Excuse the shell-shocked expressions if you should meet Leftfield, for they have escaped from what could have been an infinite loop. In 1996, a year after the release of their fervently brilliant dub-techno masterpiece, 'Leftism', Neil Barnes and Paul Daley skulked back to the studio with the intention of creating sounds the likes of which no-one had ever heard before.
Trouble was, as hard as they worked, others were pushing ahead just as quickly. Every time they thought they were in front, someone would release a record which promptly had Leftfield believing they weren't.
Demos were duly scrapped and new ones started. Astonishingly, they kept up this build-destruct-rebuild routine for nearly four years. So no wonder they look as if they've aged twice that number of years.
Still, when 'Phat Planet' hit our TV screens, soundtracking the galloping white horses of the latest Guinness ad, it seemed this laborious process had not been in vain. An armour-plated bolt of full-pelt electro-techno frenzy, it roared that Leftfield were back with a vengeance, on target to remind us that, before kitsch beats and disco rehashes, '90s dance music was thunderously wild and heavy; about throbbing sound systems shaking ramshackle basement venues as much as getting dressy in superclub palaces.
If only, because deplorably, 'Rhythm & Stealth' spends as much time engulfed in a morose fog as clubbing itself to death. They crank up an unnervingly skeletal beat feast on 'Double Flash', revisit past bass-tech glories on '6/8 War', but elsewhere, the dark urban sullenness which has always been a factor with this duo, comes too close to all-pervading. No problem when they weave heady dub ambience on 'El Cid'; more so when it dims the sparkle across great swathes of this LP; and particularly burdensome on ideas-starved goth-hopper 'Swords', where Nicole Willis provides the standard-issue snivellingly glum vocals.
Of the other collaborations, 'Dusted' is most noteworthy: curvy synth motifs and a freakish bottom end rumble, over which UK rap wunderkind Roots Manuva gets deliciously gruff. 'Chant Of A Poor Man' with longtime cohort Cheshire Cat sees them tap into trad roots reggae in a manner which sounds ill-fitting here. And the Afrika Bambaataa-starring 'Afrika Shox' summarises the mess Leftfield got into in making this album. Patently at odds with their quest to parade nothing but the cutting edge, it's several sharp hooks short of essential, too much like an inferior copy of the gargantuan 'Inspection (Check One)' from 'Leftism', and hindered no end by the fact that the previously forgotten Bambaataa has graced a raft of mediocre collaborations since this was recorded.
Good things come to those who wait? Well, a few good things, though not enough to warrant the wait. Leftfield might have escaped their infinite loop, but not without a loss of judgement. It wasn't specifically the 'newest' sounds we wanted. It was an album as angry, intense and emotional as 'Leftism'. A task 'Rhythm & Stealth' is up to periodically at best.
6 (out of 10)
review by Andy Crysell (nicked from New Musical Express, dated 18 September 1999)