It’s All About The Stragglers

The charts, clubs, shops, even pop itself, are currently at their mercy.

From the underground to the business end of the charts, dingy clubs to the high street, Ayia Napa to the suburbs, and white labels to catch-all compilations, their story is that of UK garage itself. Because if anyone exemplifies the explosion of Britain’s homespun branch of the R&B family tree into every conceivable area, it’s Artful Dodger.

Of course, it takes a long time to become an overnight sensation. Yet, despite origins in a funk rock band, classical music training and, less embarrassingly, illegal bootleg releases and multiple remixes, the Dodger duo of Mark Hill and Pete Devereux still seemingly came from nowhere. Apt, then, that the architects (as opposed to the vastly inferior Architechs) of the crossover should come from somewhere like Southampton.

Proving that ‘dodgy’ roots are no hindrance to ubiquity, their reward so far has been three Top Ten hits. And, sure enough, the key moments here are the immovable monuments of the shatter-shock ‘Re-Rewind The Crowd Say Bo Selecta!’ (which not only delivered UK garage, but also Craig David, to the national consciousness), the more polished ‘Movin’ Too Fast’ and ‘Woman Trouble’. These songs might have introduced us to a whole new annoying lexicon (boinks, the phrase ‘Bo Selecta’), but they’re still ground-zero pop moments.

There’s no let-up in sight either. Unlike main pocket-money rivals True Steppers, who recycle established pop names needing a fillip, Artful Dodger have been busy developing their own guest vocalists to rocket-launch into the public eye. However, that fostering of a youth squad to share the money and fame is about the only po-faced worthy thing here.

Packed with nine more potential smash hits, this is not an album about innovation but consolidation. Yet from slinky opener ‘Think About Me’ (with potential next-big-name Michelle Escoffery dripping honey) to the chaotic two-step night-on-the-tiles ‘RU Ready’ and the laid-back soul and lady trouble of ‘Please Don’t Turn Me On’, this is streamlined, chrome-plated mastery of the pop art.

Obviously, for those seeking the next giant step in dance music’s evolution, this is not the place to look. But as an album of undemanding pop with stylish underground steals to thrill the suburban massive, it’s supreme. Purists and indie snobs alike won’t be happy, but there’s plenty more to come from these two. The charts, clubs, shops, even pop itself, are currently at their mercy. Artful Dodger are all over your boink. Re-respect.

Jim Alexander