SEBADOH Harmacy (Domino)

Sebadoh are a trio formed around the talents of former Dinosaur Jr member Lou Barlow, and whenever I’ve encountered their music before its always struck me as a diluted version of that band’s output, minus J Mascis’ sporadic songwriting genius. Enter "Harmacy", Sebadoh’s eighth album, fifty minutes and nineteen tracks’ worth of almost total bliss. Barlow’s muse has matured to the point where the ‘Doh sound like the result of some bizarre genetic accident involving Wire’s "Pink Flag" and Paul Simon’s "There Goes Rhymin’ Simon", with the former’s scratchy bash-it-out punk diagrammatics tempered by an immaculate turn of phrase and melody; perhaps another way of describing it might be prime Squeeze gone ever-so-slightly grunge. Anyhow, "Harmacy" gives you the deceptively jaunty but doe-eyed likes of "On Fire" (a spiritual cousin of The Byrds’ "Everybody’s Been Burned" perhaps), non-hit singles aplenty with the likes of the bouncy "Ocean" and the edge-of-desperation surf’n’skate that is "Beauty Of The Ride", and the finest love song humankind has heard since the release of the last Jeff Buckley and Blue Nile albums, the desolate but courageous "Willing To Wait". All this and a cover of The Bags’ "I Smell A Rat" - what more could a music lover realistically ask for?

SEBADOH The Sebadoh (Domino)

Lou Barlow, what have you done?! Sebadoh's last album, "Harmacy", teetered on the edge of greatness, walking the fine line between raucous two-minute punk rock for the kids and ballads of almost untouchable tenderness with aplomb. Naturally much was expected from this long-delayed follow-up, but "The Sebadoh" almost completely fails to deliver, with an almost complete absence of memorable melodies and heart-stirring lyrics. A few of the fifteen tracks presented snap into some kind of focus: "Tree" is one of the best, the kind of slowly unravelling grunge waltz that Buffalo Tom used to be so good at. "Love Is Stronger" is the closest "The Sebadoh" gets to "Willing To Wait" - a pale imitation of such greatness, perhaps, but a standout in this company. And there's the single, "Flame", which thrust Barlow and his two compatriots onto "Top Of The Pops", of all places, and again, it's not absolutely fantastic, but relatively good.

I've really struggled with this album. I really wanted to have something positive to say about "The Sebadoh", because on past form it really should have been something special. Maybe after a few more spins I'll hear the light. I hope so, because at the moment "The Sebadoh" is the first major musical disappointment of 1999.