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Not Fade Away 1997: Gorecki, by Lamb

In which I blow my credentials completely. Probably.

1997 is not a great year. The obvious thing to do would be to choose another pummelling Chemical Brothers' track or even take it up a notch with Daft Punk's phenomenal slice of electronica, Rollin' and Scratchin', listening to which feels like getting repeatedly hit in the face. In a good way.

Better yet take something from Bjork's best album Homogenic (or is that Vespertine? I swither between them). But I'm saving Bjork for later.

What does that leave? Not much. Scottish DJ Lex Blackmore's (one-hit wonder) take on big beat under the name Blue Boy and powered by its Marlena Shaw sample, or Blur at their most Beatlesque. Maybe The Verve laying down the blueprint for every subsequent British rock band on The Drugs Don't Work (not necessarily a good thing in the long run) or even play the pop card with the Spice Girls' Christmas hit Too Much which I've always found something of a prefab pleasure (it's the one where the genuine grain of Mel C's vocals work best against the artificial additives of the other four. It also has my favourite Spice couplet: "I need a man/Not a boy who thinks he can"). You could argue - and without any irony -that its tinny pleasures are the essence of pop. But maybe I'll save that line for Steps.

Instead I'm going to throw myself at the mercy of everyone by going for the most tasteful, frictionless thing I can imagine and I want to tell you why it's not middle-class trustafarian dinner party music. I want to tell you why I like Lamb.

The argument that trip-hop was music for dinner parties always bugged me. Principally because when it came to Massive Attack or Tricky it didn't make any kind of sense at all. What kind of dinner parties would they have been? And even Portishead's Dummy album came couched in the blues of Beth Gibbons's voice. You'd have to be a bottle of Sauvignon down not to register the depth and pain in it.

But I'd have to concede that many who followed in the Bristol triumvirate's wake had a little less heft. You know who I mean - the Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba. New categories needed to be devised for these new nineties sounds. Chill-out music. Downtempo.

Lamb fit into those descriptions too, I suppose. And yet I keep returning to their records while I doubt I've played my Zero 7 album since it came out.

Lou Rhodes and sound engineer Andy Barlow met in Manchester in the early nineties. She liked folk. He liked drum 'n' bass. For some reason they decided to collaborate. "My motives weren't entirely honourable," Barlow has admitted in the past. "I thought she was really hot, and maybe if we were in a band together we could get it on. But we never did, thank God."

In 1995, on the basis of three songs, the duo signed a six-album deal with a subsidiary of Mercury Records. Two years later they had a top 30 hit with Gorecki which samples the second movement of Polish composer Henryk Gorecki's Third Symphony, now one of the great pieces of the modern classical repertoire.

Gorecki's symphony was inspired by an inscription the composer found on a wall in a former Gestapo prison. Lamb's song is concerned with pop's eternal belief in and pursuit of true love. As Rhodes sings: "I've found the one I've waited for/ The one ..."

Is that a perversion of the original intention? Perhaps, but I'd rather see it as an example of pop's endless ability to pick and mix. The entire history of pop is based on cannibalism. Without white artists stealing black sounds we wouldn't have had rock and roll. In a way that's the story of the 45 years we've covered in this blog. And the question is do you want pop to maintain some notion of purism - in which case we might still be listening to trad jazz - or do you want it to do what it does best?

I'd say the same about the way Gorecki opens, with tabla dropped over the opening chords. World music as wallpaper, if you like. Some people will hate that but if I'm honest none of this bothers me too much. I see all its thievery and I admire the daring of it.

The dinner party thing? Well, I can imagine Gorecki would go down well at dinner parties. Rhodes's voice is reedy and thin but it has a pleasing timbre and if Barlow's beats are perhaps now overfamiliar the fact is they work. And the whole thing is woven together impeccably.

And here's the thing. What is music for? As early as the 1970s Brian Eno was making ambient music - music to provide background noise - an idea some distance from pop's sticky-fingered immediacy. You could argue - if you squinted your ears enough - that Eno's idea had some kind of overlap with the music of Philip Glass or Steve Reich in the idea that it was all about sustain, about almost unnoticeable transitions. Dance music in the nineties was often a more bludgeoning example of the same thing - a matter of repeated builds and falls. Chillout merged dance's wave patterns with Eno's soft power. So if you want to play it at dinner parties, well, why not?

Some years back, before it went off the digital air, I found myself listening day after day to Chill FM. It was full of world music steals and familiar beats but I loved the warm bathe of it, the way it buoyed me up. It had no raw edges, nothing to make you bleed. But sometimes you don't want to graze your fingers. Sometimes you want the clean feel of white gloss paint. Lamb's Gorecki is glossy white paint. For some that would be a criticism. I don't mean it as such. If anything it's the late nineties equivalent of Fleetwood Mac's Sara - another chance to drown in a sea of love, or sound. Sometimes, they're indistinguishable.

Other Contenders

Useless, Depeche Mode, Kruder & Dorfmeister

Block Rockin' Beats, The Chemical Brothers

Bachelorette, Bjork

Joga, Bjork

Remember Me, Blue Boy

Beetlebum, Blur

The Drugs Don't Work, The Verve

Rollin' and Scratchin', Daft Punk

Torn, Natalie Imbruglia

High Shadow, DJ Shadow

Local Boy in the Photograph, Stereophonics

MMMBop, Hanson

Summertime, The Sundays

NME Single of the year: Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve

John Peel's Festive 50 Winner: Brimful of Asha, Cornershop

And the best-selling single of 1997: Candle in the Wind 1997, Elton John

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