[20 June 2003]
Drum ‘n’ bass as a genre is expansive to say the least. The spectrum stretches from the dark and brooding sci-fi esque sound, explored to great success by Ed Rush and Optical and Bad Company, and shifts dramatically to the more melodic and soulful as seen via Peshay and DJ Marky. Indeed, it seems that melody seems to be winning the battle for the punters as the appealing blend of upfront beats and strong sense of a tune is vastly more appetising than the onslaught of sound purveyed by the bass heavy and exclusively dance floor friendly dark d ‘n’ b crews.
Enter Hospital Records who have been at the forefront of releasing innovative, soulful drum ‘n’ bass and beats for five years now. Two of their most popular compilations that showcase the talents signed to the label are on the Out Patients and Plastic Surgery series and indicate their desire as a label to be seen as an innovator in a genre that has in the past struggled due to stagnation.
London Elektricity who were once seen as eccentric for their uplifting funk-centric sound have returned with their second album that couldn’t be further from the noisy nihilism at the opposite end of the drum ‘n’ bass scale. Consequently, Billion Dollar Gravy should be far more appealing for the first-time drum ‘n’ bass listener.
After the departure of Chris Goss, it has been up to Tony Colman to present his sophomore set that he has constructed with some style. Also at his side is the Jungle Drummer who provides significant weight to the organic style of London Elektricity and is complimented admirably by Chicago hero Robert Owens and London Elektricity stalwart Liane Carrol on vocals.
So is Billion Dollar Gravy a record that breathes further life into the melodic drum ‘n’ bass genre? The simple answer is yes. As London Elektricity’s second album, Pull the Plug being the first, it stands up as generally being a unique and surprising drum ‘n’ bass excursion guided by the vocal talents of Robert Owens. The heavy funk of the title track sets the trend for tuneful dance music that could easily be just as effective on the dance floor as in the bedroom.
The standout tracks are “Different Drum” and “Syncopated City”. “Different Drum” combines a brilliant piano riff with gospel style vocals providing a truly uplifting experience. The vocal skills of Robert Owens are showcased on this track and are complimented by subtle use of synth alongside lush strings and appropriate guitar licks. “Syncopated City” is even more expressive in its use of strings and acid-jazz-esque harmonising of vocals. “Syncopated City” is ultimately very catchy and seems to blur the lines of an already elastic drum ‘n’ bass genre further still.
Other highlights include “Fast Soul Music” with its spiky strings and organic marimbas maintaining the interest. Also of note, and certainly an appealing track due to its depth, is “Main Ingredient” with vocal duties supplied by long standing London Elektricity collaborator Liane Carrol. It is essentially a very well structured track with proper verses and choruses. This is very striking and unique for the drum ‘n’ bass genre and can only serve to drive this form of music towards more well deserved public attention.
Sadly, “Billion Dollar Gravy” is not quite the perfect set of tracks it could have been. Even the mighty London Elektricity have included tracks that are not essentially that exciting or inspiring to say the least. “Harlesden” is one such example as it seems to go through the motions and lay down rather uninteresting and uninspiring samples and beats. Also “Born to Synthesise”, a down tempo acid-jazz excursion, really fails to capture the imagination and it sounds remarkably out of place on the album that tends to avoid such coffee-table fodder.
The verdict is quite unequivocal. If you have never listened to any drum ‘n’ bass before, I strongly recommend you make Billion Dollar Gravy your first step into the genre. There are some genuine gems here that shouldn’t be cast aside as simply disposable dance dross. I for one hope the soulful and melodic trend that has been thriving in drum ‘n’ bass for a couple of years now will continue without being once again overtaken by some hellish desire for listeners to return to the senseless “darkness” of tuneless rubbish. Billion Dollar Gravy is a record that can only enhance your summer and your record collection as a whole.