In our most far-fetched dreams, this is what London sounds like every day. Carnival seven times a week, stretching down every street. Twenty-four hours of sunshine, 365 days a year. A harmonious multicultural, genre-obliterating party where even the laments of abandoned lovers sound euphoric. If Ken Livingstone needed a quick-fix solution to his capital’s lack of self-esteem, he could do a lot worse than issue free copies of ‘Rooty’.
It’s tough holding reality at arm’s length for long, of course. But for the 42 minutes of swagger, vivacity and unalloyed joy that ‘Rooty’ lasts, it’s possible to forget that no-one here likes each other very much, the transport system’s a joke and, in Hackney at least, you’re lucky if they even empty your bins. Basement Jaxx’s second album presents an insanely optimistic vision of their hometown, where a bewildering range of dance styles are mashed together into a seamless and invigorating new music. It may be no more plausible a version of reality than the sallow mono-culturalism of Little Englander Britpop, but it’s a damn sight more idealistic and entertaining, for sure.
After the extravagant ‘Remedy’, the key to ‘Rooty’ is economy. A mass of musical information is crammed into a tiny space, the very complicated is made to appear utterly artless. Most of the time, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re hearing: a forensic examination of ‘Romeo’, the first single, reveals house-infected R&B, but there’s the kick of garage in there, too, and a brutal electro siren to wake up the acid nation.
Often, on ‘Breakaway’ and ‘I Want U’, they give British dance music a fierce and innovative tweaking like Timbaland has been administering to America for the past few years. On the marvellous ‘Crazy Girl’, they even show what it would sound like should Prince ever notice it’s the 21st century: squelching, syncopated rhythms, wayward sleighbells, awesome filtered sexfunk, daft screeching guitar solo and plenty of panting.
The nerve of it all is breathtaking. Turbo-beats poke up a gospel-jazz revivalist meeting, a mariachi band wanders into the hazy disco sashay of ‘Broken Dreams’, a Gary Numan sample gets bludgeoned to credibility in the Van Helden-esque pogo of ‘Where’s Your Head At?’. Fleetingly, the thought occurs that Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe should slow down, reveal a little emotional depth, expose a social conscience at the heart of this relentless urban music.
But then again, perhaps the very act of making music which is global in inspiration but born in London, that chooses ecstatic attack over concerned introspection, is political in itself. As a manifesto for unity, ‘Rooty’ is unbeatable. Now let’s see what they can do with London Underground.