Jah Wobble & Keith Levene ‘Yin & Yang’ (Cherry Red Records)
Out 18th November 2012
As we announced 10 days ago Jah Wobble & Keith Levene have a new release due out in November. Normally of course we’d wait till closer to the album drop date to unleash our review. However some reviews can’t wait. This, people, is one of those cases. Our man Ged Babey’s in the reviewers chair for this one.
Inevitably comparisons are going to be drawn between this and the 2012 This is PiL album. Wobble and Levene were what made First Edition and Metal Box the inspirational albums they remain. Lydon was the focus, the ringmaster, the one that gave them the opportunity and space to create it. It goes without saying that his unmistakable voice and lyrical bile were a part of their disorientating charm, but without them PIL could’ve been a messthetics abortion. From the tittle tattle I’ve heard the only reason Wobble didn’t rejoin PIL a few years back was because he was offered a job, working for Lydon, not a collaboration working with his old friend.
Against the odds though the Lu, Scott and Bruce Pil have released a mighty, multi-faceted album and played some of the best gigs of this or any other year. This IS Pil is at last a worthy successor to Metal Box. And in a way, so is this.
Yin & Yang is the sound of Wobble and Levene reuniting as friends and musicians.
Their motivation was no doubt artistic but coloured with a hint of nostalgia and perhaps a bit of envy / antipathy to Lydon. Wobb and Keith would deny it no doubt; but from a fans perspective it just means there is twice as much music available to enjoy than if Lydon and Wobble had buried the hatchet.
So, is Yin & Yang as good as This is PIL? No, it’s not. But it is a great stand-alone piece of work. It sounds like an extended jams at times and a bit unfinished or rushed. There is very little post-production in evidence. It’s rough edged, studio-live and a back to basics approach. As Wobble said it includes nods to UK Psychedelia, Miles Davis and Dub.
Disappointingly four of the best tracks have already been available as an EP ”â so there are only four new tracks here if you count Understand and its Dub as one piece. It’s almost half the length of This Is PiL, so looses in the value-for-money stakes. Four of the nine tracks are instrumentals and it’s only really the title track and the centrepiece Jags and Staffs that have any real lyrical content in a Wobble as bootboy mystic stylee.
Fuckin’ Ying and Fuckin’ Yang
Soft Little Whisper, Big Fuckin Bang
Soft and Hard and Dark and Light
Midday Sun, impenetrable night
And later, the priceless couplet that earns the album its honourable Parental Advisory sticker;
Like a bolt out of the blue
I’m a cunt and so are you.
Jags and Staffs is another piece of hooligan poetry mythologizing and demystifying the East End hardmen and gangsters of the seventies, (in the same way as Lydon returned to childhood bombsites on his album”Â¦)
Forgotten tribes and their faithful hounds
Out in Essex, their burial mounds
Weep not for their passing
For they rise again
In their Bardot of becoming
They Rest In Spain
Levene, after some tentative playing on the preceding tracks finally comes into his own on the nine-minute odyssey, squeezing out freeform, metallic shapes out of his guitar. It sounds like a twisted film theme and has the unique elemental feel of Poptones and Death Disco. Wobbles basslines are elephantine and throb and rumble along with a balance of tension and languor.
Mississippi is a bizarre Beach Boys or Loaded-era Velvets pastiche, with some lovely gospel organ and lines about ”Ëthe great smell of gasoline’. Within You Without You is a George Harrison song and a blissful little day-trip-out it is too. Wobbles singing is like a cross between Ian Brown and Genesis P Orridge and Levene’s guitar sounds beautifully tuneful yet discordant and raw.
Back on the Block is built on a solid wandering bassline over which Keith can scrawl and scratch and sustain. Subtle synth fills colour in the gaps. It’s a great moody piece, again, suitable for a film score but is faded out after four minutes twenty, when it no doubt went on for twice that. Fluid, as Wobble says is a funky jazzer where trumpeter Sean Corby steals the show and Levene ”Ës playing seems hesitant..
Understand features vocals by Nathan Maverick; the artist formerly known as Johnny Rotter from Pistols Tribute band who sang on some of the well-received (and ill-conceived according to some) Metal Box In Dub shows. He sings in his own voice, no trace of Lydons intonation thankfully and it makes for a beautiful accessible bit of dub-punk which sounds more like 1981 Malicious Damage signings Red Beat (who’s More or Less Cut 12 inch is one of the defining records of the early 80′s) than Pil. The bass on this and some of the other tracks is so loud and dominant in the mix that you can hear the speaker cabinet creak on the recording.
All in all, after sounding a bit disappointing on first listen, Yin & Yang is an eminently enjoyable album given a few hearings. Hopefully there will be more from the dynamic duo in due course, with more guest vocalists; Neneh Cherry springs to mind, but for now, this will do nicely.
The album is available for pre-order direct from Cherry Red Records.
All words by Ged Babey. You can read more from Ged on LTW here.