The Times (10.5.02)
By John Clarke, Nigel Williamson, Rob Chapman, Lisa Verrico, Martin Aston, John
The Story of Vee Jay: America's Premier Black Music Label (Metro) HAD THINGS gone according to plan, the Vee Jay label could have been a bluesier rival to Motown. Thanks largely to its astute A&R man, Calvin Carter, the Chicago-based company had talent in the form of Jimmy Reed, Billy Boy Arnold, Jerry Butler and Betty Everett. It also had a number of hits, including Gene Chandler's Duke of Earl and Everett's It's in His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song). Though it all went pear-shaped in the mid-Sixties, the magic survives on this great double CD.
John Clarke ****
The Definitive Gilberto Gil (Warner) DURING THE Sixties Gilberto Gil pioneered a movement known as "tropicalismo" that revolutionised Brazilian music. When he took the traditional rhythms of bossa and samba and injected them with rock influences it caused as much controversy as Bob Dylan going electric. This collection of 18 songs, including the superb Abraco and Expresso 2222, is drawn from the past 25 years of his career and goes a long way to explaining his enduring appeal. A great introduction to Gil and the sounds of Brazil.
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES
The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees (Polydor) IT IS easy to forget just how central the Banshees were to the punk Zeitgeist. It was Bill Grundy's lewd comments to Siouxsie on "that television show" that instigated the whole Sex Pistols swearing debacle, transforming a Kings Road cult into headline news overnight.
Siouxsie herself has been massively influential, not just for her "dominatrix of doom" look but also for those vocal mannerisms, echoes of which can still be heard in many of today's female indie singers. Many will cite Patti Smith, but the fact is that most of them stole that yodelling yelp, lock stock and bondage strides from the young Susan Ballion from Bromley.
Steve Lillywhite's production on the Banshees' early material was testimony to what multitracking could do with rudimentary musical skills, and it is noticeable that apart from the debut hit, Hong Kong Garden, there is nothing here from the first three years. When the drummer Kenny Morris and the guitarist John McKay walked out of that original line-up the band lost a little of its portentousness and learned to lighten up. Covers of the Beatles' Dear Prudence and Bob Dylan's Wheels on Fire made the band's psychedelic connection explicit, but it was during the period between punk and the Goth era that the Banshees made their best records.
The three Eighties singles, Happy House, Israel and Christine, virtually justify the existence of this record alone. There is only one bonus cut, the previously unreleased Dizzy (no, not that one), but aside from the self-conscious weirdness of Peek-a-Boo there is barely a bad track here.
Rob Chapman ****
Busted (MCA) BUSTED ARE Britain's answer to Wheatus, with a bit of Blink 182 and Green Day thrown in. The trio of 18-year-old, London-based boys are already Smash Hits stars thanks to their debut single What I Go to School For, about lusting after their science teacher. The album is packed with catchy, punk-pop tunes along the same lines -subjects include girls who won't go all the way, Britney Spears and a Dawson's Creek geek -and their sense of humour even extends to two soppy ballads, one about a psycho girlfriend and another about being dumped.
Lisa Verrico ****
Trust (Rough Trade) THE MINNEAPOLIS trio deliver exactly the same goods time after time, and with Trust being their sixth album in eight years, the law of diminishing returns threatens. Amazingly, then, this is Low's best album, and even a slight progression from their slow, austere rock bliss. I Am the Lamb and Tonight have an extra soulfulness, guest vocals from Gerry Blakely of the Seventies soft rockers America push them toward Harvest-era Neil Young on It's in the Drugs and La La La Song is their most hummably original yet. Long may they low.
Martin Aston ****
Elisa (Epic) ITALIAN MUSICAL exports have tended to be Pavarotti-shaped, but Elisa is making a bold bid to put the country on the pop map. The 24-year-old has already had three hit albums in Italy, but she travelled to California to record her international debut. You will find hints of Bjork, Tori Amos, Madonna and Kate Bush littered across these 11 songs, which range from atmospheric piano ballads to moodily theatrical mid-tempo rockers. Her record label would like to think that she is the new Nelly Furtado. They are doing her a disservice, for she is far more interesting.
Nigel Williamson ***
Do You Know Squarepusher (Warp) TOM JENKINSON seems to have been invented by Warp Records to make the Aphex Twin look sane. A determinedly erratic musician whose speciality is to make avant garde electronica sound violent rather than cerebral, Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, is obtuse here, even by his standards. Muffled threats and apparently random beats fill most of the album, before a straight cover of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart miraculously increases the confusion. A second CD of comparatively accessible material recorded live in Japan provides comfort, of sorts, for his long-suffering fans.
John Mulvey ***
Cruelty Without Beauty (Cooking Vinyl) AFTER AN 18-year hiatus, Soft Cell return with their fourth studio album. Wisely, they continue with their unique Judy Garland meets Giorgio Moroder blueprint as best evinced by Last Chance. Warbled flamboyantly by Marc Almond, it is a desperately poignant sequel to their earlier hit, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.
Throughout, Almond's wordplay wallows in the gutter while gazing at the stars. Tainted Love famously provided the duo's biggest hit and it is a swashbuckling take on another northern soul stomper, Franki Valli's The Night, that offers the best chance for chart success.
Chris King ****
Contributed by Jerry Burch.