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This is going to hurt me as much as it hurts you. . . .

"It's all in the art of


Wire, Tobbin Sprout, and Strawbs


Send (Pink Flag)

This is going to hurt me as much as it hurts you. . . .

"It's all in the art of stopping," sings Colin Newman in the leadoff track of Wire's latest release. As you are now required to use both hands and at least one of your feet in order to count the records they've released in the past 25 years, I honestly can't imagine what it is that Newman and company are on about. What's "all in the art of stopping"? Certainly not innovative musicianship nor good songwriting. If that were the case, wouldn't Wire have "stopped" after 154? The drums on "Mr. Marx's Table" sound like they came in a can, the aggressively '80s "Being Watched" is just embarrassing, and "Comet" is based on three of the most boring notes you've ever heard. What's more, if you mail-ordered one of the first two Read & Burn discs (both released in '02 and available only through the band's site or at their shows), you've already heard eight of these fair-to-maudlin offerings; only four of the tracks on Send are brand-new. Of them, "You Can't Leave Now" is the only one to break the band's bad habit of hurling "'02 shouty rock" (Newman's words, not mine) into a world already inundated with the stuff. Slow, dark, and hammering, "You Can't Leave Now" is like a postindustrial goth tune dragged through molasses or played on 45 instead of 33. But considering its company, it isn't actually all that bad. Look, I don't feel good saying it, but maybe Wire can leave now. LAURA CASSIDY


Lost Planets & Phantom Voices (Luna Music)

Former Bob Pollard foil back with solid solo effort.

Returning with his first full-length in nearly four years, the former Guided by Voices guitarist harkens back to the sound of midperiod GBV (think Bee Thousand), with gauzy lo-fi, melodic '60s pop over Sprout's unassuming baritone. Last year's Sentimental Stations EP suggested such a move, but it's surprising how effectively Sprout captures the ambience of what many consider GBV's "golden era." Like those albums, Lost Planets & Phantom Voices was recorded in Sprout's four-track home studio, employing similar effects: tape saturation, rich overlapping vocals, and wooly, submerged guitar. "Indian Ink" sets the stage, opening the record with a thick, gooey riff resembling GBV's "I Am a Scientist." Sentimental Stations' piano-driven "Doctor #8" is remodeled with lap steel and organ like a garage-inflected Byrds, while "All Those Things We've Done" conjures the Merseybeat of the Beatles and Kinks circa 1965. The reverb guitar part on "Martini" is a clear nod to the surf sound, while "Rub Your Buddha Tummy" employs a feedback-driven Eastern guitar motif like a less spacey Moody Blues. Nick Kizirnis (of Sprout side project Eyeinweasel) and GBV drummer Jim Macpherson are among those lending a hand, but this is largely a Sprout affair. Sharing similar tastes as GBV's head man, Bob Pollard, Sprout's attention to craft ensures an engaging listen across the disc, highlighted by the infectiously pop "Courage the Tack," possibly the best thing he's ever written. CHRIS PARKER


The Best Of: 20th Century Masters/ The Millennium Collection (A&M/Universal)

Introductory best-of from forgotten '70s U.K. proggers.

If you were a fan of early '70s progressive rockthat most English of art forms tethered to neoclassical, psychedelia, and traditional British folk and rendered in decidedly stiff-upper-lip, pip-pip fashionyou definitely were into the Strawbs, known to some as the group that unleashed a pre-Yes Rick Wakeman upon the world. It was also among a mere handful of prog outfits that cracked the American market. As such, this CD is heavily weighted toward two 1974 albums, Hero and Heroine and Ghosts, that charted on these shores. Unfortunately, time hasn't been kind to material such as "Round and Round" and "Autumn," squonky, organ/mellotron-drenched concoctions best left on the Genesis scrap heap, or "Hero and Heroine," a merrie olde sub-Renaissance-Faire romp so Spinal Tap-ish you can practically hear the Stonehenge replicas toppling. Far better are two cuts from 1973's Bursting at the Seams; strummy sing-along "Part of the Union" became an unlikely anthem (and a top-10 U.K. single) adopted by England's then-struggling labor unions, while "Lay Down," despite its shameless nicking from Mott the Hoople's version of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," is an infectious, melodic pop gem par excellence. Bottom line: As a cursory overview, this CD is a reasonable one; and as part of Uni's budget-pricedfor royalty purposes, generally under a dozen cuts per title"20th Century Masters" series, it'll only set you back a tuppence or two. Clearly, though, a more extensive treatment is in order for this much-beloved band that still tours, albeit in low-key fashion, in England. FRED MILLS


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