Roni Size was responsible for the biggest exposure possible of drum’n’bass to the masses, as his 1997 LP New Forms scooped the Mercury prize for its urban innovation. It proved to be a double-edged sword however – although more fans were undoubtedly gained, and the true quality of the music was acknowledged, tracks like Brown Paper Bag began to appear as part of those awful soundtracks for TV documentaries. Not quite what the doctor ordered.
Size retreated, and his star faded from public consciousness but not that of the underground, as he delivered some impressively vital sequels. Return To V sees him arrive at the start of the circle, back at the label where it all began. This time round however his star is big enough to attract a whole host of guest vocalists.
This means the record feels, and looks, like a compilation, an appearance enhanced by the subtle blending of each track to form a continuous whole. Many drum and bass albums can leave the listener feeling exhausted well before the end, but this one has sufficient variety, invention and passion to pull it off.
“There’s a method to this madness” declares Bump ‘n’ Grind, its speaker-busting bass getting Size off to a flyer. The sub-woofer continues to be troubled in this way throughout, some startling noises from the FX unit giving the basslines a kick and a half. It makes for a more underground, earthy sound than New Forms, with Size consciously reigning in his jazzier credentials to give a sparse texture in many places.
The obvious exception to this is the superb No More, an uplifting R&B flavoured track with Beverley Knight and Dynamite. Either side of this are two vibrant numbers, Rodney P guesting on Trouble and Stamina’s contribution to On And On containing the best vocal hook: “Brace yourself, pace yourself, and if nobody is doin’ it then tear down the place yourself!”
Now and then the tempo slows, and Problems grabs the attention with its lack of hi-hat bringing the music back down to earth. Give Me A Reason swaps fast and slow beats, the faster drum andbass blazing a trail as it comes in.
Roni’s guests feature some intriguing and imaginative choices. Joe Roberts tries out some soaring falsetto on Want Your Body, a subtly undulating bassline the perfect foil. Jocelyn Brown is a surprise addition, and as you’d expect she brings her own larger than life spirituality to rather more fierce beats than she’s normally accustomed.
The number of guests means the album’s personality struggles to come through at times, but it also means Size never outstays his welcome. Compared to New Forms it airs a desire to stay close to the underground, and there’s certainly no danger of Return To V hitting the daytime coffee bars. That doesn’t mean it should pass you by though, as it reaffirms Size as one of the leading drum andbass players, still looking to innovate and excite. For the most part, he succeeds here.