[13 May 2010]
Distraction gets a bad rap. It’s all right to be distracted sometimes.
dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip is cursed to forever live in the shadow of its seminal, almost-viral first single, the smart and insanely listenable “Thou Shalt Always Kill”. Ever since then, they’ve been playing catch-up to themselves, trying to figure out how to put together a tasteful concoction that includes wit, humor, social consciousness, club beats, and quick-on-the-draw wordplay. That’s a lot to fit into an album, much less every individual song, and much of what they’ve created since “Thou Shalt Always Kill”, whether it be on 2008’s Angles or latest effort The Logic of Chance, suffers from a severe case of trying too hard.
Most of the blame for this falls, perhaps unfairly, on Scroobius Pip, the vocal half of the duo. By setting himself up as an example to be followed in 2007, he invited deeper scrutiny of his lyrics than perhaps even he ever intended. It’s not that “Thou Shalt Always Kill” was a particularly deep song—it was just a list, after all—but it was a passionately delivered list, and for the most part, it just sounded right.
It’s why hearing something like “Get Better”, another advice column from Scroobius Pip aimed at the youth of today, feels so hollow. Rather than rage and exasperation, Pip mostly leaves behind the sense of humor while he offers such supposedly observational nuggets as “I ain’t saying be celibate; go out and have your fun / But there’s plenty you can do without impregnation” and “The system might fail you, but don’t fail yourself”. My kids might not be teenagers yet, but if someone they’re supposed to respect says those kinds of things to them when they are, do you think they’ll listen? No. They’ll roll their eyes.
“Get Better” is no outlier, either—it’s emblematic of a pattern of hollow preaching throughout The Logic of Chance. “Stake a Claim” is a call to take responsibility for your government. “Great Britain” is a shallow examination of violent crime in, yes, Great Britain, with a few interjections of the nation’s positive aspects (example: they have the best music). “Snob” is less a deconstruction of musical snobbery than upper-crust classism, which sounds noble, but is akin to aiming for the proverbial side of a barn.
Still, dan le sac makes it easy to listen to all of this thanks to a uniquely dancefloor-oriented approach to the production side of the equation. That is, he distracts us from the preaching and posturing of Scroobius Pip, turning what could be an utter slog of an album into a rollicking (if ultimately shallow) listen. “Sick Tonight” might be the best beatwork that dan le sac has ever constructed, all buzzes and drum ‘n bass beats that propel the song into rare territory. “Great Britain” doesn’t sound all that different from something Liam Howlett would have constructed in the late ‘90s, “Last Train Home” has a perfectly old-school hip-hop appeal to it that makes Pip’s complaining about late night crowds halfway tolerable, and “Stake a Claim” isn’t too far from something Ministry might have made before they let metal guitars eat their electronic proclivities.
I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t mention the one instance in which Scroobius Pip and dan le sac both get it right: a narrative centered on domestic violence called “Five Minutes”. Told first from the desperate point-of-view of the battered wife who finally decides she can take no more and shoots her husband, and then from the self-loathing point of view of the husband as he watches his wife pull the trigger, it’s a harrowing tale that is neither too precious nor too dramatic. Really, it’s the almost matter-of-fact tone Pip takes throughout that shocks most. Laid on top of a minimal, quietly menacing (with a hint of sorrow) backdrop from dan le sac, it exists as an example of what the two are still capable of at their best. Perhaps more storytelling, and less complaining, would serve Scroobius Pip well.
Someone playing The Logic of Chance could, then, be forgiven for shallow listening. There’s enough going on in dan le sac’s backdrops that paying most of your attention to them is bound to make for a positive listening experience. Unfortunately, the more you listen, the more you have to hear Scroobius Pip, and the less enjoyable the experience will be. While distraction can be a positive, after all, its very nature ensures that its effect won’t last forever.