Album reviews: The Prodigy | Neneh Cherry | Rosanne Cash | Zapp
The Prodigy: No Tourists (Take Me to the Hospital) ***
Neneh Cherry: Broken Politics (Smalltown Supersound) ****
Rosanne Cash: She Remembers Everything (Blue Note Records) ***
Zapp: Zapp VII: Roger & Friends (Leopard Records) ****
While all around them, 90s rave culture is repurposed for its ageing adherents as convivial orchestral tributes such as Hacienda Classical or the Ibiza Prom, The Prodigy refuse to grow up and calm down. Their seventh album, No Tourists, has been conceived with their ferocious live show in mind and delivers a set of tooled-up tracks ready for kick-off.
The downside, though, is that these hopped-up, cantankerous eternal teenagers – beatmaster Liam Howlett and his feral lieutenants Keith Flint and rapper Maxim – demonstrate no progression on what is essentially a remix of previous, superior efforts. The sirens, pitchshifting bass, screaming diva vocal breaks and samples of breaking glass on NeedSome1 could have been lifted off their 1994 breakthrough Music For The Jilted Generation.
Likewise, the punk urgency of Light Up The Sky with its revving synths and pugnacious vocals and the jabbering orgiastic old school rave of We Live Forever keep up the usual attention deficit onslaught.
Ironically, the album title is an incitement to go off-piste so at least the epic title track changes the record slightly with portentous strings packing the heft of a Hollywood blockbuster soundtrack.
A couple of guest appearances – from industrial hip-hop duo Ho99o9 on Fight Fire with Fire and punky singer/songwriter Barns Courtney on Give Me A Signal – stir the pot only slightly, while Flint rouses the mob on Champions of London with his John Lydonesque howl of “civil unrest, grab the bulletproof vest” though, even here, what starts out as aggressive tech metal with some serious rock drumming defaults to turbo-charged hardcore rave before the first minute is out.
Despite the title of her latest album, Neneh Cherry is not proselytising on Broken Politics, offering more a sensitive meditation on the world around her, from fake news (Faster Than The Truth) to gun crime (Shot Gun Shack) to reproductive rights (Black Monday) over a delicate palette of chiming percussion from producer Kieran Hebden, aka electronica artist Four Tet, and subtle dub vibrations courtesy of Massive Attack’s 3D.
It’s all so elegantly understated that the steel drums, whooshing synth effects and cool Ornette Coleman sax sample of Natural Skin Deep is what must pass for sonic disruption. If Björk hadn’t all but abandoned pop music over the last couple of decades, she might still make a sound as seductive as this.
Rosanne Cash is also trading in subtle rumination, figuring her place in the personal and wider realm on She Remembers Everything. The album begins and ends with quiet storms co-written with T Bone Burnett and Lera Lynn, which place Cash’s voice relatively low in the mix, reverberating on a par with the sonorous twang of guitar. Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson co-write and guest on 8 Gods of Harlem, a straightforward roots narrative number on the devastation of street violence, but mostly Cash writes alone or with husband John Leventhal, paying tribute to her parents, Johnny and Vivian Cash, on Everyone But Me and chewing on the divide between sexes on country folk ballad The Undiscovered Country.
Veteran electro funk pioneers Zapp, formed by the Troutman brothers in late 70s Ohio and hailed for their signature use of talkbox vocal effects, were early contemporaries of Prince and subsequently sampled throughout hip-hop by the likes of Public Enemy and Snoop Dogg.
The latter’s unmistakeable silky tones duet with an old demo from the late Roger Troutman on the juicy jazz funk of Red & Dollars. Roger & Friends’ other friends include legendary bassist Bootsy Collins, who produced Zapp’s debut album almost 40 years ago, rapper Kurupt and modern funkateer Mayor Hawthorne, who are all sympathetic collaborators on a satisfying album aimed predominantly at the dancefloor. - Fiona Shepherd
The Scene of the Crime: Colin Currie & Håkan Hardenberger (Colin Currie Records) *****
The secret of any successful duo boils down to a chemistry that is simultaneously challenging and symbiotic. The protagonists here are Scots-born percussionist Colin Currie and Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, and the performances are visceral and electrifying. André Jolivet’s multicoloured Heptade, an imaginative exploration of this quirky instrumental combination, unfolds like a mesmerising theatrical double act, a seamless interchange between Currie’s rhythm play and Hardenberger’s fluid virtuosity amplified by a generous organic sharing of musical thoughts. Joe Duddell’s Catch is framed by the minimalist energy of its outer movements, with a gorgeously pensive central one at its heart. Daniel Börtz’s Dialogo 4 – Ricordo transports us into a twilight zone of muffled timbres and ethereal detachment, a sound world shared initially by Brett Dean’s …the scene of the crime… until it breaks into a wild jazz-infused frenzy.
Kinnaris Quintet: Free One (Own Label) *****
This utterly convincing debut recording features the triple fiddles of Laura Wilkie, Fiona MacAskill and Aileen Reid Gobbi intertwining and harmonising over the intense thrum of Laura-Beth Salter’s mandolin and Jen Butterworth’s guitar. Each a seasoned musician her own right, together they generate beguiling shifts of style, timbre and tempo, as in the opening tune pairing, which develops from a leisurely measure to Shooglenifty-esque levels of high energy. The pulsing of Fisherman in the Wardrobe is followed by a neat retreat march, Mary Binnie, auld-farrant sounding but composed by Wilkie, as is the subsequent Toria’s 50th set, which works up a dizzying spin, with wordless vocals adding to the background harmonies. Salter’s mandolin ticks and chimes pastoral murmurs in June’s Garden, while the bluegrassy Saltspring set sees richly drifting fiddle harmonies borne off by spry mandolin and guitar work. The whole thing bursts with zest and craft.