[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]
THE MUSIC BUSINESS, like any other, survives by spotting gaps in the market. The fairly narrow fissure bordered on one side by Usher and Justin Timberlake, and on the other by the 50 Cent, has been duly filled. R&B newcomer Akon glowers, muscled and shirtless, from the cover of Trouble (Island ***); but he looks more pensive than menacing. The same goes for his sombre tales of prison and street life. It's easy to be impressed by Trouble simply for what it isn't (neither sterile quasi-soul nor vapid braggadocio). Turn your attention to what it actually is, and it measures up as catchy R&B with the occasional intriguing undercurrent.
In an Indie scene rife with literal-minded revivalists, LCD Soundsystem's self-titled debut (DFA ****) stands out by capturing not just the sound but the spirit of its influences. New Jersey's James Murphy patently worships the eerie rhythmic mesmerism of early 1980s Manchester (with A Certain Ratio, New Order and The Fall foremost among his household gods.) Murphy's no mean songwriter, and not afraid to make unexpected forays into the pastoral psychedelia cornered by Super Furry Animals, or Spiritualized's orchestral geometry. The second disc may be superfluous, but the first is splendid.
It's a given that rebellion is the source and essence of the best rock'n'roll. Unfortunately, as The Others demonstrate, it also inspires some of the worst. The Others (Vertigo, no stars) has been hailed as the sound of young Britain in mutiny. Even if that were so, it would still be a dreadful record - a charmless, hectoring racket, the clumsy sonic equivalent of a loudmouth bore's unedited video diary. My guess is it will thrive on a condescending, vicarious and misinformed zeal for working-class youth culture. On that score, The Others are to The Streets what Sham 69 were to The Specials.
It may be ticking over nicely, but the British folk scene must look with some envy at the American roots boom and wonder how it could attain similar success and cachet. If Karine Polwart's Faultlines (Neon ***) is anything to go by, it's not through lack of trying. At times frustratingly mannered or ingratiatingly bland, Polwart nonetheless delivers a handful of songs (the looping, foreboding Resolution Road; Skater On The Surface, with its echoes of Nick Drake; Only One Way, poppy and rousing) affecting in their quiet conviction.
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