Rock: When salsa and doowop don't mix ...

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Paul Simon

Songs From The Capeman (Warner Bros. 9362-46814-2)

Those seeking an extension of the allusive eclecticism of Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints may be disappointed. Co-written with the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, the songs form the basis of his upcoming Broadway musical about Salvador Agron, a Puerto Rican teenage murderer whose lack of remorse shocked Eisenhower-era America. The 16-year-old's death sentence was commuted; during his subsequent 20 years in jail he learnt to write poetry.

Apart from the basic theme of salvation through creative rehabilitation, it offers Simon the opportunity to indulge his interests in doowop and Latin music. Unfortunately, the dead hand of musical theatre falls heavily across the project: as the viewpoint shifts back and forth between protagonist, victims' parents, Agron's jailers, and a back-story outlining the teenager's tough childhood, the sheer bluntness of the facts seems to shackle Simon's imagination. The Mississippi delta doesn't shine like a National guitar here, and nobody has diamonds on the soles of their shoes; this is prosaic territory, designed to be gulped down in one by audiences used to having all their i's dotted and t's crossed for them.

Musically, the album's blend of mild salsa and doowop does neither style any favours: the salsa numbers lack zest and energy, and there's no grease on the collar of doowop tracks such as "Quality" and "Bernadette". It remains to be seen how the story plays on the stage (it opens in January), but as a purely audio experience, Songs From The Capeman must be regarded as a disappointment.

Various artists

Tibetan Freedom Concert (Grand Royal/Capitol 859 9110)

If the Tibetans need help from The Beastie Boys, they must be in deep trouble. Such is the case with this 3-CD account of the benefit concerts put on by the Beasties and their pop chums - U2, Radiohead, Ben Harper, Lee Perry, Noel Gallagher, Pearl Jam, etc - along with some authentic chanting monks. The results generally walk a fine line between spirituality and more corporeal urgings; the most impressive are Michael Stipe & Mike Mills, with a beautifully tender "Electrolite", and Bjork's emotive "Hyper- Ballad". The cause's hidden difficulties, however, are starkly signalled by the relentless me-me-me auto-therapeutic style of Alanis Morissette's "Wake Up", which epitomises the separation between egoistic American consciousness and the Tibetan version; and the Tibetan Monks' chants are spoilt by the American audience shouting "Whooo-hooo!" at every quiet moment.

Robert Miles

23am (Deconstruction 74321 541132)

Thirteen million sales in 18 months makes Robert Miles a kind of one- man Spice Girls, though his music leans more towards "intelligent techno". What this means is 10-minute bouts of witless, studio-spun philosophising, such as "Everyday Life", and an "Intro" track that attempts to replicate thunder electronically (rather than the more interesting option of trying to make music out of real thunder). For all Miles's technical suss and penchant for ethereality, he's never in the slightest danger of stumbling across an original idea, sound or atmosphere. The nadir is the single, "Freedom", which contains more references to that mysterious condition than the entire Tibetan Concert, though it's never made clear what restrictions the composer is currently suffering under.

Various artists

Motown Chartbusters Vols 1-6 (Spectrum 554 1442/52/62/72/82/92)

In its Sixties heyday, Motown was a specifically singles-based operation: Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye had yet to embark upon their mature masterpieces, and single-artist Motown albums could be notoriously patchy blends of hits and filler. The only reliable Motown LPs of the period were the series of Motown Chartbusters compiled by the company's British arm, 16 tracks apiece of wall-to-wall hits, which effectively charted the label's progress from innocent, sublime pop-soul to a slightly less confident reflection of the social changes occurring at the turn of the decade. Volume 3 is the pick of the bunch; at under pounds 6 each, the complete set amounts to an eminently affordable account of the label's most successful era. Why skimp on history?

Alec Empire

Squeeze The Trigger (Digital Hardcore Recordings DHR CD)

Alec Empire operates at the busy junction where hyperactive jungle rhythms collide with ugly NIN-style barrages of sound. Hardcore indeed, and all done on machines. Empire's chattering synths, scrambled samples and speeded- up breakbeats are mashed together with scant attention to the niceties of recording quality.

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