LISTENING ROOM


 

MATTHEW SHIPP
Equilibrium [Thirsty Ear]

Given the tenor of experimentation in The Blue Series, an exploration of the future of jazz on the Thirsty Ear label, one would be forgiven for thinking that Matthew Shipp's Equilibrium is easy-listening.

Pianist Shipp, who also curates the Blue Series, has a habit of over-recording. In the '90s, he had 17 releases and went into hibernation to rethink his output, only to be coaxed into activity again by Thirsty Ear.

Since the first Blue Series release, Pastoral Composure in 2000, Shipp has curated nine releases, four are his own, in a span of three years. In fact, he calls Equilibrium "a synthesis of what I've learned from all my other Blue Series albums. We are continuing to move into the future, exploring beat elements with modern jazz. But, I am also bringing to bear on this project, the goals I had on New Orbit of developing a jazz ambient music and my original goals on Pastoral Composure of exploring the elasticity of the jazz language when straight ahead jazz elements morph organically into more modern forms."

The current line-up features the familiar William Parker (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) and adds vibraphonist Khan Jamal, who dominates the softer colours and tones of this album. The beat element is provided by FLAM, who also co-produces.

But other than the haunting thematic balladry of the title track and the cosmic space of Nebula Theory, few of the other tracks bear a particularly individualistic stamp. A case of too much equilibrium? (5) - Philip Cheah


 

THE DENT
Farewell [Thursday Morning]

I really liked The Dent's 2002 EP release, Neurotica, and found it enthralling with its delicate emotional folk-tinged pop music. On this, the band's sophomore full-length release, only the fragile End Of The World returns as Mitchell Linker, Jeff Norberg and D Raub deliver 10 other new tunes that will continue to impress. Jumping on the power pop bandwagon with the thumping title track, mid-tempo Look Up and frenetic Fantastic, The Dent attempt to stretch their musical boundaries somewhat and while they give it their best shot, one senses that they're more comfortable with heart-on-sleeve, atmospheric, folky ballads one might associate with Crowded House, Coldplay and perhaps early Radiohead.

The previously mentioned End Of The World leads the way with its touching premise, Second Home is a poignant piano song in memory of a departed friend ("All the love in this town/Always be your second home"), Without Fail is a sad reflection on past failures and Lost Alone is a gloomy discourse on the fear of loneliness. Not quite living up to the standard set on Neurotica, there is still sufficient evidence on Farewell to suggest that The Dent is a band worth investing time and money in, if only they can sustain clarity in their musical direction. - Kevin Mathews

 

SUPERGRASS
Life On Other Planets [Parlophone]

A gap of three years between the eponymous third album and Life on Other Planets seems to have done the 'Grass a world of good seeing as how the final third of Supergrass fell a little flat. With Rob Coombes confirmed as official fourth member, the band appears to be in fine fettle in this vibrant collection.

The main difference is in the sheer energy levels of the material here and the unambiguity of the rock period Gaz Coombes and company so shamelessly purloin for their own inventive purposes. Okay, I won't keep you in suspense, it's the glam rock era of the early '70s where the likes of David Bowie, T.Rex, Mott the Hoople and Todd Rundgren (among other lesser lights) popped the boogie all over the '70s rock scene.

"Za" establishes the mood just perfectly as an insistent piano intro makes way for full throttle guitar riff straight out of the Marc Bolan songbook - the evocation is so uncanny, you could almost swear that the late great Bolan was on vocal duties as well! "Seen the Light" continues firmly in this vein and is an even better song that deserves to be played on the radio for the next year, at least!

"Can Get Up" is a moody piece that recalls Ian Hunter and the classic Mott the Hoople funkier moments, while "Evening of the Day" suggests the acoustic-flavored Bowie from Hunky Dory. More Bowie surfaces on the frenetic "Never Done Nothing Like That Before" which wouldn't have been out of place on Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders of Mars.

If you think that I'm accusing Supergrass of being derivative and unoriginal - think again! Even though the roots of inspiration for many of the great tracks here go back 30 years or more, Supergrass manage to inject freshness and a distinct sense of personality. Cases in point, the pleasing rocker "Grace" and the dynamic "LA Song" where the 'Grass succeed in sounding like no one else.

I must confess that I was concerned about how long Supergrass would be able to maintain their own high standards, I rest assured that with the evidence of Life on Other Planets, any thoughts of a premature decline are ill founded. (8) - Kevin Mathews

 

VARIOUS
Irv Gotti Presents: The Remixes [Def Jam]

What makes Murder Inc. so hated among so called 'real' hip-hop fans out there? Is it the fact that poster boy Ja Rule is too caught up in the R&B game? Is it because they're making too much paper, too soon? But getting dollars has always been top priority for rap mogul wannabes so how are the Murder Inc crew doing it so differently that they are despised so? Maybe a listen to this remix album offers a clue. The general rule of thumb is - be wary of remix albums, because more often than not, they're extremely dodgy. Besides the usual question of 'why can't they get it right the first time?', there's also the issue of how many times you can flog a dead horse before the CD-buying public says enough. Case in point - the Biggie samples, the 2Pac remakes (Me & My Boyfriend - Toni Braxton). It’s hard to believe Ja and Co. brag about the gangsta life when it’s obvious the crew manifesto is to make as much money as possible by making your songs as commercially palatable as possible. And to think the Murderers had so much potential early on in their game. - Eddino Abdul Hadi


 

HOT ACTION COP
Hot Action Cop [Warner]

Yeah! Here's a solid release! When you think the Rap Metal genre is getting stale, Hot Action Cop pull it out and spank it on 12 tracks of dirty white-boy-hip-hop-meets-funk with a side order of metal. The band shows a diversity not heard in a while; tracks like the infectious Fever For The Flava and the funky Going Down On It bring Fishbone to mind. Vocalist Rob Werthner's rhyming styles are more than up on par and, as a bonus, Hot Action Cop are the kind of band that even let their guitar player out for a few good solos. Good and tight, HAC have a knack for creating roaring rock that sticks in your head. A young, trashy band, their songs are almost exclusively about sex, and those that aren't seem to bend that way and also end up being about sex.

But they are so catchy, you quickly overlook the childishness of the subject matter. The band incorporates that male falsetto that was so popular in the '60s (remember Candy Girl and Big Girls Don't Cry? That type of thing), while at the same time rocking hard. You'll be singing along before the song is over the first time you hear it. The thing about them is they are so musically proficient, intelligent and they ooze confidence. That is exceptionally rare among young male bands of the rock/hip-hop/punk fusion so popular these days. Simply put, Hot Action Cop is the real deal, and barring any unfortunate circumstances, they will be around for a long, long time. - Adam Md Yusop

 

BLUR
Think Tank [EMI]

Graham Coxon's first reaction to listening to Think Tank was noticing how under-produced it was, and it was with that statement that I set out to decide for myself what kind of album Blur have come up with this time. Their eponymous album in '97 marked a distinct crossover into heavier guitar sounds and overt American college rock influences- definitely a greater portion of Coxon's contribution; their following album, 13, saw them spinning off another tangent, this time dabbling into the electronic production of William Orbit, yet still remaining painfully intimate and personal. Considering the varied influences Blur have subject themselves to in the past, this year's Think Tank certainly carries with it a heavy load to bear, from Damon Albarn's distractions with comic project Gorrilaz and more recently, with Mali musicians, to the troubled fiasco which was Coxon's departure.

Indeed, Think Tank is a troubled recording, reflecting a darker life previously never revealed. Coxon's absence is felt strongly in songs like Good Song and On the Way to the Club, which sound shockingly empty. Blur are depleted without Coxon, and they know it, ruefully lamenting in Sweet Song (And now it seems we're falling apart/ But I hope I see the good in you, come back again/ I just believed in you), an earnest plea almost begging for Coxon's return.

Conflicts and strained relationships aside, Think Tank nonetheless excels, building on from the intimacy and emotion embraced in 13, but exploring even more diverse outlets. Not afraid to immerse themselves in ambient sounds, crazed loops, jazzed arrangements, or even funky eastern rhythms, Blur continues to take on their journey of re-invention.

Recorded in Morocco, the band got some help from the local musicians, who assembled the orchestra for Out of Time, the first single off the album. A wistful soul-searcher, it allows Damon's warm vocals to shine through - in fact, Damon gives his voice a greater freedom: to peak, to crack, to resonate, to fade away. The local influence is even more noticeable in other songs like Jets which is given an almost Middle-Eastern outfit that ends very sweetly with Mike Smith's saxophone.

We are given a glimpse into their edgier, spunkier side as well, in the immensely catchy Crazy Beat (slated for release as the second single), splattered with kick-ass loops. We've got a File on You, strays more to punk territory, but is equally successful in capturing the energy at that point. Reminiscent of Globe Alone and B.L.U.R.E.M.I., it's a snapshot of Blur losing themselves in the moment.

Blur are not afraid to propel themselves in a new direction, even if it means leaving their fan-base even more confused than ever. They tried it out in Blur and 13, and somehow those albums have given them the confidence to carry it on in Think Tank. They might have outdone themselves this time, with Think Tank ending up without a discernable focus, but it seems more like a result of confused arrangement from their myriad of producers, from Ben Hillier to William Orbit and Norman Cook. Not exactly under-production at fault here - more of a lack of direction that lets down an earnest and commendable effort.

Coxon's departure has evidently paved the way to a wider musical scope, but it has definitely left an unsettled feeling in the album that would have been otherwise complete. - Daniel Tham

 

APHEX TWIN
26 Mixes for Cash [Warp Records]

To my ears, Mr James' previous full length, the somewhat under-whelming "Drukqs" album, sounded like a contract-fulfilling play for cash. And without a doubt the Aphex Twin record before that one, the simply phenomenal "Windowlicker" EP, was a charting hit that must have brought some money home to Papa. But Richard has a reputation to uphold as a tough and reckless businessman, so Warp Records now presents "26 Mixes for Cash", a pretty great two-CD collection of artist remixes he has done under various monikers over the past several years. These tracks were almost exclusively vinyl-only b-sides released in limited quantities, and they disappeared fast. But beyond satisfying the collector in you, it turns out that this is just an excellent album for fans of Aphex Twin's brand of weird, melodic and haunting electronica.

Despite his reputation for needle-on-sandpaper nose-thumbing at his audience, the tracks within are among his most enjoyable and accessible. The source material runs the gamut, from bigshot-sorta-popstars like Nine Inch Nails and Jesus Jones, to the dream-pop of Saint Etienne and Curve, with stop-offs with experimentalists of all nature, from Phillip Glass to Wagon Christ to DMX Krew and beyond. But the collection really illustrates how an artist of real depth like Aphex Twin can leave his imprint on any collaboration, and the two CDs flow beautifully and work as an album, not a collection of disparate singles. Sometimes the original track flows loud and clear through the Aphex treatment, sometimes you would be hard-pressed to guess the source, but for fans of Aphex Twin and the concept of the remix, this is a beautiful collection that will not soon retire to the bottom of the play pile. - Pang Peow Yeong


 

PRINCE
One Nite Alone… Live! [NPG 3CDs]

"For those of you expecting to get your ‘Purple Rain’ on, you’re in the wrong house," Prince says near the beginning of his new triple live album. This is no greatest hits jukebox — the material comes from 19 different albums plus fan club specials and stuff that is just plain unreleased. As for most of the songs he’s best known for, Prince ignores them.

Instead, powered by yet another hyper-diverse version of the New Power Generation band — this one includes Maceo Parker and ultra-funky bassist Rhonda Smith — he offers a wild melange of spacey jazz, pure pop fantasy, raw funk and long stretches of intimate balladry. These versions elevate and reinvent the sometimes mediocre music on the originals.

Free of what he often called the "slavery" of a major label deal, Prince incessantly asks questions on-stage like "Would you rather be dead or be sold?" The Middle Passage pops up in the middle of the jaunty "Family Name" and a meditation on Wounded Knee helps inform the dreamy "Avalanche". Jefferson and Lincoln are also dissed.

That doesn’t mean Prince doesn’t have answers. Toward the end of an epic version of "Anna Stesia", he’s at the piano, preaching religion. "Oh, we should champion our diversity?" he sneers. "We should champion our similarities, not our differences. We should meet on a higher level, instead of looking at white, black, rich and poor, young and old. Let’s meet!"

By now the power of Prince’s words has melted away the religious framework the song began with and he’s talking universal truth when he calls on the crowd to "Rise up!" Then again: "Rise Up!" A searing sax solo by Candy Dulfer, herself now liberated from the prison of sex-kitten smooth jazz, and the disc is over.

But an unanswered question remains: Is Prince still a slave? He’s wealthy so he can do what he wants as far as putting out his own music. But when an artist still at a creative peak who has sold tens of millions of albums can put out a career retrospective and his first live album ever and it not only doesn’t sell but almost no one but a hard core of fans even knows that it exists, isn’t he still a slave?

When it’s priced at US$60, not unreasonable for a lavish box set, and that means that millions of his fans, even if they did find out about it, couldn’t afford it, isn’t Prince still a slave?

The question that serves as an answer is found in the lengthy essay by longtime Prince sound man Scottie Pakulski that anchors the box’s booklet. Entitled "The Death of Cool: Running On Empty", it excoriates the music industry’s soulless commercialism, which "[creates] a self-sufficient system with no escape where the escape itself is part of the system."

Pakulski’s conclusion is simple and direct: "After all, should music even be a business? To me it is best left an experience." — Rock ‘n’ Rap Confidential

 

ZWAN
Mary Star Of The Sea [Reprise]

"Here comes my faith to carry me on, a faith, not a grave, a fight to stay strong" are the opening words that Billy Corgan sings on Zwan's debut album, Corgan's first recorded work since disbanding the successful Smashing Pumpkins.

These upbeat sentiments, uncommon during the Pumpkin years, are freely explored in this new vehicle, where together with cohorts Jimmy Chamberlin (drums), Matt Sweeney (guitar), Paz Lenchantin (bass) and David Pajo (guitar), Corgan tears down the walls of angst that plagued the Pumpkins so as to discover a fresh approach with heart and soul.

The music echoes this change of direction as bright guitars, bouncy rhythms, sunshine tunes and Lenchantin's charming backing vocals combine seamlessly. Corgan's own nasal vocals remain intact but he actually sounds... um... content!

On "Declarations of Faith," Corgan even states, "I declare myself, declare myself of faith," to a guitar sound closer to Britpop than grunge where Corgan gives full and free rein to the pop sensibilities that have always been evident in his work, if only previously sporadically. On "Honestly," Corgan lays himself bare with such fragility that it almost comes as a shock - "Cause there's no place that I could be without you, it's too far to discard the life I once knew. Honestly, all the weather and storms I bring are just a picture of my needs, 'cause when I think of you as mine and allow myself with time to lead into the life we want I feel love, honestly I feel love, yes, honestly." Has the boy really become a man?

This maturity also comes with insight as the pleasing "Endless Summer" indicates - "Now you can disagree with how I choose to live but freedom isn't free unless you learn how to give" as well as the folky "Of A Broken Heart" - "The heart of a child is in your hands now so let's see you smile 'cause I'm not impressed with your loneliness."

Musically, Corgan remains defiantly eclectic with elements of soft jazz ("Yeah!"), power pop ("El Sol"), mainstream balladry ("Desire"), folk ("Of A Broken Heart") and breezy pop ("Heartsong") sprinkled all over this excellent album.

And with the 18 minute-plus epic "Jesus, I/Mary Star Of The Sea" Corgan adds progressive psychedelic glam rock to the list. Adapting the lyrics of a hymn written by Henry Francis Lyte and segueing into the poetic title track where Corgan questions the meaning of life and perhaps suggests that there must be more than what can be seen and touched.

A veritable tour de force, perhaps the perfect way to describe Mary Star of the Sea is that it is probably one of the finest art-rock records of recent times. (9) - Kevin Mathews

 

THE WHITE STRIPES
Elephant [Third Man Recordings/V2]

There's a huge burden of expectation on the shoulders of everybody's favourite Detroit Rock City duo but somebody probably forgot to tell Jack and Meg White. 'Elephant' is already their fourth album and the good word is in - they're still pounding out that careless rock 'n’ roll magic like the commercial garage explosion never happened.

Still bleeding raw and minimally produced, they proudly state in the sleeve that no computers were used in the writing, recording, mixing or mastering of the album. The album cheekily starts off with a bass line before bursting in the more familiar dirty guitar and drums sonic attack.

If there's one thing the Detroit duo can be credited with, it’s introducing the hipster kids to down and dirty blues ala Son House like Jon Spencer never existed. That's probably why they're equally loved by both the easily excitable TRL-watching, SPIN-reading crowd and more mature, sedated music magazine scribes like the folks at MOJO. In tracks like "Ball & Biscuit" and "The Hardest Button To Button" (gotta love that title), there's more than just a token nod to the original masters from whom rock and roll acts are indebted to.

There's also a few pleasant surprises like the gospel chorus in 'There's No Home For You Here', a lovely cover of Burt Bacharach's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" and a solo song by Meg White ("In The Cold, Cold Night").

Perhaps what is most charming about The White Stripes is their ability to not take the whole rock 'n’ roll game so seriously. They rarely give straight interviews and they take the piss out of ego-driven, PR-fabricated media obsession that so many rock bands are guilty of. Album closer 'Well It's True That We Love One Another' pokes fun at the constant questions on the nature of their relationship in a three-way between Jack, Meg and guest vocalist, the highly underrated Holly Golightly from Thee Headcoatees.

Jack is decidedly less manic - the acoustic ballad that is "You've Got Her In Your Pocket" is just that, a mellow acoustic ballad. No rants, no hard strumming, just Jack and his guitar. Despite the quirky titles and cheeky tales, Jack White still makes no secret of his penchant for old style chivalry and gentlemanly notions. In 'Hypnotize', he asks his lady "I want

to hold your little hand / If I can be so bold / And be your right hand man/ 'til your hands get old".

So are the White Stripes here to bring salvation to rock and roll? Nay, they're here to remind us of what made rock 'n’ roll great in the first place - minus the bullshit, the lame pretence and false rock stars who have made it weak. — Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

LINKIN PARK
Meteora [Warner]

I've called them N'Sync with tattoos, typical white-boy-whining-meets-rap and will probably last around six years or so. For that, I've been called an insensitive villain…

Hit songwriting is formulaic, and it's been that way since rock 'n' roll first existed. But the days were dark when Stock, Aitken and Waterman followed this formula, condensed it, sanitised it, and became arguably the defining sound of the '80s. And Linkin Park know what makes a good nu-metal song, because they've executed the same system on practically every track on Meteora.

Here's the recipe for a successful album: Excellent cash flow and, most importantly, the-down-with-the-kids-feel - start with a nice modern processed drumbeat for eight bars (16 optional), then come in with big, fizzing, power chords. Take the guitars down a notch and allow your mate to rap in a fairly unimaginative fashion. This is all part of the plan. The lyrical content has to be about the pain you feel, about being misunderstood, about how you can't change, or about how you want that herpes-ridden bitch you used to go out with to just, like, totally fuck off, man. Maybe your mates can shout behind you a bit here, to give your anger more authenticity. This whole process should then be repeated, and followed by a bridge that's a bit shouty. Then repeat chorus until only the most stupid of fans won't be able to recite it back like it's "Mary had a little lamb…"

Many of the choruses are great, but by about track six, you begin to realise that this isn't about songs, this is about mathematics, and if you've actually paid for the album with your own money, you've been well and truly had. Nine Inch Nails (the band), Ministry and Korn do it way better. Not to be biased, I admire Linkin Park's quick learning of the music industry. Their (hard-working) work ethics are truly admirable and they know where to focus their energy, something that many nu-metal bands simply do not. To my young cousins, they are the deal! The California group has certainly mastered the genre's prototypical three-minute hit. Mercifully brief but mercilessly repetitive. Give me The Boredphucks or Force Vomit anyday! - Adam Md Yusop

 

AIR & BARICCO
City Reading [EMI]

From the spacious Moog fueled retro-futurism of their early singles and "Moon Safari," to the darker prog-rock leanings of "Virgin Suicides," to their tribute to late-'70s and early-'80s pop music with "10,000 Hz Legend," Air have always been changing, but their elegant mastery of composition and sound remains a constant. Last fall, the duo provided live accompaniment to famous Italian author Alessandro Baricco as he read passages from his novel "City" to a packed audience in a Rome theater. Pleased with the response, they reconvened a few months later with producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, Pavement) mixing the session. "City Reading" is not a traditional music record, with Baricco's narrations from his book of three "Western" stories spoken in his native tongue. Air's accompaniment is lush with lots of acoustic guitars, piano and synthesizer textures. None of the songs are really beat driven, instead soft pads of airy (no pun) keyboards, flute, vibes and melodic guitar picking wrap around the author's words; it's absolutely cinematic.

Though speaking a different language, Baricco's voice exists in the same range as Serge Gainsbourg's low and raspy baritone; read along with the translation provided in the CD booklet, you'll find his words can be just as sleazy. Unlike "Virgin Suicides," which might as well be a proper Air album, the star of "City Reading" is the author. The duo's accompaniment is beautiful but you'll want to follow along with the English text unless you speak Italian. Either way, it's a rewarding yet concentrated listen, but guaranteed to make you excited for Air's next studio album slated for later this year. — Pang Peow Yeong

 

JAY-Z
Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse [Def Jam]

Everyone saw it coming a mile off - a double album from the one post-Biggie/2Pac rap superstar who's managed to make good with both critics and the hip-hop buying public. The rise and rise of Jay-Z has been pretty meteoric, and is a wonder to many except himself, obviously (B. I. said, "Hov' remind yourself / Nobody built like you, you designed yourself" / I agree I said, my one of a kind self / Gets stoned every day like Jesus did - 'A Dream')

A double album is a vainglorious artiste's wet dream, and Jay-Z has a rep for being highly prolific. So rather than release consecutive albums with less than a year in between, he dumps it all in at one shot. Unfortunately, like many double albums, this one's full of hits and misses. If past cameos have been limited mostly to the Roc-A-Fella family, this time he's got the works - Lenny Kravitz (Guns & Roses), Outkast/Dungeon Family crew (Poppin' Tags), Beyonce Knowles ('03 Bonnie & Clyde ), the current West Coast holy trinity that is Dr Dre, Rakim & Truth Hurts (The Watcher 2) and possibly in an effort to draw parallels with the finest, the ghosts of 2Pac and Biggie.

Staying true to form, Jay-Z's rhymes run the gamut from being brilliant (N**** please, you seldom seen with chicks in 7 jeans / Manolo Blahnik I'm going through they body like an ultrasonic - 'N**** Please' ) to being just plain corny ("One of the reasons that they call us gangrene / We got a gang of green" - Hovi Baby). Utilising tested and tried folks like Just Blaze, Kayne West, The Neptunes and Timbaland is a sure-fire way to ensure top-notch productions for the tracks but someone forgot to remind Young Hova that it’s quality, not quantity, that will ensure his permanent ranking in the rap game's hall of fame. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

MOUSE ON MARS
Rost Pocks: The EP Collection [Too Pure]

What I've always loved about Mouse On Mars was their innate melodicism. This 10-year celebration release, since their founding in 1993, summarises their career by collecting their rare, deleted EPs and singles. Their first EP, Frosch, released just before their debut LP, Vulvaland, outlines the Mouse On Mars duo's - Andi Toma and Jan St Werner - melodic touch. Influenced by early Krautrockers - Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk - Toma and Werner bring the Detroit techno revolution back home. In their hands, the electronic ambient experiments become more playful as on the Cache Coeur Naif EP where they recruit Stereolab vocalists Laetitia Sadler and Mary Hansen to add exotic whispers and foreign phrases to their bleeps, whirrs and crackles. Their talent at juxtaposition also shows on Schnee Bud, a long eight-minute track that has an abrasive guitar, that somehow fits in on the mellow groove. Or Twift, the title track of the Twift EP, that plays synthesised brass against a drum 'n' bass track. Ten years later, Mouse On Mars remain eminently listenable because there are so many hidden melodic ideas that are still waiting to jump out at you. (7) - Philip Cheah

[Mouse On Mars are scheduled to perform in $ingapore later in the year.]

 

GRAND MAL
Bad Timing [Arena Rock Recording/Rykodisc]

When I cranked up this one on the player, my dad swore to me that it's The Stones! I really had a hard time explaining to him that it's not! Despite having that Stones-y swagger, Grand Mal is the new band of Bill Whitten (ex-St Johnny). They've played with everyone, from Echo And The Bunnymen and The Flaming Lips to Alex Chilton and the Jesus And Mary Chain and you can hear why they're so matching in terms of sound with these bands. On the title track, they move from gospel to glam, nu-American rock to old blues standards. On others, the punchy tunes hide a Big Star-like vulnerability and the lyrics reveal a better than average rock vocabulary.

In some ways, it is refreshing to listen to this after 45 minutes of IPPT (We people still have to keep in shape you know) terror and misery, nothing but great, straight-ahead, glammed-up, fun rock 'n' roll. The glam rock glitz of First Time Knockout or the sleazy charm of Old Fashioned puts you in mind for Bolan-groove efforts. Get Lost has a padang-sized melancholy reminiscent of the JAMC's epics. They change the pace as much as they could numerous times in their 41 minutes. Disaster Film is the album's huge moment and the killer song here. Half spoken in late night reflection, half-sung, it's a really funereal story, gently nudged on by the piano, tender guitar and down-the-pit vocals ("here's my beer and tobacco, don't burn my house down, don't OD in my bathroom…"). This is the 3 am song that reeks of beer and midnight masturbations. - Adam Md Yusop

 

CRAIG DAVID
Slicker Than Your Average [Wildstar/Warner]

The wonder man/boy that is Craig David heard lots of soulful 'kar-ching' money sounds after his debut hit 7 million in sales… even Britney Spears declared herself a fan in order to cash in. Unfortunately, we don't get any of Ms Spears input in the follow-up. We do get Sting doing an Elton in a bid to stay relevant to the teen pop audience though, but that's another story. Branding Craig David the Judas of the UK Garage scene that spawned him is an argument long buried - he's a bona fide "US market pop star" now.

Who cares where he came from? He does, unfortunately. So we get all these predictable retaliatory whinings - "There's some real jealous people out there right/Tryin' to say how you're whack/How your music's soft/and you ain't got nothin' to say" (Slicker Than Your Average). But truth is, even the singles from his debut were re-mixed to maximise the R&B effex while playing down the two-step beats - them Mid-Western Americans aren't quite ready for English garage yet, the record company reckons. A sentiment that obviously runs throughout this album too. There's a puzzling electro-tinged first single, What's Your Flava? but otherwise it's, as some English critics would call it, "transatlantic R&B". Thankfully, there's a highly tasteful ballad, You Don't Miss Your Water ('Til Your Well Runs Dry), that really reveals the extent of the crooners talent - just Craig David, minus the cliche synths. Sometimes, that's just all we need. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

 

SONIC YOUTH
Dirty (Remastered) [Geffen 2CD]

In 1992, Sonic Youth's Dirty was its much-maligned sell-out "rawk" album. Produced and mixed by Butch Vig and Andy Wallace respectively (they who did Nirvana's Nevermind), Dirty was considered too clean, too clear and too well-produced.

But while rock 'n' roll happily took the grunge route, with Nirvana exploding throughout the universe, Dirty was actually Sonic Youth's last mainstream attempt to woo fans to rock's future of cross fertilisation, the avant-garde and the experimental. Hearing Dirty today in this double-CD re-mastered form, with a whole disc of demo recordings plus numerous B-sides, is a reminder that this is one band who only know how to be true to themselves.

No matter how catchy 100% sounds, it's still a powerful, personal anguished lament for a dead friend, Joe Cole. No matter how conventionally punk rock you might think Swimsuit Issue is, no one but Kim Gordon can spit out lines like: "don't touch my breast/I'm just working at my desk", in all its feminist outrage. And those trebly guitars from Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo sound too weirdly-tuned for you to realise immediately how gorgeous the melodies of Sugar Kane and Wish Fulfillment are.

So now Dirty's dirt is revealed in its unashamed glory in the 11 rehearsal versions included here. They include never-before-heard songs such as Lite Damage, Dreamfinger, Barracuda, New White Kross, Guido (an early track that became Wish Fulfillment), Moonface (a working version of JC, the other Joe Cole tribute on the album), Poet in the Pit and Theoretical Chaos. But the nice bonus are the inclusion of Is It My Body (an Alice Cooper cover), which has Gordon doing a very lusty outro, and a gentle, acoustic Personality Crisis (by the New York Dolls).

In 1992, Sonic Youth were curious about what good production values can do to their music. Dirty sort of got that out of their system. - Philip Cheah

 

TALIB KWELI
Quality (Rawkus)

Curtis Mayfield would have been proud. For this generation of "conscious rappers" from Common to Bilal and now Talib Kweli is continuing Mayfield's 60s' civil rights concerns and black pride. Mayfield's classic black pride ballad, I'm So Proud, has spiritually morphed into Kweli's The Proud, a litany of news headlines including Sept 11 where he says: ".It's a difficult conversation to have…America has killed the innocents too." But for his fellow men, his message to them is: "We survive/there's more to cry/we stay alive/ready to rise."

But Kweli aka TK Greene has solid soul roots. Check out his tribute to Eddie Kendricks (of The Temptations) in Talk to You (Lil' Darling) where his duet with Bilal is simply spine-tingling. Or his love ballad Won't You Stay, whose sweetness contrasts against some of the angrier material such as the single, Get By, where like Mayfield, Kweli talks of the plight of the common people, who are striving to get by. Or anthemic tracks such as Stand to the Side where he raps: "I wanna write a way/I want it right here/I want to write brave words to fight fear…/My words apply pressure to make the bleeding stop."

Quality is Kweli's solo debut. His two previous recordings were as part of the duo Black Star (with Mos Def) and as part of Reflection Eternal (with Hi-Tek). On Quality, Kweli has enlisted many of hip hop's leading producers including Kanye West, DJ Quik, Jay Dee and the Soulquarians.

"Music should be felt first," Kweli has said, "and anything that it makes you think about should be followed after." That's what makes Quality a distinct album. (7) - Philip Cheah


 

STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS
Pig Lib [Matador]

Since disbanding Pavement after 1999's Terror Twilight, Stephen Malkmus certainly had a hard time trying to shake loose of his past indie credentials. An eponymous debut recorded with the Jicks in 2001 should rightly pave the way for him to make a clean break from the shambled remembrances of his former band. Scattered with flickers of his wry brilliance, Malkmus' solo debut was a light and engaging enough jaunt through his oddball indulgences. But the album belies to a general lack of ambition by adhering too much to a pop formula. And Matador's expanded reissue of Pavement's 1992 debut Slanted And Enchanted last year only served to draw attention to how much Pavement are missed.

But before you start checking the expiration date of his solo career, Malkmus emerges with a timely gem of an album with Pig Lib. Now claiming to be more clued in with his new band mates (bassist Joanna Bolme, Mike Clark on keyboards and John Moen on drums), Malkmus is set to stretch further the range life of his eclectic songwriting.

Pig Lib finds the songwriter heading into a more rambling direction and the 11 songs are nifty drives past his own halls of fame. The album starts off with Water And A Seat, a minor miracle flecked with Malkmus' own jangly version of prog guitar riffs. Warped anachronisms of this sort are at the heart of Pig Lib, and the Jicks are remarkably stoked to match Malkmus' adventurous seeking.

The terminally cryptic side of his songwriting is unveiled on tracks like the inanely catchy (Do Not Feed The) Oysters, with lyrics about crimson alligators which Malkmus has half-mockingly described as sort of being from a psychedelic world. Even the more radio-friendly songs are more clever and tuneful this time round.

Most importantly, this latest album has loads of Malkmus' accidental radiance that was missing from his solo debut, especially when Malkmus is penning pretty ballads both affecting (the solemn sensations of Ramp Of Death and Us) and claustrophobic (Animal Midnight, with its glum first lines of "Sacrifice is just flirtation, friendship a cold convenience") with such ease. Pig Lib is an unexpected return to form that proves Malkmus to be an expansive songwriter, wrestling his slacker instincts with the mellow rations of maturity. (8) — Boi Hon Kit


 

SARA PACE
Sara Pace [self-released]

"I guess I was raised on the Great American Novel set to music by people like Bob Dylan, John Prine and Bruce Springsteen," says Sarah Pace, new kid on the folk/country block.

Her lyrics are heartfelt, but too comfortably so. As yet there is no personal poetics and social awareness. Too much of the style of language and imagery is drawn from the tradition, and too little of it strong enough to constitute something different from what other folkies have written. Her voice, like her music and lyrics in general, is nice and inviting but lack any real edge. But once in a while something does emerge that reaches deeper than the usual, and in those moments one sees the potential of what Pace might become:

"You say it's hard to walk
when the sand is shifting
It's hard to talk in the thundering sky
You're worried silence will lead to drifting And i've never felt pain
from watching it rain
Until i saw it fall from your eyes."
— Sim Pern Yiau

 

SONIC YOUTH/ I.C.P./ THE EX
In the Fishtank [Konkurrent]

Three bands, four guitarists, three drummers, two reedsmen and one electronics manipulator. Released late last year, No. 9 in the Fishtank series by Dutch experimental label, Konkurrent, features avant-rock stars, Sonic Youth, improvising with Dutch free jazz unit, I.C.P. and experimental collective, The Ex. Previous excursions involved Tortoise and Low.

The series becomes more crystallised this time because the half-hour jam will be a turn-off for most. In the Fishtank finally becomes what it is, a challenge to be inside the maelstrom of sound, rather than outside of it. There is almost no way to enjoy this conventionally because there aren't any melodies or hooks to render anything memorable.

The eighth tracks are listed as Roman numerals and only the most fixated person will be able to quote the correct numeral in a blindfold test. Yet the playing goes on swimmingly, from the opening track III, with its shards of splintery guitar to V, the third track's masterful interplay between corrosive guitar chords and squealing horn bursts which unexpectedly segues into a gentler ballad-like form.

What In the Fishtank No.9 also shows is that there is life after John Zorn. Fans of that multi-facted avant-gardist can take this European detour confidently without fear of losing direction. - (7) Philip Cheah

IT WAS ONLY ROCK 'N' ROLL

The Rolling Stones rolled into $ingapore to play two shows that were said to be three-quarters full each night. The reaction was mixed. Some thought the shows wonderful, others were lukewarm. Whatever, fans who got in through the numerous complimentary tickets given away got to see the "greatest rock 'n' roll band" play their impressive hits, a time trip through 40 years.

But for some, they must wonder why Mick Jagger and Keith Richard didn't take the opportunity to revive a song written in 1991, at the height of the Gulf War.

Highwire (Jagger/Richards)

We sell 'em missiles, We sell 'em tanks
We give 'em credit, You can call the bank

It's just a business, You can pay us in crude
You love these toys, just go play out your feuds

Got no pride, don't know whose boots to lick
We act so greedy, makes me sick sick sick

So get up, stand up, out of my way
I want to talk to the boss right away
Get up, stand up, whose gonna pay
I want to talk to the man right away

We walk the highwire
Sending the men up to the front line
Hoping they don't catch the hell fire
With hot guns and cold, cold nights

We walk the highwire
Sending the men up to the front line
And tell 'em to hotbed the sunshine
With hot guns and cold, cold nights

Our lives are threatened, our jobs at risk
Sometimes dictators need a slap on the wrist
Another Munich we just can't afford
We're gonna send in the eighty-second airborne

Get up, stand up, who's gonna pay
I wanna talk to the boss right away
Get up, stand up, outta my way
I wanna talk to the man right away

We walk the highwire
Putting the world out on a deadline
And hoping they don't catch the shellfire
With hot guns and cold, cold nights

We walk the highwire
Putting the world out on a deadline
Catching the bite on primetime
With hot guns and cold, cold nights

Get up! Stand up!
Dealer! Stealer!
Hey!

We walk the highwire
We send all our men into the front lines
We're hoping that we backed the right side
With hot guns and cold, cold nights

We walk the highwire
We send all the men up to the front lines
And hoping they don't catch the hellfire
With hot guns and cold cold, cold, cold, cold nights

We walk the highwire
We walk the highwire
With hot guns and cold, cold, cold nights

With hot guns and cold, cold nights


DOWNLOAD FOR PEACE!

In John Mellencamp's recent concerts, he projects on a large screen at the back of the stage this Albert Einstein quotation: "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." To this end, Mellencamp has offered a free download of his new anti-war themed song, To Washington. The song covers the end of the Bill Clinton administration and the disastrous election controversy that saw George Bush Jr rise to power. It's Mellencamp in a folk setting, almost like the return of the legendary Woody Guthrie, when he lashes out at Bush: "And he wants to fight with many/And he says it's not for oil/He sent out the National Guard/to police the world/from Baghdad to Washington."

The Beastie Boys are also worried about the looming war and they have offered a free download of a new anti-war song, In A World Gone Mad. As Adam Horovitz says: "Being together, writing and recording, we felt it would be irresponsible not to address what's going on in the world while the events are still current. It didn't make sense to us to wait until the entire record was finished to release this song."

The song is punchy with memorable lyrics: "First the war on terror, now war on Iraq/We're reaching a point where we can't turn back/Let's lose the guns and let's lose the bombs/And stop the corporate contributions that they're built upon/Well, I'll be sleeping on your speeches 'til I start to snore/'Cause I won't carry guns for an oil war/As-Salamu alaikum, wa alaikum assalam/ Peace to the Middle East, peace to Islam."

Finally, Peace Train, an old chestnut from Cat Stevens, who converted to Islam and became Yusuf Islam. Now Yusuf last recorded in 1978 and retreated from the music scene to focus on his faith. This new version of Peace Train recorded with South African musicians is the first time in 25 years that Yusuf has released music. (Fans will last recall this song as a cover on a 10,000 Maniacs album.) As he remarks, "Peace Train is a song I wrote, the message of which continues to breeze thunderously through the hearts of millions and there is a powerful need for people to feel that gust of hope rise up again. As a member of humanity and as a Muslim, this is my contribution to the call for a peaceful solution." - Philip Cheah


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