CRAIG ARMSTRONG The Space Between Us (Melankolic/Virgin)

Craig Armstrong is probably most feted for his string arrangements on Massive Attack’s wondrous "Protection" album, and also for his contributions to the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s modern-day retelling of "Romeo and Juliet". Both these facets of his past are revisited on "The Space Between Us", his debut solo album, released on the Massive’s own Melankolic label.

In places "The Space Between Us" is very good indeed: a sweeping-strings- ‘n’-cavern-thumping-drum-machine take on "Weather Storm" off "Protection" opens this hour-long album in fine style. "This Love", which features Cocteau Twin and future Massive collaborator (on their oft-delayed forthcoming third album) Liz Fraser, emoting in what must be the nearest to English that she’s ever sung, is another highlight. "Sly II" is a deconstruction of the "Protection" track of similar name, ditching almost all of the original save its chilling orchestral coda. His "Balcony Scene" from "Romeo and Juliet" makes a reappearance as the album’s centrepiece, and very distinctive it is too for a piece of what is essentially background music, albeit one that ‘contains elements’ of Des’ree’s "Kissing You". Saving the bestest for last, and the album’s Unique Selling Point for a product-starved Blue Nile aficionado such as myself, is a version of that band’s "Let’s Go Out Tonight", sung by the Glaswegian genius of melancholy Paul Buchanan. It doesn’t improve on the original (pointless, and impossible anyway), but adds a shuffly mellow drum track and soaring orchestration to a new vocal line that, when it suddenly arrives forty minutes into the album, directs shivers straight to the spine.

That’s the good bits, then, and they all have one thing in common: they were written and/or performed with someone who isn’t Craig Armstrong. His own material is pleasant enough, quite evocative if you have the time and inclination, but essentially soundtrack music for a non-existent film, and as such fairly pointless. It’s Massive Attack without tunes, beats, lyrics and raps, 21st century soul music bereft of all the elements that make it soulful. That Armstrong is a masterly arranger is not in doubt, a fact that about half of this album ably demonstrates. But the other half suggests that his own writing abilities still require a degree of honing.