The Herbaliser - Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ninja Tune)
You'll find this one in the hip-hop section, but don't let that put you off if violently egocentric US tales of guns, bitches, jewellery and Lexus say nothing to you about your life. Check, for example, the unashamedly London lilt in the voice of Wildflower on the standout 'Good Girl Gone Bad'. Backed up by subtle Charlston-esque brass and reggae licks, this rising star of the currently burgeoning UK hip-hop scene lays down some amusing rhyming slang ('It all goes Pete Tong' - wrong) and keeps it all very real with lyrical gems such as 'Like council housing, it's a tight squeeze', before the gloriously catchy chorus, heralded by uplifting reggae-style brass licks delivers the KO. Not a single gold chain or drive-by in sight.
There's plenty of other stuff here for fans of smooth, rapid, complex and precise rap delivery. But there's much, much more to this album than grade A rappers doing what they do best over joyously inventive and highly original beats and pieces. Where this album really excels is in the instrumental arena. Epic funk-fuelled tracks such as '24 Carat Blag' take this album to a whole new level. Think early 70's San Francisco cop chase with Bullit at the wheel, Isaac Hayes with his lush string arrangements squashed into the passenger seat and a full Stax brass section blowin' up an almighty funk in the back. Oh yeah, and an ambidextrous deck-smith's sneaked a pair of Technics 1210's into the boot to scratch out a bridge between the then and the now. Class.
The equally filmic 'Mr Holmes' sees Bullit waking up with a big dirty hangover, a mellow far-off brass and bluesy guitar build as he slugs at a life-saving coffee and sparks the first of many cigarettes, a low slung pimp's bass and a soothing flute as he comes around, grabs his brown leather jacket and heads for the door. Outside the sunlight is blinding, but the low-slung beats and gently wailing female backing vocals keep him stepping to the black Mustang. Isaac, the brass section and the boot-dwelling vinyl scratcher take turns rubbing his head as he speeds his way to a run-in with The Chief, due to be handled, as always, with a loveable disdain for authority and convention. Well, that's what I got from it anyway. Ahem.
As if all that wasn't enough, there's government anti-drugs movie sampling horizontal stoner beats courtesy of 'The Hard Stuff', completely over-the-top super hero soundtracks like 'Worldwide Connected', jump up bongo 'n breaks numbers ('Battle of Bongo Hill'), other-worldly symphonic soul with the opener 'Something Wicked' (featuring Seaming To, and a harpsichord!!) and lazy blues-funk workouts such as the closing track 'Unsungsong'.
Basically, it's all good. It's all very, very, very good. The range and variety on offer here is quite astonishing, and The Herbaliser - AKA Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba, in cahoots with Chris Bowden and The Easy Access Orchestra on many arrangements - have produced an absolute masterpiece which will surely be a contender for album of the year when the music press does it's yearly round up of 2002. The "Something Wicked" which "This Way Comes" is a big funky monster, wearing shades, with a trumpet in it's mouth, one furry paw scratchin' at a battered record deck and the other relentlessly slamming into some unfortunately doomed bongo's. Buy this record.