I Was Born Two Weeks Late and I've Had a Heck of a Time Catching Up
Timing has never been a strong suit for former club promoter Barry Ashworth’s Dub Pistols. The West London collaboration’s full-length debut Point Blank hit 1998 with all the big beat you could handle. Meanwhile, the genre was sounding its death gurgle. The record still ranks as a classic, but its status would surely be higher had it been released a couple years previous. Still, unlike Hardknox, they managed to mostly avoid the backlash by touring steadily and developing material for their sophomore record on the road.
Six Million Ways to Live saw them take on a much more politically insightful persona, questioning the hydra heads of the military industrial complex that sways Britain and dominates the floundering US economy. Unfortunately, just as the album was completed, September 11th happened and the release date got pushed back a bit. In the words of bassist Jason O’Bryan, “It seemed like almost every track on here could refer to 9/11.” It eventually saw release later in 2001, and indeed it was their best work to date, but the mood was a little tainted. Granted, time has since proven its messages imperative, but the tense circumstances surrounding it seemed to throw hesitation into their creative process. They would not release another album for six years.
While Six Million was one of the many unintended victims of 9/11 (along with the Coup and the Strokes’ “New York City Cops”), its mix of moody, party fuelled breaks and classic reggae was spot on for its time. “Problem Is” has since become a defining single of the group, and it allowed Ashworth to work with his childhood hero Terry Hall of the Specials. Speakers and Tweeters made it out in Europe in the latter stages of 2007, and North America in early 2008 care of Defend. The timing still seems a bit off to me. Considering the lengthy gap, Tweeters comes off as part two of Six Million Ways, with Rodney P bringing a whole lot of raga and Terry Hall helping to turn several tracks into an overproduced version of his legendary self (noting the superfluous cover of his 1979 chart topper “Gangsters”).
There are a couple tracks here worthy of a second look. “Speed of Light” opens the album on its highest note. Blade proves his tight rhymes, flowing through the galaxy on another level, to be sorely under used. Matching his rant on floating through space, the unassuming hip-hop beat—with ethereal vocals, astronaut chatter, and heavily effected strings and horns—doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It’s a liquid process. The title track has a lot going for it as well. For that, the hip-hop beat is bolstered by a funk guitar and satellite beeps scratched like Danny Breaks. Lyrically, it is a workable exploration of mainstream persecution, more or less shaping up as a Head’s favorite club track.
“Mach 10” is another assured anthem, but the beat is more old-school piano driven Blackstreet styley, made transcendent by a wide number of European folk and symphonic samples. “Stronger” plays the dub-tronic card to perfection. The stabbing waka guitar, harmonica, and space ship squeals compliment a story of going for gold without losing yourself. The finale “Gave You Time” symmetrically ends the LP on a similar feel to “Speed of Light” under the bliss of an upright bass, acoustic guitar, light piano, and strings just out of reach.
However, a good chunk of the tracklisting borders on banality. Covers of the Stranglers’ “Peaches”, the Specials’ “Gangsters”, and Blondie’s “Rapture” are all quite unnecessary. “Cruise Control” is an average attempt as vintage hip-hop and “Open” is a cheese ball funk-disco throwback with a stupid opening sample that whines there are no women who are good people inside. You know, if you’re a complete douchebag and you exude douchebaggery, you’ll only attract other douchebags. It’s not the fault of humanity. Try looking within yourself first whoever you are, but I digress. Basically, there’s a whole lot of lukewarm reggae and ska grave digging going on. Ten years ago, Speakers and Tweeters would have been great, but it just doesn’t feel right now. This doesn’t really sound like a 21st century record.