Various Plague Songs

Here’s the idea: ten songs based on the ten Biblical plagues from the book of Exodus, commissioned by a British arts organisation to form part of a large-scale public art event, transforming an ugly British sea town into a modern recreation of the Israelites’ flight from Egypt. Plague Songs collects those ten songs, and if the whole idea sounds pretentious/ridiculous (because, well, it should), the list of contributors might sway: Stephin Merritt, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Scott Walker and Rufus Wainwright. Everyone has a different interpretation, but most, unsurprisingly, turn out pretty fucking dark. Anderson’s "The Fifth Plague” is an excellent, creepy, creeping little brooder while Eno and Robert Wyatt’s "Flies” is a strange, pitch-perfect mood piece. Walker, of course, was born for this, and "Darkness” doesn’t disappoint, his warbling croon giving way to some kind of shrieking Hell choir. Stephin Merritt, with his bouncy synths in tow, brings a bit of tongue-in-cheek black humour to an album that seems constantly in danger of veering into Spinal Tap territory (listening all the way through without ever thinking of the lyrics to "Stonehenge” is a challenge). Of course, most of the other artists can’t keep up, but that’s okay: the veterans take this one over and transform what could have been a curious novelty into a charming oddity. (4AD)