Manic Street Preachers/
Tribute Box Set
[The Mail On Sunday, 2004]
ROBYN Hitchcock, onetime Soft Boy and cult hero these 28 years gone, has been cited by R.E.M. as exerting more of an influence on their sound than The Byrds. Alt.country royalty Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have paid tribute by collaborating on his latest album, the slow-burning Spooked.
Notwithstanding his impact on others, it's Hitchcock's own work that matters most. He's often compared to Syd Barrett, but Graham Chapman or Douglas Adams would be equally helpful names to mention. Hitchcock, blessed with a singularly English talent, has spent his career veering between the sublime and silly. Witness tonight's segue from the piledriving furore of Brenda's Iron Sledge into a cover of Lipps Inc's Funkytown.
“We do nothing at random,” Hitchcock playfully avers - an obvious lie. Randomness underlies his entire act. If he plays a crowd favourite, you sense, it's simply because he feels like it. Kingdom of Love illustrates how Hitchcock perfected his elliptical psychedelic writhings on The Soft Boys' wonderful final LP, Underwater Moonlight. A charming domestic ghost story, My Wife And My Dead Wife has too light a touch to be gothic, and feels too sinister to be frivolous. Full Moon In My Soul, from Spooked, is simply lovely.
Few artists could dart through a quarter-century's worth of their music without sounding a single note of compromise. “Please yourself” would seem to be Hitchcock's motto; and to quote the man, if that doesn't please you, then you can't be pleased.
MANIC STREET PREACHERS
IN common with politicians, buildings and whores, it seems, rock'n'roll bands become respectable with age. The Holy Bible - in its day a ferocious, nihilistic howl of an album - has just been accorded a reverential tenth anniversary reissue. MSP's warnings from history are now history themselves.
Relieved of the scrutiny of all but their own ample fanbase, the Manics are free to be what they prefer - a group playing big, bookish, straightforward rock songs, and doing it well. They may plod at times - they always did - but often they rumble with as much righteous fury as ever.
The more personal and introspective material (From Despair To Where and the like), which won them an angst-ridden following second only to Morrissey's, has been trimmed from the set-list. Perhaps with good reason. It's the broader political anthems - A Design For Life, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next - which have weathered best. In a musical arena where dissent tends to be either trite or non-existent, the power of these songs is undimmed.
Ice Cream Records
THIS really should be packaged in a buttery yellow sleeve bearing the legend I Can't Believe It's Not Dido. Folk-lite singer-songwriter Janie Price so closely follows Ms Florian Cloud De Bounevialle Armstrong in every aspect that her album retains little character of its own. Whether it was her idea or the record company's, the first fully-fledged Dido-ette has arrived and we'd better brace ourselves for more. Good news for people who like Dido. For those of us who don't, a sign that it's going to be a long, long winter.
TROJAN BEATLES TRIBUTE BOX SET
BEATLES numbers, reggae-style. Three discs of 'em, taking in as many decades of ska, lovers rock, dub and roots, and varying from muzaky to rousing or altogether weird. Greats (The Maytals, The Dragonaires, The Upsetters), cult favourites (John Holt, Dawn Penn) and rather, erm, specialised acts (The Black Beatles) all feature. The songs range from those The Beatles covered themselves to seventies solo numbers. This fascinating and eccentric round-up has to be one of the most enjoyable Beatles companions yet issued.
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