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Pop: The future according to Brats

NME Brats Tour: TheAudience, Warm Jets, Asian Dub Foundation, Stereophonics, Manchester University, 16 Jan 1998

Anyone who claimed to enjoy this evening from beginning to end should really be locked up. This roller coaster ride from the sublime to the ridiculous, taking in the under ripe and the over-rated along the way, is not the musical state of the nation address you might expect. It's instead a chance to let you see a nonsensical cross section of the bands tipped to rise in 1998.

Shoved on stage at half past eight and shambling into life all smiles are TheAudience, by turns youthfully optimistic and mysteriously, promisingly arch. Most of the early birds here have come to gorp because throaty singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor's mum Janet used to do things with sticky backed plastic on Blue Peter. On the strength of the forthcoming single, a spiteful "If You Can't Do It When You're Young, When Can You Do It?", this piece of trivia has a good chance of being forgotten.

As for The Warm Jets, curiously over-sold by some, the sorry truth will soon out with the release of an LP, Future Signs. Warm Jets try hard, beating their instruments senseless but at their heart there is little to write home about. This is punk-pop made by bright people with impressive record collections but nothing much really burning them up.

With precious little warning, Asian Dub Foundation light the blue touch- paper - each and every one of them jumping about the stage like it was made of metal and connected to the mains. The competition considered, this is an historic flashpoint, a sonic landslide. ADF have been hailed by Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie as the best band in the country. On tonight's evidence, you'd have to say he knows what he's talking about. Here is the last gasp of punk rock, an almighty noise which takes elements of jungle, hip hop, dub and metal and pushes them over the edge.

Normal guitar-bass-drums transmission is restored for Stereophonics, the sound of The Jam, had Bruce Foxton sacked Weller and The Drummer and replaced them with two more Bruce Foxtons perfectly cloned from a single mediocre cell. This is 1998 recommended to you by people who are using ear muffs as headphones. Marketed as no nonsense Welsh pop for the common man, Stereophonics are earnest and muscular. Verses and choruses fall like bricks just where you expect. All around me people jump up and down like it's Christmas. They're acting like this group are the best we have. I am willing to eat the contents of a well-stocked milliners if it can be proved beyond question that they're right and I'm wrong.

John McCready