Much-delayed third from the dubstep pioneer covers his trademark sounds but goes absolutely nowhere new
When someone writes a book about 21st century British pop, Benga will surely merit his own chapter for creating dubstep alongside fellow Croydon-ite Skream. How the chapter ends may prove intriguing, as in 2013 Benga finds himself – much like that other great UK music pioneer Wiley – at something of an impasse. He’s been making filthy basslines since Skrillex was in short trousers. He’s gone down the pop route thanks to his work with Katy B. He’s even pioneered stadium dubstep with supergroup Magnetic Man. So where now?
The answer, according to the much-delayed ‘Chapter II’, is everywhere at once but nowhere particularly new. It’s an album that covers all bases, from radio-friendly popstep (Charli XCX collaboration ‘Smile’) to out-and-out dancefloor dirt (‘To Hell And Back’), calling at old-school dubstep (‘Forefather’) and experimental tinkling (‘Click And Tap’) on the way. With dubstep fracturing into two opposed and mutually suspicious camps – broadly speaking, American bassline metal versus British abstraction – such scope is to be admired. But ‘Chapter II’ rarely threatens to push things forward: there’s little here that wouldn’t fit comfortably onto Magnetic Man’s 2010 debut or even Benga’s 2008 breakthrough ‘Diary Of An Afro Warrior’. That’s something of a surprise for an artist who told NME last year that he didn’t want to be part of dubstep any more, and who has produced some genuinely thrilling experimentation in the past.
Instead, ‘Chapter II’ sees Benga excel at being Benga – perfecting those writhing basslines, shuffling, reggae drums and stirring synths to refine a sound that is unmistakably his, distinctly south London and frequently brilliant. The album’s key track is probably the thrilling ‘I Will Never Change’, which Benga says “doesn’t sound like anybody else’s version of what is right”. He’s spot on – it’s unapologetically Benga, packed with the same steely soul and huge drops that’s he’s been doing for years. It doesn’t sound like anyone else. Nor, however, does it sound like anything new.
The other highlights here come largely in the rare moments when Benga shakes things up a little. There’s ‘Click And Tap’, for example, the one genuinely what-is-going-on-here? moment, thanks to a rhythm that lies just on the right side of chaos; and ‘There’s No Soul’, which uses moody organ chords to inject the melancholy inherent in the best Detroit techno into Benga’s dubstep lurch. ‘Chapter II’, then, sounds more like a summary of dubstep’s first chapter than a great leap into the unknown.
That doesn’t make it a bad album, but by Benga’s own high standards it feels a little flat. Maybe he’s saving the experimentation for chapter three.