Freeland - Now & Them
Are you missing Leftfield? Or The Chemical Brothers (before they went pop)? Fear not, (Adam) Freeland is here.
Make no mistake, Now & Them sounds a lot like Leftfield. The excellent Big Wednesday is awash with the glinting futuristic noise found all over Rhythm and Stealth. L.I.F.E., with its skeletal beats and alienated black vocal, can’t help but evoke Release the Pressure and Afro-Left from Leftism. So it’s perhaps as a wink to the listener that the final track is named Nowism, and takes the album down to a finish that will be familiar to Leftfield fans. It’s a slow, dubby track with a positive lyric: “the key to happiness, my friend, is living in the now.”
If that doesn’t bother you, read on; for, despite wearing its influences on its sleeve, Now & Them is a rather fine record.
With its robotic female voice, opener We Want Your Soul reclaims the anti-government stance implicit in dance music of the late 80s and early 90s. “Your blood, your sweat, your passions, your regrets... your profits, your time off, your fashions, your sex... your pills, your grass, your tits, your ass... your laughs, your balls... we want... it all.” Even before the Bill Hicks sample arrives (“You are free to do as we tell you”), the message is clear: we live under the delusion of freedom, but, in fact, everything we are and do, everything we think we have, actually belongs to some bank, corporation or government. If it’s a not entirely unfamiliar idea, at least to those who’ve read No Logo or any recent interview with Thom Yorke, it’s delivered with a relentless force that should knock the listener into submission.
Second track, Mind Killer (as in “fear is the...”), is one of the best hip-hop/big-beat fusions since The Chemical Brothers’ Life Is Sweet. The politics now watered down to a “Whoever said we’re not supposed to get ecstatic?”, it seems we really are free now - at least to party without thinking too much. Turn it up. Pretend you’re in Fabric.
Burn the Clock begins slowly with a hovering How Soon Is Now?-style guitar, but the roaming bass, soaring female vocal and the arrival of a hundred angry bees, ensure the track escalates to a heady euphoria.
Elsewhere there are slight problems. Heel ‘n’ Toe and Reality 3D repeat the formulas of Mind Killer and Big Wednesday respectively, only with less success. Supernatural Thing hangs solely on its Gwen Guthrie vocal for too long before shifting up a necessary gear and the expected bull-dozing beats kick in.
Perhaps the worst thing you can say about Now & Them is that it feels comfortable. It’s an album that could have been released at any time in the past eight years. It is, perhaps, the record that should have followed Leftism, rather than the mildly disappointing Rhythm and Stealth. Sounding unoriginal isn’t a crime, though (at least judging by the critical acclaim surrounding voguish rock acts The White Stripes and The Strokes); so it would be a shame if Freeland’s mostly thrilling effort finishes the year as just another minor release.