Paul Daley and Neil Barnes once had the world at their feet. One of the few acts to drag dance music from it’s scruffy, white-gloved, rave roots, they helped polish and refine D.I.Y. drug-inspired music, turning it into a more sophisticated, multi-influenced mix that had mass appeal. Alongside Underworld, The Prodigy, Orbital and The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield helped lead the charge that took dance music out of muddy fields and put it, well, just about everywhere, converting countless rock and indie kids along the way. Their album Leftism really heightened standards of quality and imagination in dance music as a whole and the 700,000 plus copies it sold could even be found in the collections of those who previously sneered at the genre.
Perhaps it was down to the duo’s willingness to experiment, the broader palette they afforded themselves by dropping elements of dub and reggae into their uplifting house productions. Or perhaps it was their ability to take singers not normally associated with dance music and not just make them fit into a dance track but create instant classics like Open Up, featuring John Lydon‘s fire-starting wail of “Burn Hollywood! Burn!” or Original with Curve‘s Toni Halliday transplanted into a foreboding, dub-heavy electronic landscape. The album was a celebrated victory for what many had previously perceived to be a narrow, limited genre with little to say beyond the usual ecstasy references and cheesy piano breakdowns, and progressive house was born.
However, severe bouts of perfectionism saw follow-up Rhythm and Stealth delayed, revised, put back, re-written and tweaked to within an inch of its life before finally being able to stagger out on to the street, gasping, bruised and creatively winded in 1999. The attempts to produce a perfect second album that took their now much-copied sound forward may have provided an instant number one success and also secured their only top ten hit, Afrika Shox featuring Africa Bambaataa, but it had neither the accessible warmth or pioneering creative spirit to ensure it the same longevity as its predecessor.
So, on to the present day. With Leftfield having long since split up, perhaps they, or their record company, have seen just how surprisingly lucrative the ‘hits’ album can be for veteran dance acts following the runaway chart success of retrospectives from Basement Jaxx and Faithless. Under the guise of a tenth birthday celebration of Leftism’s release, A Final Hit sees no less than six of the tracks from that album repackaged alongside the four from it’s inferior younger sibling. The rest of the album is cobbled together from first single, Not Forgotten and a handful of tracks created for film soundtracks including Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and Go!.
Yes, the music still sounds excitingly fresh on the whole, yes, the bonus disc of videos is appealing, featuring as it does Chris Cunningham‘s typically twisted short for Afrika Shox, but if you want to hear Leftfield at their best, you’re better off sticking on Leftism and enjoying their finest moments without having to be reminded of the relative disappointments that followed. Their music may continue to soundtrack every hard-hitting documentary about inner city living for all eternity and their best known video will always be the one that never was, the horses galloping through the waves on that Guinness commercial, as “tick follows tock”, but it’s hard to see how this album from an already departed act is anything more than an opportunistic cash-in. Little more than a final hit for the completeists’ pockets.