Second highly-anticipated album from the dance pioneers
RHYTHM And Stealth is the first we’ve heard from Leftfield since their debut LP, Leftism, back in 1995. Leftism was a genre-bashing landmark in contemporary music, an outstanding mix of house, dub and techno, and it seems the delay in finishing its follow-up has been to do with the way its success spiralled out of control, becoming something of an albatross around their neck. How could they follow it? After all, it’s impossible to improve on greatness. Isn’t it?
Then, a few months back, tantalising snippets of new material began to emerge: the distorted pounding drum intro to "Phat Planet" appeared on a Guinness TV ad, and the electronic torch song, "Swords", featuring the spine-tingling vocals of former Curtis Mayfield collaborator Nicole Willis, made its way onto the soundtrack for Doug Liman’s film, Go, last month. The Leftfield sound – that precise, pristine production – seemed gloriously intact.
The opener, "Dusted", is prime Leftfield: slow-motion, futuristic hip hop, with a dark, mischievously sexy rap from Roots Manuva. The sound is faultless. It’s an amazing start, and you wish the album maintained such a high standard throughout, but, sadly, there’s too much here that doesn’t sound unique, special enough. "Phat Planet" and "Double Flash" are wild, relentlessly aggressive techno stomps, sure, but frankly they just sound like AN Other techno records.
Perhaps conversely, Leftfield are at their best when they’re not concerned with filling the dancefloor. There’s the mutant electro funk of "Afrika Shox", with Afrika Bambaataa. "Chant Of The Poorman" is mesmerising, dub hip hop, all slow-burning beats and post-millennial electronica. "El Cid" is a beautiful, beatless masterpiece, with swathes of gentle keyboards lapping leisurely against each other. The brilliantly named "Dub Gussett" is as close to epitomising the idea of rhythm and stealth as it gets, weaving subtle cadences across tightly coiled beats.
The album’s undoubted stand-out moment is "Swords". It opens with sweeping, Vangelis-like keyboards, before slipping into some dark, faintly seedy underworld, all strung-out, Nicole Willis’ melancholic voice elegantly detached, fed through some distortion while gentle electronic pulses gradually gather momentum, building into fast, razor-sharp beats. It’s epic.
Certainly, there is an awful lot to admire here. Particularly the production quality, which seems to push the envelope all the way. But then, you’d expect such a feat from artists of Leftfield’s calibre. What you don’t perhaps expect are the dull moments: "6/8 War", which is just a clash of beats and bass with a few special effects over the top. You expect more.
There isn’t the focus here you’d like; the album should finish with "Swords", but instead peters out over another two tracks, and you can’t help wondering why.
*** (out of 5)
review by Micahel Bonner (nicked from 'Uncut', dated October 1999)