Once again Marcus Austin, Jimmie Blackburn, and Colin Hamilton cast their eyes over this months indie releases.

Marion - This world and body - London

I waited for this LP for the last 7 months. On the stage at Glastonbury they announced that they'd just finished recording it, and I and about 10,000 others naively thought great I'll be able to go out and buy it in a few months. How bloody wrong can you get ? After Glastonbury there was Reading and the Phoenix then there was a tour so the boy's only got time to mix it in December. So was it worth the wait, no. What we have is an album of heavy metal camp, that tries badly to be U2 and the Smiths. That's the Smiths of the first two LP's mixed in with the U2 of the Boy stable, rather than the more sophisticated U2 of today, oh and a dash of early Bunnymen.

Good ideals well executed but unfortunately it's just to pompous. It doesn't jump out at you like it should do. They seem to fair best when they try to be the Smiths, and fail when they try to be U2. I guess it's because their hometown of Macclesfield is decidedly nearer to Manchester than it is to Ireland. The standout tracks are Sleep which has a very Smithsesque Harmonica intro and reminds me of the Smiths first single "Hand in Glove" the stadium pleasing "Let's all go together", the quiet "Wait", "All for Love" with it's "Happy-House" Siouxsie & the Banshees drums bass and guitar.

The opening track "Fallen Through" isn't the opening track I would have chosen, but if they want to go down big in the States - and I think they're going to have to because the UK isn't going to fall all over themselves for this sound - then this is probably how they're going to have to shape their sound.

"Are you missing her" is probably my favourite track on the LP, it's got all the right hooks a driving chorus and it doesn't sound like anyone else other than Marion. They will be big when they stop being a tribute band and become a band that plays Marion tracks. But having said all that it's still one of the finest debut LP's you're likely to hear all year.

If you must put some pictures of the boys on your wall then go to their website

7/10 MA
Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup - (Duophonic UHF )

After threatening to break into the wacky world of mainstream pop for years perhaps the time is now right for the much loved Stereolab to hit the jackpot, seeing as pseudo-MOR is so familiar you half expect to find it accompanying the round up on Match of the Day . This, their umpteenth album is more of what came before- fragile melodies and drifting vocal counterpoints over a lightly unsettling backing. The superb opener 'Metronomic Underground' comes on like a gang of academics attempting to play the Velvets 'Murder Mystery' in the style of Chic...from sheet music. Yep, that good and by no means the standout here. 'Cybele's Reverie ', with its lush arrangement and occasional drone segments is a lesson in how to construct uneasy easy listening music, while the ace 'The Noise of Carpet' takes the riff of sixties psychout 'Psychotic Reaction' and welds it to some kind of madrigal. There's enough melody and beauty here to safely occupy a years listening, and if the world really has caught up they'll soon be the stars they've never wanted to be. Pretension points are correct as ever (recorded in Chicago with John McEntire of the not dissimilar Tortoise, typical obscurist titles like 'OLV26' and 'Les Yper Sound', plenty of weird noises, a track which starts just like Pulp's 'Disco 2000' ) but at the end you realise that what you've been listening to is the sound of music beyond frontiers. In a perfect world they'd win the Eurovision Song Contest for ever.

9/10 JB

Knownothing: The Room Where Everything Happens At Once (World Domination)

London trio knownothing (lower case only here, they seem like the sort of lads that consider themselves pretty smart) follow up last year's excellent debut 45 'Somewhere In This City' with their debut album. That single, included here, was something of a joyous chug next to much of this record, but tracks like the intense'Ellipsis', and 'First Address Song' with its riveting repetitious close are the work of a band with a great eye for detail but a weakness at seeing the overall effect. Which basically means that they take too much inspiration from similar US bands, and they have no gift for vocal melodies. Nonetheless this is often impressive as it rages its hardest, as on final track 'A Long Road'. A band to watch, very possibly. Except I've just been told that they've already split up. Lightweights.

6/10 JB

Tortoise: Millions Now Living Will Never Die (City Slang)

There's no point beating around the bush about it- Chicago's Tortoise are pretentious- makers of sad music destined only to be cherished by the modern day equivalent of patchouli scented prog fans who remain determined to show their individuality by loving the music that nobody else likes. After all, a instrumental combo twiddling in jazz rock land are hardly likely to set the pulse racing, especially as their lead instrument is often a xylophone (!) and their nods to dub bass seem more academic than heartfelt. Which entirely misses the fact that much of this album is wonderful, and something of an improvement on last years equally well-packaged Tortoise. The twenty minute opener 'Djed' is the highlight, wandering from motorik Krautrock to something near jazz dub apparently at will, but never losing the thread. But the less sprawling tracks work just as well, even if you sometimes suspect that the ideal Tortoise title might be 'All Serious Offers of Soundtrack Work Considered'. Excellent stuff. Just beware of men claiming moral superiority for liking it.

7/10 JB

Bluetones: Expecting to Fly (Paradox/A&M)

When a band names their debut album after Neil Young's most beautiful and audaciously arranged early work it's a certainty that said band will be full of talk about sincerity and a desire to match the greats. But this lovingly put-together collection, with its embarrassing nods to the past is yet another demonstration that devotion is no match for inspiration. Bluntly it's a fucking dull record. Anyone who compares this lumpy set of half digested tunes to the Stone Roses is either in the pay of the band or plain cloth eared. Most of this stuff wouldn't stand out on a Squeeze B side medley recorded live in Wolverhampton..part two of a 2 CD pack. Sure 'Cut Some Rug' is mildly enervating, and the singles are okay in a predictable way, but Mark Morriss is a piss-poor singer (much like Ian Brown...) and there just isn't enough musical skill or imagination to compete with a seven year old record made by some unheralded Mancunians. Number One this week, forgotten in two years, this band are the bastard sons of Crowded House and no mistake. Great cover though.

3/10 JB

The Divine Comedy: Casanova (Setanta)

Eeek! A concept album based on the memoirs of famed 18th century cocksman Casanova, no less, and frankly nearer opera than rock in its loose narrative structure. I really should be covering my ears but this third album from son of a bishop (honest!) Neil Hannon is a revelation, and a vast improvement on the two before it. Imagine a voice like Edwyn Collins over a backing best described as 'Pulp gone baroque' and you're approaching it. Superb lyrics pin down Nineties Britain and its vile rulers and Hannon's fixation with lushly orchestrated pop mean that this record passed the comparison test with the best of Burt Bacharach reviewed below.. Songs as beautiful and absurd as 'The Frog Princess', 'A Woman of the World', with its call-and-response vocals from 'the guys' and the driving 'Something for the Weekend' seem just too good to be placed in the corner marked 'quirky'. That just underestimates the intelligence involved. 'Songs of Love', the theme from the wonderful Father Ted, now with self deprecating lyrics, and the harrowing 'Through A Long and Sleepless Night', as intense as Scott Walker at his maddest are the opposite extremes here, but the whole bears a rare unity. It really would be a waste if no one ended up hearing this. What about a stage musical Mr Hannon? This is nothing less than the aural equivalent of Jonathan Coe's recent novel What a Carve Up, and almost certainly on my top ten at years end.

9/10 JB

The Magnetic fields: Get Lost (Merge)

The Magnetic Fields is one man, New Yorker Stephin (sic) Merritt, who claims that his aim is to bring a sense of quality and intelligence back to pop music. Which you wouldn't guess from hearing his rather grey tones, unimaginative arrangements and surprising lack of lyrical facility. Stephin, never start a song with the line 'Moons in June, I've given up on that stuff ', on an album which features the word 'Moon' in the title of three of the thirteen songs. It doesn't look arch, it looks stupid. And never call a song 'With Whom to Dance?'. Not even Pavement could get away with that. Still, even if it often sounds like something the receivers threw out in the street when Factory went under this is actually a reasonable record, but it hardly possesses more intelligence than other artists in the same vein ( for instance Smog and Divine Comedy- both of whom write genuinely astonishing lyrics) Goodish in parts, in a cut price New Order kind of way, but not as good as it thinks it is.

6/10 JB

Various: The Look of Love -the classic songs of Burt Bacharach (Polygram TV)

Anyone who saw the recent documentary on old Burt, a man who still doesn't look his 67 years and holds a permanent facial expression that not even the cheerfully plagiarising Noel Gallagher could imagine approaching, will have been surprised to realise just how many great songs he had been responsible for. I was even more surprised to realise that Burt himself sings badly enough to front a Britpop band, as he tried to explain some finer nuances to Dionne Warwick. This 'best of' cuts most of the crap anyway, and it's hard to resist songs as great as 'Make It Easy on Yourself', 'Anyone Who Had A Heart' and 'The Look of Love' itself. Of course these tunes aren't bulletproof by any means- Dusty Springfield's version of '24 Hours from Tulsa' is far superior to the better known Gene Pitney take included here, and Bobby Vinton's Italian restaurant presence is unexplained, but much of this is marvellous, so good that not even daughter of Satan Cilla Black can ruin it. And best of all is the Shirelles' 'Baby It's You', recorded in a cardboard box, but more passionate than any other inclusion. It loses a point for using sleevenotes by that tedious old twat Tony Parsons, but means you'll always have something to play when you visit your parents. Lovely.

8/10 JB

The Mekons and Kathy Acker: Pussy, King of the Pirates (Quarterstick)

UM, a serious oddity. Former cult favourite, author Kathy Acker (who, it must be said, has a lovely speaking voice) teams up with long time Leeds and Chicago favourites the Mekons, to provide a musical and spoken word telling of her disjointed tale about women pirates in a mythical England of today and times past. It is, unsurprisingly, about as appetising as that would imply, though the touches of wit throughout (London represented by a jungle pirate station for example) save it from utter art wank doom. It's mainly let down by the musical interludes, little snippets often combining folk and dub bass to no particular effect at all, though it's hard to see how this record could have been improved b without throwing out the original premise. Perhaps if the collaborators had actually worked together more. Still, no one's ever gonna hear it anyway, due to its liberal use of the C word, making it all academic, which is EXACTLY what this record is.

4/10 JB

The Fall - Sinister Waltz -Receiver

There seem to be three types of groups: those that put out one album a year( REM, Neil Young et al), those who put out one great album and then produce nothing for years (Stone Roses, Stereo MCs....) and those that are putting albums out as quickly as they can, (Prince, Baby Bird.) The Fall belong to the latter set. Three albums last year and another three, at least, due this year.

Sinister Waltz is the first of a trio of albums remixes and reissues centering around the Extra three, at least, due this year.

Sinister Waltz is the first of a trio of forthcoming Fall albums featuring remixes and reissues of previous material. It centres around the Extricate and Shiftwork albums. Despite being sold as a remixes album some of the tracks do not differ much from the original versions. A Lot Of Wind for example sounds much the same apart from Smith whistling through his teeth towards the end. The Knight The Devil And Death has had the original sparse vocal removed. Whilst Chicago Now! has had an extra drum beat added. There is one new track just to ensure that the completists make their purchase. It's called Birthday and doesn't feature Mark's voice, instead Lucy Rimmer sings over a typical Fall bass heavy riff. The high point is the rough and ready version of Wings, which was recorded live from a room fairly near the venue judging by the quality of sound.

Sinister Waltz is an entertaining though not vital CD. Those who have followed The Fall through their 29ish albums will not be disappointed. Those who haven't, won't be able to work out how they've sold records for almost twenty years.

6/10 CH

Volume 15 -Various Artists -Think Electric Records

The fantastic people at Volume bring us yet another collection of new tunes from a variety of eclectic acts. The Shamen, New Order and The Cocteau Twins all make rather typical contributions. Rage favourites Baby Bird, Mick Harvey and Ultramarine also provide tunes which give you a chance to taste some of what the new and not so new are currently producing.

There is the CD sized book which comes with it featuring in depth lively interviews (or in some cases a rushed questionnaire) with each of the acts that are featured at the back there is a section with some remarkably late reviews of albums I doubt that any Volume purchasers will not already own Oasis' Morning Glory album making the review of it rather pointless. The same could be said for the Pulp and Goldie album reviews

There is a bonus though, the package also comes with an extra CD-ROM, called 'It' which is compatible with both PC's and Macs. It is rather dull, however, consisting of random animated clips accessed by clicking various (seemingly random) areas on the main screen. The other problem that I had was that it crashed on a regular basis on all the machines I tried it out on, I also never managed to find the alternative guide to Camden. Are their any unalternative guides to Camden, detailing the locations of Marks and Spencer and Woolworths?

Musically, this isn't a great issue of Volume, but, as ever, there are so many other reasons to buy it this doesn't seem to matter. If you want to know more click -->

6/10 CH

The Wedding Present - Mini -Cooking Vinyl

When The Smiths split up there was a massive hole in the market. What were all those lonely, single, students going to play in their bedsits now? Who could possibly understand the pitfalls and subsequent angst that young love inevitably brings? Enter The Wedding Present with a collection of thoughtful love songs entited George Best. At their height they sold countless records, filled large venues and had a following large enough to allow them to release albums of Ukrainian folk music. Those days are now long gone. Their original fanbase have got jobs, houses and long-term partners, leaving The Wedding Present trying to create a new set of disciples.

Their current offering is entitled Mini, an apt title seeing as it lasts for less than twenty minutes. This brief period is easily long enough to realise that they haven't developed their sound since the last release. It's the same noisy, fuzzy guitars sound that they have been associated with since 1989's Bizzaro album. sound that they have been associated with since 1989's Bizzaro album. (Which never quite hit the novelty generated by collecting the singles each month). The Wedding Present just continue to plough their lonely furrow towards obscurity, and the vast amount of national press advertising which surrounds this albums release will only serve to temporarily delay their journey to complete musical irrelevance.

3/10 CH

Frank Black - The Cult of Ray - Epic

Since the demise of The Pixies, Frank Black has struggled to make an impact in the

music world. While Kim Deal was moving from strength to strength with The Breeders and sideshot The Amps poor Frank has been left creating albums which have produced unenthusiastic reviews and lower than hoped for chart sales. Sure, he can sell out The Shepherds Bush Empire but there was a time when the Pixies could sell out the Crystal Palace Bowl which holds crowds that many first division clubs would be proud to attract. There's no doubting the fact that these days times are a lot harder for Mr Black.

The opening track on Cult Of Ray is called 'The Marsist' It starts with an edgy grating sound indicating immediately that he's taking no prisoners. A guitar cuts in plays a riff then, just as the song should begin, a rough bass line replaces it and Black's distorted voice begins to sing. As the tune develops his voice becomes more and more contorted and he seems to be struggling to keep the song alive. As he appears to lose all control everything dramatically stops. It's clear that Black hasn't set out to please the easy listening crowd.

The album is full of similar, rough, edgy tracks which, initially, makes for uncomfortable listening. Apart from The Last Stand Of Shazab Andleeb, which is a slower more deliberate track, the pace never lets up. The Cult Of Ray is an album that should win back some of the legions of Pixies fans which have been lost over the years.

While it's doubtful that Frank Black will ever sell out The Crystal Palace Bowl again we should remember that, some people never manage to headline venues the size of the Shepherd's Bush Empire let alone sell them out.

7/10 CH

Deep Purple -Purpendicular -RCA

Purpendicular.... Do you get it? It's the latest album from the post Blackmore Deep Purple. Doubtlessly eagerly awaited by forty year olds up and down the country. So have they changed or will the continue with the extensive guitar solos which have paid their mortgages this far?

The opening track, Varoom: Ted The Mechanic is not typical. It's a funky upbeat number with a bassline that almost deflects attention away from the extended guitar work in the background. Unfortunately it doesn't quite succeed. The song tells of Ted, a man who the writer meets in a strip joint. Apparently, Ted has a job, a wife and kids who all moan a lot and ...erm that's about the whole of the song. We learn nothing more about him apart from 'He's as big as a truck and as fast as a door' how ever fast that is. From this unelevated position the lyrics and music plummet towards the standard ego massage guitar riffs, prog rock organs and inane lyrics.

Purpendicular....good title If only they spent as much time thinking about the music.

1/10 CH

Mr Bungle - Disco Volante -Slash

Apparently, Mr Bungle are linked with radical sound. Existing on the cutting edge of music development. This appears to involve playing their music very quickly and then very slowly with the vocals distorted. Many of the tracks sound as if they are being made up on the spot. Others sound as if the musicians are playing in isolation and cannot hear any of the contributions being made by other members of the group.

On a stage this might just be entertaining especially if there were a few distractions away from the music. Perhaps if they painted themselves and had a couple of fire-eaters the average pundit may not notice how poor the music is for two or three tunes. It would take skills far greater than any mere mortal could possess to keep people there for any longer.

This is a truly poor album which has no redeeming features. Well worth going out of your way to avoid.

0/10 CH

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