David Byrne: Feelings (Warner, CD/LP/ tape). On his first album in three years, Byrne finds himself unusually in touch with the musical mood of the times. Thanks to the easy-listening fad, and the likes of Beck, Black Grape and Tricky, the club world is more open than ever to Byrne's patented international eclecticism. Byrne meets contemporary pop halfway by recruiting British trio Morcheeba to furnish some jungle and trip-hop beats. Feelings, then, is an inspired, multi-cultural, multi- coloured cocktail, with more instrumental diversity per song than most artists manage in their whole career. "Daddy Go Down" answers the question, "What do you get if you cross a sitar with Ashley McIsaac's hoedown fiddle?" And "The Gates of Paradise" may be the best Country'n'Western'n'drum'n'bass track yet recorded. And feelings? Most of the time it's hard to be sure what Byrne is on about (canine mating habits and the state of America seem to be on his mind), but when he does let his feelings show - as on the cynical but wistful "They Are In Love" - he can affect the heart as well as the head and the feet. Nicholas Barber

Gary Barlow: Open Road (RCA, CD/LP/ tape). Designer stubble, ruminative frown, black-and-white sleeve photos - yes, Mr Take That's bid for maturity is here. What that means in practice is that we are denied the sight of Howard Donald's pectorals, and that the disco numbers are squeezed between bland, soft-focus ballads. Barlow is likeably honest about his calculating methods - he studies number-one hits to divine the key to their appeal - so it's no secret that this polished, efficient album is designed for the anaemic American swingbeat market. And it's no surprise that even Robbie Williams's impression of Oasis has more character than Barlow's of George Michael. The Americans are welcome to it. NB


Various Artists: 21st Century Soul (Talking Loud/Mercury, CD/tape). Even as the quality and scope of their output has improved dramatically, the ambitious UK dance label Talking Loud has continued to be stigmatised in the public ear as the imprint that brought you Omar. This exciting and adventurous compilation marks the moment at which they finally shed the skin of Brit-soul underachievement to reveal a sleek new pattern of forward-thinking endeavour. Some of these tracks - Nicolette's "No Government" for example - may already be familiar, and the ones that aren't (especially DJ Krust's contribution and the imposing 4 Hero featuring Ursula Loveless) soon will be. But so what if all the futuristic conceptual gloss is just so much marshmallow in the coffee: with this sweet an aftertaste, who's complaining? Ben Thompson


Wu-Tang Clan: Wu-Tang Forever (RCA/ Loud, 2xCD). While other rappers waste their energy on court appearances and shooting each other, this inscrutable Staten Island martial-arts family just keep on pushing the envelope. The long-awaited follow-up to 1992's devastating 36 Chambers: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Wu-Tang Forever fearlessly stares down the dreaded spectre of hip-hop second album syndrome (the time-honoured rap career blight wherein a debut of startling originality and inventiveness begets a grim sequel about crooked managers and the way you can't trust women because they only want your money). If anything, this monumental double CD set even surpasses its predecessor. Spiralling plinky-plunk Casio keyboards and a crazy violin virtuoso crop up in the first two numbers of this endlessly surprising production. Despite certain Clan alumni having released successful solo sets, they return to the fold with minds firmly on the job in hand: to colonise the consciousness of the world with haunting minor chords and hilariously paranoid Black muslim mathematicising. If you want to help them the CD box inner sleeve tells you how: "Become a recruiter and work with the Wu." Personal gain should not be your main motivation, but it's worth bearing in mind that, "The more you recruit, the more things you'll get, and the higher you'll move up in rank." BT


Shostakovich Symphony No11 ('The Year 1905'). Philadelphia Orchestra/ Mariss Jansons (EMI, CD). The most grandly programmatic of the Shostakovich symphonies, No11 was a public retrospective of Soviet history whose private subtext carried the trauma and anxiety of it all through to the contemporary ills of Stalinist oppression. Written in 1957, it was as bleak, brooding and bitter a score as the composer had attempted, with no more than a veneer of Socialist triumphalism to lighten its load; and the special strength of this recording is the sense its Latvian/Russian conductor Mariss Jansons gives of knowing only too well where the music comes from and how to read its mood. His performance with the Philharmonia is probably the finest (which is to say, the toughest) of all recent versions, including Ashkenazy's very recent one for Decca; and it captures the desolation of the score in epic terms, with savage bite in the attack and an unsettling vividness in the recorded sound. Only the coupling on the disc - with trifles of Shostakovich's Western-looking jazz-arrangements - is questionable. It's nice to have these things on disc, but they're bizarre company for the 11th Symphony to keep. Michael White


Ernest Ranglin: Memories of Barber Mack (Island Jamaica Jazz, CD). Wonderful follow-up to last year's surprise hit "Below the Bassline" by the veteran Jamaican guitarist, the man behind Millie's "My Boy Lollipop", and, as he himself slyly claims, perhaps the inventor of the move from the chugga- chugga rhythm of ska to the much slower chunk-a-chunk of reggae. Ernest Ranglin's guitar playing does not attempt to disguise its own fingerprints: harsh percussive stories, expressive blurs and smears and the burr of electricity travelling along bare wires mark his style rather than the squeaky-clean single-note runs of Jim Hall or Herb Ellis. Superbly rough-and- tumble drumming from Sly Dunbar pins the music down into a familiar roots- reggae groove. Like its predecessor, it will soon be heard at cafes and wine-bars everywhere. Phil Johnson