[15 May 2006]
It seems there’s a scene for which London Elektricity represents a small-scale revolution: drum & bass without the crutch of the computer, but including a live jazz singer, and—as the press material describes it—“soul sped up.” To the rest of us, London Elektricity just sounds like that regular bom-bom-bom, the distinctive rhythm of drum & bass.
The story is that London Elektricity started making music as a duo, Tony Colman and Chris Goss, in 1996. In 1999 they released their debut album, Pull the Plug, which was drum & bass, pure and simple: just two guys and their laptops doing it up. Goss left to run Hospital Records, which the two had set up to release their debut, but Colman kept with the group, and put out the well-received Billion $ Gravy. The line at the time seemed to be accessibility without sacrificing the high-energy sonics that makes drum & bass an enjoyable, if not particularly inventive, genre.
Power Ballads, London Elektricity’s third album, parlays the band’s experience touring as a live act (No computers onstage! Woo!) into a smoother, more cohesive product, and the main reason is the increased presence of the full-blooded female vocalist, Lianne Carroll. Hearing the two-time winner of the BBC Jazz Award vocalist of the year on “Out Of This World”, “I Don’t Understand”, and “Remember the Future” feels just the way a female vocalist singing this kind of music should: smooth, powerful, sexy, energetic.
“I Don’t Understand” is a great example of London Elektricity’s self-proclaimed distinguishing feature: “soul sped-up.” It’s a strong song, the chorus backed up exclamation-point-wise with hitting brass; all the while slithering electronics shimmer back and forth beneath. The claim doesn’t hold up for the majority of the album, though, which veers between mildly interesting and obviously time-filling material. “Hanging Rock”, with its “Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time” sample, is one example of the latter, with little to prevent it from fading into the background.
“The Strangest Secret in the World” is an expansive and exuberant fast dance classic, with a jazzy vocal chorus, strings, and a funky, catchy bass line. “Out of This World” has a great, syncopated chorus that weaves in to and out of key, while the drums beat on. But the quality of the disc’s first half unfortunately wanes midway through, and tracks like “The Mustard Song” and “Pussy Galore” fail to leave much of an impression.
I don’t think it’s London Elektricity itself that’s limiting my appreciation for Power Ballads; it may be the whole breakbeat/drum & bass genre. It seems to me all you have to do to create a successful single in this style is start with a pretty chord progression played out on the keyboards and satisfyingly syncopated, lay it over a driving, sped-up techno beat (not too hard though), and repeat. It’s the commercial rap of dance music, with all of the attitude, none of the depth.
Still, sometimes drum & bass can be undeniably fun to listen to. London Elektricity, though it cannot always avoid the limitations of the genre, are making hearty drum & bass music with infinitely more soul than Pendulum or Audio Bullys. It shines through most clearly on the tracks to which Carroll contributes her powerful voice; in those moments, though never quite reaching the tenderness of a ballad, the album at least fulfils the first descriptor in its title.