Infected with murder, gangsters, homophobia and sexism, hip-hop has been a genre in serious trouble for the best part of a decade (though it did give rise to one of the finest Simpsons jokes, Marge to Bart: “I don’t want you listening to those rappers, their music is insulting to their hoes”).
Arrested Development were very much part of this positivist movement, though decidedly more earnest than the likes of De La Soul as they turned their attentions to racism and greed with their impassioned songs that advocated reaction, but pacifism. It is easy to forget how popular they once were, indeed their performance on MTV Unplugged in 1994 was regarded at the time as one of the best ever. Soon though, they disappeared.
Their re-emergence in recent years has seen them regularly appearing at London’s Jazz Caf�, performing songs mainly from their very groovy 1992 debut, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days In The Life Of…, to adoring audiences. The new album that has sprung from the reunion is a surprisingly good, uplifting listen. The talents of Speech, the brains and music behind the band, remain very much intact, as always aided by stunning female soul vocals and a rhythm section evidently raised on a diet of Kool And The Gang and Curtis Mayfield.
The title track is a splendid, piano led riff that the great Jurassic 5 would be proud of. Ever the one for self-narration, Speech explains here how “we got the labels kissin’ our hind parts/ We desired art and never sold out for the high chart positions”. The self-righteousness with which he expounds how spiritually and politically tuned-in he is would usually be enough to put you off, but when the music behind it is of such funk and rhythm, it’s ok. You don’t have to listen to the words.
Since The Last Time is not as good as 3 Years. It lacks the lyrical and musical complexity of the band’s debut, and in because of what passes as hip in this post-Neptunes age, seems to be slightly over-heavy on the bass and a little too electro-driven at times – particularly on tracks like Innner City (sic), a production that might have been pulled out from Pharrell‘s recycling bin.
However, Arrested Development’s melodic charms are irresistible on the Latin-flecked Sao Paulo, while Sunshine is the breezy, perfect summer anthem that makes one wonder at the logic of releasing this album in December. The duds, Down and Dirty (Clap Your Hands) and It’s Time, occur when the female choruses and harmonies that lift the best tracks are neglected in favour of Speech’s rapping. But while his delivery sometimes lacks urgency, his vision on Since The Last Time cannot be questioned.