NO-MAN Wild Opera (3rd Stone)

"Wild Opera" is the fourth album by No-Man, a duo who ‘happen to be’ Tim Bowness (vocals, tapes, lyrics) and Steven Wilson (instruments, tapes), and it says here that "disparate strands of trip-hop, art rock and dub influences are held together by the band’s innate sense of doomed romanticism". Presumably that’s press release talk for "we sound a bit like a honky Tricky", for that is where No-Man really appear to be coming from: imagine the less vicious moments of "Maxinquaye" without the devilish one’s asthmatic vocalising and a sample sense that swerves dangerously in the direction of the likes of King Crimson and Japan.

"Wild Opera" isn’t quite that bad though, in fact it’s a real tryer of an album . The music isn’t exactly memorable, but there are enough surprising little off-kilter jazz touches in the loops to offset the dread of song titles like "Housewives Hooked On Heroin" and "Dry Cleaning Ray". Best bit is the closer "My Revenge On Seattle" (a different torture than that enacted by Frances Farmer, presumably), mellow enough to let you forgive lines like "Maybe there’s more to life than just writing songs". (But presumably there ain’t more to life than writing songs about writing songs). Sadly though, despite its frequent quite-goodness, I’m afraid that "Wild Opera" really doesn’t make it for me. However, Kev wants it back "to send it to Poland", apparently, where hopefully it’ll reach more sympathetic ears.

NO-MAN Dry Cleaning Ray (3rd Stone)

This is the fourth album by No-Man, the duo consisting of Tim Bowness and sometime member of Porcupine Tree Steven Wilson, and, following my less-than-glowing review of their previous long playing opus "Wild Opera", in Kev’s words "The band hope you like this one better".

Which, I’ve got to admit, I do. Although No-Man haven’t completely expunged the impersonal edge of pretension that haunts much of their lyrics, and whilst it’s very difficult to sit through "Dry Cleaning Ray" without the words ‘Tricky’ or ‘Portishead’ looming large in the listener’s mind, the downsizing (or apparent downsizing, as my review copy of "Wild Opera" is now in Poland) of their songs into snappy three and four minute chunks seems like an extremely smart move. Several tracks here are recycled in an ecologically friendly stylee: the title track, its genesis now helpfully explained by the cover shot of a London dry cleaner’s shop called "Dry Cleaning by Ray", is an edited version of that which appeared on "Wild Opera", "Diet Mothers" is a ‘remixed and reconstructed’ version of "Pretty Genius" and "Punished For Being Born" is apparently "Housewives Hooked On Heroin" following ‘assassination’ by Muslimgauze, whoever they may be. (Actually, it doesn’t half sound like the Aphex Twin’s bash-it-down-and-then-bash-it-down-even-further remix of Saint Etienne’s "Who Do You Think You Are", which is No Bad Thing). There’s even a Serge Gainsbourg cover ("Evelyn (The Song Of Slurs)").

"Dry Cleaning Ray" is a very pleasant album, but I feel bound to predict that it won’t make No-Man rich and famous because of the self-conscious veil of artiness that anaesthetises their music, perhaps something to do with their prog-rock past (present and future). I freely admit to being as fond of, for example, early Genesis as the next man (even more so if that next man happens to have been an early member of Genesis), but which contains more emotion, "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" or an Otis Redding b-side? For all the right-on noises present here, and however much No-Man may (or, conceivably, may not) feel that they have some important messages to impart, their music doesn’t, perhaps deliberately, communicate. They gain millions of extra points in my view for claiming late Talk Talk as an influence, but there’s more emotion in the few seconds of organ riff that closes that band’s transcendental "Spirit Of Eden" album than can be found in the forty-odd minutes of "Dry Cleaning Ray".

Maybe I’m being too harsh, and almost certainly misreading the intentions No-Man harbour as to how their music should be interpreted, but I wouldn’t deny that, as the press release puts it, they’re "continuing to move forward with a truly independent fusion of art rock experimentation, progressive sampledelic chutzpah and breakbeat science". If they ever get to where theyreally want to go, No-Man may well be worth listening to.

Tim Bowness