Saturday, 28 January 2012

Ska-ky out of her comfort zone

I love rock. I love ska. I like metal and glamrock, I listen to everything from indie-rock to hair metal, so when I was asked to review a drum and bass album, the results may not quite be as expected...

I am sceptical about Chaseand Status’ second album. Their first, MoreThan Alot, won several prizes onthe drum and bass scene, from Best Album to Best Track and Best Video, but it seemed too edgy, with too much of a die-hard, pure drum and bass following for the average mere mortal. For this reason, No More Idols was the first Chase and Status album I’ve listened to, and far from being hesitant, I was actually quite curious. 
With its now iconic Bulldog image album cover, with thatheavy acid-yellow lettering, No More Idols promised more hard and fast,Prodigy-esque anthems. What it delivered was a far more ever reaching taste ofeverything from drum and bass to dubstep, to reggae infused prog rock with anicy shot of 90s trance. Nothing about this album was done by halves, and evenif there is a suspicious amount of appearances from other popular artists (somewould say in an attempt to break into the mainstream) there is more than enoughto justify an almighty progression of Chase and Status’ sound.

No More Idols kicks off with No Problem; a snaking, synth-led tune with some surprising elements - a slightly awkward Jamaican vocal (have you ever heard "it's no problem for me, but it's a problem for you" said in such a polite manner?) and a smattering of African tribal drums. By the time you've heard Fire In Your Eyes (held up by Maverick Sabre) and the distinctly flat Let You Go (which relies completely on Mali's rasping vocals to bring this stale dance tune to life) you think you have this album sussed - it's bringing a bit more dubstep to Prodigy's tried and tested raver anthems, squeezing their formula into a more modern setting, which a heavy dose of talented feature artists.

Then you hear Blind Faith. I spent five minutes and 49 seconds of my life watching the impressively brave video - a home-grown, camcorder-filled documentary of the 90s rave scene. Labelled "groundbreaking," this song and video did not disappoint; it has the youth of the UK chorusing "TUUUUUNE!" every time the iconic "sweeeeeet, sensation" main line filled Radio 1's airwaves (which, let's be honest, was an awful lot.) Indeed, one of the few flaws of this song was the fact that it was horrendously overplayed on mainstream radios... a fate that did not befall the next standout track.

The climax of No More Idols comes during Fool Yourself and Hypest Hype. Plan B's mincing vocals contrast with the thrashing beats and angry chanting of "you can only fool yourself for so long" - it's not difficult to forget the lyrics of this track, as this is the only line. You get the impression that this track would be brilliant live, a real crowd-pleaser, as is Hypest Hype. In name as in nature, this track received a lot of coverage from music press, due to the fact that included samples from the Doors "Been Down So Long" and vocals from Tempah T - a sumise that would put most people off. However, this is in the minority of tracks where the vocals are carefully matched and bring something new to the song, without merely propping it up - although Prodigy has had this covered for about 100 years.

Unfortunately, this is most definitely the peak of the album. Hitz features Tinie Tempah, and tries painfully hard to be alternative and gritty; the video shows shots of grimy council flats, rasta-style graffitti and red-lensed, wild-eyed shots of gangly men with huge pupils and baseball caps. Heavy follows, with the help of Dizzee Rascal, overdosing on dubstep and grinding into one long noise. The lyrics also take a turn for the worse, with deep, meaningful lines such as "there aint no category, I'll just do ya."

Thus the album progresses, in a blur of filler tracks like Brixton Briefcase and the dreary effort from indie rockers White Lies, Embrace. Although these provide a welcome respite from the constant thrash and thump (apart from the technically brilliant Hocus Pocus, which alas lacks the soul and passion of other tracks) they really are nothing to write home about, with the drum and bass duo failing to showcase their featured artists vocals, and instead synthing over them.

The album ends on the track that bought Chase and Status their most mainstream success - End Credits. Plan B's silky, soulful vocal carries the wistful undercurrent throughout the song, with the relatively tame backbeats holding back to showcase the tender string section, striking a chord with every rebellious teenager or troubled twenty-something - proof indeed that No More Idols is an anthemic album for the youth, bringing technical brilliance to the Prodigy's passionate blueprint, bringing drum and bass bang up to date, and showing flashes (sometimes cunningly disguised as noise) of true talent.

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