The Herbaliser: Same As It Never Was

The Herbaliser's Same As It Never Was won't win any awards for innovation (unlike Talking Heads' Remain In Light, whose “Once in a Lifetime” lyrics provided West Londoners Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba with their album's slightly altered title) but the album's material almost makes up for it on grounds of sheer energy and passion. The duo and co-conspirators Ralph Lamb, Andy Ross, and singer Jessica Darling dig into their material like ravenous dogs thrown raw steak and Darling, a twenty-two-year-old London singer, in particular makes her presence felt when she throws down on five of the album's dozen tracks. The group's traded in its crate-digging, sample-based approach of yore for a steamy live attack that's hard to resist, especially when clubby beats slam as hard as they do (check out the tasty drum breaks in “Amores Bongo” and “You're Not All That”).

With its soul-funk mix of blaring horns, organ, and turntable effects, “Same As It Never Was” could easily be heard as a manifesto for the album's sound. Powered by chicken scratch guitar funk and baritone sax punctuations, steaming cuts like “On Your Knees” and “You're Not All That” ooze classic, James Brown-styled soul, with swizzling turntable effects bringing the sound closer to today. Jazzy instrumentals like “The Next Spot” (dig the vibes and Latin percussion coda) recall the richly orchestrated sound of ‘60s soundtracks by composers like John Barry and Lalo Schifrin. MC appearances (Jean Grae on “Street Karma” and Yungun on “Just Won't Stop”) and hip-hop-flavoured rhythms also ensure that the group doesn't come off sounding retrograde. By the group's own admission, the epic closer “Stranded On Earth” uses Pink Floyd's “The Great Gig In The Sky” as a springboard but The Herbaliser's track is sufficiently different—largely due to the harpsichord patterns and laid-back hip-hop feel—to discourage copycat accusations (Darling's vocals don't rise to the stratospheric level of Clare Torry's either). Elsewhere, the combination of klezmer-inflected hip-hop and Busdriver-like rhyming by Toronto-based More Or Les makes “Game Set & Match” the clear album oddity and if “Can't Help This Feeling” sounds familiar, it should: its undeniable debt to The Temptations' classic “Get Ready” is impossible to ignore. If ultimately it sounds as if Wherry and Teeba are trying to steal a little bit of the fire Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings started with 100 Days, 100 nights with their own similarly-styled set, who can blame them?

June 2008