It's often said that history never repeats itself. In the case of Leftfield, déjà vu is almost tangible. When Leftfield's debut album, Leftism, was released in January '95, it was reckoned to be three years in the making and three years too late. 'Disappointing' was the immediate, palpable response. As it turned out, Leftism ended up a major success - it went platinum, it went everywhere - and a minor classic.

Over four years later and Leftfield's second album hangs in a similar manner. Three years in the making and subject to intense speculation, the 'dated' jibe will undoubtedly be rehearsed again. Titles like 'Phat Planet', 'Afrika Shox' and 'Dub Gussett' - very literal, very Leftfield - suggest we're on familiar ground and opening track, 'Dusted', is Leftfield in Afro-electronica mode but the effect, as ever, is blinding. When the dirty and distorted rumpus of 'Phat Planet' swiftly kicks in, Leftfield make a winning argument for studio perfectionism. Multi-faceted loops and beats duck and dive through a cyber-propelled journey. You'll come through the other side damaged but cleansed.

By the time of 'Double Flash' - 4/4 rampage designed to melt walls - Rhythm and Stealth succeeds simply by virtue of being incomparably Leftfield. Even the - yawn - vocoder on 'Afrika Shox' can't diminish their quality control. Elsewhere, 'Swords' soft-peddles the sound system mayhem for a new-found ambient atmosphere.

With such a steady attention span, Rhythm and Stealth is rarely below par (except the drifting 'El Cid'), if not quite matching big crowd-pleasers like 'Open Up' or 'Original'.

A confident and consolidatory return for Leftfield, then. History it seems, is still on their side.

**** (out of 5)

review by Neil Davenport (nicked from Jockey Slut, dated August/September 1999)

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