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The Herbaliser - Take London

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Artist: The Herbaliser

Album: Take London

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Sep. 24, 2005

Hip-hop bands have a history mixed at best. The “original hip-hop band” Stetsasonic just sometimes gave a drummer some, The Roots have undergone continual personnel changes, and Soulive, The Goats, and the album Public Enemy recorded with live drums (Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age) all just suck. The Herbaliser is something of a bright spot in this landscape nonetheless, all the more since they shed the acid jazz sounds of their early releases. The Herbaliser Take London is another solid release from England beatmakers Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba, with some roaring horns and big beats throughout. But an uneven mix of beats and rhymes makes it a bit hard to classify.

Jean Grae’s presence on this album does make the hip-hop sections enjoyable; her royal Jeanius appears on four songs, including the big band bump “Nah’ Mean, Nah’M’ Sayin’” and “Twice Around,” also featuring the sharp horns of Ralph Lamb, Matt Colman, and Andrew Ross, just a few of the myriad of excellent musicians brought in throughout the album. In their precision at deploying studio musicians, Wherry and Teeby are like some sort of hip-hop Steely Dan, but their love of the jam has some boring results on overextended bits like “Kittynapper” (too long even at 2:37) and “Sonofanothamutha,” an overly intricate slow jam which is reminiscent of some of War’s later mediocre work, or lesser Grover Washington Jr.

Many of the instrumentals, of course, succeed brilliantly, like the metallic space jam “Gadget Funk” and jazz cover “Geddim’!!” (it’s really a Stan Getz song, ignore the credits). The biggest problem with Take London, besides a mild case of unnecessary skits, is the sequencing. The rappers occasionally featured on the record (also including Roots Manuva, Cappo, and a whole gang of others on posse cut “Generals”) are placed mainly around the beginning and end of the album, which seems like a ploy to get rap listeners hooked to the record early, only to face a middle section of hip-hop inspired instrumental funk.

A record structured like a sandwich is an oddly-structured record, and Take London almost plays like three records in one. Identity issues aside, there is more than enough great material here to go around, and with a little bit of iTunes cutting-and-pasting, the listener might even move the songs here around into an order that makes sense.

By Josh Drimmer

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