Researching this review I asked a couple of fellow electronic music affectionados if Leeds' dub legends Iration Steppas had provided the intro for fellow Leeds lad and former Subdub alumni Rusko's latest album. I didn't expect the reaction I got. "Don't mention that name here" and "RUSKOPUBSTEPBRO STEPFOGGLEWUBWUBWUB" those that bear repeating. Dubstep fans, like those of every underground music that has gone before it, always save some bile for those that "go commercial" (Songs has just snuck into the Top 40 album chart). Yet it always strikes me as strange why fans of underground music always attack developing commercial sounds when often it is merely validating the success of the music they love.
Sadly, after that reaction, I still haven't managed to confirm if it is indeed Iration Steppas on the intro. But I'm pretty sure that the spoken word intro about the development of Roots Music must be none other than Rusko's old partners in crime. Considering the intro to the album, you would be forgiven for thinking that Songs was going to be a full on dub based album. In fact it is a real mishmash of styles, featuring as it does heavily dub influenced tracks as well as those straight from the so called Bro-step scene.
Love No More, Be Free and Mek More Green are both all more dub than sub. Rusko carries them off really well, showing an obvious love for the style. All feature great vocals, particularly Love No More. These tracks are unlikely to find their way into the club, although I'm sure there will be plenty of remixes doing the rounds in the near future. All were getting a good airing whilst I got the barbecue on in this unseasonable weather- a dub seal of approval in my house!
Opium and Thunder are exactly the sort of track that gains Rusko criticism from the dubstep purists. Thunder is a low point on the album. Neither the beats, synths or vocals hit the mark, it sounds like a poorly executed Kosheen rip off. Opium meanwhile features squealing, almost trance like high ends which makes the "Hardcore Junglist" sample seem well out of place. Both I'm sure will go well with Rusko's intended target audience
However jungle is represented here on Roll da Beats with the legendary MC Everson from the Rat Pack on duty. Whilst clearly dubstep there are more oldskool samples and nods than you can shake a glowstick at. Whistle Crew also dips into the oldskool bag of tricks. It has a great piano line (something which I'm a total sucker for), pitched up vocals and MC shouting out to the whistle, horn and lighter crew. Not to mention a few more classic jungle samples. Both tracks managed to stick a big smile on my face by the time they were done.
Somebody to Love, the first single from the album, is the sort of tune that we have come to expect from Rusko. It's big, fun and bouncy, a sure fire dance-floor filler this year. (Although I personally prefer the Skream remix doing the rounds that swaps Rusko's bassline with a foghorn from a ocean tanker). It too has a great fun oldskool feeling, another carrying a great piano riff before it breaks with a trademark Rusko wobble.
Even taking into account the duffers, overall the album is enjoyable enough. Rusko talks about breaking from his Bro Step image and in places he does manage this but at times he is shooting himself in the foot. Personally, I found the high points were those tracks that broke from dubstep completely, especially Be Free and Mek More Green. It would be a
big surprise to see Rusko still with Mad Decent records after this record (they had a high profile falling out after his label put a free stream of the album online before the release date) so it will be interesting to see what direction he takes next. There is certainly enough here to make you think there is more to come from Christopher Mercer aka Rusko. Maybe he will even manage to win back some of those who can't even bear to see his name.