Small, plucky, defiantly British and trying to outdo ‘our American friends’ at their own game, Herbaliser conjure up images and sounds from the seminal film The Long Good Friday to fight off an imaginary invasion force in Take London — or maybe they are the enemy within ready to fling open the gates at a signal from the invading force? This time the visiting American is not an old gangster but New York’s finest Jean Grae
In my future fantasy world, hilarious hip hop skits, intros, outros, midtros, frontros and backros would quietly erase themselves from CDs after the first play but, then again, I have found a reason to make an exception, the witty ‘Take London’ intro sets the tone for this most English of albums. But post-millennial Englishness is a complex and wonderful thing in the hands of the Herbaliser crew.
What sets this record apart from the crowd though is not the wit or even the Englishness but the epic, orchestral scale of the music. We are not talking a few funky beats and a sampled melody line. We are in the land of layer after layer of instrumentation, beats and sounds. This richness musically is as evident on electro number ‘Gadget Funk’ as it is on spiky hip hop number ‘Nah’m’ Saying’ featuring the incomparable Jean Grae rapping over what sounds like a demented orchestra under the evil direction of a strict beat dictator.
The orchestral feel, in this case sans rapping, coontinues with ‘SomdserSonofanothamotha’, which morphs between a beat-enriched Morricone-style track, a tabla session, a jazzer and even a Caribbean number at times. A very sound track to be sure throughout though.
‘Song for Mary’ has the laid back feel of a Serge Gainsbourg number suitably updated and this link with Gainsbourg is made explicit on a tribute track called, well, ‘Serge’ of course. Sci-Funk gives way to a monologue by Katerine in French, which seems to get more charged as it goes along – but perhaps that’s just the well-documented effect of a French woman’s voice on the male of the species?
Jean Grae makes another appearance — in fact this New York star-to-be is on no fewer than five tracks on this long player. On the fuck-you-in-the-face firin’ ‘Generals’, she and the other Generals demonstrate a powerful, take-no-prisoners flow over a swirling series of musical waves crashing into you at horrendous force. This track may well be the start of something more as the rappers assembled for it look likely to end up as a group in their own right — a great prospect as this is the stand out track of a stand-out album. At the other end of the extreme, Jean Grae (n?©e What What) demonstrates her range with the gentler ‘If You Close Your Eyes’ — but, even when she is serenading a lover, she retains a scorpion sting.
Herbaliser have maintained their lead with the richest musical landscapes in hip hop and a judicious choice of collaborators.
Take London is out now.
- 29/06/05 Commodore Ballroom – Vancouver
- 30/06/05 Opera House – Toronto
- 2/07/05 Ottawa International Jazz Festival – Ottawa
- 3/07/05 Metropolis – Montreal
- 14/07/05 Dour Festival Dour – Belgium
- 16/07/05 Annecy Festival Muzilac – Annecy
- 22/07/05 Bluenote Festival Gent – Belgium
- 23/07/05 Brighton Racecourse – Brighton
- 14/08/05 Marble Hill Park – London
- 19/08/05 Hodokvas Festival Bratislava – Slovak Republic
- 23/09/05 Marseille Marsatac Festival – Marseille France
- 24/09/05 Festival La Roche-Sur-Yon – Nantes France
- 15/10/05 Factoru festival at La Cigalle – Paris France