BUZZCOCKS BUZZCOCKS (Merge)
"Life's full of disappointments," sings Pete Shelley on 'Useless,' the last of Buzzcocks' twelve chainsaw-like offerings. Sadly, he could well be referring to this album, which is full of spunk but woefully short (and at 35 minutes, it is short) of the melodies, harmonies, dynamics and subtleties that made the group's original trio of studio albums such (occasionally spotty) classics. The nearest we get to prime period Buzzcocks is 'Lester Sands,' with distinct echoes of 'Love Battery' from their 1978 debut album; coincidentally, it's one of two tracks Shelley composed with the help of founding member (and his recent one-off collaborative partner) Howard Devoto. Fellow original guitarist Steve Diggle tries to pick up the slack with five compositions of his own but, the excellent 'Sick City Sometimes', he too mistakes quantity of volume for quality of song. I'll love Buzzcocks the band forever and they've justified their reformation every time I've seen them live this last decade-plus but I don't need ever hear Buzzcocks the album again. C+.
MR. C CHANGE (End recordings)
Is this really the first solo studio album by the former Shamen frontman, End club founder, globe-trotting techno DJ and all-round good guy? Apparently so, and like Sasha before him, Mr. C should not give up his night job. The grooves percolate nicely, but rarely hit hard or suggest originality, and the spoken word vocals, which in their new-age pontifications recall the Shamen's use of Terrence McKenna, drag the rhythms down with them. And while Robert Owen's voice is always a silken delight, the concept of the song 'The Club', on which he guests, is at least ten years out of date. Mr. C's as fine a techno DJ as they come, and he's clearly put a lot of work into Change (check the copious sleeve notes). But he's not the first and he won't be the last to demonstrate that programming and mixing music is a very different skill from producing it. B-.
CAESARS 39 MINUTES OF BLISS (IN AN OTHERWISE MEANINGLESS WORLD) (Astralwerks)
The songs aren't new even for those who didn't hear some of them when first released on the Swedish band's debut album Youth Is Wasted On The Young back in 1998. But that's the thing about retro-rock it's hard for it to ever sound more dated than it already does. So cuts like the opening 'Sort It Out' (with the immortal line "I wanna smoke crack/'cause you're never coming back) sound as fresh now as they would have done at anytime since, um, crack hit the market. What separates Caesars from the legions of other garage bands is their use of the Farfisa organ - which turns tracks like 'Jerk It Out' into inspired Inspiral Carpets rip-offs. And 'Fun and Games', with a dainty little Farfisa solo, shows they're capable of proper ballads too. Sadly, the organ appears but to be an appendage rather than a permanent limb. B+.
THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (Ninja Tune)
It might help to know that Man With A Movie Camera was the name of a 1929 documentary film from the Soviet Union, for which British group the Cinematic Orchestra composed and presented a live soundtrack at a film festival in Porto in 1999. Re-recorded for this release, the album combines jazz rhythms with sweeping filmic melodies, incorporating modern dance-floor influences along the way, with the result that several cuts most notably 'Work It!' and 'The Awakening Of A Woman' take on the fascinating allure of live trip hop as performed by a small orchestra in a jazz club. B+.
THE FAINT DANSE MACABRE REMIXES (Astralwerks)
Riding in just before the electroclash boom, Nebraska's The Faint made a name for themselves by cheerfully reviving 80s synth patterns and strained vocals while keeping barely one guitar chord in the present day. Such an approach is a remixer's fantasy, which is why we now find their Danse Macabre album reinterpreted from start to finish. There's a trio of stand-outs: The Thin White Duke (Jacques Le Cont of Les Rhythmes Digitales by another pseudonym) conducts a deliriously nervous adaptation of 'The Conductor' with relentless repetition of the word "control'; Jagz Kooner ensures that 'Agenda Suicide' lives up to its name with a throwback to primitive electro; Ursula 1000 highlights not the synths and syn-drums but the post-punk scratchy guitars and funky bass. But mixes by major players like Tommie Suicide, Junior Sanchez and Paul Oakenfold are frustratingly uninspired. And everything in between sounds like it. B.
GOLDFRAPP BLACK CHERRY (Mute)
The partnership of vocalist Alison Goldfrapp and synth player Will Gregory offer the sensuality of Eurythmics, the sophistication of Portishead, and, especially on 'Train' and 'Strict Machine,' the synth glam of label-mates Add N To X at their most commercial. Alison's voice serves as an angelic instrument in its own right, and her lyrics example: "Put your dirty angel face between my legs and knicker lace" - suggest a singer in the throes of new lust. It all adds up to a compelling package, but for the absence of the one stand-out track that screams "own me!" B+
THE GREENHORNES DUAL MONO (Telstar)
On their third album, Cincinatti's The Greenhornes lean heavier on the garage than the rock: much of Dual Mono is so bare bones basic that it comes across not just, as presumably intended, like early Rolling Stones, but like early Rolling Stones demos. (Curiously, a "demo" of a song 'Good Times,' on the Shout! compilation album, sounds more practiced and polished than most of what's here.) This isn't to say there aren't some strong performances of solid songs: 'Satisfy My Mind' and 'The Way It's Meant To Be' kick the set off in style, with front man Craig Fox's growling voice at its most potent. Holly Golightly takes guest lead on the soulful blues of 'There is An End' and duets cheerfully with Fox on the finale 'Gonna Get Me Someone'. Freed from vocal constraints, the instrumental blues 'Pigtails and Kneesocks', like a slowed-down 'The Ox', allows drummer Patrick Keeler to let loose and the lead guitar to flail deliriously. But as with any band so enamored with the past, the line between tribute and parody proves too easy to cross. And so a song like 'Too Much Sorrow', which would have been ground-breaking if performed by the Animals back in 1965, sounds merely dated in the present day. And as an imitation Stones' ballad (complete with harpsichord, piano, and plucked acoustic lines a la 'Lady Jane', but absent the genius of a Jagger, Jones, Richard, Watt or Wyman), 'Don't Come Running To Me' falls flat on its face. B.
TOMMY GUERRERO SOUL FOOD TAQUERIA (Mo Wax)
The former skateboarding pioneer firmly established his musical credentials as a writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist with his debut album A Little Bit Of Something in 2000 and The Junk Collector EP the following year. Soul Food Taqueria stays very much in the same groove: lo-fi spaced-out backroom guitars, down tempo hip-hop, jazzy keyboards pretty much everything you'd expect from a Mo Wax artist, but with a little more polish than we last heard from him. Highlights include the twitching funk of 'Organism', the chilled-out back porch vibe of 'Think Brown Layer,' and the Sly and the Family Stone-like singalong of 'Getting It Together' with vocals by Lyrics Born. This latter track I heard in a Starbucks recently, which suggests that either Guerrero is not quite so underground as you'd imagine, or that Starbucks is not quite so corporate as you'd believe. Or something. B+.
GEMMA HAYES NIGHT ON MY SIDE (Astralwerks)
Someone is going to have to explain the Gemma Hayes phenomenon to me. Yes she's young, good looking, and can rock out as comfortably as she can sing a ballad. But Night On My Side is desperately short on the stuff that matters: decent songs. And the production seems desperately contrived to places Hayes on a highway occupied on the side by Beth Orton, representing the young and the chic, and on the other Lucinda Williams, representing the older traditionalist. The chance of Hayes catching up with either seems remarkably thin. C+.
TIMO MAAS MUSIC FOR THE MAASES 2 (Kinetic)
There are two ways to present a remix album. One is to base it around the original artist, as per The Faint, above. The other is to compile it around the actual remixer a more audacious move but one that allows for a potentially greater consistency of sound. Timo Maas will never likely regain the commercial success of his 'Dooms Night' global floor filler, but he's been sure to make the most of his moment in the spotlight: this second Music for the Maases compilation includes remixes of Kelis, Garbage, Fatboy Slim, Moby, BT and Placebo a serious A List. All are as spacious as they are funky as they are effortlessly commercial, keeping the vocals while rejigging the backing tracks for extra bounce and occasional dogs bollocks. His segues are seamless. And what his own production, 'Unite,' lacks in vocals it makes up for in rhythm. B.
RICHARD THOMPSON THE OLD KIT BAG (Cooking Vinyl/SpinArt)
This is the way to do it. Well into his fifties, and on his 25th solo album, English folk treasure Richard Thompson sounds no less vital than ever. In fact, backed only by drums and double bass, and cut almost entirely live with barely an overdub to be heard, Thompson sounds positively energized, like he could give most twenty-somethings a run for their money. On 'I'll Tag Along,' he jingles and jangles like 'Guitar Town' era Steve Earle as he sings from perspective of a relentless party animal: "Light fantastic, pop a few, my brain's elastic, appetite too." Then on the plaintive 'Outside of the Inside' he gets all nihilistic and purposefully pious, asking "What's the point of Albert Einstein/what do we need his physics for?" Inbetween, he toys with hard rock on 'Jealous Words' and retreats to the Olde English mandolin on 'One Door Opens.' Throughout, that distinct voice comforts, engages, posits and provokes. A-.
WINE? It's English, it's honest, it's refreshing and it refuses to disappear from sight just because it's not in vogue this year. So is Chapel Down's Horizon, "world class wine from England." And you can drink it for free on British Airways.
VARIOUS ARTISTS TORCH (Six Degrees)
The ever resourceful Six Degrees, quite possibly the finest independent label in America these days, attempts here to renew interest in "torch songs" which, in case you were wondering, are "named for their slow-burning, sensuous quality" according to the sleeve notes. (Think Billie Holiday, Sade and all such sultry points inbetween.) Compiling Torch from contemporary, left-field catalogues, Six Degrees finds sterling examples from Cassandra Wilson (singing Neil Young's distinctive 'Harvest Moon'), Sylk 130 ('Season's Change'), Dzihan & Kamien ('Drophere') and even Elvis Costello showing up as a vocalist for Roy Nathanson's 'Fire Suite 1.' (Sadly though, there's no Portishead.) It's ideal dinner date music, with all the obvious, not entirely positive connotations, but it's also a deft balance between tradition and experimentation, soulful jazz and ambient electronica. B+
VARIOUS ARTISTS END050 (End Recordings)
I took no pleasure in knocking Mr. C's solo album and so, to show I mean no ill will, I'm happy to praise this compilation from his End Recordings (an extension of his London club the End), which celebrates its fiftieth release by gathering many of its singles together onto double CD. A couple of the featured acts have achieved some notoriety on their own (especially Layo & Bushwacka, whose hit single 'Love Story' comes in 'unreleased mix' form), and a handful of others, like Tone Theory and Killer Loop have acquired healthy cult status. My Brazilian-infatuated mind was drawn to Rio Funk's 'Babes From Bahia', but in the hands of Detroit tech pioneer Eddie Fowlkes, you'd be hard to know it hailed from south of the equator. It's all good, solid, inoffensive but beat-happy tech house and as evidence of its good vibes, even 'A Thing Called Love' by Mr. C featuring Robert Owens, is stronger than their collaboration on the label founder's own album. B+.
VARIOUS ARTISTS CITY OF GOD (Milan)
At least the soundtrack is more upbeat than the movie. To accompany Fernando Meirelle's horrendously violent two-decades story of life (or, more accurately, death) in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, composer Antonio Pinto and partner Ed Cortes imitated the major musical forces of the area in 1960s and 1970s: samba and funk, but with a decided urban American influence. The result falls somewhere between Funkadelic and the Starsky and Hutch theme, but with sufficient percussive instrumentation for it to remain indisputably Brazilian. It take some serious studying of the sleeve notes to decide whether the second half of the album is older material by the likes of Tim Maia ('No caminho do bem') and Raul Seixas (the haunting soulful semi-acoustic space rock of 'Metamorfose Ambulante') or rather, Pinto and Cortes' updating of same. It would appear to be the former, in which case City of God is a rival to David Holmes' work on Oceans Eleven for so perfectly imitating the past alongside the real thing that the joins appear seamless. A.