4hero Play With The Changes

[Raw Canvas/Milan; 2007]

Styles: drum and bass, breakbeat
Others: Pieter K, Jamie Liddell, London Elektricity, Cerrone

4hero is mad old school. Joining over a mutual respect for hip-hop, the duo of Dego and Marc Mac have been kicking it in the London breakbeat scene since the late eighties, moving on to become what history will remember as the warm center of the original drum and bass movement back in the early nineties. However, on the back of such chemical sceptical tracks as “Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare” and “Cookin’ Up Ya Brain,” they found themselves pushing away from the rave scene almost as fast as they were becoming a major part of it. So, by the time they released the Mercury Prize-nominated, MOBO Award-winning Two Pages in 1998, the effort behind their material began to take on a much more organic approach, espousing a fusion of soul and jazz with electronica. 2001’s star-studded Creating Patterns followed the same path, containing even fewer references to the good old days. I guess that album didn’t do that well, ’cause it’s been six years in waiting for a new dose. Well, maybe "waiting" is an exaggeration; Patterns didn’t give us a whole lot of reasons to, and, predictably, neither does their latest full-length.

Play With The Changes starts off on a high note with “Morning Child,” a track that glides heavy, soaring Mayfield soul-disco strings with optimistic female vocals and an upbeat hip-hop bassline. If the whole album were that cinematic and captivating, Changes would be a solid gold classic. However, immediately afterwards, and continuing with varying degree, Dego and Mac focus on producing pure white man R&B jams that toe the uncomfortably sketchy line between funk and cheese, with the possible string-led exceptions of “Give In” and “Sophia.” The moments that sold me on Two Pages, where you weren’t quite sure if it was drum and bass or dancefloor soul, are now pretty much extinct. Especially in light of an accurate Steve Wonder cover, there’s no mistaking for a second that you’re listening to band music here. What's more, it’s band music made by electronic artists, who may be stepping too far outside the reach of their own talents in the process. Bring back the drum and bass, I say.

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