Slam are officially veterans of dance music. Since their breakthrough crowd pleaser Positive Education Soma’s finest have gone on to show themselves more than capable of repeating the act, releasing two critically acclaimed albums in Headstates and Alien Radio.
The latter marked a move towards vocally based music, a trend they continue on Year Zero, a record that also seems to be enhancing their live reputation. Although Stuart MacMillan and Orde Meikle have mostly earnt their crust as DJs the signs are that Slam as a music-producing outfit are now stepping up a notch. Helping them are a couple of singers who seem well tuned to the music.
Tyrone, whose distinctive voice adorns the massive Lifetimes hit, is the first guest up with This World. As far as subject matter goes, it’s about “people dying, children crying”, not a common theme among music with techno leanings, but he pulls it off as a powerful album opener.
A preoccupation with things morbid seems to be developing with the druggy, ethereal tones of Kill The Pain, while the driving four-to-the-floor funk of Fast Lane whispers “sometimes I feel like givin’ up”.
Slam have always made good music on the dark side of techno, so these fit the bill perfectly. Lyrically the tracks are straightforward and direct snippets rather than fully fledged songs, at least until we get to Lie To Me. Here, the vocals are a bit weedy and contrived, although the chorus is a decent one. Known Pleasures is more like it, built on a rangy bassline that becomes progressively more twisted.
Dance diva Billie Ray Martin, that purveyor of torch song Your Loving Arms, guests to similar effect on Bright Lights Fading, starting out with Gary Numan-esque electronica, broadening the Slam horizon most impressively. Meanwhile the closing workout Human is preoccupied with life itself, proclaiming genetic modification to be “better, stronger and faster” but crucially “with no soul”.
It’s an indication of how Slam’s thinking has changed over the years – I doubt they envisaged this sort of track from their Positive Education days. Production-wise they seem to have branched into more electro-based techno sounds, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, and have softened their approach as a result. Their success as a live outfit is surely going to broaden their appeal, and Year Zero would seem to be the logical place to start for new converts. What the newcomers mustn’t do, though, is ignore the first two albums…