[6 July 2004]
This reviewer detests the lazy pseudo-genre of lukewarm, lowest common denominator ersatz-jazz tinkling that is “chillout”. This is not to say that this reviewer does not enjoy, or has not previously enjoyed, relaxing whilst listening to downbeat music of a melodious and perhaps cinematic nature. In fact, this reviewer holds such albums of soulful bliss as Massive Attack’s Blue Lines or Air’s Moon Safari in the innermost chambers of his huge heart. Indeed, it is these very opuses that spark the contempt in his mighty breast for all the pale imitations herded into no-life-style compilations. This reviewer beheld those faddish hodgepodges, tacked together from the dregs of Mediterranean bathwater and gutless classical music, and verily, he was wrath.
This reviewer adored the first offerings of the brothers Lee, better known as Faze Action. Classics like their “Original Disco Motion” melded the leaping strings and general fun of disco with the more robust dance floor drive and deeper, sparkling production of house, liberally suffused with African or Latin flavours. This sympathetic blending of the old and the new, of Robin Lee’s degree in classical composition at Goldsmiths College in England and his brother Simon’s collection of funk, rare groove and New York disco, this was gold. This reviewer did not regret the absence of songs or indeed lyrics from their creations, although he did chant along with their wonderful remix of Serge Gainsbourg’s “La-bas c’est naturel” (...la-bas au Keeeeenya) during summer nights past.
To claim, then, that this reviewer was surprised at the new direction taken by Broad Souls, the brothers’ first effort in half a decade, would be to attempt the kindest understatement of the year so far. Gone are the irresistible rhythms of yore, replaced by something much more subtle, nay, muted. In their place are 10 tracks (and indeed, nine songs) that radiate an alluring glow of psychedelic soul, placid dub, cool strings, autumn horns, folk, and gospel. This reviewer bristles.
And yet the savage best cannot deny the soothing artistry of these dulcet tones. The hitherto virtually unknown Andre Espeut is the owner of the velvet pipes on display, and what a marvellous find he is. His voice is deep, dark, and cool, as smooth a thing as will carry the full weight of aching sincerity whilst leaping effortlessly when required. The name Terry Callier comes to mind, and indeed Espeut made good on his grounding in gospel to sing on the great man’s last album. There are also tinges of Seal about him; and indeed to deny that the lyrics he so mellifluously alights on are more than adequate easy-listening rhymes would be fatuous. Yet they fit the compositions so perfectly, and are sung with such feeling and lightness of touch, that this genuinely does not matter. This reviewer is as appalled by this concept as he is helpless to deny, for the first time in his experience, its truth.
Neither does it matter that the album’s rousing choruses and emotive orchestration both fail to impinge upon the brain as either discrete tunes, or indeed even songs. Rather, its scope fuses into one rolling landscape, or warm sunbeam—impossible to store, but joyous to experience. Musical signposts on these pleasant vales include opener “We Don’t Know How”‘s anthemic backing vocals, straight off a Rotary Connection song, the warm French-sounding Rhodes on “Three Foot High” and the chillier David Axelrod jazz soundscape of “Vigilante Song”, topped off with some Superfly flute and Espeut’s haunting calm as he sings “I feel no fear / ‘Cos I’m/ The darkest thing around”. Quite what is being discussed on the kind-yet-cruel “God Inside” is something of a mystery, whilst “Hear My Prayer”, the subdued folk spiritual that follows it and ends the LP, will have you restarting the album to shrug off its becalming pull. And thus taking in the whole thing again…
This reviewer is currently horizontal in a rug-like sprawl, his aches and pains being massaged away as Broad Souls walks all over his now-feeble resistance. The air is suffused with essence of lotus, and hints of “Strawberry Letter 23”. Whether this will join the classics or not, it has timeless qualities that make his surrender all the sweeter.