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Spacehog Hit The Ground Running On Upcoming LP

Band with one big song return with album of thoughtful music and surprising range of styles.

New York-by-way-of-Leeds-England Spacehog could easily go the way of

Radiohead.

Like that now-acclaimed Brit-rock group that was first written off as a

one-hit "Creep"-y wonder, Spacehog hit it off the bat with their

Bowie-echoing debut single "In the Meantime" -- from their debut,

Resident Alien -- a radio-hungry track that might have tagged them

as the same.

Like critics' darlings Radiohead, though, Spacehog seem to have more in mind.

The Chinese Album (March 10) isn't a concept album, but Spacehog do

get conceptual on a few tracks. It's also not packed with dire messages

about the future, but that's OK, too. The quartet, led by singer/bassist

Royston Langdon and lead guitarist Richard Steel, with Antony Langdon on

rhythm guitar and vocals and Jonny Cragg on drums, traverse a surprising

range of music styles on the 12-track album.

The leadoff track, "One of These Days," opens with a slightly out-of-tune

piano, scratching beats and a freaky robot voice chanting an unintelligible

mantra. The trip-hop-like track, which features the stark couplet "like

Christmas in April/ one of these days/ is like time in a row/ one of these

days/ is like a disco on death row/ when the music is over/ save the last

dance for me," is sung by Royston Langdon in a smooth, Iggy Pop lounge

voice. The robot vocals throughout the track are provided by a third

Langdon brother, Christian.

Continuing their fascination with mid-period Bowie glitter glam, the bouncy

"Goodbye Violet Race" is strident, shameless glam-pop, as is the first

single, "Mongo City," a trashy, sexy glam tune that pays homage to the sky

city of superhero Flash Gordon fame.

The most surprising tune on the album is the skittering-tempo "Almond

Kisses," a jazzy, mid-tempo ballad on which Royston Langdon's voice is

intertwined almost seamlessly with that of R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe.

The duo's voices, harmonizing sweetly on lines such as "slow breeze

slipping through my fingers/ gold dreams ejected from my mind/ wet face

pressed against a window/ a neon tear illuminates the sign," are barely

distinguishable from one another.

The band tries its hand at a number of other styles over the course of the

album: including the bizarre barbershop-quartet interlude "Skylark," the

rubbery jazz of "Sand in Your Eyes," on which Royston Langdon's voice is a

desperate hiccup, and the magnum opus of the album, "2nd Ave. (Isle of

Manhattan)." This sprawling, five-and-a-quarter-minute track begins as a

slinky blues number with Royston Langdon crooning in a rumbling loverman

voice on a joyous homage to his adopted hometown, only to break into a

creepy polka midway through, which then gives way to a full-on baroque

opera-jam complete with an over-the-top diva belting out the group's lyrics

with classical aplomb.

Other results of genre-blending are the country-glam song "Anonymous" and

the track "Lucy's Shoes," which changes moods from a mid-tempo Diamond

Dogs-era Bowie-homage to a bizarre mix of vintage Boz Scaggs colliding

with Brian Eno. Call it end-of-the-millennium jazz-rock that feels much

longer and bigger than a mere four-minute pop song.

Also included on the album are "Carry On," the new-wave ditty "Captain

Freemans" and the swelling, album-closing ballad "Beautiful Girl."

Color="#720418">[Fri., Jan. 23, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]