Rudimental need to have greater ambitions than just performing with important guests. They need to find something to say.
Rudimental pull in the big name guest stars on their second studio album, We the Generation. The electronic producers have pulled in everyone from multimillion-selling pop star Ed Sheehan to grime king Dizzee Rascal, to the R&B legend Bobby Womack (now deceased) and many others on Rudimental’s new disc. The result, not surprisingly, is a mixed bag. Some of the sessions operate well as the mix of sounds work to showcase the musician’s talents, while other songs come off as less than inspired. As a whole, the record disappoints compared to the promise of 2013's Home. It’s what is commonly referred to as a sophomore slump.
That said, there are some notable performances here, especially by the three aforementioned guest stars. Sheeran’s ode to the power of drugs “Bloodstream” gets reworked here and Rudimental do a good job of menacingly evoking the power of addiction in response to Sheeran’s vulnerable vocals. However, the other Sheeran cut, “Lay It All on Me”, comes off as a by-the-numbers dance track, complete with monotonous hand clapping.
Anne Marie (with the help of Dizzee Rascal) makes "Love Ain't Just a Word” into a powerful statement of commitment while the pulsating rhythms of Rudimental keep the beat incessantly flowing to reinforce the potency of the declared feelings. The song simply moves. Meanwhile, Womack’s voice turns “New Day Coming” into something grander than the limitations of drum ‘n’ bass suggest. The soul singer makes one wish Rudimental would just stop playing and let the man’s vocals be heard unimpeded. The fact that the late Womack preached about the promise of the future is especially poignant in light of real-life events.
Despite Rudimental’s non-stop performances, several of the songs drag, such as “Treading on Water” (featuring Sinead Harnett and Will Heard) “Never Let You Go" (with Foy Vance), and Too Cool (which showcases Ella Eyre). The guest vocalists do a decent job but are impeded by the incessant and too often unimaginative accompaniment of the band. The material also comes off as characterless and somewhat dull despite the pace and intensity of the band and the vocalists.
Mahalia joins Rudimental on the title song. “We the Generation” succeeds because the words and music complement each other well. The anthemic quality of the song allows Mahalia to pounce on each word while the instrumentation captures the passion of belonging to something larger than the self, to a community. The same is true of “Breathe” with Lianne La Havas. She proclaims the importance of being part of a group, of the people, while still retaining one’s personal identity. Rudimental does a good job of giving La Havas space to respire without ever letting the music drag.
We the Generation ends with roots reggae hero Max Romeo and others complaining about the “system” that keeps us all down. Rudimental employ Jamaican beats to full effect because of its inherently rebellious connotations. However, the song does not offer a call to revolution as much as an acceptance of being true to oneself. That’s no way to change the world, and if the Rudimental generation wants to do more than be commercially significant, the band needs to have greater ambitions than just performing with important guests. It needs to find something to say other than we are all in this world together.