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The Herbaliser - Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Artist: The Herbaliser

Album: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Jul. 9, 2002

The UK production duo of Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba, known together as The Herbaliser, have crafted with their fourth album, Something Wicked This Way Comes, an interesting mélange of songs: the LP as a whole plays a bit like a movie soundtrack, with sounds ranging from “‘70’s crime jazz” (according to the press release) to a more contemporary boom-bap that seems (somehow) to borrow a lot from bad 1980s television drama. Regardless, it’s interesting, though its gestures towards cohesiveness don’t always work, and by the third or fourth listen, the album begins to suffer from a sort of undercurrent of schizophrenia, as though it doesn’t know exactly what it is trying to accomplish. That doesn’t mean the album is all bad—on the contrary, as background music for a sunny afternoon, it works quite well, with its bouncy-gothy samples and loopy pop-influenced aesthetic. The vocal tracks on the album are all decent, though all four of them suffer from hooks that range from weak to downright annoying. Blade’s performance (a British emcee that I’m unfamiliar with) on “Time 2 Build” makes Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples (who guests on the track immediately preceding) look like a newcomer to the microphone, which is more pleasant than surprising.

Actually, this brings me to what is I believe the fatal flaw of this album: the only songs that are even halfway memorable are the vocal tracks. It simply does not work as an instrumental album. The songs that do not feature emcees are all simple, and sound like they both could and should have someone rhyming over them. Now, perhaps to some that would be a positive thing—after all, what is the point of hip-hop instrumentals if not to set the stage for an emcee?—but I would argue that in today’s world of Sixtoos, El-Ps, Aliases, RJD2s and Fat Jons, the hip-hop instrumental song has become its own medium, its own art form, whereas the songs on Something Wicked This Way Comes seem empty, even boring, without emcees. There is a hollowness to the instrumentals that makes them a rather uninteresting second-listen. Granted, the fact that Herbaliser sticks almost exclusively to live instrumentation changes the nature of the sound, but the fact remains that the tracks are simply not engaging on anything other than a surface level.

The one factor that approaches a saving grace for this Herbaliser disc is the attempt at a movie-like consistency. If they could do the same thing with an album that was primarily vocal tracks rather than vice-versa, they might really be onto something. Either that, or make the move to an instrumental album that’s better able to stand on its own two feet. Until they manage to refocus in one of those two ways, The Herbaliser’s albums will remain, like Something Wicked, in the category of almost, but not quite.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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