The Stereo MCs are beginning to catch up. After the well documented gap of some eight years between albums one and two, they’ve taken half the time to come up with their third, and in many ways it’s the most, coherent and deeply felt opus of the three.
Don’t expect any anthems along the lines of Step It Up or Connected, although the groove of Set It Off pays unmistakable homage to the latter. Instead, the Stereos appear to be travelling through a more spiritual world, infusing their trademark hip hopbeats with blues and soul, without losing any of the roughness of Rob Birch‘s voice that made them darlings of the early 1990s Manchester sound.
Birch himself seems to have mellowed on this album, but not at the expense of emotional input. First Love is a case in point, a mild dose of helium in the opening vocal giving way to Birch, who moves in with a rap about how “it’s hard to move beyond your first love”, the following guitar solo bringing forward the blues inflections. Meanwhile, The Fear is an extremely vulnerable track, Birch’s whispered vocal of “I’m losing you” hitting the mark ahead of an achingly direct flute solo.
Not that the MCs have forgotten how to groove, you understand. Opening track Warhead is a bass driven statement of intent, while Sun goes for the jugular with a steady, ominous tread in the lower reaches halfway through. Float On, too, has a loping beat thatwould entice many a punter onto the dancefloor. In these three tracks stands a reminder of how influential the band have become – it’s difficult to imagine acts like the Audio Bullys and Free*land without them.
A further influence on the MCs this time around would seem to be from the east, a trait discernable in the melody and extra percussion of I Feel You but underpinning several other tracks. Rhythm of course plays a huge part, and Breathe Out stays one stepahead with a clever doubling of meter halfway through, breaking out abruptly for a sinister whisper from Birch about “whose game you dealin’… I found all my demons”. More at ease is Don’t Know, the lyrics talking of knowing your friends by their smilingfaces. Even here though, Birch’s face remains unmoved over the relaxed breakbeat.
The whole record hangs together extremely well, and while it may take a few listens to please, I would urge you to stick with it – there are deeper rewards to be found here. Worth another look!