Pop: Steve Earle I Feel Alright Transatlantic TRA CD 227; Rage Against the Machine Evil Empire Epic EPC 481026 2; Cibo Matto Viva! La Woman Warner Bros. 9362-45989-2

Andy Gill
Thursday 11 April 1996 23:02

This is the real American rebel: a rootin', tootin', country-rockin' good ol' boy, fresh from smack addiction and jail term, bearing a few extra chins, but more than punching his weight again. Set to a rolling "Gloria" groove, "Feel Alright" lays out Earle's terms: "I'll bring you precious contraband/ And ancient tales from distant lands," he promises, but warns, "Be careful what you wish for friend/ Because I've been to hell and now I'm back again."

The scars of his recent experiences are public enough, judging by the harrowing blues "CCKMP (Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain)", in which the tortured singer admits he's still haunted by the conviction that "Heroin is the only thing/ The only gift the darkness brings"; but he remains largely unrepentant about his wild old ways, and as unreliable as ever. Indeed, the only apology here is "Valentine's Day", written in lieu of a promised (but forgotten) card - though there are further traces of futile self- awareness in "Hurtin' Me, Hurtin' You", in which he acknowledges, "I'm just hurtin' me when I'm hurtin' you."

For the most part, though, songs like "Hardcore Troubador", "The Unrepentant" and "Billy and Bonnie" find Earle tracking the appeal of outlaw chic and Badlands treachery with more rock 'n' roll gusto than he's been able to summon up since his Guitar Town debut in 1986. Uncompromisingly honest, unstylishly tough, I Feel Alright bulges with the kind of raw experience all too absent from today's homogenised, big-hatted country-music experience.

This, though, is the real rebel sound of the great American conspiracy: industrial grunge-metal and anti-imperialist rap harangues, a powerfully unloveable combination of the two great anti-establishment styles of the age. Frantz Fanon-fuelled rap-rockin' revolutionaries like Rage Against the Machine would probably be horrified to be linked with right-wing separatist militiamen and Oklahoma-bomber types, but they do seem to share the same fervent desire to tear down the Amerikan state, the same eagerness to believe the worst of democracy. For the moment, though, they're happy moshing it up in their nihilistic bear-pit and bewailing the futility of the dispossessed. Which is nice. But only if you have a taste for the implacable, lumpen tread of industrial grunge-metal. If not, it might just sound like some mad, ranting demagogue straddling a tank. Or a boot crushed into a face for all eternity.

Following the recent Los Lobos and Richard Thompson albums, Viva! La Woman makes it three triumphs in as many weeks for producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Cibo Matto are singer Miho Hatori and programmer Yuka Honda, two Japanese women from New York who write strange, poignant songs about food set to eclectic, eccentric sample-collages, and in Froom and Blake, they've found collaborators every bit their equal when it comes to off-the-wall recording strategies.

The result is endlessly intriguing: with its basic beatbox rhythm and relaxed trumpet and guitar figures, "White Pepper Ice Cream" is as close as American music gets to trip-hop, while "Sugar Water" applies a satisfying swingbeat crunch to a snatch of Star Trek diva vocalese lifted from a Morricone score. It's an oddly loveable album, enchanting and mysterious, and with "Know Your Chicken", the results are just nutty and infectious enough to be a novelty hit. Not bad going for a pair with an essentially Proustian take on food and memory, who trace the aromatic tendrils of desire like a couple of uptown, cosmopolitan Bisto kids. Delicious!

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