Goldie returns after a near decade absence with the lengthy double-album The Journey Man.
Goldie created his new album The Journey Man with history in mind. Deliberately working with the size and scale of his breakout double-album debut Timeless, The Journey Man is meant to be a culmination of Goldie’s musical career thus far. A self-made “Greatest Hits” collection that looks into the past but doesn’t use old songs, instead touching on all the sonic threads that have run through his work thus far and creating new sounds with them.
Timeless (1995), through its ambition and artistry, made Goldie a star and a pivotal figure on the UK electronic scene, bring jungle and drum 'n' bass to the mainstream. His music occupied a space where convergent styles could collide into a new whole. Bringing club-ready percussion to music that was both harmonically tight and well written, it satisfied people that needed to dance as well as more technical-minded IDM fans. But the special thing that put Goldie over the edge and is likely responsible for his success is the inherent soulfulness of his music. Influenced by R&B and hip-hop, Goldie was (and still is) able to make a kind of secular spiritual music the speaks to the humanity encased in otherwise hard-edged genres, giving his music an unlikely brightness and sheen.
And, listening to The Journey Man, some of these elements of Goldie’s are still present. The album from end to end is characterized by clean, pristine production that faithfully renders each element (whether it be a vocal, a synth, or percussion) on a widescreen canvas. Goldie shifts styles throughout the album as well, going from his classic sounding soulful drum 'n' bass to some surprising detours into blues structures and jazzy textures.
At its best, The Journey Man has moments that are competitive with Goldie’s past highlights, like on “Prism” which hearkens back to his refined drum and bass sound, as well as "Tu Viens Avec Moi” and “The Ballad Celeste” which are aching takes on Stevie Wonder-influenced soul. “Tu Viens Avec Moi” features a wandering harmonica throughout that strikes a unique instrumental balance with the rest of the track, tying analog and digital threads together uniquely. “The Ballad Celeste” is sumptuous with Ibiza-type warmth and ends with a giggling child. In these songs we get a clear indication of the end of Goldie’s Journey -- we see that he’s come to a place of emotional wholeness. But we lack any implication of the rest of this journey. What did Goldie get through to be here?
Goldie’s life followed a quintessential rock-star timeline: hard work in the underground, a mainstream breakthrough, celebrity, drugs and sex, then the inevitable downturn. It’s fantastic that he’s been able to center himself and return to making music this ambitious, but The Journey Man seems to rest on its laurels too often to make a large impression. There’s little sense of conflict in this music and very little indication of any confessional quality that conveys any low points or misgivings that Goldie might have had along the way. And while it may not be his prerogative to make something so on the nose, the music contained here is too often simply pleasing without a rousing emotional component, any kind of catharsis (even through just sonics) is still sorely missing.
Moreover there is little innovation within these sounds: there isn’t a song on here that feels like it couldn’t have come out in the past decade or so. The album's continual use of clattering, busy beats with mellifluous synths and vocals can be found in so many place as well--just turn on the radio. The vocalists themselves are largely hit or miss, charting indistinct and anodyne readings of songs that don't intend to engage the listener as much as pass through them. So are almost perplexingly misguided, like "Mountain" or "Castaway", which lack the craft and technique that the rest of the vocal takes do.
In numerous interviews, Goldie has stated that this is only the first of many releases that he’s planning to undertake. If anything, one hopes he Goldie will engage with the present -- and all the ways that electronic music has morphed since 1995 -- for the next one, rather than simply reckoning with his own legacy. Maybe this is a necessary gesture for him in order to progress forward. Only time will tell.