Bomb The Bass - Clear
Bomb The Bass, being that eighties-through-nineties idea of a collective around a single producer, in this case London-born Tim Simenon, came out of the capital's fledging hip-hop scene and threw in a batch of samples around a drum loop to create Beat Dis, which, when issued on the Rhythm King label, reached number 2 in the UK charts in 1988. Under a ludicrous amount of pressure from the BBC during the time of the first Gulf War, which also affected Massive Attack, Simenon released a single under his own name but, with the ending of that conflict and faced with decreasing sales, Simenon brought the Bomb The Bass name back and entered the studio with a team of collaborators, including Sinead O'Connor, Justin Warfield and the On-U Sound Collective, to produce an album that is not only an improvement on anything Simenon had previously produced but is still one of the standout moments of British dance/hip-hop.
Opening with the words of Peter Weller's William Lee in Cronenberg's adaptation of Naked Lunch, "I think it's time to discuss your philosophy of drug use as it relates to artistic endeavour" Clear begins in a blistering manner with the ripped-up hip-hop/rock of Bug Powder Dust. A spiritual brother to Primal Scream's Kill All Hippies from XTRMNTR but better, more vicious and less forgiving, Bug Powder Dust is a scratchy, insistent piece of hip-hop that is driven on not only by its crushing rhythm but also by Simenon's keyboards/samples creeping over the track like a cockroach and Justin Warfield's rap, which liberally spins popular cultural references and sixties psychedelia down into William Burrough's fictional Mediterranean city of Interzone. So, alongside standard rap braggadocio, the lyrics tie in with Naked Lunch's blurring of fact and fiction including Burroughs' playing of William Tell that caused the death of his first wife, the anal sex and orgies of AJ's Annual Party, the morphing of typewriters into sexual beings and the addictive substances of bug powder dust and mugwump jism.
From that high, the rest of Clear, if not as good as Bug Powder Dust, is no filler. Whilst not particularly inventive, Clear makes clever use of a single pounding rhythm over which a rapper/singer/sample plays. So, on Dark Heart, Spikey T and a range of ever-more-brutal electronic proddings lift a fairly simple rhythm track while If You Reach The Border repeats the trick but using a rhythm track seeming copped from Prince's Bob George over which a recording of a telephone call to beat-poet Leslie Weiner plays as she drifts in and out of the song, talking about the clouds that drift over the moon as night creeps in.
Possibly as a reaction to the slight air of predictability that surrounds these songs, the album begins to slow a little with the ambient, Orb-like Somewhere and the smooth soul of Sandcastles and Tidal Wave before closing with the wonderful Empire, in which Simenon's slow dub reggae flutters under poet Benjamin Zephaniah's lyrics and Sinead O'Connor's gentle, double-tracked backing vocals. Where Zephaniah sounds as though he has come to rid the Earth of the English empire, and the song is careful to say that it was not a British empire, O'Connor not only sings sweetly of the pure of heart who were crushed as the spread across the globe but sounds seduced by the thrill of naming her enemies.
Lyrically, there is a obsession with death and the body throughout, not only with the wholly expected Burroghsian subject matter of Bug Powder Dust, with a rap that includes mention of semen, blood and the penetration of the author's body by other humans, objects and bugs resident in Interzone, but also in the subtle tones of vampirism in Empire and, to a lesser extent, If You Reach The Border, the chalk that coats the narrator's arteries in 5ml Barrel and the lyrics of Brain Dead that tell of, "shadows of the pain / sucking on a dead man's brain." These lyrics, when placed alongside the repetitive throb of Simenon's keyboards and samples or, in the latter half of the album, his chillingly soothing backing, not to mention the decaying look of the accompanying booklet, give Clear a spooked feeling throughout, as though Simenon was uncomfortable with what he thought of as a facade of purity about modern life and, as with a white marbled headstone, intended, through this album, to show the rotting corpse beneath it.
Unlike so many other recordings that burst out of that first boom in UK hip-hop - think Derek B, Silver Bullet and MC Tunes as examples of rappers ill-advisedly copying the stateside use of gold-chains and low-riders - Bomb The Bass's Clear not only worked at the time of its release but continues to hold up just over eight years later. Undoubtedly, the unapologetically highbrow concepts behind the album assist this no end for how many other albums have writers and poets like William Burroughs, Will Self, Benjamin Zephaniah and Leslie Weiner alongside rappers and hip-hop artists only for it to work as effectively as it does here. Clear is a remarkable album stands out as an album equipped to avoid being trapped in any genre by ensuring that it is free of anything that might be thought of as predictable.