Pink, Lambchop, Karine Polwart, Nightmare Of You
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Karine Polwart/
Nightmare Of You

[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]

AMONGST ALL BUT their target audience, the prevailing attitude to teen-pop acts is usually one of sniffy condescension. Good records go unrecognised (the marvellous Girls Aloud album was conspicuous by its absence from most 2005 best-of round-ups); conversely, mediocre ones are applauded (on Dr Johnson's “Dog walking on its hind legs” principle) merely for not being absolutely dreadful.
 The notion that there's anything more “authentic” about, say, Kaiser Chiefs than Pink is a risible one. In this particular instance, the reverse may be true. Signed and marketed as an R&B artist, Pink - by her own account - insisted on changing direction. The only problem was that, until now, she made better music as an Urban puppet than a self-determined rocker.
 Her fourth album, I'm Not Dead (SonyBMG **), is by some distance her best. The cracker-to-filler ratio remains the same: low. But when put to good use, as it is on a handful of fine tracks, Pink's stroppy, strident persona works a treat. Stupid Girls, a timely and well-aimed salvo at the iceberg of which Paris Hilton is the tip, would be even more effective if it weren't followed up by quite so much solipsistic caterwauling.
 There may be odder bands than Lambchop - the country /soul/ experimental/ orchestral ensemble that swirls and eddies around the songs of Kurt Wagner - but few of them can have given more pleasure. A new collection of non-album tracks, The Decline Of The Country & Western Civilization (1993-99) (City Slang ***) is typical (in as much as any Lambchop record can be so described) only in its eccentricity and variety. Wagner's dry humour, and his band's discreet, lush arrangements, set off one another as satisfyingly as ever.
 Once again, Scottish folk singer Karine Polwart makes a quiet but resolute claim upon my attention. Much like its predecessor, Faultlines, Scribbled In Chalk (Spit & Polish ***) has passages which drag or cloy; but these are forgotten the instant that such clear, even and wonderfully assured songs as Daisy, Where The Smoke Blows and Hole In The Heart arrive. In a British folk revival that's brought us an awful lot of rootsy tweeness on one hand, and tapwater-bland careerism on the other, Polwart is refreshing as a brisk spring breeze.
 There's a curious wheels-within-wheels aspect to The Days Go By Oh So Slow, the opening track from the self-titled debut album by Long Island quartet Nightmare Of You (Full Time Hobby **). Not only is it a blatant pastiche of The Cure, it evokes The Cure's own blatant pastiche of New Order, In Between Days. Despite their eyeliner, Nightmare Of You are more of a jaunty power-pop band than neo-Goths - a low-fat Killers, with tunes to match, and as such likely to do pretty well for themselves.

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