads and routine swingbeat licks that comprise the rest of My Way. Titles such as "Nice And Slow" and "Bedtime" indicate the full range of Usher's interests, and just in case you're still in any doubt, foul-mouthed rapper Lil' Kim is on hand on "Just Like Me" to spell it out for you in close to gynaecological detail. How odd, then, that despite such single-minded focus on the boudoir, the album should be almost completely devoid of eroticism.

JAMES IHA Let It Come Down (Hut/Virgin CDHUT 47)

This solo debut by Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha is exactly the kind of solo record that members of West Coast bands used to make in the early Seventies: plangent, mellifluous, and largely lacking in decent songs, but done with such good spirit that it's hard to dislike too intensely. After all, if you spent most of your life bringing Billy Corgan's megalomaniac musical vision to fruition, you'd probably fancy a walk on the mild side on your day off.

The album scores most with Iha's tunes, which are mild and winsome, fluffy little things, sung in a gentle, unassuming manner highly reminiscent of the cult songwriter Freedy Johnston. There, alas, the comparison ends, as Iha clearly has difficulty finding interesting things to write about, and so ends up maundering on and on about the kind of idealised, saccharine lurrve that exists only in the slackly-coiled imaginations of American songwriters. The Pumpkins' albums might profit from a little slackening of Corgan's compositional grip, but the general lack of vitality and musical ambition raises the question as to why Iha felt so pressed to make a solo album in the first place.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Client IT Account Manager

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client IT Account Manager is ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / Analyst (CIMA finalist/newly qualified)

    £32000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / F...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of a mark...

    Recruitment Genius: Help Desk Specialist

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides Reliabili...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor