With almost two decades separating justifiable 90s classic Connected and new album Emperor’s Nightingale, London-based dancefloor merchants Stereo MCs have accumulated an output that’s best described as… patchy. The long-awaited follow-up to 1992’s Connected came in the form of the mildly successful Deep Down and Dirty in 2001, and then came the frankly risible Paradise in 2005. In the slump of form that’s in evidence there, you might expect Emperor’s Nightingale to be rather ignorable.
The big surprise is that it’s not. In the same vein as New Order’s Get Ready, this new workout for Stereo MCs sees a renewed, rock-focused sound full of stadium bombast that largely eschews the hip-hop influences of the past. Vocalist Rob Birch plays the limits of his voice, providing a baseline around which big, reverb-heavy riffs and soaring vocal harmonies can play. There are even moments of 90s-vintage dancefloor bliss here, like the hugely enjoyable “Tales” and “2 Can Do.”
Without resorting to cheap pop caricatures of contemporary UK dancefloor sounds, Emperor’s Nightingale productively mines fidgety Euro-house bass lines and squelch to heavy-rocking effect. Even Auto-Tune’d club-bait like “Bring It On” or dubstep-referencing “Levitation” seem to be absorbing contemporary sounds and welding them to the crate-digging aesthetic of Connected. And in that, it’s fun. The gleeful bombast of “Desert Song,” with its breaks-meets-reggaeton-via-Eurotrance riffage, far outweighs lyrical weakness, while the later-life introspection of “Boy” is actually well-served by its marching-band drums and big horn section.
Through excursions into woozy Prince references (“Phase Me”) and funky drumming (“Bring It On”), it’s almost as if Stereo MCs are making a Connected for a new generation. After all, that album plundered happily from the dancefloor sounds of its contemporaries, to lasting effect. But, with its big riffs and hands-in-the-air breakdowns, Emperor’s Nightingale takes that smoky Stereo MCs sound to the stadium much more effectively than their previous attempts.