Thursday, 13 October 2016

Far From The Edge: Drum 'n' Bass LPs Revisited

I passed on Hootie and The Blowfish (I must be mad!) but having found Supersilent 6 for 69p went back through the three racks of CDs in Help The Aged thinking I may strike a rich vein as donated by someone with taste. No luck. As it happens, no-one with Good Taste dumps the resulting books, CDs and films in a charity shop - very rarely anyway. Good Taste, as you know, isn't a 'matter of taste', it's a proven fact, the rules of which run along the lines of 'I have great taste and know what's brilliant and what's shit and anyone who disagrees with what I chose is wrong' - that's about it. For a larf, I also bought Alex Reece' So Far and Roni Size' New Forms, wondering what big breakthrough (sort of) D&B albums would sound like 20 years later - well, at 69p, not much to lose.

Neither Reece nor Size are new to me; I remember them first time 'round. I had New Forms but can't recall owning So Far. Listening now, perhaps I only had it for a few weeks before selling the thing, despite it being 'a masterpiece of spectacular alchemy' - The Guardian (so it says on the sticker) - er - well, we all got carried away about tunes at times but...I wonder if the journo who wrote that still feels the same? Any of us fools who write about music can allow the excitement felt upon first hearing something to tip us over into enthusiasm which, after a few months, never mind two decades, proves unfounded, or at least exaggerated.

You can't deny Pulp Friction, no matter how hard you might want to, but the rest of the album suffers from an awful polishing of the edges that made D&B great to my ears. OK, Bukem's sound was very smooth too and I don't play that stuff anymore either. So Far features a lot of female vocalising, which may explain why some mainstream journos took it imitated 'soul'? They couldn't handle the hard stuff, the dynamic, experimental, raw sound, perhaps. Besides, most makers of classic 12s didn't get to the album stage and that's exactly what saved them, in hindsight. Making an album back then was still a feat lumbered with old Rock baggage of requiring sustainable 'quality' over the length of an album in order to gain credibility with mainstream hacks.  

The other standout track on So Far is Acid Lab, which has some bite, along with a good semi-jump-up b-line, but I'm snoozing through most of it and the local charity shop bag awaits...

Come on Roni, I know you can do better. It's a year later (1987), on Talkin' Loud and another Big Tune in the form of Brown Paper Bag, the impact of which I remember well, being behind the decks at the time and also on the 'floor when others played it - boom! - that acoustic b-line. Lots of rap/poetry here, but if the lyrics aren't exactly profound or clever, at least they provide more gravitas than just a woman crooning simplistic nonsense. There's usually some oomph in the rhythm too, although it's all very 'clean', with one eye on what 'quality' means in terms of an album. 'Live' drums and acoustic bass, along with good production, spark life into most tracks but to be honest the jury's out on New Forms. The alternate 'funk' pace of Watching Windows catches my ear, though. At least Size had the nerve to break the mould occasionally.

Having listened to these albums they mostly make me yearn to hear more renegade snares and off-kilter breaks from those who never made long-players. Perhaps what I really mean is that by going for 'serious LP' status and considering the time period, D&B was losing it's soul. That's the dirty street variety as opposed to the vocal kind. Not that Size went penthouse sell-out, I know. The mid-90s alternative to striving for lush achievement was Tech Step, D&B's last hurrah and a nasty, hard nail in the coffin it proved to be, thankfully. It was as if the sound had returned to it's Dark Rave roots, wherein it could only disappear, dragged into the vortex of its own making.

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