AT LAST. Just when you thought they were bringing up the lights on hard homegrown house music, when the boffins were getting complacent, the junglists were lining their pockets and the trip-hoppers were muscling in, Leftfield have returned to save the night.
In a nick of time, a year on from 'Open Up', Neil Barnes and Paul Daley have surfaced having refurbished dub house disco in a style fit for the next century. The triptych of DJ-led supergroups is complete - Underworld, Sabres and the now diminutively qualified the 'Field. The bloody debut album at last.
Geezer who runs a prominent dance vinyl emporium round here reckons there's two types of punters. Your weekly trainspotters digging around for that rare remix to sit and paw over at home. And your weekend nutter blearily grabbing for whatever blew his spine out at 4am on Friday night. The beauty of Leftfield is that they cater for both parties. With one foot in the wooly hatted underground DJ camp and the other in the chart hitting pop remixer swamp they are a rare example of deep hedonism know-how and production genius squashed together in one capsule.
Anyone who knows Leftfield through the John Lydon hit 'Open Up' will be astonished by the depth and breadth of 'Leftism'. A pair of punky-reggae teens who turned percussion freaks and DJed through the falling-off-the-bar days of the early '90s, they brought dub plate sound effects to stompin' house, were accused of inventing the misappropriated 'progressive house' and put out a bunch of their own tunes in the guise of Bowie and Stereo MC's remixes. The evidence of the pair's healthily mottled histories is strewn everywhere here. The Leftfield steel-sprung sound basement reverberates with echoes of dub, ragga, goth, techno, punk and much global 'riddim' madness.
The wonder of it all is that it succeeds in being A Great British Multi-Cultural Yoof Product without being primarily of snoring academic interest. Academically speaking, Leftfield are mostly MAs of MDMA. More herbal than verbal. Their tunes are the thunderous, tribal-wave floor monsters that sweep reason out through the exit. The opening "Release The Pressure" contains a plea for 'peace and unity' from reggae voice Earl Sixteen that might sound hackneyed in other hands. But the stately euphoric rubberised techno dub of Barnes and Daley's sequencing easily holds the sentiments aloft.
Part of their genius lies in their ability to bring warmth and spirituality to so-called machine music. The Aryan tendencies of much Euro trance are nowhere to be seen here. 'Afro-Left' adds Brazilian percussion and African scatting to a Moroder-esque throb and still hits home on the dancefloor. Early single 'Song Of Life' is remixed as an awe-inspiring progression from neo hip-hop to charging dark house. Even in the more experimental pieces there's a lingering transcendental glow. Sabres-tinged soundscape 'Melt' achieves an affecting sunrise grandeur and 'Original' boldly brings in former lady of Curve Toni Halliday to hiss machine age ice maiden vocals over melancholy Electroluxed reggae without sounding like gimmick synth pop.
Barnes and Daley may have extended their vision way beyond the dancefloor's limits, but the DJ killer instincts are still there. Percussive stormer 'Black Flute' and the Indian infected 'Space Shanty' are little jewels of manipulatory euphoria. Clearly they could have filled an album like that. But the disinclination to play it safe that brought in Lydon for 'Open Up' surfaces again on 'Inspection (Check One)'. With a magnificently deranged tuffnutty ragga chat from Danny Red riding a slab of mighty wardance electro funk it's definitely one of the highlights. "Inspection! Is everything ship shape and shine?" You what mate? Who cares, it's glorious anyway.
The trippy breakbeat dub of 'Storm 3000' bridges the gap to the original screaming mad Hollywood-hating version of 'Open Up', still unsurpassed as a streak of venomous technoid energy, and veteran reggae poet Lem Sissay guides us out with '21st Century Poem', a prayer for better day, leaving just a glowering keyboard loop and a muffled heartbeat as conclusion.
Not everybody is going to fall at the feet of Barnes and Daley's sensi techno adventuring. Chasers of the infinitely receding 'cutting edge' will point to whatever's this month's thing and look at their watches. But there's a scope and spirit, an energy and a madness to 'Leftism' which'll make it one of the few dance derived that'll stay up there, bouncing around in the great echo chamber of futurity for years. They played the field and won... won... won (repeat to fade).
9 (out of 10)
review by Roger Morton (nicked from 'New Musical Express', dated 28 January 1995)