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Hard Hands
(Melody Maker 1999)

NAHH drop all that "eagerly awaited" shit right now. For a start "Leftism" never occupied the centrality to dance music crits thought it did. Even as part of the first wave of LP-dance it was eclipsed by Underworld, musically outreached by Lionrock, and as for all that progressive Guerilla sheeyit Leftfield affiliated themselves with, I can't think of a musical genre less referred to since.

What's weird and wonderful about "Rhythm And Stealth" is how quickly it shakes off any expectations that might shackle it; how far Neil Barnes and Paul Daley are willing to veer from the blueprint; how frabjously f***ing fresh much of this sounds. If that alienates some, there's no reason it shouldn't enrapture the rest of us: this is that rare thing - a band with a successful first album unwilling to repeat themselves on the second. It's a retreat, but a liberating one; a step back from the limelight to the lab. And they've backed themselves into a belligerent backlot of freedom-through-resistance that no one could've predicted.

Cos this is dark, downered shit: opener "Dusted" has the good sense to unleash Roots Manuva on the mic and jack him up on slippery digi-funk. Already the vibe is tougher than you bargained for; "Phat Planet" may be overtaken by Guinness imagery, but it's still monstrously effective as a sheer brute statement of thug intent. "Chant Of A Poor Man" takes dub back to pure On-U anti-trance fury, "Double Flash" is the kind of track Jeff Mills stopped making years ago and is no less balefully mind-blowing for it - a mad construction of bleeps and beats stuck revving in the mud and then shredding all in its path. After so much attack, "El Cid" is an exhausted f***ed-out gasp: six minutes of narcotic porn-funk that Nightmares On Wax would be proud of. "Afrika Shox" isn't electro, it's motorik Kraftwerk vocoded into funky life, Numanoid synths filling every available airpocket: all this whiteness crushed against Bambaataa's Zulu nation pro-afro madness with the kind of wilful cultural hooliganism that makes you squeal.

Throughout "Rhythm And Stealth" the realisation is that the path of most resistance is the most rewarding; the less prettified Leftfield get, the richer their shit stinks up a treat. The only weak link here is "6/8 War", and "Rino's Prayer" more than makes up for it - a worryingly trance opening disintegrates into a hideously warped charnel-house of backwards beats and sheer concrete noise. I'm f***ing having it large-style and if you didn't expect what should be dance's biggest money-spinner this year to wind up sounding like Ice then on your own head be war. "Rhythm And Stealth" isn't the album you've all been waiting for. It's far, far better than that. Could be a glorious failure: for Leftfield, it'd seem punk-funk delinquency is the only way out of the restrictive mess of responsibility and expectation thay've been asked to carry for nigh on five years. Pile on and zero in. It works wonders.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK - **** (out of 5)


Heaviest beats this sid of the next mill, dub spun to f*** in a basstorm of Sensurround sound - one of the most underrated albums of the nineties.

Best rhythm section since Chic make best instrumental LP of the year thus far: unf***inmissable, but y'all missed it.

"Beats so hard they go through orphanages" as The Maker opined back in the day. Investigate."

review by Neil Kulkarni (nicked from Melody Maker, dated 25 September 1999)


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