Finley Quaye

Maverick A Strike

Epic 488758 2

's excellent debut makes a mockery of the old music-biz adage about needing "good songs". There's nothing particularly hummable about these pieces, but Quaye's voice has such compelling character, and the splendidly spacious production packs such a considered punch, that Maverick A Strike will still be played long after more song-oriented exercises in popcraft have worn out their welcome.

Quaye comes from a musical family; his brother Caleb used to play with Elton John, and his uncle Tricky named his own debut Maxinquaye after their grandma. Finley's album, however, reflects more the influence of Jamaica: his raps echo the dramatic, declamatory delivery of the great Jamaican toasters, and the percussive undertow to tracks like "Red Rolled and Seen" recalls the hypnotic, righteous Nyabinghi beat favoured by rootsier Rastafarians.

The arrangements on Maverick A Strike are a bit like drum'n'bass without the frenetic pace: the sound is suspended between heavy, up-front dub bass and drums, with most other elements - the little eddies of guitar, stabs of organ, dark shadows of strings, and the occasional soft patter of African thumb-piano - treated as tints and textures. It's a relaxed, wide-open sound which leaves plenty of room for Quaye's sharp, commanding voice to inhabit with his staccato bursts of imagery, the "wicked story/sonic powerful glory" celebrated in "The Way of the Explosive". Well worth investigating, if you can bring yourself to ignore the ghastly sleeve design.


Only God Can Judge Me

WEA 0630-19539-2

Those tears Mark Morrison was alleged to have shed at his court hearing must have been tears of joy: with just a comparatively soft, safe UK custodial sentence, it acquired him the kind of criminal street-cred that goes down so well in the US, enabling him to capitalise on the situation with this 23-minute mini-album named after one of Tupac Shakur's favourite sayings.

That's not all he's borrowed from American rap: the opening media collage "Headlines", a smirking broadcast of his own notoriety, follows the tried and tiresome gangsta-rap format, while the self- explanatory "Blackstabbers", pointedly placed after a radio interview snippet concerning some minor backstage brouhaha, stokes the fires of Morrison's own persecution complex.

The saddest thing about all this is that his music deserves better than these hand-me-down attitudes. "Who's The Mack!" and the title-track, though clearly variants on the G-funk mode, are considerably more accomplished than recent American releases in the style, and the guest raps - from, respectively, Darkman and General Levy - are buoyant and idiosyncratic rather than dumb and brutal. Methinks Morrison doth protest too much with the excessive sanctimony of the two "Lord's Prayer" excerpts, but taken on its own terms, Only God Can Judge Me is an almost perfect example of the modern celebrity artefact.


The Mollusk

Mushroom MUSH3CD

Ween have always been utterly baffling, which is usually a recommendation, though previous releases have sometimes failed to repay the time spent investigating them. With The Mollusk, the songs are still as fantastic, improbable and eclectic as the sea-beast collage on the cover, but the album's unifying nautical theme aids in their comprehension: these are more mysteries of the deep than deep mysteries. Most of them are funny too, which helps.

Blending folk themes, punky thrashes, whiney synths and nonsensical sea- shanties, the album employs beauty in the service of absurdity. Many of the tracks utilise waltz-time metres - a rarity in these days of strict four-beat tempi - and several are excessively rude. Squeezebox and piratical "aye ayes" lend a whimsical "authenticity" to the salty sea-dog sing-along "The Blarney Stone", and vocal tracks here and there are pitch-shifted at random to lend a woozy, yawing feel. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most affecting tracks are those with the least comical content, such as the traditional lament "Cold Blows the Wind" and the surprisingly mellifluous break-up song "It's Gonna Be (Alright)", in which the only smile is triggered by the absurdly parenthetical title.