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SPIN Essentials

Rudimental’s ‘Home’ is a U.K. Chart-Storming Monster Bridging Pop and the Dance Underground

Rudimental: VG+
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: August 06, 2012
Label: Atlantic/Big Beat

They grow up so fast! In the summer of 2011, London’s Rudimental released their first single, “Deep in the Valley,” a promising if not exactly earthshaking example of the house music variant known as U.K. funky. The 8-bit blips were relatively novel; the boilerplate MC toasting (“Deep in the underground!”), not so much. It was a sound informed by London pirate radio, and also designed for it — not aggressively insular, but contentedly so. And while plenty of minor pop stars (Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah) got their start broadcasting from unlicensed transmitters in tower blocks, there was little here to suggest that this new quartet was capable of using the pirate plank as a springboard to the Top of the Pops.

But just two years later, they’ve got a Glastonbury appearance and a BRIT Awards nomination under their belts, plus two U.K. No. 1 hits: May 2012’s “Feel the Love” (a gargantuan drum’n’bass anthem featuring baby-faced soulster John Newman) and this year’s “Waiting All Night” (co-starring newcomer Ella Eyre), which debuted in the top spot. The group’s debut full-length, Home, also opened at No. 1 upon its U.K. release in May, selling 64,000 copies its first week. (Three months later, it’s still at No. 11, and out this week in the U.S.)

So, yeah, at least at home, Rudimental are blowing up right now. And the best indicator that their music is evolving as fast as it’s becoming more commercially successful might be the band’s BBC Radio 1 studio performance in April, where they covered Paramore’s “Now,” with Eyre putting a feverish neo-soul twist on Hayley Williams’ suburban rabble-rousing. As a transatlantic culture clash, that’s remarkable in and of itself, but what definitively elevated the affair above the level of link-bait gimmick was what they did with the material, adding the bass line to the English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom” and turning an #OccupyMallPunk anthem into a loose-limbed 2-tone time capsule.

It’s not only audacious, although it certainly is that. (Just try to imagine, say, Roni Size and Reprazent doing something similar with Blink-182’s “Dammit” back in 1997.) The result is also incredibly canny, slyly reminding us of the links leading back from Paramore to No Doubt and on to the English Beat, neatly wrapping up decades of pop into a narrative far more dynamic and inclusive than the hoary old “hardcore continuum.” Three of Rudimental’s members hail from Hackney, a working-class, multi-cultural East London district not far from Bow, a.k.a. grime’s birthplace; that’s a neighborhood mural on the album cover. But if Home is where the heart is, their affections lie less with postcodes than with pop’s ability to transcend time and place entirely.

Home is undeniably a product of its time and place, of course, part of the dance-pop crossover resurgence that has given us Disclosure and Duke Dumont and Magnetic Man before them. It’s stuffed with rousing anthems and whoa oh oh oh chants, which would sound equally as effective in a car commercial as on festival grounds. But Rudimental are clearly determined to look beyond those limits. Around its buoyant drum’n’bass core, this music ranges widely, taking in neo-soul, retro soul, deep house, hip-house, garage, R&B, and more, often hitting several genres in a single song.

This also belongs to a proud tradition of British albums bridging underground and pop: Roni Size and Reprazent’s New Forms, Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, Tricky’s Maxinquaye, Goldie’s Timeless, Basement Jaxx’s Remedy. If Home feels somewhat less revolutionary, that’s due to the tenor of the times: Touchstones like jungle and house long ago ceased to be subcultural. And so, in place of oppositional danger, Rudimental make do with pure exhilaration.

Just consider “Feel the Love,” a song so headily triumphant it makes “Eye of the Tiger” sound like a loser’s lament. Has drum’n’bass ever been so unabashedly feel-good? It sounds like Cee Lo’s “Fuck You” pushed to 160 beats per minute, dipped in platinum, and molded into weapons-grade warm fuzzies. Along the way, we’re treated to a Jazzmatazz-style trumpet solo, a virtual festival-crowd sing-a-long (something Rudimental are clearly used to), and, finally, a subtle tweak that turns rolling breakbeats into a T. Rex shuffle. (From the YouTube comments: “Me and my friend were doing a bet, on who can do the most push-ups, loser has to buy a drink for the winner. He got this song to do his exercise to.” Smart dude.)

“Right Here,” with its jellied steel drums and church organs, is less carefree, but it’s just as enthralling, tapping a heart-in-mouth vibe akin to Nero’s “Promises (Skrillex & Nero Remix)” or Rusko’s “Hold On (Sub Focus Remix).” Dodging sternum-crushing snares and fuzzy indie-rock guitars, the London singer Foxes absolutely shines, sounding far more agile than she did on Zedd’s “Clarity.” “Not Giving In” aims for the same uplift as “Feel the Love,” complete with gospel choirs, Stax-inspired horn charts, and a general desire to be the drum’n’bass answer to Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay.” It’s not as successful: John Newman and Alex Clare’s emotive yowling feels a little too hammy, and that goes for the tune’s whole Spiritualized-meets-Chase & Status climax.

But it’s also hard not to admire the determination of the band’s will-to-good-vibes. And if the uptempo roller “Waiting All Night” doesn’t quite live up to the ecstatic grandeur of its surroundings, that’s in part a matter of sequencing: By the album’s penultimate track, a certain amount of breakbeat fatigue sets in. The track works better as a single — and, above all, as a showcase for Eyre’s formidable, versatile skills — but it’s hard to work yourself up to fist-pumping fervor after “Baby,” a lithe deep-house cut featuring MNEK and Sinead Harnett (last heard on Disclosure’s “Boiling“) that’s as satisfying as anything Disclosure have done.

In fact, some of Rudimental’s finest moments are also their quietest. On “Hide,” Harnett glistens like phosphorescence against a dark swirl of organs and pitch-shifted voices; what begins as a neo-soul pastiche (seen through SBTRKT’s lens) turns into a slow-burning U.K. garage rhythm. Where other producers would just sample one of D’Angelo’s pained fillips, the band get Harnett to do her own impression, and the effect is spine-tingling. She also shines on “Home,” the juicy, distorted R&B number that opens the album. Suggestive of Adele’s 21 run through a fuzzbox attached to J Dilla’s MPC, it’s a smart kickoff track: rootsy, grounded, bluesily wholesome, and generally the kind of thing the Mercury Prize nominating committee laps up. (The fact that it doesn’t come off nearly as calculating as it could is another point in Rudimental’s favor.) The Angel Haze-fronted “Hell Could Freeze” occupies similar territory, bridging pushed-into-the-red neo-soul with the lurching groove of West London broken beat.

Elsewhere, “More Than Anything,” one of Emeli Sandé’s two guest spots here, is a widescreen, ultra-modern, Kaoss-Padded answer to Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy.” A little too heavy on bathos, it’s not the album’s strongest moment; the almost identical “Powerless” does the same kind of thing better, shuttling between piano balladry and thundering drum’n’bass. Singer Becky Hill sounds fantastic: She really knows how to belt it out, even if this particular song also represents the album’s lyrical nadir, with a whole lotta spoon/moon/June atrocities. (“I need to be strong, but you make me weak / I won’t do you wrong because these feelings run deep / Where do we belong? I know we search to find / So powerless for your love, I think I’m losing my mind.”)

But you don’t go to a festival for the poetry. And maybe you don’t even come to a record for it. At its best, Home is a sumptuous, thrilling experience on a purely sonic level. There are absolutely zero boring moments here, and the details are often transcendent, like the fluttering reverb and gently stabbing organs of “Spoons,” a soulful deep-house tune that brings to mind Wookie’s classic 2-step anthem “Battle.” (There’s even a reference built right into the song, with MNEK and Syron taking turns singing, “It’s hard to fight a battle.”) There’s been a lot of talk about the return of deep house, but little of it sounds as refreshing and pneumatic as this does.

The ubiquitous Sandé turns up a second time on “Free,” the album’s closing song, and also its most eccentric — with acoustic guitars and an uplifting gospel choir, it sounds a little like the xx trying their hand at a bluegrass cover of CeCe Peniston’s “Finally,” although that shorthand doesn’t really do it justice. The chord change is to die for, and coming after nearly an hour of soaring festival anthems and heavy-lidded deep house, the emotional sucker punch fairly takes the wind out of you. It’s a long way from the airborne glory of “Feel the Love,” but like almost everything Rudimental do, it feels like floating on air. That whole “If there’s a future, we want it now” thing? Judging from Home, Rudimental have it locked in.