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This London exponent of “sweet, pretty country-acid house music”—formerly Alabama 3, until someone got cold feet about offending the lawyers of the similarly named country-pop group—makes its hybrid work on this debut album, though Exile on Coldharbour Lane sounds more like the fusion U2 claimed of Pop than a high-bpm version of Waylon or Willie. Fronted by one the Very Rev. Dr. D. Wayne Love in a conceptual move that owes a debt to Mr. Horton Heat, A3 quickly proves its seriousness about the roots side of its sound with a mournful version of John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and sprinkles the rest of the disc with blues harp and acoustic guitars. Dr. Love’s shtick is a little silly (if no more so than Bono’s), but his commitment to saying something about the wastedness of the utopian techno culture is manifested in songs like “U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno Anymore” (in which a DJ watches a girl die of an overdose in front of his booth). On the other hand, Love credits “the Lord” with saving his crew on “The Night We Nearly Got Busted.” Less convincing is the Maoism espoused on a couple of cuts; do these toy anarchists really believe that, in the event of a cultural revolution, they wouldn’t be lined up against a wall quicker than the members of Parliament? Regardless of such puerile moments, Exile deserves, at the very least, to follow Chumbawamba’s social commentary up the U.S. charts.

—Rickey Wright