After four years in the making, dance music's most eagerly-awaited album comes out in September. But is it any good?
It’s four years since ‘Leftism’ rewrote the relationship between club and home listening, and three since Paul Daley and Neil Barnes began trying to follow it up. People said they were paralysed by self-doubt, terrified that the need to feed the dancefloor and to fulfil their own urge to change were irreconcilable. Releases were cancelled, videos scrapped, the endless remixing went on.
Leftfield needn’t have worried: ‘Rhythm And Stealth’ arrives fizzing with freshness, alive with yet more of the future possibilities that are Leftfield’s speciality. By the time the distorted, loping hip hop of the opener, ‘Dusted’, has given way to the grinding break-dance rumble of ‘Phat Planet’, it’s safe to say that, yes, they’ve still got it.
You could see why they worried, though. The perennial nightmare of dance people who make ‘artist albums’ is that they’ll miss the moment – that by the time their big label’s schedule can fit their music in, the scene will have moved on and they’ll embarrass themselves. What even Leftfield didn’t realise is that they are one of the few acts who make that moment. So the single ‘Afrika Shox’ isn’t ‘too late’ for some notional electro revival, and tracks like ‘Reno’s Prayer’ and ‘El Cid’ haven’t missed some invisible post-ambient bandwagon.
Leftfield’s music has a deep grounding and questing spirit that puts it above the eddies of the ‘this month’s tunes’ pages. They are into the big picture. ‘Afrika Shox’ has its electro boots on but the guest vocal from Afrika Bambaataa, the Zulu Nation shouts and the deformed ‘Planet Rock’ stylings are more than just a collection of references; they’re reasons why dance music is the way it is, and Leftfield have the guts and the stature to handle them.
Helpfully, ‘Rhythm And Stealth’ is half rhythm and half deep-sound investigation. For each charging heir to ‘Song Of Life’ there’s a still point where Barnes and Daley can apply their dub-inflected, techno-honed sonic sensibility to the music of the mind. Mostly the rhythm and the stealth alternate, which means the album has a hard time getting a groove going on. But so broad and varied are the flavours that it’s hard to complain. ‘Chant Of A Poor-man’ and the spectacularly-titled ‘Dub Gussett’ take the commandments of dub to strange new places; ‘Double Flash’ and ‘6/8 War’ are dazzling electronic dogfights.
Strangely, like the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Surrender’, Leftfield’s record even seems to have a moral: personal strength can derive from giving yourself up to the music, whether you dance to it or make it for a living. Rhythms take tangents; thoughtful, stealthy tracks are steeped in the mesmeric power of dance. The one side strengthens the other, however contradictory it might seem, and maybe that’s what makes Leftfield so compelling. Because, like the other old Guinness ad says, not everything in black and white makes sense.
**** (out of 5)
review by Andrew Harrison
'RHYTHM AND STEALTH' - THE TUNES, THE NOISES >
Distant rumble of digitised hip hop, hulking bass thunderclaps and electro shimmers open 'Rhythm And Stealth' like an approaching storm.
Best noise: The hot buzzing of disconnected speakers signals signals that the studio is waking around us.
Is there any other act who can be identified by a bassline? The 'Field demonstrate their low-end theory in the noted Guinness ad rocker.
Best noise: "DUM / Da-Dum DUM / Da DUM-DUM..." You know.
'Chant Of A Poorman'
Leftfield were never straight-ahead beat-caners and 'Chant' transports the listener to their weightless dub zone. Midlands MC Cheshire Cat is at hand with chalice, righteousness and message of resistance.
Best noise: Walls-Of-Jericho beats.
Raw energy boils over in this 4/4 stampede, with caustic acid patterns and splashes of electro FX dive-bombing the rhythm.
Best noise: The none-more-'88 central groove.
Bleak ambience gives way to a dislocated and weirdly whistlable quiet moment - the stealth of the title.
Best noise: Sudden surge of cymbals becomes a treated guitar before the whole track evaporates.
Barnes, Daley and Afrika Bambaataa return to 'Planet Rock' as Leftist beats and Zulu Nation collide for a pre-millennial funkdown.
Best noise: Bam commands, "Let's get electrified"; the 'Field comply.
A phased-to-oblivion b-boy's chill-out tune. Stately, spiny and skewed as a futurist wedding march, it's the album's most out-there moment.
Best noise: Ultra-mutated snare takes the mind to a different space every time it hits.
A built-in dramatic overture and the inner-soul vocals of Nicole Willis. It's the most expressive part of the album. But it feels oddly unfinished, as if Leftfield have tried too hard to avoid the "big moment" trap.
Best noise: Cross-talking microphones and snatches of dub imply that 'Swords' is in touch with another record entirely.
The tyranny of 4/4 is abandoned in favour of self-assigned time-signature for trip-hammer kickdrums.
Best noise: Speaker-to-speaker cross-echoes which confuse the ear.
Neopolitan vocalist Reno contributes voice-as-instrument stylings to this moment of reflection. Kraftwerk beats float rather than drive the tune and a deep-space crescendo ensues.
Best noise: Reno
(review nicked from 'Mixmag', dated September 1999)