Pop CD releases

Björk returns as an enchantress, and Laurie Anderson plays an enigmatic soothsayer - plus the rest of this week's new pop.

Vespertine (One Little Indian)

Vespertine ("occurring in the evening") is an apposite title for Björk's first studio album since 1997's Homogenic. Its stillness and space evoke the Arctic night - probably a fanciful impression now that Björk's corner of the Arctic has been overrun by British clubbers, but her music has always suspended reality. Her modish collaborators, including electro-duo Matmos and harpist Zeena Parkins, confect a world of crunches, crackles and celestial choirs, through which Björk flutters, unconstrained as ever by rhythm. Her least commercial effort yet, its impact derives from the enchanted union of that wild voice and intimate instrumentation. The odd lapse into tweeness (a tinkling instrumental called Frosti) aside, there's magic afoot: on the soaring Hidden Place, amid the whirrs of Undo, and near enough everywhere else.
Caroline Sullivan

Laurie Anderson
Life on a String (Nonesuch Records)

For her first album of new material since 1994's Bright Red, Laurie Anderson planned to make an album based on her Moby-Dick multimedia show. She couldn't make it work, and instead, Life on a String comprises a dozen pieces that you could almost call songs. Thanks to the ingenuity of the arrangements and the compression in Anderson's writing, each number creates provocative ripples out of all proportion to its size. A violin player herself, she makes frequent use of grainy, flavoursome string textures, as in the ghostly minor-key minuet of Statue of Liberty. But she doesn't stop there, deploying the mysterious "baritone banhu" in Slip Away and concocting a loose and funky Afro-groove in The Island Where I Come From. Especially impressive is the way the music dovetails with the enigmatic folklorishness of the words, turning every piece into a mini-myth.
Adam Sweeting

New Order
Get Ready (London Records)

After a mere eight-year gap, the curmudgeonly Mancunians have returned. Get Ready finds them sounding as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they ever have, focusing on what they do best, with the amps whacked up to 13. The opener, Crystal, spells it out - grinding guitar chords, a smooth funkoid drum pattern, and a final upper-register flourish from Peter Hook's medallion-man bass guitar. 60 Miles an Hour has a low-rider raunchiness that evokes twin carburettors and belching tail-pipes, and Slow Jam growls like a bulldozer in six feet of mud. Anybody yearning for the moodier, more abstract New Order is not well catered for, though Someone Like You offers some watercolour electronica among the slashing rhythm guitars and girly backup vocals. Overall, it's big, loud and commercial - and it works.
Adam Sweeting

Mercury Rev
All Is Dream (V2)

Deserter's Songs, Mercury Rev's fourth album, sounds like a pastel sketch next to this grand, dramatic canvas of a follow-up. This isn't a good thing: in places, All Is Dream is suffocatingly baroque, burdened with guitar solos and ornate orchestration. On Lincoln's Eyes and Tides of the Moon, singer Jonathan Donohue could be a fairground fortune-teller chanting mystical gibberish. Much better is A Drop in Time, a breezy love song with a hilarious nod to Leonard Cohen. Opening track The Dark Is Rising is the best and worse of current Mercury Rev: filigree piano chords and Donohue's fragile vocals are swamped by waves of pomp and sounds that should have died with prog rock.
Maddy Costa

Mary J Blige
No More Drama (Universal)

In the light of Whitney Houston's funny turn last year and Mariah Carey's spectacular public implosion, it seems that the karma police are finally pressing charges after years of primadonna-ish hissy fits. R&B empress Mary J Blige has changed her ways just in time. The mood of her fifth album is regally repentant. After a trio of prospective mega-hits, notably the goosebump-raising Steal Away, Blige settles into a pattern of I-will-survive defiance leavened by some unusually humble soul-searching. The highlight of the former camp is the title track, a vintage diva showstopper that mounts to an operatic climax, while the latter yields PMS, a nu-soul beauty about, yes, the time of the month. Yet despite such vulnerability, with such collaborators as Dr Dre and Missy Elliott on board, Blige still sounds invincible.
Dorian Lynskey

Iowa (Roadrunner)

The perennial undoing of cartoon heavy metal, from Green Jelly to Kiss, is that occasionally the music must be addressed, at which point the house of cards comes tumbling down. A masked Des Moines nine-piece who play with faeces during their stage shows, Slipknot are no exception. Their actual sound is so far down their list of priorities that there is little point in them making records. Slipknot are on a mission to shock: in fairness, they succeed admirably, if only in being shockingly dull. Their percussive thrash metal half-heartedly evokes Sepultura at their most upset with Slayer's adrenaline rush. Singer Corey Taylor growls of little save eternal nihilism. "The whole world is my enemy," he whimpers during I Am Hated. No wonder they won't take the masks off.
John Aizlewood

The GuardianTramp

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