Album Reviews: June 2001

Swell - Everybody Wants to Know (Beggars Banquet)

10 years since the release of their self titled debut, 6 albums, a move out of the independent sector and a paring down of their numbers, the consistent thread of the group Swell is front-man David Freel. On this occasion David shows just why 'six' will not be his epitaph, as was the case with 'five', 'four', 'three' and well you get the picture, before.

An album full of gloriously rich Electro/ Acoustic fuzz, all put to David's low slung 'who gives a…' lyrics, that rather than strip you of all hope make you realise that even though you've missed the #41, the #42 will be along soon. The group have been touted as the 'precursors of Grandaddy and other post-slacker American bands', but look at it this way, Edison may have invented the light bulb, but without Faraday's discovery we'd all be sitting in the dark. All the way from the land of the 'Golden Gutter', San Francisco, Swell are fantastically consistent, something to inspire and will leave you thinking "what next"? 8/10 Nick James


Dreadzone — Sound (Ruff Life)

The first track sums it all up. "The Return of the Dread". It begins in a trippy, spaced out fashion and then quickly comes on like the Prodigy’s "Out Of Space", although SL2’s 1992 hit "On A Ragga Tip" also briefly sprang to mind too. Dreadzone are still as infuriatingly catchy as they were on "Little Britain" and "Captain Dread". In a way though, that’s almost their biggest problem. Let’s be honest, we all loved "Little Britain" when it first came out. The fact that it was rammed down our throats throughout every football programme going made us tear our hair out eventually just at the striking up of those first few bars. There are enough tracks on this album to ensure it happens all over again….and if you’re not a footie fan, don’t think you’ve escaped. They’ll probably use the best track, "Black Rock ‘n’ Roll" as background music to a flower arranging programme or something next time. 6/10 Tone E


Exodus 77 - Just Time (Regal)

To read the biography on this artist, Sean Reveron, he is described as, 'Punk, Rasta, Hippy, B-Boy, Ragga Chatter, Skater, Poet and Beta Band Fan, it's like dipping your toe into a cultural soup of 'who's who' in whatever's going down yesterday, today and tomorrow in more credible circles.

Sean Reveron, the man, possesses a resume that fully qualifies him to be the artist he in his early 30's is now aspiring to be. The album presented here defies singular description as in Sean's own words is "…music to represent every culture I've lived through…". But that's a cop out. I know you want to take something from this and maybe this is to say a little 'Rage Against the Machine', mated with a scattering of 'Roots Manuva', aside servings of soul and a 'Tricky' whose sucked hard on the pipe before laying down his contribution. Only a mini-album and is over all too quickly, but that said what is here will really blow your mind. 7/10 Nick James



Robert Miles — Organik (Salt Records)

Cheer up lad! The last time we heard of Robert Miles, he hadn’t long had his three "big" top tenners, "Children", "Fable" and "One & One". All of which were considered to be relatively easy listening dance tunes. Well flip me backwards are you in for a surprise or what? The man has returned in darker, stranger and gloomier form and it has to be said he sounds all the better for it. Inspired by travels to the Middle East — that comes across most effectively on the album’s second track "Separation", Miles has clearly been greatly moved by whatever he saw over there. "Paths" also has a very Eastern feel to it and is the only track with a lyric to go with it. This album pulls its predecessors’ pants down and spanks them with a wet sponge. You’ll never have so much fun being miserable. 7/10 Tone E


REM - Reveal (Warner Bros.)

As this album was released, I had the displeasure of reading the headline, 'I'm gay, reveals Stipe', like we give a damn. It's the music any fan of the group should be after and not this news, that to be honest really isn't news.

So all that said, how about 'Reveal', a title that will now be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but then you could say this was how Stipe meant it to be taken, see what I mean! Continuing as a three, piece since the departure of Bill Berry, I have to say as a fan, this lacks the gusto I might have expected. Although I appreciate that 3 years have passed since the release of 'Up' and a decade since the shiny happy pop of 'Out of Time', 'Reveal' does appear terribly introspective and could fail to move those clouds from the sky.

I have to say that this does echo shades of Queen's 'Innuendo', for me not an album I really care to remember. But maybe this is a grower and with it's seed in place, that of the first single off the album and undoubtedly shining star, 'Imitation of Life', may grow into a fine representation of REM's output. But as it stands for me at the moment I'll just have to wait for that day. 4/10 Nick James


Tindersticks - Can Our Love (Beggars Banquet)

A group who have recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, but this aside, be warned, the Tindersticks are a group who can sound musically very intricate, whilst vocals can hit the depths of despair. Listening to this it did encourage me to dig-out previous offerings by the group and regrettably did tend to show it up for exactly what it is, not the best. It's almost as if the group had entered a competition in the memory of Ian Curtis and won, but I don't mean to cast dispersions over the memory of Ian Curtis. Production is fat, woolly and really needs to go back to square one, so never really allows the album to get off the starting blocks. This being the case I really can't decide whether this might be a good album, unfortunately the wood cannot be seen for the trees. 1/10 Nick James


Proud Mary — The Same Old Blues (Sour Mash)

I still think this band would be better off trying to conquer America than Britain. After all, they tend to go in for countrified stuff like this to a far greater extent than we do. They could be massive Stateside but I honestly can’t see it happening in dear old Blighty. Either that or build a time machine. That would work too, as these songs would fit very nicely alongside the Eagles, Neil Young and Crazy Horse or The Byrds. The sort of stuff you expect to hear over footage of naked hippies at Woodstock or Glastonbury. The music is actually quite endearing after a while but I’m sure Proud Mary themselves wouldn’t try to convince us that they are attempting anything new. Would they? If I’m honest with myself, I probably like this more than I think I do and I admit, I’ve been singing "Very Best Friend" in the bath and car as regular as clockwork since I reviewed it. Still I can’t go back on my original decision. 6/10 Tone E


Muse - Origin of Symmetry (Mushroom)

That difficult second album from 1999's 'indie darlings' Muse couldn't have been made easier. Their debut 'Showbiz' was quite frankly brilliant, but almost 2 years down the line has grown a little grey and is showing the cracks of overexposure. So in short this album was although not exactly long overdue, is certainly very welcome, if not to show that the success of the first album was not merely a fluke. And wow, what a follow-up! The group never once let it slip and Rock'n'Roll is served up with lashings of exuberance all the way down the line.

Ok so you've heard 'Plug in Baby', sending it to #11 in the charts (come on is that the best you can do?) and is certainly not out of place on the album, but more hit tunes lie close to the surface here. Matthew Bellamy's vocals are distinctively presented to guitar that would not sound out of place on a Rage or Faith no More album. If you've not done the dusting for a while then this album may just save you the time, knocking those spiders from their perch. 9/10 Nick James


Sparklehorse — It’s A Wonderful Life (Capitol)

Mark Linkous is a modern day genius. A brave statement admittedly — after all his name doesn’t quite carry the same clout as say, Kurt Cobain or even Thom Yorke, but listen to any one of Sparklehorse’s three albums and then try to tell me any different. "It’s A Wonderful Life" is a joy from start to finish. There are plenty of highlights along the way, like the gloriously optimistic "Gold Day", or the total weirdness of Linkous’ collaboration with Tom Waits on "Dog Door". Every track’s a winner and your heart strings are pulled gently on a regular basis. Songs like "Sea Of Teeth", "More Yellow Birds" and "Little Fat Baby" are three of the most beautiful tracks you will hear this year and have a kind of haunting quality rarely found in today’s music. It’s a wonderful life. It’s a wonderful CD. 8/10 Tone E



Airlock - Drystar (One Little Indian)

Already given the label "intelligent dance music" after just their first E.P. 'Awakenings', Airlock would quite easily slide alongside your 'Everything But the Girl' albums and not feel overwhelmed. This an album for the post dinner party coffee and mints slot, but may well be choosy about the décor and that 'prog-rock' collection of vinyl you'd thought that everyone else had forgotten about.

This is a clash of 'Dido' meets 'Underworld', meets 'Massive Attack', but does surprisingly well when pitched against such company. Even the over-done scratchisms can be forgiven their youthful exuberance, but maybe this is perhaps a little late. Much of the production has been done before, but here's to hoping that we may have forgotten that 'Walking Wounded' and 'Mezzanine' were there first. 6/10 Nick James


Elbow — Asleep In The Back (V2)

Already in the album chart and well deserving of the lavish praise being heaped upon it by the large majority of the media. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how this band sound, but I reckon if you mixed Catherine Wheel, Moose, Wire, Chapterhouse and…er…Bradford(!?) you would come up with something like this. I guess you could throw in a pinch of Pink Floyd to boot. It’s a very downbeat album, but uplifting at the same time. Having said that I wouldn’t choose to play it to someone considering jumping off a clifftop. My personal favourite track (and title) has to be "Bitten By The Tailfly", although the opening "Any Day Now" runs it a close second. "Asleep In The Back" is already being bandied about as a possible candidate for album of the year and there wouldn’t be too many rumblings of discontent if it did. Wow. It’s only May and Ash, My Vitriol and Elbow have all recorded unbelievable albums. Long may this honeymoon period continue. 8/10 Tone E


Darkflower - Feed My Soul (The Echo Label)

In the words of the second track here, "What planet are you on?" Darkflower have certainly arrived at the party late, producing music that was in the first place for a click of expresso drinking, filofax wielding, mobile phone lugging, mule wearing socialites. But then again we would probably not have arrived where we are today had we not learnt from the lessons of yesterday.

Darkflower is the brainchild of Manchester duo, Melanie Williams and Joe Roberts, who in a former existence made up part of early nineties dance act 'Sub Sub', the other part of which formed the award nominated 'Doves'. Unfortunately this won't attract such accolade, despite its influences of Roy Ayers, Al Green and D'Angelo. 3/10 Nick James


Stabbing Westward - Stabbing Westward (Loch Records)

1994 saw the release of the group's debut album and in a climate that was reeling from that of Nine Inch Nail's 'Downward Spiral', 'Ungod' seized upon this in producing an album that although could never have surpassed, certainly held the spirit close. Well now we're some way down the road, this is the bands forth album and in what seems to have been a steady decline, they certainly seem to have lost the direction that showed so much promise in the heady days of their youth.

This is just another 'rock' album, similar to hundreds that have gone before. Chris Hall's vocals still at times show the sliding howl that in 1994 was so appealing, but the music doesn't quite know where it's coming from. Maybe it was youth that ignited the flame, or perhaps it has been playing support to the likes of White Zombie that cruelly dowsed what would have been up there with the best. I was so eager to hear this album, only to feel the fingers of rejection when all that I had expected failed to materialise. If you want a rock album that in today's climate still fills the depths of despair that you are feeling, then take my word there are many more fulfilling and it has to be said 'now' bands that offer a far 'squarer meal'. 3/10 Nick James, if you must (good site though).

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