Bruce Springsteen - Devils & Dust (Columbia)
If The Rising was Springsteen's response to 9/11 then the stripped down allegorical title track, written two years ago, is informed by President John Wayne's decision to teach them injuns a lesson.
A man with God on his side and his "finger on the trigger . . . a long long way from home" talks of facing devils and dust. These devils aren't foreign but born of a governmentcreated fear that leaves trust confused and "kills the things you love".
Devoid of E Street Band and electric guitars, it's a stunning work, straddling the music and thematic land between Nebraska and Born To Run. At times musically stark and overcast, at others (All The Way Home) familiar Springsteen swag-gering rock, while the songs - some a decade old - veer between despair and loss (The Hitter's burned out boxer reduced to illegal fights after taking a dive, the illegal immigrant's dream that ends in the Rio Grande on Matamoros Banks) and the light of love (a breathy brushed rockabilly All I'm Thinkin' About, the 'sweet salvation' of Maria's Bed) and hope (the expectant father in Long Time Comin' where Springsteen defiantly spits out the F-word).
Often the two go hand in hand (the son remembering his dead mother in Silver Palomino, Christ reassuring Mary in Jesus Was An Only Son ) while recurring images of mothers (the Dylanesque Black Cowboys) and lovers (Leah) are joined by the prostitute of the graphic Reno, where frustration, anger and a kind of catharsis are channelled through $250 oral and anal sex.
"Maybe your first choice, he's gone", he sings, offering to play second fiddle, a heartfelt reminder to a wounded nation that while some losses can never be replaced there's always someone willing to walk you all the way home and that sometimes you take from life what you can get. HHHHH
Review by Mike Davies
The Real Eighties Virgin TV
When it comes to putting together a compilation album spanning a decade, there have to be some pretty darn good reasons as to why some songs are rejected at the expense of others.
Take this album, for instance: it has what you'd think typified the time. Think Japan, Duran Duran, OMD, Specials, Stranglers, Bowie, Siouxsie, Heaven 17 and so on.
Then, you're left to wonder why on earth should "classics" as The Monochrome Set (who apealed to a handful of John Peel listeners) and Belouis Some (four top 50 hits - just) should be stuffed in there, taking up the space where you'd expect to see Eurythmics, New Order or even Bananarama.
At first glance, the playlist of 45 tracks, which includes a few welcome extended mixes and a live rendition of Talking Heads' Psycho Killer, is a pretty disparate collection.
But, for me, there are plenty of tunes there which sustained me in my formative years and for that alone, it is a good nostalgia fest.
Tracks such as Devo's Whip It and Echo And The Bunnymen's The Killing Moon sound as fresh as they did when they were first released - gulp - 25 years and 21 years ago respectively. Others, such as Oblivious by Aztec Camera and Tom Tom Club's Wordy Rappinghood don't seem to have stood the test of time as successfully.
Some may quibble with the tracks chosen: I can think of far better tracks than Rise by Public Image Ltd, Glittering Prize by Simple Minds and Spear Of Destiny's most remembered track surely isn't Never Take Me Alive. HHH
The Fall - The Peel Sessions (Sanctuary)
For anyone interested in the long and gripping story of Salford's finest, this has been their most anticipated release to date. With Mark E Smith, the band's irascible singer, at the helm for nigh-on 30 years, The Fall have established themselves as one of Britain's most enduring bands.
Always the grit in pop music's vaseline, the dozens of albums and singles by the band are like a sociology course, tracing the blips and ticks of our culture.
This six CD set contains all the band's sessions recorded for the late John Peel's radio show between 1977 and last year. It's an alternative "greatest hits" set, a remarkable document and probably the last word in all things Fall.
Peel's love of The Fall was well documented and the band, though loathe to admit it, owed much of their success to the championing by Britain's greatest ever DJ. Though Smith was often less than charitable about Peel in interviews, one senses a mutual respect when listening to these myriad recordings.
There was something about that studio in Maida Vale that brought out the best in The Fall as time and time again the session versions trump the official releases for energy, bile and conviction. Whether it's the early material recorded for Small Wonder or the later older statesman sides, The Fall give everything here, experimenting wildly and indulging in some serious knockabout jamming.
Still going strong, it's hard to imagine UK pop culture without Mark E Smith, just as Radio One without Peel was unthinkable. Well, one has gone now, so it's up to the other to carry the torch for the underdog. As a tribute to Peel and The Fall themselves, this is beyond compare. You won't find a better album released this or any other year. HHHHH
Review by Andrew Cowen