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Whiplash (Fontana)

Fourteen years down the line from Stutter, Whiplash is far from a consolidation of past success. It’s the sound of a band fighting out of a corner, rising to their own challenge and proving themselves once again.

That isn’t to say the record doesn’t take it’s cues from previous efforts. The same thread of intimacy that drew together Laid is pitched with the experimental dance dynamic so prevalent in Wah Wah. Tim Booth’s crystal tone weaves typically potent tales of despair, but more pressingly of rejuvenation. "Got to keep faith that your luck will change", he intones on the charged gem of an opener, ‘Tomorrow’. It’s that track that sets the agenda for the revival, its punching melody and glorious chorus pushing the bands focus away from their recent introversion.

Though the single, ‘She’s A Star’ treads the same, successful vein it’s the tracks that follow which constitute a real progression. The sceptical broadside ‘Greenpeace’ serves as a bridge between the crafted pop of the first half and the unwavering dance of the second. Booth’s wistful vocal punctuated by bursts of drum and bass. Perhaps it’s a risk for an established band to take on a new sound without looking desperate, but more often than not they manage to pull it off. What Goldie and Ed Rush would make of it though, is another story.

What makes it credible is that it isn’t a token effort, the rest of the album follows in this modernist trend. The hard house sound of ‘Go To The Bank’ and ‘Play Dead’ may seem to eager to push the band’s dance credentials, but this is countered by the melodic techno strains of ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Watering Hole’. It’s on these tracks that the new sound is most effective, as it is combined with the traditional songwriting we’ve come to expect of James. ‘Avalanche’ in particular gives Booth chance to soar like a distant deity over its strong melody and sparse beats.

With a new future forged, the band allow themselves one indulgence. The foray into the past that is ‘Blue Pastures’; an intimate , acoustic track that harks back to ‘Laid's’ claustrophobic ballads.

It may be that this album doesn’t please the fans. It’s likely it won’t please the critics. But then, this record is primarily about the band themselves. It’s an album that had to be made to prove they have a future and that they can be part of the future. After all, if you stand still to long all you can do is sit down.

By David Stringer

Copyright © Sheffield Electronic Press 1997