Take two Manchester DJs (aka The Unabombers, aka Justin Carwford and Luke Cowdrey), add the middle-ground between early Massive Attack and Basement Jaxx, pepper liberally with a selection of guest vocalists and familiar, but fresh grooves and leave to stew.
It’s not like they’re reinventing the wheel here, with their aspirations to create a British dance album classic of the magnitude of Soul II Soul, Blue Lines or Groove Armada that would “outlive all this nu-rave bollocks”, so expectations were not high. No one likes a bragger.
But then they shouldn’t need to brag as Red Light Don’t Stop should, by rights, be an extension of their club night Electric Chair which invigorated a lazy anaemic clubscene with its mix of futurist disco, northern soul, hip hop and the murk, grime and the cheeky mystique and pulse of the underground element, essential to club music. But somehow, something got lost in the journey from the dirty basements they favour to the scrubbed-up, and oddly soulless sound of the recording studio.
It’s an uneasy recipe that doesn’t always work. While there’s no faulting the Elektrons way with a groove, and the attitudes are present and correct, but what’s lacking, above all, are the tunes. Occasionally they surface out the hip-hop, jazz, Latin, house, electro, techno and funk mash, but when they do they seem stranded and isolated glimmers in a fug of forgetful groove-workouts.
The three tracks that come closest to having a pulse of a tune feature Mpho Skeef on Classic Clich�, a tongue-in-cheek retro poke at the history of song clich�s through the ages that “loving you is like a classic clich�”. Its infectious ‘la-la la-la la’ hooks, string sweeps and smoothe smart shuffle has a groove worth getting to know.
London’s sassy Eska conjures with the essential ethos of the Elektrons that all you need for music to work is “a dirty basement with a red light on” (Dirty Basement) and the staccato dancehall breaks and beats of Stop It Hold It are underground with a mainstream sensibility and an urgency sadly lacking elsewhere on the album.
It’s uplifting, if uninspired music that calls to mind Apollo 440, Propellerheads and other less-enduring exponents of the bigbeat scene that lived and died in the 1990s. Opener Get Up featuring Soup from Jurassic 5 does tread a line between muscular,bombastic groove and dated cheese with its spybreaks and lame rap, but as openers go it’s a clear indication of what lies ahead.
Things descend into unknowing pastiche as Hurry On Down becomes a wishy-washy dance-by-numbers, while Wishing sounds like some limp tune that time should forget. Maximal even threatens with its pseudo futuristic disco to morph into Mel and Kim‘s ’80s Respectable, but in a bad way.
The rotating crew of vocalists does have the dizzying effect of a classic ‘best of dance’ album, but as a downside also fragments any solid sense of identity that Elektrons might have had. Enjoyable in places, as an upbeat dance album can be, but really the sound of no new ground or sweat being broken.