19 DECEMBER 1987, Page 90

Pop music

Still fab

Marcus Berkmann

The album avalanche continues. More than 700 of the things were released in November, of which I managed to review only three. This was hardly an impressive performance, especially with Christmas approaching like a driverless juggernaut (or is Paul Daniels behind the wheel?). So if you feel like a rabbit caught in its headlights, horrified perhaps by the sea- sonal mass hysteria (or more probably by the tortuousness of this metaphor), read on.

Few sensible record companies try and launch new artists at this time of year, which may be why countless old stagers appear suddenly to have emerged from obscurity at around the same time. The big surprise has, of course, been George Har- rison, who lost so much money making films with Madonna that he has been forced back into her game to make ends meet. But if 'Got my Mind Set on You' is a bit of a pain, the album from which it crept, Cloud Nine (Dark Horse), has rather more lasting value. True, the influ- ence of Jeff Lynne, Harrison's co-producer and the man who wrote ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky', is a little stifling. But Lynne has always worshipped the Beatles, and Harri- son is acute enough to realise where much of his appeal to the casual listener lies, so the record is awash with Fab Four echoes. There's even a song called 'When we was Fab' (a witty Liverpudlian abuse of gram- mar, perhaps). It's an efficient album, well compiled if never terribly exhilarating. But these days Harrison, who alone must have bumped up the average age in the current Top Ten by about a decade, is content to make merely pleasant music, and in that he has succeeded.

Another WEA artist — although one conspicuously less successful — is Ry Cooder, whose first non-soundtrack album for five years, Get Rhythm (Warner Bros), has just appeared. Cooder is a weird old cove, a self-effacing American with an endless fascination for the traditional music of his continent, from country through cajun to blues and jazz. Critics usually use the facetious term 'musicolog- ist', when all he does is take forgotten (and often wondrous) old songs and refashion them around his distinctive slide guitar, gruff quavery voice and a tight band of old pros. You can hear him to best effect on Bop Till You Drop (1979) and Borderline (1980), but Get Rhythm is messy and unfocused by comparison. The songs aren't as well chosen, the arrangements don't gel and his playing is far less impressive than on John Hiatt's brilliant Bring on the Family LP earlier this year. Only his reworking of 'Across the Borderline', with even gruffer, more quavery vocals from actor Harry Dean Stanton, repays much listening.

John Hiatt's latest label Demon (he rarely settles anywhere for long) is releas- ing some of the most interesting and idiosyncratic music about. Two of their Christmas shots are especially worthwhile: Elvis Costello's Out of Our Idiot and Steve Nieve's Playboy. The Costello is another collection of B-sides, unreleased record- ings and sundry oddities in the manner of his earlier Ten Bloody Marys and How's Your Fathers. My favourite track is 'The People's Limousine', a sort of Marxist country & western thumpalong which he recorded with T-Bone Burnett under the name The Coward Brothers. In fact most of these songs seem to have been recorded under one alias or another, which may be why the album is credited to 'various artists'. But although a compilation of clearly heterogeneous material, it holds together surprisingly well. Nieve is Costel- lo's keyboards player, and his solo album is rather different — a catholic selection of short piano pieces, some of his own and others derived from well-known pop songs, like lOcc's 'I'm Not in Love'. It's weird but satisfying. A brief word about Deacon Blue, who played the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town last week. Their album Raintown (CBS) is still one of mY favourites of the year, and their perform- ance showed the obvious confidence they have in their material. And why not, as Barry Norman would say. They are going to be vast, and anyone with a taste for adult pop in the Prefab Sprout/Steely Dan mould will find Raintown a shrewd invest- ment.