Popular Music

Article excerpt

A magazine called Musical Opinion should include opinions by musicians on any music that they take seriously. We have therefore decided to include regular features and reviews on what is happening in the world of popular music, the first of which is by Simon Price, whom we welcome to the MO team.

Elliott Smith

From Portland Oregon, America, Elliott Smith has performed at the Oscars, written songs for the hit film Good Will Hunting and played at the Royal Festival Hall. He is a latter-day troubadour with shades of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. His songs are passionate, with poetic lyrics and weaving melodies and countermelodies.Looking at him, with his trademark woolly hat, tattooed arms and Willie Nelson T-shirts, you would expect his voice to be gruff and hard. Instead, it's soft and he gives the impression, like Dylan, of not trying too hard to sing.

His fifth album figure 8 contains some of his finest work to date. The album has two out-and-out rockers, LA and Son of Sam. Other songs tell stories of lost relationships and learning to live with yearning and, amazingly, manage to avoid the cliches. Elliott Smith sings about things that happen to him in a low-key way. "Why get excited?" he says, "it's happened." Check out Pretty Mary K and In the Lost and Found, which both use the same piano The Beatles used on their Sergeant Pepper album. The sound is mainly guitar and piano, and the band is tight. Every subtle touch is noticeable and immensely enjoyable.

On first listen, the tunes don't immediately stand out, but when the album was released in April, I couldn't take it out of my CD player for weeks and each hearing has brought added rewards. figure 8 is available through the Dreamworks Label Number 4502252 and costs L13.99.

Damon Gough Badly Drawn Boy is another woolly hat wearer. His album Hour of Bewilderbeast, recent winner of the prestigious and lucrative Mercury Music Prize, is a voyage through the land of guitar POP. Damon Gough is Badly Drawn Boy, and a strummer of quirky verse. The mild background music reminds us of being in a smoke-filled lounge or a milk bar of 1960s Soho. The album has some upbeat and catchy songs, Another Pearl and Once Round the Block, but remains un-pop enough to be experimental and capture the feel of a one man recording.

Damon Gough started the Twisted Nerve record label with Andy Votal to enable the release of his early EPs and singles, and has created an intriguing web-site, www.badlydrawnboy.co.uk It's a maze of discovery for music and video, which though slightly out of date, is still fun and captures all the humour that Gough displays in songs like Everbodys Stalking. Hour of Bewilderbeast is available through Twisted Nerve's XL Recordings Number TNXLCD133 and costs L12.99.

The Delgados

The Delgados come from Scotland and explore the bleakness of social housing and drug problems with lo-fi instrumentation and folksy singing. On the album The Great Eastern they could be singing about anywhere, but you get the impression they are writing about tenement Glasgow. …