VARIOUS ARTISTS Beat The Retreat Songs By Richard Thompson (Capitol)

Tribute albums, doncha just love ‘em? What wouldn’t you give to hear pasty-faced indie bands with unpronounceable names slack their way irreverently through your favourite beat ensemble’s finest moments? Happily, however, here’s one that’s actually worthy of your attention, time and, dare I say it, money. "Beat The Retreat" contains interpretations of the songs of ex-Fairporter, and winner of the "musician most often described as ‘mercurial’" award every year since 1969, Richard Thompson, by the popular groups of today. Quite unexpectedly, it’s a work of almost total genius, the sort of sustained slippery addictive listening experience that’s a rare encounter these days.

Highlights? Well, R.E.M.’s sly "Wall Of Death" ably demonstrates what a hollow conceit their last album was (and check out Michael Stripe’s cod folky accent! He’ll be wearing arran sweaters and singing with his finger in his ear next), Bob Mould’s energetic "Turning Of The Tide" equally atones for Sugar’s listless last LP, and Evan Dando seems to have grown himself the perfect American singer/songwriter voice for his duet with Syd Straw on "For Shame Of Doing Wrong". Predictable excellence, equalled by June Tabor’s two ethereal contributions, the title track and a chilling acappella "Genesis Hall", and Shawn Calvin and Loudon Wainwright III’s gorgeous "A Heart Needs A Home". Special mention too for David Byrne’s floaty "Just The Motion", with sometime Attraction Pete Thomas on drums.

Lowlights? Seems mean to carp, but a couple of tracks don’t really make it: Dinosaur Jr flunk by making "I Misunderstood" their own, which given the standard of their recent work isn’t a good idea, and Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy turn "Farewell, Farewell" into a bruised and beaten thing that sounds poisoned compared to the beauty of the Fairport Convention original. That’s it, though: "Beat The Retreat" is undoubtedly the best tribute album to reach these ears since the Neil Young benefit "The Bridge", and makes you want to buy all the Richard Thompson albums you can get your hands on. What higher praise can there be?