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CD Reviews: Rock & Pop.

Byline: Andrew Cowen

DESTINY'S CHILD Survivor (Columbia): State of the art R&B from the unfeasibly attractive threesome, Survivor will sell millions on its populist ticket. Kicking off with the two singles, Independent Women Part 1 and the title track, the album's an overlong romp through some booty kicking pop soul stormers, ballads and grooves. Highlights are many, with the empowered Beyonce Knowles firmly in the driver's seat. Check out the sassy Apple Pie a la Mode and totally infectious Bootylicious for maximum thrills. Those of a certain disposition may want to skip the dreadful Gospel Medley which harks back to the girls' roots and My Heart Still Beats goes down like cold custard. Unlike most artist, Destiny's Child resist the urge to splatter the tracks with guest appearances which only makes the album stronger. No doubt about it, Survivor will see the trio reigning supreme; they're as far ahead as Tony Blair and sound like they're having more fun. Rating: HHH

REM Reveal (Warners): If like me you'd written REM off, this album will be as welcome as the recent sunshine. After the pair of dogs that were Monster and Up, Reveal sees REM back and firing on all cylinders. It's probably taken them time to feel comfortable after the departure of their drummer, Bill Berry. Up sounded like a band still trying to find a new sound and the lack of confidence affected the songwriting. No such problem with Reveal. It continues the downtempo introspection of Up, and there's nary a hoary old rocker in sight. Considerable effort has been taken to expand the palette of sounds with cranky loops and wheezy blips and burps bolstering the on-form guitar work of mile high booze fiend Peter Buck. Opener The Lifting is a classic first salvo in true REM mould. Inscrutable, twisting and compulsive, it's a real grower. All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star) is quite simply one of the band's finest moments and an obvious single. Disappear sticks to the REM blueprint of loping to an uplifting chorus. Saturn Return is based around a circular piano figure and a falsetto performance by Michael Stipe. Someone blows a whistle in the distance. Another winner that wouldn't sound out of place on Out of Time. Beat a Drum continues the keyboard theme and is a slice of pure joy. Over half way through Reveal and the band sound like they're just getting into their stride. Imitation of Life is all over the airwaves at the moment, a classic REM single with a stunning chorus and Rickenbacker guitar work that sends shivers down the spine. Summer Turns to High is a bit of a departure with synthetic strings and analogue burblings. It shares a spirit with Brian Wilson circa Smile. Chorus and the Ring is another fine ballad with the best vocal performance on the album as Stipe climbs through the lines to the minor key refrain. I'll Take the Rain is an acoustic lull before the closing Beachball, which, with its cheap drum machine and brass and accordian accompaniment makes the perfect coda to a vital album in REM's long career. Terrific. Rating: HHHH

MAVENALLI PROJECT Blind Science (Toko): A great summer dance album from Midlands duo Mav and Ali (get the name now?) Blind Science is a beguiling piece of homegrown jazzy house, similar in spirit to the output of such revered labels as Compost, Pork and F-Comms. There's a real live feel to the grooves which betrays the duo's background in real bands. Loops are created from recorded jams with friends. Serious music that doesn't take itself seriously is often the strongest music of all. Key tracks are Flowers in the Rain, Blow My Horn and Play Me That Way. Well worth a listen. Rating: HHH

ORBITAL The Altogether (London): Early reviews suggested that the latest album from the brothers Hartnoll was going to be a bit of a turkey and, although it's not up there with their masterpiece Snivilisation, it's much better than their last effort. Ten shortish tracks of commercial techno and electronica signal a slight change in emphasis for Orbital. Hooks are derived from samples rather than sequences and there's a really fun vibe to the album. Opener, Tension, is a first: technobilly. Taking its hook from the Cramps' Surfing Bird, it's a bit of a novelty but compulsive all the same. Ian Dury is exhumed for Oi! which samples some Blockheads saxes and Ian's trademark cockney chant, again to an effect that is greater than the sum of its parts. Doctor? is a straight cover of the famous Doctor Who theme that's fine as far as it goes. More muscular fare can be found on Tootled and Pay Per View that prove Orbital haven't lost touch with their rave roots. Only the penultimate David Gray stodge song Illuminater and closing Meltdown appall. The latter, at over ten minutes, is just rubbish. Self indulgent and unmemorable, it seems to suggest that Orbital are about to return back up their fundaments. Let's prey they resist the temptation. Rating: HHH

VARIOUS: Blow (Cheeba): This soundtrack to Ted Demme's film follows the Almost Famous blueprint in compiling some rock chestnuts and makes a great job of recalling the 70s. Bona fide classics pepper the CD with care being taken to choose some lesser heard numbers. Kicking off with the Stones' brilliant funky jam, Can't You Hear Me Knocking, the journey takes in Link Wray's awesome Rumble, Cream's Strange Brew and Ram Jam's Black Betty. Nuggets unearthed include Manfred Mann's Earth Band's creditable stab at Brooce's Blinded by the Light, and Marshall Tucker Band's Southern fried boogie Can't You See. Weird moment comes courtesy of 60-year-old Bob Dylan and the almost instrumental All the Tired Horses. Quite how this fits in with the film remains to be seen, but as an appetiser it promises much. Rating: HHHH

UPSETTERS The Complete UK Singles Collection Vol 4 (Trojan): Fourth volume of this ambitious series which, when complete, should provide an invaluable archive of one of reggae's greatest figures. Arguably a singles form, reggae only really came into its own as an album format when Bob Marley signed to Island. Here are 48 reasons to celebrate the genius of Lee Scratch Perry. The era covered here is the rock steady age and there's a growing interest in African culture on the more militant tracks within. To name all the classics on these two discs would simply mean rehashing the track listing and there's not room here. Instead, watch out for the dub stylings of Lloyd Parks' Mighty Cloud of Joy, Black Man's Time by Neville Grant and the famous Cow Thief Skank by Charlie Ace. Wonderfully packaged with a hard cover and full track rundowns, this is the business. Perry has been the victim of unsympathetic compilers in the past so this makes Trojan's efforts all the more laudable. Not just for reggae lovers. Rating: HHHH
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 12, 2001
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