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Music: Going for the Goldie

3 minute read
Christopher John Farley

British-born producer-performer Goldie helped bring some rhythm back into rock. His brilliant 1995 album, Timeless, was instrumental in founding the genre of drum ‘n’ bass–pulsating, mostly danceable music driven by clubland bass grooves and propulsive percussion. Today’s rock ‘n’ rollers are reveling in the groove, from Prodigy’s brutal electro-punk, across the musical galaxy to the ska-rock band Smash Mouth’s upbeat remake of War’s Why Can’t We Be Friends? Goldie wasn’t the only influence, of course, but the sea change has been profound: if you listen to Yield, the grandfatherly new album by alternative-rock pioneers Pearl Jam, it sounds almost flat-footed next to all the rock-‘n’-roll booty shaking that’s going on elsewhere.

Goldie is back, after three years, with a new double album, titled Saturnz Return (London Records). This time around he has company at the top of the drum-‘n’-bass heap. Another rising young British drum-‘n’-bass star, Roni Size, winner of Britain’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize, has also released a new double album, New Forms (Talkin’ Loud/Mercury). Neither of these ambitious CDs is perfect–their sprawling size and experimental nature invite occasional slip-ups. Nonetheless, both serve up provocative music that stands apart from and above much of what’s out there.

Cutting-edge pop stars in the ’90s are obsessed with keeping that edge; they often steer away from their original genres in search of new forms. After helping launch grunge, Nirvana later denounced it. After helping create trip-hop, the musician Tricky moved on to more unsettling sounds. Goldie’s Timeless is a smart, soothing album, with sweet-soul soundscapes that sweep the listener away. Saturnz Return pushes further and rocks harder; it seeks not only to embrace drum ‘n’ bass but to explore punk and classical music as well. The first song, an hourlong track called Mother, is an excessive, intermittently impressive number, complete with a 30-piece orchestra. Another song, the jagged Temper Temper, features gritty guitar work by Noel Gallagher of Oasis and snarling vocals from Goldie. A subsequent track, Digital, is powered by a nimble guest rap by KRS-One. Still, Goldie is at his best when he plays it smooth: Believe, a jazzy R.-and-B. number with vocals by Diane Charlemagne, is the CD’s finest moment.

On New Forms, Roni Size and his Bristol collective Reprazent look to jazz for sonic inspiration. Drum-‘n’-bass music can be repetitive and droning, with mixes that last too long and rhythms that lack variation. The songs on New Forms, in contrast, display a jazz combo-like virtuosity, twisting, searching for variations on themes, moving in fresh directions after establishing a tone. Roni Size and Goldie have a lot in common: both of their new albums feature songs called Digital, both employ plenty of guest artists, and New Forms’ soulful title track sounds like something from Goldie’s debut. The most precious thing they share, however, is this: a willingness to court disaster.

–By Christopher John Farley

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