Christopher Mercer, aka producer and DJ Rusko, has been something of a divisive and controversial figure in UK dance music ever since he emerged with the Guy Ritchie film sampling, pulverising dubstep thump of his breakout track Cockney Thug in 2007. Rusko is a producer for whom there are no half measures. His sound is chaotic and hyperactive and is based around the desire to make people dance using the most powerful sounds possible. It is a sound that has gained him many admirers – he has spent the last two years producing tracks for M.I.A and Britney Spears, amongst others.
Rusko’s debut album, 2010’s OMG!, introduced his brutal take on dubstep and bass music and its mix of wobbly synths, crashing beats and an almost relentlessly upbeat atmosphere equally frustrated and enthralled at the same time. Dance music connoisseurs derided Rusko’s dubstep inflected dance floor anthems as generic and formulaic while encapsulating all the genre’s clichéd sounds, while others lauded his debut for simply being a great party record. There was, however, also a more nuanced side to Rusko’s sound best exemplified by OMG!’s standout single, the glorious Hold On, featuring the vocals of Dirty Projectors‘ Amber Coffman. Rusko’s follow up Songs seeks to repeat that formula, but unfortunately this time the formula is beginning to wear a little thin. The anthems are still present and correct, but there is an alarming lack of lucidity. And there are decidedly no guest appearances from American art pop singers this time.
Lead single Somebody To Love makes for a promising opening. A bouncy, ravey house piano twinkles away under a nice hook line of a chorus and it is a perfectly acceptable piece of dance floor pop. That is until the track abruptly changes into a generic dubstep ‘wub, wub, wub’ beat. It is a baffling detour that turns a promising track into a disjointed mess – an example of some of the rather muddled thinking that stymies the album generally.
Songs flit between sounds and styles in disorienting fashion. Skanker, despite its clichéd lyrics and ramblings of a dancehall MC repeatedly intoning that it is a “dubstep skank”, is a pleasant diversion into dub reggae and dancehall, and its sound is carried on into Love No More, which features a lovely little weird eastern synth line, one of the most interesting sounds on the record. However, following these tracks are the big pounding beats and utterly tedious high-pitched squeaks of Opium. There is never a feeling of coherency, which always leaves the listener feeling rather uncomfortable.
Despite the album’s stylistic confusion, Rusko certainly has not lost his ability to construct a peerless dance floor pop anthem. It is on these tracks, which on this album are unfortunately rare, that Rusko is at his best. Dirty Sexy, featuring a wonderfully sassy female vocal, is a great piece of contemporary RnB club pop, while Be Free has a great hook aligned to a nagging shuffling beat.
Songs is a strange title for this album, as it times this collection resembles an exercise in exploring the biggest and brashest sounds possible rather than making any discernable song in a traditional melodic sense. Far too many tracks are blighted by incongruous synth sounds and strange sound effects, and all the while that ever so clichéd dubstep sound lingers in the background. Confusion reigns, yet you get the feeling that’s the way Rusko likes it.
Very much intended for the dance floor, taken on that level there is enough on Songs to satisfy anyone who is a fan of Rusko’s work. But as a complete album lacks any depth or cogency.