Drum-and-bass classic goes under the knife at the hands of its maker and emerges in potent, stripped down form -- but boy, are the fans going to be pissed.
The perennial question with reissues of seminal or would-be seminal albums is simply this: is it worth getting again? Whatever problems fans of Roni Size and Reprazent’s 1997 magnum opus New Forms will have with New Forms 2, at the very least they should appreciate how easy Size has made that choice for them. To be blunt: did you like New Forms for its sprawl? For the austere clarity of its ground-clearing and -establishing overview of drum and bass? For the patient, almost academic way tracks like the nine-minute “Brown Paper Bag” worked themselves through permutations of programming and various forms of techno foreplay before bursting to life? For the way Size and Reprazent seemed to think a full 140 minutes was necessary to sum up and exemplify an entire genre (or at least one vision of that genre) in one album? Then chances are New Forms 2 will seem at best like a woeful miscalculation to you, at worst like a crass grab for money, attention, and prestige by someone who has been reduced to going back to and messing with his classic work.
Those listeners who loved New Forms when it was released, and still love it now, might hear in New Forms 2 an artist who fundamentally misapprehends his own appeal. Size has decided to give the vast majority of these tracks a “new coat of armor” (seemingly on his own, if you look at the new production credits), which involves slashing both the track listing and the length of individual songs. Was “Mad Cat” your favourite track, or “Watching Windows”, or “Ballet Dance”? Did you enjoy having two versions of “Share the Fall”? Do you prefer “Let’s Get It On” as a seven-minute track rather than a less-than-two-minute interlude? Tough.
Size has reduced the heart of this new New Forms down to 72 minutes from the original 140; he’s dropped an entire disc’s worth of music, and what’s still here, he’s slashed to the bone. “Brown Paper Bag” is now under four minutes long (shorter than the old single edit!), and most tracks have shed at least a minute or two from their old selves. More than that, Size has beefed the pieces up, made them lusher. He claims that the first New Forms was limited by technology, and he’s seeing what he can do with these tracks using what he can get his hands on in 2009, but making the horns and string parts of “Railings” present from the very first, and in general making these songs less sparse is, again, likely to piss off the faithful. It comes down to whether the sound of the original New Forms struck you as an aesthetic choice and an aesthetic virtue, or just something contingent about the album.
So New Forms 2 seems to be almost designed to irk the faithful, but the good news for them is that the original New Forms is still in print, and no one seems to be trying to replace it. Nothing Size does now can affect New Forms, or the love people have for it. And for those coming to the his work for the first time, this new version arguably offers something more appealing than his forebodingly long, often intensely formal, and at times almost mathematical landmark album. If instead of a hardened d’n’b acolyte, you’re someone who used to see the “Brown Paper Bag” video on TV, and you grooved to the endlessly elastic bassline and the off-kilter sway of the beat, it’s hard to imagine that the cunningly edited version found here won’t satisfy.
When you play New Forms 2, it feels at times as if the old version of the album is the kind of character-building exercise which may be good for you, but doesn’t zero in on your pleasure centers as unerringly as these edits do. I mean, losing a minute or two from “Digital”, “Heroes”, and “Share the Fall” doesn’t really change the nature of the songs, and tracks like “Matter of Fact” and “Down” still have the air of being as much exhibitions of what you can do with this sound as they are songs in any conventional sense. For the casual or new listener, it’s hard not to recommend New Forms 2 over the original, simply because it’s a lot easier to digest in one sitting, and it doesn’t take as long to get to the good bits.
The fan’s point, of course, would be that New Forms was pretty much just good bits, and listening to essentially part of it like this is robbing yourself of part of the pleasure of the album, and that’s a fair argument. It really does come down to how familiar you are with the original album, and whether the duration of the original New Forms seems like a bonus or a burden to you. The four new tracks Size has shoved into New Forms 2 don’t make any great argument themselves for the new version. “Heart to Heart” and “Less Is More” make for a decent run in the middle of the album, but they aren’t any more distinguished than the other instrumental material Size has retained (or, honestly, the tracks he dropped). And “Don’t Hold Back” is mainly an avenue for Dynamite MC to have the spotlight again. Least essential is the live “Encore”, which seems to mainly be included so that Size can prove people still like him.
Given the incredibly divisive nature of what he’s done with New Forms 2, he may need the reassurance, but as a beginner’s guide to his music, the album is hard to fault. And if you’re not already used to the starker airs and extended versions of the original New Forms, you may even prefer this take.