WHILE THEIR talent scouts dutifully search the Lower 48 for the next Guns N' Roses and Janet Jackson, American record labels have largely left the discovery of new college-radio stars up to their U.K. counterparts. This gives young British bands a significant advantage in the record-contract sweepstakes, one that has led American bands (including the Pixies, Ultra Vivid Scene, and Washington's own Manifesto) to seek deals with British labels as steppingstones to U.S. acceptance. Fortunately for American labels, the trend-hungry British Isles (including Ireland, home of a burgeoning community of Me-2s) produces new bands at an astonishing clip.
An Emotional Fish "An Emotional Fish" (Atlantic). It's not just that U2's become more American-sounding over the years -- there's a whole new generation of Irish bands that seems expressly formulated to satisfy the Yank pop tastebud. This quartet is definitely among them: The Fish produce mainstream rock with an occasional country aroma (as on the opening "Celebrate," the album's catchiest track) and enough American geographical references to make most people forget the album was recorded in Dublin. Gerald Whalen looses his growl on songs about death and beautiful crazy women, and worries that "The trouble with reality/It's taken far too seriously." The Fish shouldn't have that problem.
The Heart Throbs "Cleopatra Grip" (Elektra). Artier than neo-Blondie bands like the Primitives and the Darling Buds but less quirky than label-mates the Sugarcubes, this women-led quintet has produced (with a large stable of big-name producers and engineers) a debut album that skillfully straddles the line between spontaneous and slick. The results are eminently listenable, but a little overfamiliar. The harmonies of guitarist Rose and bassist Rachael give some identity to such songs as "In Vain" and "Tossed Away," but the Throbs seem rather too far down the road to turning into Heart for a band making its (British) indie-label debut.
Primal Scream "Come Together" (Sire/Warner Bros.). This outfit, masterminded by ex-Jesus and Mary Chain link Bobby Gillespie, proves that digitally sampled music doesn't have to be sterile. The Screamers give a punk edge to their beatbox pop, lifting an angry-adolescent rant from a teen-exploitation flick for "Loaded" and even turning in a live version of "Ramblin' Rose" that echoes the MC5's. Gillespie's white-soul-boy contributions aren't much, however, and since it's filled out with two mixes of "Come Together" and three of "Loaded," this seven-track disc will likely try the patience of the casual listener.
Ride "Smile" (Sire/Reprise). My Bloody Valentine remains the king of the Brit guitar-noise-with- a-pop-twist bands, but Ride is among the most formidable of their courtiers. Indeed, this Oxford band's first eight songs sound even more convincing here than they did on the band's two British EPs, which have been assembled into one album for American release. The disc is an encyclopedia of high-torque guitar abrasion, and when the Riders apply their steel-and-sandpaper sound to a memorable melody -- notably the grandly neo-Byrdsian "Like a Daydream" -- the effects are invigorating.
Teenage Fanclub "A Catholic Education" (Matador). "Everything Flows" explains the first song on this Scottish quintet's debut, and the sound does suggest a distant kinship with the rushing Zen-jangle river of the Feelies and R.E.M., albeit with a punkier feel than either of those bands has shown on record for years. That punkiness is expressed by rough edges and attitude, not speed: The band prefers dense, inexorable near-dirges to the blitzkrieg bop. Texture outranks tunefulness in the Teenagers' cosmology, yet when they hit on a strong melody, as on "Critical Mass" or "Too Involved," the two coexist rapturously.