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THE BLUES ARE FADING
THE INDEPENDENT (LONDON) SEPTEMBER 21, 1990
by Andy Gill

ROBERT CRAY
Midnight Stroll (Mercury 846 652)

Though still operating at the brooding interface of soul and blues, Robert Cray has made some marked changes from the style which served him so well on Strong Persuader and Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. While there have been substantial alterations to his band line-up the most significant changes in style may be due to the departure of Bruce Bromberg from his production and writing pool.

The remaining producer, Dennis Walker, displays the firmest grasp on the older Cray style, with "The Forecast (Calls For Pain)" and "Bouncin' Back," which follow the emotional trajectory of the earlier LPs closely. And while the material written by new members Jimmy Pugh (keys), Kevin Hayes (drums) and Tim Kaihatsu (second guitar) is rarely less than appropriate - the latter's "Labor Of Love," for instance, is an enjoyable loping 12-bar blues - it is Cray's own approach that has changed.

His own compositions display a definite shift towards soul rather than blues, and are more reliant on his smouldering vocal performances than on melody, structure, and the old reliabilities of the blues. On "These Things," the plodding blues beat and tightly constricted guitar break might be familiar, but it's his screaming, pleading "soul belter" vocals that impress the most. Likewise, "My Problem" finds him venturing deeper than ever into Otis Redding territory, a journey in which he is helped immeasurably by the now permanent presence in his band of The Memphis Horns. It's as if, having mastered the guitar as well as anyone of his generation, Cray is now set on becoming one of its premiere vocal stylists, too. But then he was never far off in the first place.

ROGER WATERS
The Wall - Live In Berlin 1990 (Mercury 846 611)

What excess of ego can have persuaded Roger Waters that Berlin would make the perfect setting for the resurrection of this grandiose meisterwerk based on the traumas of his youth? Is he trying to say that the situation there is analogous to his adolescent psyche? And if so, whatever gave him the idea that his adolescence merits a double-album, rather than a single? Or is it simply a case of an old showbiz hand spotting a neat photo-opportunity?

The event's charitable status - all proceeds and royalties to The Memorial Fund For Disaster Relief - merely clouds the issue: is it the charity that's important, or the event itself? If the former, why the latter? At the very least, Waters might be said to be cashing-in on the emotional residue of last November, as evidenced by the huge cheer when these styrofoam blocks came tumbling down.

The presence of Jerry Hall among the guest stars indicates that, as with so much of the Pink Floyd's later output, musical considerations are well outweighed by the simple urge for spectacle. Hence the project's unevenness of style, or styles, as successive songs switch from, say, the plangent pastoralism of a Joni Mitchell / James Galway collaboration to Bryan Adams' grunge-rock.

To be fair, the bulk of the material is performed by Waters with his Bleeding Heart Band and perhaps an orchestra and choir or two, with a few extended set-pieces involving a plethora of guests. By far the best of these are "Mother" and "Comfortably Numb," which pair, respectively, Sinead O'Connor and Van Morrison with The Band's Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. The latter's wistful accordion and distinctive Appalachian-sounding harmonies are a far departure, but a welcome one, from the prevailing Britishness of Waters' project.

NEW MODEL ARMY
Impunity (EMI EMC 3581)

New Model Army's Justin Sullivan is the Roger Waters of his generation, a chronicler of the important events of his own life who hopes to forge from them some wider-reaching expression of social dislocation and alternative values. In the past, this has involved championing both the peace convoy and hand-made clogs as latterday embodiments of the Blakean idea of Albion, though Impurity marks a sharpish departure from the rabble-rousing of last year's Thunder And Consolation, offering a calmer, more reflective view of events.

As such, it's predominantly backward-looking: "Bury The Hatchet" muses on the silly feuds of youth, "Lust For Power" on the way even small success inevitably taints principles. It's a much more mature record than NMA's earlier works, though couched in the same vocabulary of struggle, with references to war, revolution, etc. "Before I Get Old" is perhaps the most explicit rendering of the main theme of departure from the ways of the past, though the mood is perhaps best captured in "Lurhstaap," with lines like "When the visionary dreams set hard and grey" and "Innocence starts to peel away." There's something of the disillusion that descends upon the demagogue who can't believe that followers, or fellow-travellers, might one day place their individual interests above those of the group. Adulthood, I suppose.

FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM
Elizium (Beggars Banquet BEGA 115)

Though both might be presumed to share certain elements of the Goth constituency, Fields of the Nephilim offer a sharp contrast to New Model Army's questing social spirit. There is implicit here a similar disaffection for the dreariness of real life, but one that's sated by dark imaginings and invented myths populated by beings with names like Dalila in places like Elizium.

In his urge to impart some sense of mystery to his songs, self-consciously "charismatic" singer and lyricist Carl McCoy makes cavalier use of all manner of mumbo-jumboid utterings, uprooting them from their true historical perspective to join the Neff's pick'n'mix mythology. It's difficult to tell, for instance, whether the Sumer referred to in a couple of these songs is the same Sumer of ancient history, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates; or, likewise, whether the Zoroaster quoted on the sleeve is the real Zarathustra, or a character perhaps closer to Zorro. Not for nothing is McCoy widely regarded as the most preposterous man in pop.

The music, meanwhile, sounds as though the intervening decade since the demise of Joy Division never really happened, its gloomy, echoing halls and caverns carrying on in direct progression from Closer; McCoy's voice, too, is a hoarsely rumbling version of Ian Curtis's. More overblown than usual, even for the Neff, Elizium's sheets of distorted, heavily-flanged guitar and keyboard choral effects display all the pomp and panoply of the more pretentious progressive groups of the Seventies. But then, "pretentious" has always been a term dwarfed by the Neff's excesses.