dimanche, novembre 28, 2004

Snow Patrol

The band who came in from the cold

After 10 years of trying, Snow Patrol have a hit album. But they're not rushing to cash in on it, they tell Alexia Loundras

26 November 2004

Black-jacketed and designer-jeaned, several glamorous blondes totter between rooms at a private East End photographic studio. As an electric heater maintains a tropical temperature, a photographer is shooting a spread for Vogue. Everything is pretty much what you'd expect of a fashion shoot, except for the presence of four musicians - the front man Gary Lightbody, the bass-player Mark McClelland, the drummer Jonny Quinn and the guitarist Nathan Connolly, collectively known as Snow Patrol.

Unlike bands such as The Strokes, Kings of Leon and Franz Ferdinand (who were also recently featured in Vogue), today's models don't look like a band: no skinny jeans, no chest-defining vintage tops, no distressed leather, not even a favourite old belt between them. Stripped of the dapper threads selected by today's stylist, they are almost mundane. Only Connolly makes any concession to style, dressed in a black suit-jacket which is fashionably frayed at the cuffs and lapels. "We're an indie band," shrugs Lightbody, wearing "model's own" Kermit-green T-shirt and grandad-brown jumper-with-hole. "And we've been an up-and-coming indie band for 10 years. We're not like those other bands, never have been. We don't feel comfortable with celebrity and having our photos taken for The Sun's "Bizarre" column. We like drinking in old men's pubs."

Yet, despite their protestations, Snow Patrol have been dragged off their comfortable bar stools and into a debauched rock'n'roll world. The Met Bar is keen for the band to make an appearance (as DJs, but it's a start), and, earlier this year, Mick Rock, the legendary snapper of stars, photographed the four-piece for a feature in Playboy magazine. "He's shot fabulous rock stars - The Rolling Stones and Bowie - and wonderful-looking women, and now us," says Lightbody, a more than a little incredulous.

Snow Patrol are genuinely having difficulty in acclimatising to the swift shift in their fortunes. Thanks to 2003's phenomenally successful third album, Final Straw, the band are enjoying the kind of success they've only dreamed of - and all thanks to their smouldering breakthrough single, "Run", which entered the charts in January.

In just 12 months they went from playing to 15 people at a sordid strip joint ("They had to unscrew the pole from the middle of the stage before we could sound-check," Connolly recalls) to headlining two nights at Brixton Academy, one of London's top rock venues. They have toured extensively in America ("Two months there is like being in the Army," says Lightbody), Europe and Japan, and they are ending the year with a triumphant 17-date, sold-out UK tour and a Hogmanay homecoming in their adopted city, Glasgow. Final Straw - one of the year's best-sellers, outstripping even Franz Ferdinand's debut - was nominated for the Mercury music prize. And just two days before our meeting, the band spent the day ("a most bizarre, amazing, potentially life-changing, odd day," Connolly recounts) with Sir Bob Geldof, recording the Band Aid 20 single alongside Keane, Busted, Jamelia and The Darkness.

But unlike both Keane and The Darkness, Snow Patrol did not find success with their debut album. At the start of October, they celebrated their 10th anniversary, though "celebrated" is perhaps an overstatement. "It was more like waking up after a big night out and thinking, 'how the hell did this happen?' rather than, 'hooray'," says Lightbody. The intervening months since "Run" reached the Top Five, propelling Final Straw to an extended run in the upper echelons of the album charts, have been like no other in the band's largely uneventful history. Snow Patrol (originally Polar Bear) formed, remembers Lightbody, "sometime during freshers' week" at Dundee University in 1994 when the Belfast-born Lightbody and McClelland bonded over their love of The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine. Quinn was next to join, followed by a succession of fickle guitarists before Connolly finally cemented the band's line-up just in time for Final Straw (the Radio 1 DJ Colin Murray, a long-standing friend of the band, still mockingly refers to Connolly as "the glory hunter"). Signed to the independent label Jeepster (home of Belle and Sebastian) the band released two albums, 1998's Songs for Polar Bears, and the well-received When It's All Over We Still Have to Clear up three years later. But, despite gaining what Lightbody calls "a small but fanatically loyal, great set of wonderful fans," Snow Patrol were dropped.

Aside from selling his kidney, jokes Lightbody, the 18-month no-man's-land they suffered between Jeepster and eventually signing to the Polydor off-shoot Fiction was their nadir. They offered themselves to just about every label, "but nobody wanted to sign us," he says. "After releasing two albums that didn't do so well, I think people thought we were damaged goods." Understandably, this was a frustrating time for the band, but Lightbody softened the blow of Snow Patrol's enforced hiatus by indulging his muse with a side project, The Reindeer Section, a Scottish super-group that pooled everyone from Idlewild to Belle and Sebastian to perform Lightbody's aching and tender songs of human imperfection. Highlighting Lightbody's ambition, the project numbered 26 musicians at the last count, with a combined weight of 297 stone. Their number is still rising: "Just because the second incarnation doubled in size from the first doesn't mean the next one won't number 112," grins Lightbody.

The uber-band released two critically acclaimed albums and, at a one-off show at the Royal Festival Hall, the excitement of fronting this veritable orchestra got a bit too much for Lightbody: "I took all my clothes off, didn't I?" he remembers, embarrassed. He did. And not content with getting naked, he jogged jubilantly across the stage in celebration. At least Lightbody can take pride in the fact that he's quite possibly both the first and last streaker to grace the hall's formal stage.

Snow Patrol could have jacked it all in but, says Lightbody, "belligerence kept us going. Not a lot of people credit belligerence, but it's a very powerful force," he smiles, puffing his chest out with schoolboy pride. "Sheer pig-headedness saved my life. We knew - or believed anyway - that we would make a great album if we were given a chance."

Of course, as it turns out, Lightbody's self-belief was not unfounded. The resulting third record has proved to be well worth the wait (for band, new label and public alike). But, at the time, the belief Lightbody speaks of was more blind faith than real confidence. "There's no real reason for that belief," he admits, "except that without it, what's left? If you don't believe in what you do, you don't have any energy, any inclination."

Final Straw slots snugly into the post-Coldplay world but it's no fluke. Lightbody has been steadily polishing his craft. Listening to all three Snow Patrol albums, it's clear there's been a gradual but consistent refinement of his songwriting. Not only have his raw, no-holds-barred tales of car-crash love sharpened into blood-drawing, full-colour focus but, sonically too, the grainy film that previously smothered Snow Patrol's songs has lifted to reveal shimmering pop beneath. Gone is the scratchy, don't-mind-me, lo-fi that characterised the band's first record, and the shy, almost-there experimentation of their second. Instead, with Final Straw Snow Patrol have emerged as a fierce and confident guitar-pop band, armed with searing melodies and powered by soaring guitars that wrestle the listener into submission like an unexpectedly pleasant aural Chinese burn.

It seems practice does indeed make perfect: "Final Straw is a progression," agrees Lightbody, visibly proud of his band's work. "It's fully formed, lucid and flows much better than any album we've made before. These songs sound like they belong together. We've worked really, really hard, and if you play together a lot, which we do, you get better." "After time," adds Connolly, "you just get to know the dynamics between people. It becomes like a third sense." Lightbody affectionately looks over at his band-mate, clearly wondering where the other three senses have got to, and stifles a giggle. "I've only got two," continues Connolly, suddenly aware of his gaffe. "Is that bad?"

Over the years, Snow Patrol have become a particularly close-knit band. "We're a very tight group of lads," confirms Lightbody. "It's like the band has become my wife!" He laughs, but he's only half joking. If his lyrics are anything to go by, his relationship with Snow Patrol is the only one he is capable of maintaining. Is that really so? "Yeah, and it's OK with me," he says. "I have a very loving relationship with this particular wife. But the knock-on effect is that there's no room for anyone else in my life." Lightbody shrugs. "People have said that I can't seem to let anyone else in. And they're right. I'm terrible, I talk myself out of everything. I'm not a grass is greener-type person, believe me, I would be a bastard if I were. But I'm an inadvertent bastard, which I suppose is a grade up from bastard. It's never the girl's fault - it's always mine. I'm just not ready - I'm terrified. I'm still a boy, a 28-year-old boy."

Lightbody doesn't seem like a bastard. He appears honest, unguarded and self-deprecating. He just feels strangely compelled to sabotage his relationships. But as unfortunate as his commitment issues may be, they make great ammunition for his songs and instalments for Snow Patrol album number four are slowly underway; the lyrics currently taking shape on the singer's mobile phone.

The band are in no real hurry to release another record. Considering it's taken them 10 years to get onto Top Of The Pops, this is a little surprising - you'd imagine they'd be anxious to capitalise on their current success, to make up for lost time perhaps. Yet rather than rushing out a record, Snow Patrol are adhering to the "slowly, slowly catchee monkey" approach to ensure they don't sell themselves short. It's certainly worked for them in the past. "If we'd written a song like "Run" on our first album," says Lightbody, "we would have been 'that band with that song'. The rest of the album just wouldn't have stood up to it and we would have collapsed, as Eddie Izzard says, 'like a flan in a cupboard'."

Instead, Snow Patrol seem humbled by their success. "This trip can finish as quickly as it began," says Lightbody sincerely. "We thought we were going to be massive with our first album, so when we weren't it was like being slapped round the head - our egos were instantly kept in check. I don't think anyone really imagined we'd get this far. We've been lucky and luck's a massive part of a band's career - bad luck will be the thing that breaks your back."

Having already survived their own spell of bad luck when dropped by Jeepster, Snow Patrol are finally enjoying the fruits of a decade's worth of dogged determination: what Lightbody calls, "a wee bit of disposable income." Despite the wink that accompanies his words, he's not being coy. Snow Patrol are not a band of extravagant means and when Lightbody says "a wee bit of disposable income", he does quite literally mean some extra dosh: "It's not as if we we're staggering around with pockets full of money - selling a million records doesn't mean there's a million quid in the bank - but being able to buy all the records you want every week is like a Holy Grail for me," he says, thrilled.

No doubt the royalties will arrive eventually, but at least these days the landlord doesn't come knocking for their rent, which makes a nice change. Yet Snow Patrol refuse to take anything for granted and their aspirations remain modest. "The important thing is that we go to our graves with our souls intact," says Lightbody genuinely. "We need to make sure we keep doing this because we enjoy it and not because we're compelled to by other forces. Making music, for us, is not a job. It's a hobby that went right - our album's just gone triple platinum, what's that all about?!" Lightbody looks like a lottery winner, gobsmacked by his good fortune. They may not be rolling in cash yet, but at least he won't have to face his family empty-handed this Christmas: "This year," he says through a grin, "there'll be Christmas presents - that's a start."

Snow Patrol tour the UK until 29 December SnowPatrol

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

samedi, novembre 27, 2004

The Delays

Small-town romantics

The Delays' singer, Greg Gilbert, tells Steve Jelbert why he and his brother want to be the Benny and Bjorn of British rock

26 November 2004

The right sorts can find their souls stirred by any surroundings, so perhaps it's no surprise that the Delays, quite probably the only band in musical history to have received comparisons to both The Hollies and the Cocteau Twins, should have emerged from the unexceptional climes of Southampton.

"I got into trouble with friends for saying it was the most average place in the world," explains the band's 23-year-old singer and main songwriter, Greg Gilbert. "But I meant it was the most normal place. I judge everywhere by Southampton. It's the sort of place where you have to create your own drama, a blank canvas."

Craig David apart, the city has hardly produced a pop contender. Instead a search for reflected local glamour led the band to festoon the cover of their 2003 debut album Faded Seaside Glamour with images of the ocean liners that crowded the docks during the golden age of sea travel. The quartet are certainly unabashed romantics. "We had a long chat about what we're into, and I think we're a brave band, I really do. We're the complete antithesis of an angular garage rock band. There's a real romanticism to what we do," says Gilbert. "The sound is something we want people to get totally lost in. It would be easier to strip it down, but we want to inject colour."

Signed by Rough Trade after previous sporadic dabblings with the capital's music business had proved fruitless, a determination to work from their home town proved the right choice. "We made a decision not to play London any more on the off chance an A&R man would be in the venue that night. Having to keep picking yourself up afterwards was heartbreaking. We thought if anyone's interested they'll come down to us, and they did. We had to play a private gig for them though. That was nearly as scary as playing at my mate's wedding with an acoustic guitar," he says.

Though he suspects that his record company thought they were signing an act akin to the minimal guitar-pop style of The La's, the Delays turned out to be something much lusher and less focused, partly due to their own inexperience.

"The first album was fundamentally a bedsit record - adolescent, written on the dole and fantasising about not being a local band any more. Any dynamics from playing live didn't exist - our rehearsal space was so tiny - so we went into the studio without a live sound," he explains, "The Strokes and Libertines [both label-mates] have this fantastic live thing so they just try to capture it. But we didn't know what we were."

After three months holed up in rural Wales they came up with a "dense headphone record", including three outstanding singles in "Long Time Coming", the ever-so-Sixties "Hey Girl" and the distinctly feminine sounding "Nearer Than Heaven". (Gilbert might sound like Elizabeth Fraser at times, but he also nominates groaning former gas fitter Joe Cocker as an unlikely, but equally audible influence). The arduous experience taught them a straightforward lesson.

"Now we don't want to record anything until we've played it to death," says Gilbert, ruefully.

The sound of the ever benign Teenage Fanclub recording next door proved annoying, while Greg's younger brother, keyboardist Aaron, even started to experience auditory hallucinations of his own electronic sequences. Ironically their shared tune "Wanderlust" was penned after he forced his older sibling to join in, involuntarily. "He had his loops up so loud that I really had no choice but to play along with it through the wall," laughs Greg, who had been working at his own pace in an adjacent room.

Their fraternal relationship is inescapable and inevitable. "We do get at each other, but in a covert way, where you say the word which you know will get a reaction," admits Greg. "It's interesting to write with someone who knows you so well and can embarrass you at the drop of a hat. I don't know of many brothers who write together." He pauses. "I don't know if it's that healthy..."

Their personalities are certainly very different. Art-school dropout Greg still suffers a regular vision of "walking out onstage to find that only my family are there". He describes his apparently hyperactive brother as "completely the opposite of me. He likes to be the centre of everything while I prefer to recede into the background. It's handy, though. If I'm feeling insecure, I push Aaron up front."

There must be something in the genes. Their father worked for years as a guitarist. "My earliest memories are my dad going off and playing gigs in a function band when I was a kid. He's a great guitarist but it never occurred to him to write. But I only play to write," says the chip off the old block, proud of a circuitous connection with the late, great Curtis Mayfield after his dad backed a line-up of The Impressions on a European tour.

Their new single "Lost in a Melody" is a clear step forward from their debut, although no less catchy. Somehow managing to evoke the swing of Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug" and Max Romeo's reggae classic "War Ina Babylon" ("I can hear that," says Greg, although it seems to have never occurred to him before), this very English piece of art-pop, in the vein of New Order or Pulp, bodes well for their next album.

"We want to avoid the cliché of becoming 'darker'. 'Darker' means 'not as tuneful' and we don't want to fall into that at all. It's not a different band. Aaron and I just want to be the Benny and Bjorn of British guitar rock," he jokes, although they'd seriously love to work with Abba's masterminds. They're unusually well versed in music history. Drummer Rowly (just Rowly) is the son of folk-loving parents who actually saw Nick Drake at one of his 20 or so live performances. (Apparently he hid his face, but was notably dextrous on his instrument). Greg drops unexpected names into conversation, not only referring, rather wonderfully, to Big Star as "the Velvet Underground of jangle" (presumably referring to the truism that though few bought their records, every one of them formed their own band) but even obscure names such as The Posies and the dBs, men now reduced to working for REM.

Being brought up in a town with no particular scene seems to have left him more determined to make a mark than contemporaries from places with a stronger musical heritage. Yet he appears unsure how to react to acceptance. "We're trying to find something that's absolutely ours. It's almost the opposite of wanting to embrace something. We're so far removed from what's going on that it's like a secret community. But it's growing," he smiles. "We have removed ourselves from outside influences. We haven't even moved to London."

A long American tour with Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads made them aware that they're not alone. "I don't think Franz are overtly British, though. I wish there was a better way of putting it than 'go out and dance' music, but that's why it goes down so well there. I've got a bit of an outsider complex as it is, and I was worried about people disapproving, but there's none of that across the water.

"I still can't get over the novelty of going to another country where the people down the front know the words to your songs," he ponders, "I hope I never get used to it." It's his nearest and dearest who have proved most critical. "Adequate - that's the kind of compliment you get from friends. They never say 'you're good', they always say 'you've worked hard for it'. It's a barrier they can't get over."

It's hard not to warm to Gilbert. Few young rock performers think so deeply about their role, something which might even hinder his progress. His reasoning is undeniably acute though.

"The most valuable thing any artist has is their personality, not their clothes or posture. Even attitude is borne out of the current climate half the time. You need to put that in your music. We all write, because if you get more personalities involved then it will go somewhere you never expected. At the end of the day all that matters is the music." He stops himself. "Oh, I hate hearing those words coming out my mouth. They're so meat and veg."

He needn't worry. His culinary ambitions are grander than that.

'Lost in a Melody' is out now on Rough Trade

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

vendredi, novembre 26, 2004

Jan Garbarek: Keeping it current

The saxophonist Jan Garbarek is a giant of jazz. So why is he experimenting with electronica?

By Martin Longley

26 November 2004

The Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek could be forgiven for taking six years to produce In Praise of Dreams, the follow-up to 1998's two-disc Rites. It's understandable that he has been distracted by the overwhelming cross-over success of his collaborations with one of the pre-eminent early music outfits, the Hilliard Ensemble. Their Officium and Mnemosyne albums have enjoyed remarkable sales.

The other reason for the slow progress has been the rude health of his touring diary, though the new album has no connection with his touring band of Rainer Brüninghaus (keyboards), Eberhard Weber (bass) and Marilyn Mazur (percussion). In Praise of Dreams has an electronic foundation, created by Garbarek's sampling and beat-programming, and with contributions from Kim Kashkashian (viola) and Manu Katche (percussion). His approach is similar to that adopted by John Surman, adding weaving saxophone to pulsating loops and repeated sequences.

Garbarek remains committed to his regular quartet when it comes to live work, but they will remain largely inactive next year while he renews his acquaintance with the Hilliard Ensemble. "We meet on 7 December for a concert in Moscow, and we'll discuss plans for future recording. Next year, we're mainly concerned with the tour."

In concert on the first night of his UK tour, the saxophonist's performance stretches right back to 1973's "Hasta Siempre", and forward to a new, as yet unnamed, composition. Yet a tour with Kashkashian and Katche doesn't look likely. "I don't think it's realistic," he confesses, "because the two other musicians are extremely busy and have their schedules for years in advance. The other thing is that there are a lot of electronic sounds. I would need to have quite a few other musicians on stage." And Garbarek doesn't feel comfortable around laptops in a live setting - he wants an audience to see musicians playing.

The album was co-produced by Garbarek and the ECM label-owner Manfred Eicher. "It was very prosaic this time," says Garbarek. "I just chose 10 different tempos and started to work on what sort of rhythms that would imply. Then I started to dress them up with harmonies, melodies and textures. I think of the electronics being brilliant for creating a sonority, setting the stage for the characters to emerge."

At the outset, Garbarek knew that Manu Katche would be involved. The percussionist has already appeared on four of the saxophonist's albums. It turns out that he frequently wound up laying his parts down on Garbarek's basic rhythm patterns. "Sometimes, he will simply say, 'I have nothing for this', either because they're complete, or he hadn't any inspiration to do anything at all. He wouldn't change the rhythms I had made, but other things.."

The mournful viola of Kim Kashkashian is certainly sympathetic to Garbarek's keening saxophone sound. At times, the twinned melodic lines swim together, inhabiting their own tonal zones. At others, they engage in a dialogue, equally sensitive in their deep explorations. Garbarek had already heard Kashkashian's chamber and orchestral work on several albums in ECM's New Series of modern composition. Their paths had also crossed on the concert platform, at the 1999 Bergen Festival. They improvised on an Armenian folk song, and composer Tigran Mansurian went on to write a new work for the pair.

"Her sound just simply stayed with me," says Garbarek. "But I actually didn't think that she'd be able to do it all." Acclaimed on the classical platform, Kashkashian is always solidly booked, but a call from Manfred Eicher secured her services. Garbarek had already used a viola mock-up in his initial arrangements, so he eagerly awaited the real thing. "Her whole personality, and the way she plays her instrument, just took over my mind, he says."

The album's title track has become a familiar part of Garbarek's live set over the last three years, and its melody is naggingly familiar. Garbarek mulls over his titles very carefully, needing them to sum up the mood of each piece. He'll often take his inspiration from novels or poetry. "Conversation with a Stone" sounds like it has been inspired by Indonesian gamelan patterns. "Not consciously," says Garbarek. "Even in the most narrow Norwegian valley, a folk fiddle player will have heard gamelan music, he will have heard a Brazilian samba. In my case, I've heard a lot of music from around the world."

The album's closing track, "A Tale Begun", adopts a markedly different approach. "It was an idea that comes from the underlying part of another track. It consists of several instruments that we wanted to blend. As we worked on that, it just took on a life of its own."

Garbarek credits Eicher with organisational, conceptual skills, admiring his talent for programming the music's logical development on the album: he has a vision for the complete work. Garbarek feels too close to his music, unable on his own to achieve the necessary perspective. Invariably, the final element to be laid on each piece is Garbarek's own saxophone solo. "It's very often a first or second take. Very often, I do one take of the whole piece, not bits and pieces. Usually, that works best. It makes for a very coherent effect."

During a recent Jazz Legends interview on Radio 3, Garbarek said he no longer considered his music to be jazz. He elaborates: "It's just a matter of definition, really. I don't see the need to call it jazz, but there is a practical reason. I wouldn't completely belong in the classical bins. I wouldn't belong in the world or folk type of bins. It's fortunate, in a way, that there is this category, although it's not perfect for me."

'In Praise of Dreams' is out now on ECM; Jan Garbarek plays Symphony Hall, Birmingham, tonight

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

jeudi, novembre 25, 2004

Rocking the kasbah

From the Westway to the world: Joe Strummer's punk spirit lives on in the best of today's Islamic pop, says Tim Cumming

26 November 2004

Conceived before Joe Strummer's untimely death last December and dedicated to his memory, Rock the Kasbah - a musical contact sheet lifted straight from the diaspora of contemporary Islamic pop culture - features "Songs of freedom from the streets of the East", though it could just as easily be subtitled "Rebel music from the axis of evil" - if that axis slipped far enough to include the Westway during the last glimmerings of the punk era, when Strummer first penned "Rock the Casbah" after hearing about the suppression of music in post-revolutionary Iran.

It's a song that still rings loud and clear two decades on with its message of musical freedom, and the album opens fittingly with Rachid Taha's rousing cover version, for the original was not only a major influence on Taha, but a song he inadvertently had a hand in inspiring. Legend has it that The Clash cut the track after soaking up Taha's 1982 debut album, Carte de Séjour. Originally planned as a duet before Strummer's death, Taha's "Rock el Casbah" has a chorus as big as the Maghreb, and all the ragged urgency of The Clash's original battle cry.

Taha also appears with legendary rai singer Khaled and the young French star Faudel on a stunning live performance of Khaled's paean to the Algerian rebel leader Abdel Kader. Featuring a 70-strong Egyptian orchestra arranged by Taha's long-time collaborator Steve Hillage, it was a huge hit across Europe and the Middle East, and a classic example of how the popular music of the Maghreb has gone international without losing itself in the process.

Taha is not the only Clash fan featured on the album. Once the drummer for Southern Death Cult in the 1980s, and currently one half of the British-Asian underground act FunDaMental, Aki Nawaz is one of many artists here who count The Clash, and Strummer especially, as an inspiration. His collaboration with The Jesus and Mary Chain and the qwaali singer Nawazish Ali Khan - mystical praise singing drenched in Goth feedback - is one of the highlights of an album that also includes Asian Dub Foundation's pounding, polemical "Fortress Europe", a futuristic, claustrophobic take on economic migration from the other side of the tracks, its Arabic synths rising and falling like police sirens.

Refreshingly, Rock the Kasbah eschews the ambience of the chill-out room of many an Eastern compilation and puts the music back on the street and into a vibrant international context. This is world music of the electronic age, music that shows how East-West cross-pollination has influenced both cultures for decades, from the "Baghdad Beatle" Ilham Al Madfai who brought the electric guitar to Iraq with his group The Twisters in the early 1960s, to the band dubbed "The U2 of Pakistan", Junoon, Sufi hard rockers inspired as much by qwaali as Bono.

Drawing on a broad palette of international beats as much as from their own back yards, Rock the Kasbah is a rich and vigorous collection that reveals a music arguably more dangerous, outspoken and volatile than anything the West currently has to offer. An alarming number of artists in this musical interzone have suffered exile, persecution, repression, death threats and worse. They are also some of the biggest stars of the Islamic world, as a direct result of their outspoken stance and the dangers of standing up on stage and speaking out. Iraqi singer Kadim Al Sahir, the winner of last year's BBC Radio 3 World Music awards, and one of the most popular artists in the Arab world, fled Iraq in the 1990s after years of censorship, while the Iranian singer Dariush, whose songs were banned by both the Shah and the Ayatollahs, has spent years in exile in America.

But there is a new generation determined to tackle socio-political concerns without decamping to Europe or America. They include the Lebanese rockers Blend, one of the first true rock bands in the Middle East. Their track "Belong" mixes alienated, trippy beats with lyrics exploring the crisis of identity afflicting a young Lebanese haunted by memories of war. Western rock may be drenched in alienation, but in the Middle East it's almost unheard of.

Elsewhere, there's the young Syrian 12-piece Kulme Sawa, recently the phantom menace of a US homeland security scare when they were erroneously identified as the Arabian men acting suspiciously on a flight from Detroit to LA. The band is unique in Syria in that it includes male and female members, and Christians alongside Muslims. They reacted furiously by releasing a statement protesting their innocence, alleging a smear campaign, and reiterating their own belief that "only arts and music can realise peace between nations and societies, and bridge the gap between East and West".

Given that Rock the Kasbah predates Strummer's death, and in the words of the executive producer Adrian Cheesley "attempts to represent what he would have listened to, and hopes to meet with his approval", it's fitting to have one of Strummer's last recordings as the album's coda. His cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", produced by Rick Rubin, is a spare, nakedly honest reading of an almost impossibly iconic song. But Strummer makes it his own by playing it straight and true, and with that one-on-one quality of singing directly to the listener that made The Clash so important in the first place.

For if Strummer and The Clash's punk spirit was about liberation and the destruction of what was binding, rather than destruction per se, then among these freedom songs are prime examples of the far-flung influence of that basic liberation theology, and how its restless, uncompromising spirit is still fighting oppression at a time where the demand for redemption songs is outstripping supply. It's safe to say that Joe would have approved.

'Rock the Kasbah' is out on EMI

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

lundi, novembre 22, 2004

Smash Hits 2004

British acts bounce back at 'Smash Hits' awards

By James Burleigh

22 November 2004

After a trouncing by the US at the MTV Europe awards in Rome last week, British pop and rock acts fought back, winning most of the prizes at the Smash Hits T4 awards yesterday.

The big winners were McFly, who landed five awards, including the star of the year, best UK band and best video for their song "That Girl".

After arriving on the music scene early this year, the four-piece - Danny Jones, Tom Fletcher, Harry Judd and Dougie Paynter - have rapidly taken over the crown from the previous kings of the teen pop rock royalty, Busted.

McFly's popularity could well be down to one thing, as indicated by the band's fifth award: their singer/guitarist Jones was voted most fanciable male.

Busted won the best single and favourite ringtone categories for "Thunderbirds". The band's guitarist Matt Jay won the top pop mop category, presumably for his hairstyle rather than any superlative floor-cleaning equipment he may possess.

Rachel Stevens, the former S Club 7 singer who has launched a solo career with hits including "Sweet Dreams (My LA Ex)", received little recognition for her vocal skills but was voted most fanciable female and won the best dressed category. Meanwhile, the honorary Brit Kylie Minogue, a bastion of the British pop scene for 16 years, was awarded the lifetime achievement award and was inducted into the Smash Hits Hall of Fame. At the grand old age of 36, the Australian singer became only the second member, joining Westlife, whose only win this year was in the download category for their single "Flying Without Wings".

American stars were not so popular with the young Smash Hits readers and T4 viewers. The American US trinity of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé Knowles received multiple nominations but failed to win a single award.

The r'n'b singer Usher, however, scooped two prizes including best solo artist.

Other winners included Natasha Bedingfield, who won the hot new talent prize, The Darkness with best rock act, Eminem the best hip hop award and Maroon 5 were voted the best international band.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

samedi, novembre 20, 2004

Nirvana 2004

No less dangerous

A box set featuring previously unreleased material sheds new light on Nirvana's dark yet dazzling career, says Rob Nash

19 November 2004

In early 1988, three young men walk into the Reciprocal studio in Seattle. The singer-guitarist and bassist are unknown to the up-and-coming producer at the mixing desk, though their band have played on local radio and at parties and small gigs. He agreed to the session when they called him up and said: "It's time we recorded something. And we have the drummer from The Melvins playing with us."

"Which was really what got Nirvana in the door," that producer, Jack Endino, recalls. "Dale Crover, the drummer from The Melvins, was even back then regarded very highly on the Seattle music scene for his drumming abilities. He was one of the best drummers in the area, and I thought, 'If Dale is playing with these guys, they must be all right. They can't be total amateurs. It must be something reasonably decent, or Dale wouldn't be involved.'

"They showed up and we recorded 10 songs in one afternoon, their first real demo. Two of them ended up remixed later and we put them on Bleach, and five of them ended up on Incesticide; one of them has not been issued because there was a better version of it done later, and the last two that never came out are on this box set: 'If You Must' and 'Pen Cap Chew', the first and last songs from that demo session that day, 23 January 1988."

Though "If You Must" will be familiar to Nirvana completists, "Pen Cap Chew" is likely to be a new experience when you hear it on the new Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out, which is released on Monday. Endino was a consultant on the project, which has finally become possible after a rapprochement this year between the two main interested parties: Courtney Love on the one side, and Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, the Nirvana bassist and drummer, on the other. Over three CDs and a DVD, it collates 81 Nirvana tracks, 68 of them technically previously unreleased; in real terms, 20 tracks are likely to be unfamiliar to hard-core Nirvana fans, the others being demo versions and studio out-takes and B-sides.

Endino's first impressions were of a businesslike and talented group that wanted to progress. "I thought they were nice people," he says, "and surprisingly good, considering that I'd never heard of them and they were completely out of left-field. I was particularly taken with Kurt's voice: I thought he had 'a good scream', which is something, you know? A lot of people have very bad rock screams; they just do it and it isn't very good, and what are you going to do? But Kurt had potentially a very interesting voice. There was a convincing growl to it; it just struck me."

It's hard to think of a Nirvana song that doesn't have a "hey", an "oh" or a "yeah" that conveys a welter of emotion. Among the new tracks on the box set, an archetypal example is the sustained "ooh", rising from minor to major third, at the start of "Blandest", an early composition with a trademark piece of Cobain bathos in the lyric: "And the situation isn't quite as intense as I thought."

And Endino found other qualities to admire in the neophyte grunger. "I always liked his guitar-playing," he recalls fondly. "I think he's underrated. There's something about his guitar-playing that has a certain intent to it, that is interesting even though he was maybe not the most technically skilled player in the noodly-noodly guitar-player sense. He was more of a basic Neil Young - maybe," he chuckles, "Angus Young - kind of guitar-player. That appealed to me, too: it was the Eighties, and we were all getting very tired of Eighties metal. Kurt was much more of a primitive on the guitar. The pop element hadn't come to the fore yet - it wasn't clear from that session that he would start writing pop tunes."

It was nearly a year later that Endino and Nirvana reconvened to record the bulk of Bleach, their debut LP, having done the "Love Buzz" single together in the summer. Endino remembers the Bleach sessions as "fun; easy, very straightforward". "Sub Pop wanted them to do an EP," he continues, "but the band wanted to do a full album, so they borrowed some money from their friend Jason Everman, who wasn't in the band yet, but he loaned them the $600 [£320]. So they said, 'OK, we've got $600 to spend; we need to record really fast.' It was over the course of five or six days, right around the holidays at the end of 1988 - I think we may have even been in the studio on Christmas Eve. They'd come in in the evening and we'd do four or five hours. They just banged it out - they had it all figured out; they were rehearsed. They would do the songs in one or two takes; he'd get the vocals as one overdub, that would be it, and then on to the next song. So it was a pretty easy record to make.

"They were very particular about what they wanted, though, sound-wise; they told me exactly what they wanted. We were using some old rock records as a reference, in terms of not wanting to get a big, reverb-y sound - they wanted a dry, crunchy, Seventies rock sound for that record, Æ la Thin Lizzy or AC/DC. I happened to have a copy of AC/DC's For Those About to Rock on vinyl in the studio, and there was a turntable, and we would play that and go, 'OK, we've got some good guitar sounds here'. Which is why that record, Bleach, is a crunchy, in-your-face, dry record."

The box set opens with a shambolic cover of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" that Endino reckons is from 1984-5. Covers of Led Zep's "Moby Dick" and "Immigrant Song" also crop up later. "Heartbreaker" is a risky opening gambit, Endino thinks. "It's bold, because you're probably not going to listen to it more than once. But the track list is chronological, so that's where it has to go. I think it's funny. You need to listen to it on headphones - you can hear Krist Novoselic in the background, going," he puts on high-pitched voice: "'Play the solo! Play the solo!' There's funny stuff going on, and it tells you what goofballs they were. I think it's Krist audible at the beginning saying, 'I don't know how to play it.'"

The chronological arrangement is a stroke of genius. "I was pushing for that from the beginning," Endino says. "When it came down to it, there was so much of the rarities and out-takes material to pick from that the chronological thing started to make sense. It tells a story."

Indeed, the real value of this box set is not as music per se, but as a historical and biographical document. You can follow the development of Cobain's songwriting and the band's playing and relate it to known events in his life and their career. You can hear Cobain messing about with a four-track in 1988, experimenting with sound effects and discovering, on "Clean Up before She Comes", the technique of multitracking vocal harmonies, which he would use to such potent effect.

Then there are the three Leadbelly covers from an aborted 1989 Nirvana/Screaming Trees collaboration. The first, "They Hung Him on a Cross", is a particular treat, a solo vocals/guitar effort by Cobain, which shows how well he could work that folk-blues style, long before Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" was recorded for Nirvana's Unplugged.

"Old Age", from 1991, presumably could have ended up on Nevermind. It deserves to have done. It is one of those slower, melodic Cobain compositions of stunning, simple brilliance, contrasting strongly with the bludgeoning noise of the tracks that surround it.

The third disc gives a sense of Cobain's torment, as he aggressively charges through demos of tracks for In Utero, such as "Milk It" and "Rape Me", and out-takes such as "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die" (his original title for In Utero). It is harrowing listening. "Things start to get a little grim," Endino agrees. "I'd put that down to the pressure, the drugs, the domestic situation. Kurt was getting ragged around the edges. Disc three starts with that version of 'Rape Me' I recorded, which has Frances [Cobain's baby daughter] crying on it. That wasn't overdubbed; she was in the studio with Kurt and Courtney while we were re- cording the vocal track. I think the baby was on Kurt's lap as he was singing into the mic." That was the last time Endino would record with Nirvana.

At the end of disc three, before the 1994 acoustic versions of "You Know You're Right" and "All Apologies" that close the album, comes "Do Re Mi". Though he can look back with equanimity now, there is a tinge of regret when Endino says: "'Do Re Mi' is one that would have been amazing." It is a wistful number, powerfully moving in hindsight, with striking syncopation between guitar and vocal and a simple descending-scale figure in the bridge. Cobain's voice is reedy and cracked.

But what is striking about those last tracks on With the Lights Out, recorded in 1994, is that they seem to show a chink of light, as if Cobain has found a way to move on from the horrors of his awful 1993 that sapped his creativity.

That is Nirvana's lasting legacy. While Cobain's style of lyrics was wholly original, in the end, it's all about the melody. "I think Kurt's biggest contribution," Endino summarises, "was reminding people of the importance of melody in the vocal lines. If you listen to all of the classic Nirvana songs, there's a guitar riff, but there's always a really strong melody, which is completely different from the guitar riff. Which, in popular music, especially in rock, a lot of people had forgotten about.

"In terms of making a classic pop song with hooks, regardless of how loud the band is or how distorted the guitars are or how heavy the playing is, if you've got the melody on top, you've still got a pop song. That was the brilliant thing about Nirvana: Kurt had a sense of melody. Even then, when he was doing that heavy sludge-rock that he was recording with me at first, he had interesting melodies on top of those guitar riffs. It wasn't really pop music yet, but the interesting melodies were there. He had a knack for melody, and that's what I think was the secret weapon."

'With the Lights Out' is out on Geffen/UME on Monday

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

vendredi, novembre 19, 2004

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Brixton Academy, London

By Steve Hands

19 November 2004

In the final analysis, there may be little new about the latest New Wave, but the authentic New York rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs play like they couldn't care less. What's more, most of the audience looks too young to tell their Television from their Sonic Youth.

The trio of Karen O, Brian Chase and Nick Zinner could be the bold experiment of a punk Dr Frankenstein, determined to distil the arty abrasion, diverted lust and intuitive energy of that oft-referenced era into three archetypes. The guitarist Zinner is rock'n'roll skinny, while Chase's disconcerting, suspicious spectacles belie his bedrock backbeat. With drumsticks the length of shotguns, the relentless Chase even provides fills for the interludes.

Still, hovering somewhere between an absurdist Iggy and camp Ziggy, O is the star of the show. Whether revelling in the staccato blast of "Y Control", the energy of "Date with the Night", or the come-down of "Modern Romance", O is the kind of female lead singer that was rare before punk attempted to redress gender roles.

Taking the stage in unlikely schoolmistress chic, O disrobes for a strutting "Black Tongue". What stands revealed is a comic-book concoction of skeletal prints and frantic tassels, of which the singer takes full advantage with a series of Joker-like gurning and demented spinning. In full flow, O resembles how Shelley Duvall may have looked if her character had been cast as the psychotic in The Shining.

The versatile Zinner is as comfortable with Bo Diddley-shuffling as metallic riffing. Most Yeah Yeah Yeahs songs have the manners not to overstay their welcome, but the slow build of "Cheated Heart" skirts mightily close to self-indulgence when even the moshing faithful begin to look longingly at the bar.

Just when it looks as if the momentum had been lost, the band bravely tackles the slow-burning "Maps". Obtusely affectionate, "Maps" is to the repertoire of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs what "Gigantic" was to the Pixies - a glorious submission to the romantic.

A searing "Date with the Night" restores full visceral order, a hardcore, yet somehow goofy party anthem. Karen O's bubblegum lyrics are as artful as Zinner's circular melodies. Many of her one-line catchphrases scan like perverse advertising straplines. Lines such as "I gotta man that makes me wanna kill" ("Man"), and "Boy, you're just a stupid bitch/ Girl, you're just a no-good dick" ("Black Tongue") stick in the memory as easily as Bazooka Joe to crazy paving.

When not in slogan-slinging mode, Karen O punctuates Chase's frantic stomp with a series of yelps, murmurs and squeals that communicate as much pose and attitude as the gonzo put-downs. Of course, it's not be taken seriously. The sheer, invitational delight on Karen's face as Zinner unleashes the irresistible blare of "Y Control" is confirmation that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are an old-fashioned, good-time rock'n'roll band. Albeit one created in laboratory conditions.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Some recs

Album: Alison Krauss and Union Station
Lonely Runs Both Ways, ROUNDER

By Andy Gill

19 November 2004

A good trivia question: which female artist has won the most Grammys? No, not Whitney or Mariah or Celine or any pop diva, but the bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss, whose three awards this year brought her total to 17. Appearances on the O Brother... and Cold Mountain soundtracks and performances at the Oscars and Ryder Cup have helped, but the main reason is obviously the sheer class displayed on Lonely Runs Both Ways, which sticks to the formula of 2001's New Favorite, with smart song-selection allied to the hottest band in country. Krauss essays heartbreaking versions of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' "Wouldn't Be So Bad" and Sarah Siskind's "Goodbye Is All We Have", while the melancholy of Robert Lee Castleman's "Doesn't Have To Be This Way" could apply to her band Union Station: "You're at your best with that ache in your chest/ And that worn-out old song that you play". It's apt too for fellow vocalist Dan Tyminski (George Clooney's singing voice in O Brother...), whose lonesome high tones are most effective on Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty". Elsewhere, dobro maestro Jerry Douglas's deftly curling lines are about as emotionally articulate as a guitar gets without actually speaking.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Album: Gwen Stefani
Love Angel Music Baby, INTERSCOPE

By Andy Gill

19 November 2004

Gwen Stefani's appeal has always rested more in her status as style icon than in any intrinsic musical qualities in her band, No Doubt. Save for a couple of hit singles in 1997, they have generally, like the whole US ska revival, been greeted over here with a puzzled lack of interest. Despite - or perhaps because of - the array of A-list producers involved in Stefani's solo debut, there's little musical character to the album; just a series of borrowed styles she plays dress-up with: "Real Thing" is Gwen fronting New Order; "Bubble Pop Electric" and "Long Way to Go" are Gwen fronting OutKast; "Danger Zone" is Gwen fronting Depeche Mode; etc, etc. The band don't even have to be present, as long as the producer can effect a reasonable simulacrum of their style. The concept for the project was a kind of "guilty pleasures" homage to the cheesy Eighties electro-pop of her youth, and while the results will doubtless furnish plenty of chart fodder, there's little in the way of a moving experience. The best tracks are shuffled to the back of the pack - a cool-jazz instrumental mix of the single "What You Waiting for?", and the second of Andre 3000's tracks, "Long Way to Go". The latter's busy arrangement and its subject matter - interracial relationships - provide a glimmer of substance that throws the rest of the album into sharp, but shallow, relief.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Album: U2
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, ISLAND

By Andy Gill

19 November 2004

There's something entirely appropriate about Bono appearing once again on the Band Aid single, singing the same line as before, since U2 seem to be stuck in some Time's Arrow-style situation, trapped in a bend of time arcing back towards their origin.

With 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind, the band in effect turned their back on their Nineties period of sonic exploration, and delivered a more solid, classic-U2 album, studded with strong, memorable cuts such as "Wild Honey", "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of", and "Beautiful Day". Now, with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the backwards process continues even further: Steve Lillywhite returns as head producer in place of Eno and Lanois, and the album's sound seems to have reverted to something more like their pre-Joshua Tree style. As Bono notes in "All Because of You": "I just arrived; I'm at the door/ Of the place I started out from."

But, crucially, there's nothing here anywhere near as memorable as the aforementioned tracks from the last album. The closest Atomic Bomb gets is the single "Vertigo", and even that sounds like an artificial euphoria - as if the band were deliberately trying to rediscover the drive of their earlier career. All of a sudden, U2 sound tired and washed-out, aping their own former glories in half-cocked anthemic hogwash like "City of Blinding Lights" and "Original of the Species", songs full of facile rhetorical tropes such as: "I want the lot of what you got/ And I want nothing that you're not".

Even the lyrics, it seems, are stuck in some Ouroboros-like circularity, devouring themselves in an orgy of self-negation. "City of Blinding Lights", for instance, opens with Bono observing cryptically, "The more you see, the less you know", and concludes later with the even more cryptic, "The more you know, the less you feel". Which leaves us... where, exactly?

The general drift this time round is more personal than political, with several songs pleading for forgiveness or reconciliation: even when, in "Love and Peace or Else", Bono asks "all your daughters of Zion, all your Abraham sons" to "lay down your guns", he actually turns out to be fretting over some romantic split, rather than the political conflict that immediately springs to mind. None of which would matter a jot, of course, if the music sparked the lyrics to life with the band's characteristic spirit and élan. But the familiar Edge arpeggios sound weary, and it's a dull U2 album indeed on which the most notable musical strategy is the flamencoid chording of "Fast Cars".

No, it simply isn't happening this time. Instead, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb just offers a new benchmark of mediocrity.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

America at MTV awards

American acts conquer Europe at MTV awards

By Helen McCormack

19 November 2004

The rock band Muse became the only British group out of nine nominated acts to win a prize at the MTV Europe Music Awards last night, beating Franz Ferdinand to claim the best alternative group prize.

Robbie Williams, Jamelia, the Darkness, the Prodigy, the Streets, Dido, the Cure and Keane joined the Scottish art-rockers in going home empty-handed at the award ceremony in the Tor Di Valle on the outskirts of Rome.

Muse, a three-man band whose elaborate, complex soundscapes are often compared to Radiohead, have produced four albums to wide critical acclaim. The band, which closed the Glastonbury festival with a mainstage performance this year, said they were surprised at the win. Matt Bellamy, the lead singer, said: "We didn't even know we were nominated until yesterday, so this is great."

Asked backstage how they felt about American bands sweeping the board, he said: "There needs to be more European bands. That's all I'm saying." The ceremony drew protests from politicians concerned that the noise from the concert, which was broadcast to crowds of more than 200,000 at a separate event outside the Colosseum, would harm the 2,000-year-old monument.

There were touches of controversy inside the walls of the Tor Di Valle as wellas the evening's host, the rapper Xzibit, told the 6,000-strong audience that the event was broadcast to a potential worldwide audience of some one billion people in 156 countries, adding: "That includes at least 16 countries that George Bush isn't planning on invading."

Eminem, whose band D12 won best hip hop act, began the evening by performing his anti-Bush single, "Mosh", accompanied by children dressed in fatigues.

The rap star, himself dressed in combat gear, sang: "Strap him with an AK-47/Let him go fight his own war/Let him impress Daddy that way."

Outkast's Andre 3000 and Big Boi took away the most awards of the evening, winning best single and video for their acclaimed "Hey Ya!", as well as best group.

As he picked up the awards, Andre 3000 said: "I hope you don't get tired of us. We only do what we do."

The ceremony also proved a success for Britney Spears, who won best female, beating Beyoncé and Jamelia. She did not attend but sent a video message promising her fans that she was "there in spirit".

Usher, who has taken the R&B world by storm, won both best male act and best album for Confessions. His girlfriend, Naomi Campbell, presented his award. Dressed in a white flowing gown, she said: "It's a sad fact that in the world of entertainment, all too often the achievements of men are overlooked. It is women who succeed but there really are some talented men out there."

She said she was very proud of her partner.

Debates about the effect of the concert, which follows shows by Paul McCartney and Simon and Garfunkel at the monument, were held in parliament. Rome's archaeology superintendent, Antonio La Regina, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera that staging the concert in front of the Colosseum gave the city a "debased, exploited, commercialised" image.


Best group: Outkast

Best single: Outkast, 'Hey Ya'

Best male: Usher

Best female: Britney Spears

Best hip hop act: D12

Best new act: Maroon 5

Best R&B act: Alicia Keys (far left)

Best album: Usher, Confessions

Best rock act: Linkin Park

Best pop act: Black Eyed Peas

Best video: Outkast, 'Hey Ya'

Best alternative act: Muse

Best UK and Ireland act: Muse

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Greatest Songs

Dylan's 'Rolling Stone' tops greatest songs chart greatest song

By Andy Gill

19 November 2004

With Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" at No 1, and the Stones' "Satisfaction" at No 2, it might seem a little enlightened self-interest is at work in Rolling Stone magazine's chart of the 500 Greatest Rock'n'Roll Songs.

But the chart was apparently compiled from the votes of a panel of music industry luminaries, artists, producers, songwriters, executives and critics, including the Motown founder Berry Gordy, the singer Art Garfunkel, the songwriter Joni Mitchell, the celebrity father Ozzy Osbourne and the celebrity son Jakob Dylan, of The Wallflowers.

So perhaps it simply indicates the prescience of the founding editor Jann Wenner, in 1967, in naming his new magazine after the world's greatest rock'n'roll song and the world's greatest rock'n'roll band.

Little seems to have changed since the magazine's heyday. It affirms what needed no affirmation, that the 1960s was the pre-eminent decade of rock music, followed far behind by the 1970s. There are only two entries in the top 50 from the 1990s, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (9) and U2's "One" (36), with the 1980s confirmed as the decade taste forgot with a sole top 50 placing for The Clash's "London Calling" (15). Things look worse for the present century, which furnishes a mere three contributions to the 500, two of them by Eminem - "Lose Yourself" (166) and "Stan" (290) - with Outkast's "Hey Ya" (180) the most recent entry.

The earliest is Muddy Waters' "Rollin' Stone" (459) from 1948, which, besides adding further fuel to the suspicions that the chart may be self-serving, overstretches the notion of rock'n'roll beyond its usual chronological parameters.

As might be expected of such a hip, liberal magazine (and such a multiracial art form) the chart has no discernible racial bias, with black artists well represented. But the Anglo-American bias is much more pronounced than it would be in a comparable chart compiled by a British magazine.

Jamaican music is shockingly under-represented with seven entries, four of them by Bob Marley. And the absence of Kraftwerk, one of the most important groups of the past 30 years, indicates the American perplexity about dance and electronic music.

As for real African music, Paul Simon's "Graceland" is 485, which speaks volumes about the insularity of even the most enlightened of American taste-makers.

Sixties confirmed as the pre-eminent decade


1: Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone

Writer: Bob Dylan

Released: August 1965

Chart positions: UK: 4, US: 2

Notable for being, at six minutes, twice the length of the standard pop single, and for introducing a strain of poetic bile into the pop chart

2: The Rolling Stones, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Writers: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Released: August 1965

Chart positions: UK: 1; US: 1

The song that kick-started a great songwriting partnership

3: John Lennon, Imagine

Writer: John Lennon

Released: November 1971 (US), October 1975 (UK)

Chart positions: UK: 6 (1975), 1 (1981), 3 (1999); US: 3

The most mellifluous of anarchist anthems

4: Marvin Gaye, What's Going On

Writers: Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye and Renaldo Benson

Released: February 1971

Chart position: US: 2

Title-track of the landmark album which announced Marvin Gaye's new, politicised musical direction

5: Aretha Franklin, Respect

Writer: Otis Redding

Released: April 1967

Chart positions: UK: 10; US: 1

The black pride anthem which brought the Queen of Soul overnight success after six years of ill-advised cabaret schmaltz

6: Beach Boys, Good Vibrations 1966

7: Chuck Berry, Johnny B Goode 1958

8: The Beatles, Hey Jude 1968

9: Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit 1991

10: Ray Charles, What'd I Say 1959

11: The Who, My Generation 1966

12: Sam Cooke, A Change Is Gonna Come 1965

13: The Beatles, Yesterday 1965

14: Bob Dylan, Blowin' in the Wind 1963

15: The Clash, London Calling 1980

16: The Beatles, I Want to Hold Your Hand 1964

17: Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze 1967

18: Chuck Berry, Maybellene 1955

19: Elvis Presley, Hound Dog 1956

20: The Beatles, Let It Be 1970

21: Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run 1975

22: The Ronettes, Be My Baby 1963

23: The Beatles, In My Life 1966

24: The Impressions, People Get Ready 1965

25: Beach Boys, The God Only Knows 1966

26: The Beatles, A Day in the Life 1967

27: Derek and the Dominos, Layla 1971

28: Otis Redding, (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay 1968

29: The Beatles, Help! 1965

30: Johnny Cash, I Walk the Line 1956

31: Led Zeppelin, Stairway To Heaven 1971

32: Rolling Stones, Sympathy For The Devil 1968

33: Ike & Tina Turner, River Deep, Mountain High 1966

34: The Righteous Brothers, You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' 1964

35: The Doors, Light My Fire 1967

36: U2, One 1991

37: Bob Marley and the Wailers, No Woman, No Cry 1974

38: The Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter 1969

39: Buddy Holly and the Crickets, That'll Be the Day 1957

40: Martha and The Vandellas, Dancing In The Street 1964

41: The Band, The Weight 1968

42: The Kinks, Waterloo Sunset 1967

43: Little Richard, Tutti Frutti 1956

44: Ray Charles, Georgia On My Mind 1960

45: Elvis Presley, Heartbreak Hotel 1956

46: David Bowie, Heroes 1977

47: Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water '69

48: Jimi Hendrix, All Along The Watchtower 1968

49: The Eagles, Hotel California 1977

50: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Tracks Of My Tears 1965

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

kd lang: Just hear my song

On the eve of her UK tour, kd lang tells Fiona Sturges why she has turned her back on the showbiz world of celebrity

19 November 2004

In a capacious warehouse on the outskirts of Cologne, one of the most beautiful voices in pop rings out through the gloom. The 43-year-old Canadian singer kd lang is midway through a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". At the end she holds a note for so long that the rapt audience seem to stop breathing. But then something unexpected happens. Come the end, as the hysterical applause and the cries of "We love you" subside, a woman suddenly yells "Your hair's too short!".

It seems that even now, 20 years into her career, lang's reluctance to don stilettos, grow her hair long and play the pop diva has the capacity to rub people up the wrong way. Still very much an alternative artist despite the Grammy awards that jostle for space on her mantelpiece, she has refused to conform to music-industry notions of femininity. Put simply, she doesn't care. And why should she? It's her voice, after all, that sets her apart, a pure instrument that is in a whole different sphere from the histrionic yodelling of Mariah Carey or Celine Dion. As she tells me later: "I like long, straight notes and clarity. I want to service the song, rather than the other way around."

I meet lang back at her hotel after the show. I had been warned about her shyness, though if it exists she hides it well. Despite her visible weariness, she is warm, smiley and polite. She is also among the more articulate and - dare I say - normal musicians I've interviewed. While she's serious about her singing, there's no sign of the egotism or the neurosis that so often afflicts artists in her position. lang is perhaps best known for the hit "Constant Craving", from her Grammy-winning Ingénue album, as well as her duet with Roy Orbison on his own "Crying".

Since her career began, she has adopted a variety of musical guises, from Nashville cowgirl (on the albums Truly Western Experience, Shadowland and Absolute Torch and Twang) and torch singer (Drag) to seasoned pop artist (Ingénue, All You Can Eat, Invincible Summer). She flinches when I mention the word "reinvention" - we're not talking about a change of hairdo, after all - so I put it another way. Is she easily bored?

"On a basic surface level I guess I am, though I like to think of it as easily interested or easily seduced by a style of music," she replies. "I'm a musical nomad. I'll hear something and a light will come on somewhere in my soul, and I'll try to come up with a version of it. I don't think that it's about making a real artistic statement, but it's fun.

"I think of people like Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Cash and Ray Charles who made 80 or 90 records. They'd make a Spanish record or a blues record or whatever they felt like at the time. That's how I fashion my path. I think the whole point of this job is to explore music, to have fun and see where it takes you."

lang's latest album, Hymns of the 49th Parallel, is a cover-version homage to her songwriting compatriots including Jane Siberry, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Her objective was to draw attention to what she calls "the Canadian songbook". Despite the fact that a number of the songs - Young's "After the Goldrush", Cohen's "Hallelujah" - have been covered by many singers before her, she says she was undaunted by the prospect of putting her own stamp on them.

"I don't think it's necessary to establish your own personality in a song all the time," she says. "But I also think that if you have a connection with it you can translate that to the listener in a way that no one's heard before. With this record it was a real statement for me, to develop an awareness of what are classic Canadian songs and amazing artists."

It was, in part, a tribute to another of her heroes, the American country artist Patsy Cline, that lang started singing country songs in the mid-Eighties and set up home in Nashville. I remark that this might seem a strange move given the city's notoriously right-wing politics. "But that's what attracted me," she insists. "I was quite rebellious in my early days and I loved the idea of screwing with people's mindsets. Doing the punk thing and singing about nuclear inevitability was all part of the fun for me. I didn't go into Nashville expecting to be accepted. I knew exactly what I was going to get. The beauty of my time there was that the people who inspired me musically accepted me, but the people who ran the record labels didn't like me at all. They were threatened by what I was."

By the early Nineties lang had grown tired of the country scene and adopted a more contemporary pop sound for her album Ingénue. At the same time she decided to put an end to the speculation surrounding her sexuality and came out as a lesbian in Rolling Stone magazine. While some fans took the news badly, sending letters screaming their disgust, she also gained a whole new following and was embraced by the mainstream. Having appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, feet up in a barber's chair and getting a shave from a scantily clad Cindy Crawford, lang found herself caught up in a social maelstrom of fashion shows, premieres and launch parties. She had become the poster-girl for gay women, and for a while she basked in the attention. In the long term, however, she knew it wasn't for her.

"I guess I didn't have the drive or the interest to stay in the game," she reflects. "It takes a lot of money and work to stay fabulous. I loved it when I was in it until I started to realise that it was disposable and fraudulent. I don't know what it is about the human psyche - and I'm guilty of it too - that makes us love something that's hot, that's right of the moment. It's like falling in love with someone on a very immediate level. It's like you're actually in love with the fantasy of who they are rather than the reality."

Even more disturbing was the realisation that her sexuality was starting to eclipse her music. "What I really wanted was for people to love me for my voice," says lang. "I don't want to be loved because I'm a lesbian or a vegetarian or because I appear in magazines. I just want people to dig my voice. Don't get me wrong, I'm really proud of what I did and I'm very grateful that I've had a great career. But I don't think Ingénue would have been a hit if I hadn't come out."

Certainly, for lang's record company, it had become more about marketing than music. "That picture I did with Cindy was fun," she says. "We were friends and to us that was art. It's the magazines that want to shoot you in your home, that whole approach to selling music felt so wrong to me. I still have a stylist because I hate going shopping - I tell them what to buy me and they bring it - but it's dealing with the hair, the make-up, the high heels. It removes you from the essence of who you are and what you have to offer. It's great for people who like playing around with their image and for movie stars, but for a singer, for me, it's almost like a violation for what I do."

The kd stands for Kathryn Dawn, names which lang discarded long before she became famous. She was raised in the town of Consort in Alberta, population 650. lang's father abandoned the family when she was 12. Though she has seen him a couple of times since, they still have no real relationship. Yet despite this, lang maintains she grew up in a "very secure and happy environment". She started playing the piano at four but switched to singing when she was five. Her musical education began via her brothers and sisters, all of whom studied classical music and practised every day after school.

The second phase came through her own discovery. "That was Rickie Lee Jones and Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell, gleaned from my sister's record collection and songs that I heard on the radio. Later, when I went to college, I started to open up to jazz and rock."

lang attributes the extraordinary purity of her voice in part to the wide, open spaces that surrounded her as a child. "It's just a theory I have, but I think that the voice is as much a product of your environment as what you listen to and cultivate personally," she says. "The landscape I grew up in was extremely minimal - flat prairies with no trees and lots of sky. My life is very minimal now in terms of material things, and I seem to have developed this minimal singing style. But it could also be a reaction to all the other singers that I've heard who have a tendency to - how shall I put this? - over-emote."

In the mid-Nineties, lang took a few years off to take stock and think about what she wanted to do. In the end, she decided she would carry on performing. "I've always fantasised about being a 70-year-old woman singing on stage. I saw Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald all perform in their seventies. There's something very elegant and beautiful about someone who does it strictly for the passion of it."

Nowadays lang keeps herself very much to herself - her time off is spent cooking and painting in her home in LA. A friend recently bought her an iPod which, she says, has made her fall in love with music all over again. "There's a few records that I listen to religiously when I paint - John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and Gillian Welch's Hell Among The Yearlings. Listening to them reminds me why I do what I do. And why I should keep on doing it."

'Hymns of the 49th Parallel' is out now on Nonesuch. kd lang's UK tour begins at Manchester Apollo on 26 November

Info : KdLang

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

jeudi, novembre 18, 2004

Mercury Rev, The Junction, Cambridge

By Chris Mugan

18 November 2004

Light-hearted banter was as unexpected from the spooky front man Jonathan Donahue as charisma was from John Kerry, yet there was palpable end-of-tour levity as his band wound up their week-long UK visit, which had taken in three nights supporting Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in London and a television appearance.

"How was Nick Cave?" asked an audience member of another artist who wore only black. In reply, Donahue came up with a decent impression of the voiceover to some cheap western movie. "He was dark. He was brooding. He was very tall."

And later: "How was Jools Holland?"

"He was dark. He was brooding..."

Last-night fever partly explained the levity, but Donahue was also comfortable with the new material unveiled on tour, and pleased that people came out on a Sunday to hear it. It all seemed a bit unexpected for the thin-voiced, skinny singer, who decorated his mic stand with a coiling snake and a flower.

Such arcane imagery became a strong feature of his lyrics on the last album from this band from upstate New York, 2001's rococo confection All Is Dream. That sounded like John Barry had arranged The Flaming Lips, in which Donahue once played guitar. He's never been keen to unlock the code to his lyrics, but as the music has been so powerful, few have felt the need to reach for Jungian textbooks.

The follow-up, The Secret Migration, is due out in January, and from the outset these numbers were more immediate and forceful. "Secret for a Song" was as strong an anthem as anything from their breakthrough album Deserter's Songs, while "In the Wilderness" was the most intense they have been since the early days.

All this was achieved with a trimmed line-up. Instead of touring with two keyboardists to replicate the sweep of All Is Dream, the drummer, Jeff Mercel, took over on one set of keys. The guitarist Sean "Grasshopper" Mackowiak had plenty of room then for his chiming guitar parts. Not only did this tighter group have more power, they could also play with more subtlety, with elegant piano lines to the fore on "Black Forest".

These numbers continued the surrealism of their predecessors, but while All Is Dream was cobwebs and darkness, the new songs were much lighter affairs. "In a Funny Way" was their most summery song to date, and brought to mind nothing less than an arrangement for one of Phil Spector's girl groups. Fitted around these were some of the less bombastic tunes from All Is Dream. "Tides of the Moon" benefited from fresh impetus, with Donahue adding an "all" to the line, "It ties you to me" as if to say we were all under his spell.

Yet the biggest cheers were for the triumphant numbers from Deserter's Songs. There was a charming "Tonite It Shows", with the bass player on second keyboard after Donahue had shocked us by roaring his way through "Holes". These tales of friendships betrayed and broken up remain the band's most affecting songs. Still, Mercury Rev's dreams continue to enhance our reality.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

mercredi, novembre 17, 2004

The Beta Band, Academy, Glasgow

David Pollock

17 November 2004

Although they spent the vast majority of their public life lurking just under the radar of the mainstream, as identifiable yet enigmatically nondescript as pale indie scenesters propping up the bar during a gig, the demise of The Beta Band leaves a hole in the UK's music scene. True mavericks are hard to come by, and each one that gives up on their struggle to do just what the bloody hell they want and get paid for it is one step closer to the neutering of popular music as the playground of bullish idealism.

When Steve Mason, Richard Greentree, John Maclean and Robin Jones announced over the summer that they would split up before the end of the year ("The Beta Band apple has over-ripened," Greentree preached cryptically. "It must fall from the tree and let its seeds return to the ground"), to say that the reaction of Britain's fringed-and-feather-cut youth - a contingent as fickle as those who pore over The X Factor's passionless Saturday-night soap opera - was apathetic would not be doing it a disservice.

It's all a far cry from 1998, when the Betas collected the previous 12 months' work as the bluntly titled Three EPs, and found themselves rightly proclaimed in all quarters as one of the year's finest new bands. The diverse strains of indie-rock, jazz and hip hop - the latter the band's collective personal passion - combined in an on-paper-unworkable-but-in-practice-mesmerising symphony, in the process winning plenty of admirers. Not least John Cusack, who found them their own corner of celluloid history with a personal namecheck in the fim version of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity.

All stratospheric progress which was, however, cut short by one of the most famous gaffes in rock's recent history. The eponymous 1999 debut album might have escaped with the labels "experimental" and "obscure" had the band themselves not described it as "shit". It was a statement that was to remain over them like a cloud, despite the impressive (and somewhat sarcastically-titled) follow-ups Hot Shots II and Heroes to Zeros.

Yet their fans have remained true. That much was evident at this jam-packed first night of a national farewell tour. The crowd chanted their name as if the mantra would keep their heroes intact, while the band - for the most part - just played on with their usual knowing smirk. Despite the occasion, this was a pared-down visual show - gone are the characteristic video-loop accompaniments, while the foursome are rather cheekily attired in shirts and ties. Were they not all still active filmmakers, artists and side-project musicians, we'd think they'd just stopped in on the way back to their day jobs.

In truth, The Beta Band competed with the very best in terms of their ambition's breadth. "Broke" and "She's the One" are hip-hop-paced mantras; "Dog's Got a Bone" is a ludicrously catchy folk-shanty; "Assessment" is a growling indie-rocker and their enduring anthem "Dry the Rain" will remain a monument. The sight and sound of Jones, Maclean and Mason all hammering the dual drumkits to Greentree's bassline during the perennial set-closer "House of Song", of course, leaves the inspiration reeling - but tinged with sadness that it will hardly ever be played again.

Then a bow, a "thank you" and a request for "love and peace". The mavericks are gone... and music just became a duller place.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

lundi, novembre 15, 2004

Band Aid: The next generation

Tears in the recording studio as a new wave of pop stars including Busted, The Darkness and Joss Stone join Bob Geldof to make an updated version of the world's best-known charity single.

By Terry Kirby

Then, it was Bono, Sting, George Michael and Bananarama. Yesterday, it was The Darkness, Will Young and Sugababes, most of whom were at school at the time the event they were re-enacting took place.

The soul singer Joss Stone, 17, was not even born when, on a similar Sunday morning 20 years ago, the bleary-eyed aristocracy of British rock and pop gathered at a west London recording studio to record "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

In 1984 it was the leading producer Trevor Horn who gave a day at his recording studio. Yesterday it was Sir George Martin's Air Studios in Hampstead where a line-up of today's biggest stars gathered for the 20th anniversary re-recording of Britain's most famous Christmas single, which went on to become second biggest selling single in British pop history.

Present on both occasions were Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof, who by co-writing and masterminding the original Band Aid, and the subsequent Live Aid concert, gave a generation a social conscience and raised £80m for charities working in Africa. Geldof said: "I think this time we have 20 years of knowledge within pop music of what this thing is. There is a cultural and political reference."

He said he did not think there would be another Live Aid concert. "For me this record is about firing the starting pistol to the year of 2005 when Britain is the chair of the G8 and president of the EU," he said. "The reality is that only politics created this dilemma and only politics can resolve it."

Compared to the frantic preparations for the 1984 recording, when writing the song, recruiting the stars - only Sting had a car phone then - and recording and pressing the single were done in less than a week, the preparation for BandAid20 has been a more planned and relaxed affair. Several artists, Dido, Dizzee Rascal and Robbie Williams recorded their lines in advance. Also absent was Sir Paul McCartney, who laid down his bass guitar part on Friday.

Geldof said: "It appears more organised because of the publicists and managers involved, but it all sort of tumbled into place in a couple of weeks.

Ure, who in 1984 had taken charge of the recording the song while Geldof, having written the lyrics, badgered the likes of Spandau Ballet, Boy George and Duran Duran to take part, said: "It was a different world back then. Last time round I was behind the mixing desk for 24 hours. This time I am just hanging out."

Among the first of around 40 artists to arrive yesterday were the soul singer Jamelia, with her three-year-old daughter, the boy band Busted and Fran Healey from Travis. Most were well wrapped against the cold, but Justin Hawkins, singer with The Darkness, wore his shirt open, baring his chest as if about to go on stage.

Inside, as in 1984, it was the same awkward mingling of people who would normally never find themselves in the same place at the same time for a common purpose.

Before the obligatory photo call, Geldof - accompanied by his daughter Pixie, wearing the same "Feed the World" T-shirt that her father had worn 20 years previously - assembled the artists to tell them: "This year, when people buy your record, they're making a political statement. What you're doing this morning and giving up your Sunday is that you are making that political demand."

The use of chart artists such as Busted and Will Young, the Pop Idol winner, is clearly designed to appeal to a whole new generation. Lemar, a Fame Academy runner-up, said of his role: "I think I will represent the young generation. This is taking a snapshot of the industry with the older artists and young ones coming up."

As in 1984, different singers recorded different lines, but it remained unclear who would sing what in the final cut. U2's Bono was flying in last night, from Ireland, to add another version of his famous line: "Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of you" although others, including Hawkins had already contributed their versions. Neither was it clear yesterday whose voice will replicate Paul Young's opening: "It's Christmas time...'' Among the chorus were Katie Melua, Beverley Knight, Keane, Snow Patrol and Ms Dynamite, who recorded the "Feed the world" refrain. Ms Dynamite said the new recording was "totally different" from its predecessors. She said: "Musically it is very now. Very current. I really like it. I'm very honoured to be part of it."

By late afternoon a party atmosphere prevailed, Fran Healey took a turn on drums, Rachel Stevens shook maracas and Blur's Damon Albarn did not sing, but served African cakes and tea. "It's been fantastic, would could not have asked for anything more,' said Ure, as the artists began to drift away.

The result, which is being produced by Ure and Nigel Godrich, will be aired simultaneously on Radio One, Two and Five and many commercial stations on Tuesday morning. It will be released on 29 November, costing £3.99 and is almost certain to top the charts at Christmas. The cover will again show a black child against a Westernised Christmas scene (a Damien Hirst version was rejected as "too scary").

The Band Aid Trust, of which Sir Bob and Ure are board members, and the charities to which it channels money, such as Save the Children and Oxfam, are hoping that it will go on to raise as much as the £40m the original raised for African aid projects over the past twenty years (the original still gets around £100,000 a year from sales and repeat plays). In addition to this year's version, the charities will also benefit from the sales from the Live Aid DVD, released earlier this month; the Government has said it will not charge VAT on either. The money will mainly go to Ethiopia, Darfur and southern Sudan.

To remind the stars why they were there yesterday - and why he had been galvanised into action after watching Michael Buerk's moving report on the Ethiopian famine on BBC News on 15 November 1984 - Sir Bob played the film of images from Ethiopia that silenced Wembley Stadium when shown during Live Aid to the soundtrack of The Car's "Drive". Many were visibly moved again yesterday: Joss Stone and members of Sugababes cried openly.

Geldof said: "If anything, it's of more importance this time, so I just wanted [to show it to them] if there was any doubt or if they were a bit fed up that they had to give up their Sunday. You can get carried away by the event, especially if you're in a pop group. It is about something other. It's about using art and culture to move something that is a grievous sore.''

And there was one other, unheralded person at his side yesterday morning. Birhan Waldo, was in the film, pictured as a young starving child in the arms of her mother. Both of her parents died in the famine. Today, she is healthy, 23, and studying agriculture to help her country grow its own food, a fact which had moved Sir Bob immensely. He told them: "This is proof that Band Aid and Live Aid work."

Bono wins the battle over Band Aid's most famous line

By Ciar Byrne Media Correspondent

Rock rivalry broke out after the updated recording of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" yesterday, when the producers were forced to decide which artist should sing one of the song's most famous lines.

The U2 star Bono and Justin Hawkins, lead singer of The Darkness, both recorded versions of the lyric: "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you." Bono, who sang the line in the original 1984 track, had his recording used in the final cut.

But speaking after the charity single was re-recorded to mark the 20th anniversary of Band Aid, Hawkins claimed that his version was superior. Hawkins said: "I did it better than him. So his management kicked up a stink and it obviously means a lot to him."

Bono, who recorded the line in advance, was unable to attend the main recording but visitedthe studio to sing the line again after technical problems with the pre-recording.

A spokeswoman for the event denied that there had been a row over who should sing the line and dismissed Hawkins' comment as a jokey aside.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

dimanche, novembre 14, 2004

Cave & Sean live

Nick Cave, Brixton Academy, London. Jay Sean, Scala, London.

Does what it says on the coffin...

By Simon Price

14 November 2004

'We've lost our self-respect, we feel like a bunch of insects, but don't you worry buddy, here he comes..."

And here he comes. Cast across the alcoves and colonnades of the Brixton Academy through a smog - is it dry ice, or is it Marlboro? - Nick Cave's shadow looks murderous and macabre, like something from a children's puppet show of Richard III. This, you understand, will not be an accident.

The real thing, with his rodent nose and simian skull, resembles an off-duty pall bearer in his ill-fitting black suit and open-necked white shirt, and is barely less chilling an apparition. I reckon he could be Elvis if he'd survived the toilet incident and went on the Atkins. My girlfriend reckons he's like Alan Rickman blaspheming over Celtic folk.

Nick Cave never changes. Much. This occurs to me when I realise that this is the third time I've reviewed Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds in four years (er, sorry). Dedication is rewarding, if you have the temperament. Every song starts with a minor chord, but there are people here tonight - they mostly look as though they served their time in the Goth Wars (you can see it in the way they do their eyebrows, and their reluctance to wear any colour other than black) - who can identify which minor chord, and applaud wildly with recognition. But equally, you can drift away for a couple of albums and then pick up the thread. (And given Cave's intimidatingly prolific output of late - it's reached a rate of one album per year, and the latest one is a double - it's forgiveable.)

This is why, even though the first half of tonight's show is taken from Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus, it doesn't feel unfamiliar or cold to the ear. The musical styles - somnolent C&W, wild rollicking rockabilly, gothic Sinatra ballads and maybe a little too much dusty spaghetti gospel - purveyed by the Bad Seedsare the same as they ever were.

As he moves further into his fifth decade, Cave continues to elide the division between the respectable poet and the wild animal. If there has been a perceptible shift, it's in the direction of humour. "Oh mama," he has his choir chanting mournfully, "oh mama..." before he delivers the pay-off rhyme, "what a bummer." On "God Is In The House", his wry depiction of a devoutly religious, deeply uneventful community ("we've painted all our kittens white, so we can see them in the night..."), he quietens the whole auditorium down with a stage whisper, then gets everyone to shout "Hallelujah!"

For the encores, they give in and wheel out the hits. "Red Right Hand" is as overwhelming as crashing thunder, then as quiet and restless as the ocean, "Deanna" (with its lines about 'Ku Klux furniture') is brutal bubblegum.

He ends, of course, with "The Mercy Seat", a song praised to the skies, and immortalised by Johnny Cash. Of all the songs written from the point of view of a convicted murderer about to be fried in the electric chair and comparing his plight to that of Christ on the cross, this is surely the finest.

How long before I mention curry? About three sentences, but I do have a point. If this isn't too crass a comparison, just as it's a truism that the food we eat in "Indian" restaurants is actually a British invention, bowdlerising real Indian recipes for the Western palate, the music coming from Asian artists like rapper/R&B crooner Jay Sean could only have arisen in the UK. The sound that young British Asians are making is what it is because it represents their listening habits: 50 per cent US/UK urban beats (Jay Sean routinely samples black artists like Stevie Wonder and The Pharcyde, and interpolates Luniz), 50 per cent the more traditional fare of Sunrise Radio (he's equally happy with Asha Bhosle samples). The fusion is utterly natural.

Sean's real name is Kamaljit Jhooti, and crass comparisons are something which Jhooti, a 23 year old former medical student from Hounslow, Punjabi by race and Sikh by religion, knows all about. His debut album, Me Against Myself, is filled with self-awareness: he knows what people are going to say about him, and he gets his retaliation in first.

Unfortunately, he often leaves himself wide open. For example, the opening skit features an ever-so-English record company guy instructing Jay to write about girls, and insisting that "people don't care about songs that are too conscious." For the rest of the album, guess what? Jay sings virtually nothing but songs about girls.

Not a crime in itself, of course. Jay Sean has a competent but unremarkable singing voice in the Nate Dogg/Craig David mould (of whom, more soon), and deploys it on innumerable mid-tempo R&B tunes, invariably produced by Rishi Rich, whose presence would be strong tonight even if he were not onstage behind the Korg. Rich is the rising star of Asian-Urban fusion, and it would be tempting to hail him as an Asian Pharrell or Dre, but the truth is he's probably more of a P Diddy: a smart cookie, without a doubt, but a businessman rather than a groundbreaker.

Nevertheless, Rich's production skills have been in demand: he's given an Asian-flavoured make-over to a dazzling array of mainstream artists: Westlife, Mis-Teeq, Britney, Madonna, J-Lo and Craig David (that name again). So the climate could not be more favourable for an artist like Jay Sean to cross over, and it's reflected in the crowd at the Scala: the female arms in the air, waving camera phones in the direction of Sean's fine features, are equally likely to be brown or white. And there's something very real, fresh and un-fakeable about the euphoria in the air when Rich tinkles out some Indian motif on the keys, the DJ drops the beats, and the whole place goes ballistic.

Once or twice, Sean actually does something to justify the fuss, like the scratching noises and, going one better than Timberlake, the human tabla-box sounds he adds to an improvised version of Kelis's "Milkshake". The rest of the time, when he reverts to loverman mode, it's harder to understand.

On the title track of his album, on which a hater - actually his alter ego - mocks him: ("What are you? Like a cross between Jay-Z and Sean Paul? You're better off with the name you was born... You little pansy, you really should have been called Gay Porn"), he complains about "Being pigeonholed and accused of imitating/It's a struggle and it's so frustrating/Telling me I'm trying to be the Asian Craig David".

But if the sock-hat fits...


© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd