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MADONNA Music (WEA-Maverick) 4

The bad news is that it was always going to be hard to go one better than Ray of Light, and Madonna hasn't done it yet. The good news, however, is that Music is still superb on its own terms. Again she has resisted the temptation to play it safe. Okay, so not all the risks she takes quite pay off as well this time around, but the very fact that she's taking them elevates all of her recent work so far above that of her few peers that even when it doesn't quite come off, the spirit in which it was attempted is enough reason to give her a big hug and say cheers. Madonna continues to thrill at every turn, and even if this is not the masterpeice that its predecessor was, it is still a glorious, explosive and unique pop experience, as the single and title track so magnificently testifies. Living in London has done her a power of good methinks. I think she should work with John Foxx. That would be cool. How about a cover version of "Maximum Acceleration" or "Slow Motion" for starters? It has to be done...

 

SPARKS Balls (Universal) 3

What would the world be like without the Mael brothers? Impossible to imagine, I know. Balls is a fairly typical Sparks album, somewhat harder edged than recent works perhaps, but typical in that it still suffers from being just marginally too silly to be taken as seriously as could be or should be. We all know that Ron and Russell are eccentrics, far more at home in the land of Yello and Faust than their native USA. Sparks manage to be either important or pop, but never quite at the same time. Sure they gave us "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both of Us", which was supreme fun but surely never instigated anything. Or "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth", the closest they came to being the band we deeply want them to be. But it is "Beat the Clock" that seems to inform their work these days. And ultimately that will probably have to do now.

 

MARK KOZELEK Rock'n'Roll Singer (Badman) 2

Yep, he was the bloke out of The Red House Painters. And, as he proved quite adequately with his former band, he is a seriously good songwriter. More's the pity then that the majority of his solo debut is cover versions. Indeed, cover versions of AC/DC songs. And AC/DC were horrible, just deeply, deeply bad. Perhaps its a joke. Perhaps not.

 

DE LA SOUL Art Official Intelligence (Tommybump) 4

There has never been enough De La Soul in the world. They were the greatest hip hop band of all, better by far than even Public Enemy or Time Zone. Now that the genre has been hijacked by the west coast Gangsta crap, we just kind of let it go. But only a moron would have ever rated the likes of Ice T and Tupac Shakur over the 'Soul. Was not De La Soul is Dead the pinnacle of the entire genre? Can you name a better slice of hip hop than "Transmitting Live From Mars"? No, of course you can't, because there isn't one. There isn't one on Art Official Intelligence either, but it is so head splatteringly better than any of that witless mysogonistic Compton LA shite that, at very least, even if hip hop is dead rest assured that De La Soul are not.

 

WORLD PARTY Dumbing Up (Papillon) 3

I have become deeply suspicious of Karl Wallinger in recent times. As a Waterboy in the eighties he was somewhat stifled by Mike Scott, and while working with Sinead gave him slightly more room it really wasn't until World Party's Goodbye Jumbo that he really found his own platform. I suspect he feels he has paid his dues, and perhaps he has, but in doing so he appears to have grown complacent. Egyptology was not a good album (and it gave spawn of Satan Robbie Williams a hit single, which is unforgivable). Dumbing Up is a better record, but alas only just. "High Love" and "Always on my Mind" are closer to the class of Goodbye Jumbo, and thus help raise the general standard. But overall this is a mixed affair that too often errs on the side of easy listening caution. Consequently World Party feel rather old now, and frequently the wrong side of interesting. The fans might go for it though.

 

THE MISSION Live Ever After (Receiver) 1

Oh no. Say it isn't so. Yep, it is. It's a live Mission album, that's what it is. Recorded during a tour they did sometime. Shame they don't have the famous million bootlegs from their 1988 tour. Cause, you see, the Mission were massive once. Played the NEC and Wembley and everything. Sold 'em out too. So fuck knows how this came to pass, but here they are, nowhere. Poor old Wayne. And he so badly wanted to be a pop star. Hee hee.

 

HUGH CORNWALL HiFi (Vital) 3

Hugh left The Stranglers to become a serious artist. Remember? Naturally, obscurity was his oasis, and he pretended to like it. The problem was, as with Jimmy Pursey, Hugh is actually so much larger than life that the stripped down version proved to be pretty dull on its own terms. He may hate it, but a rock star is what he is, what we need him to be, because it's what he is so bloody good at. Its a bit like Chrissie Hynde quitting The Pretenders so become Tanita Tikaram. It's just not on. Even when it works quite well, as it does here. It simply isn't enough for those of us who remember how mind bendingly wonderful he once was. Aw, I miss The Stranglers, I really do.

 

CHRIS T-T Panic Attack at Sainsbury's (Snowstorm) 4

Firstly, what a bloody good title. Its funny because its true. I like him already. I dunno where he come from and I dunno what he doin', but this barmy slice of bedsit mania is completely realised and a lot of fun. Esspecially fun is "A Short Story About Wasps", which does exactly what it says on the tin. There is a tip of the hat to the surreal via "A Hole Full of Submarines", but the pick of the crop has to be "Dreaming of Injured Pop Stars", in which our hero dreams up some delightfully twisted fates for some of pop's less than inspiring names. Give the man an OBE at very least.

 

COMSAT ANGELS From Beyond (Cherry Red) 3

The key to Comsat Angels was always that they were never quite as good as one thought they ought to be, and were thus occasionally irritating though often almost really good and never less than interesting. From Beyond as all of these things, and alas none more. Had they not landed in the intray the same day as the vastly superior Shriekback I probably would have more to say about them. All I can say is that Comsat Angels was a great name that deserves to be remembered long after their records have been forgotten. Presuming that they haven't already. Give them a listen. But not at the expense of the Shriekback album.

 

SHRIEKBACK Y Years (Essential) 5

A long overdue collection of the wonderful Shriekback's most important era. The Y years of course included their masterpeice The Infinite, the album that launched "My Spine is The Bassline" and the anthemic "Lined Up", and finally buried Barry Andrews' past with XTC in favour of Shriekback's formidable and gutsy direction. Listening again, Shriekback have lost none of their power over the time elapsed, indeed they sound positively futuristic here. Last seen playing unplugged at a King's Cross street party in 1994 with a line-up that included ex-Damned/PiL guitarist Lu Edmonds, one is left only to wonder why Andrews doesn't let himself be noticed more often. The guy is a genius after all. Any Shriekback output is unmissable, with rhythms to lust over and lyrics to live by. And herein lie some of their finest.

 

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