PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 October, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 October, 1999, 12:00am

Gomez - Liquid Skin (Hut) They may have produced one of the most exciting and refreshing debut albums in recent years, but still it is hard to seriously acknowledge the brilliance of Gomez.

It is easy to be sceptical about five British lads playing rough-voiced folk; that they did it so well on Bring It On last year only bred suspicion that they might be doing it all to parody a distinct Americana genre.

Liquid Skin just may save the young men from Ilkley, as it proves their love for American folk is genuine.

Gomez flesh out in this new album, writing strong lyrics about the dislocation and abandonment that the urban cowboy experiences.

In some cases the result seems overblown but in more introspective moments, like in its grand finale, Devil Will Ride, Liquid Skin fulfils the band's potential.

If only Gomez could replace their adolescent mischief with more introspection, theirs would be Americana in nirvana.

- Clarence Tsui Tori Amos - To Venus And Back (Atlantic) More 'kooky' than a kitchen full of chefs, Tori Amos has again raided her old Kate Bush albums to give her latest collection an identity.

But that is only part of the story - and in places that identity turns out to be a disguise for something much more meaty than mere quirkiness.

While retaining the Bush whimsy and lightness of touch (read high-pitched voice and dreamy piano) Amos goes her own typically difficult way to produce a work as lyrically involved and soul-baring as her best efforts.

Occasionally she cannot help sounding like a poor girl's Alanis Morissette (with whom she has been touring recently), but that is an influence female singer-songwriters find impossible to escape.

And below the melody there is a similar, ominous air that makes for uneasy listening.

Only a year on from the release of From The Choirgirl Hotel, Amos suddenly finds she has a lot to say: this album was supposed to be just a few songs recorded to fill out an album of B-sides, but it turned into a whole new record.

And as if that is not enough, it comes with a second disc in the shape of a punchy live album from her 1998 tour. All of which makes for a two-for-the-price-of-one bargain. Who cares what planet she is on? - Stephen McCarty David Sylvian - Approaching Silence (Virgin) David Sylvian, being the avant-garde artist he is nowadays, has always had the knack of naming his work in a metaphysical manner . . . Brilliant Trees, Ember Glance, Dead Bees On A Cake.

But with Approaching Silence, Sylvian may have for the first time delivered a title that clearly illustrates the material contained on the album.

Yes, Approaching Silence is exactly that - 72 minutes of minimalist expression, a sea of tranquillity punctuated by sporadic bursts of beeps and murmurs.

Fair enough, considering the two main pieces that make up the album, The Beekeeper's Apprentice and the title track, are musical accompaniment to Sylvian's ventures into multimedia installations in the early 1990s.

These pieces may sound indulgent, but Approaching Silence has its moments, especially when Robert Fripp, Sylvian's accomplice in these obscure pursuits, joins in and delivers his trademark electronics and minimalist sonic antics.

In any case, the jury will be firmly divided on this record. Understanding fans will champion it as this year's answer to Brian Eno's landmark Ambient series. The rest of the world, expecting something more conventional from the former frontman for the band Japan, will complain about listening to a hum much like that of a refrigerator.

High art or clueless muzak? You decide.

- Clarence Tsui