Magnetic Man’s mission statement is crystal clear: mass appeal. The group pools three producers with under- and over-ground cache: Benga, Skream and their mentor, Artwork. Together they write big tunes. And their sound emphasizes easy hooks and lush, spacious bass. The conceit of the project is to make dubstep (the club sound du jour) mainstream. That is not entirely true. The three men are club artists who have popularized this sub-culture to proto-pop status, particularly in their native U.K. The goal for both them and the music is to blow up and go pop. What makes Magnetic Man exceptional is that it skirts the mistake of other artists trying to make a similar transition. If you want to export club music out of the club, you don’t crumple it under your jacket and tip-toe out the backdoor — you stride out the front door with shit-eating swagger. The 21st century is not about subtlety, it’s about swag.
The album unabashedly combines big hooks and booming subs. Album opener “Flying Into Tokyo” conjures a suppertime mood, but the aggressive “Fire” yanks out the tablecloth. No time to assess the damage wrought by Ms. Dynamite’s dy-na-mi-tee feature as rave synths introduce the twee lead single “I Need Air.” By the time the wobbly “Anthemic” rolls around, the album’s pace has been established: punch-kiss, punch-kiss.
It helps that the group has already had some experience in striking this balance. Benga and Skream reprise recently successful collaborations with singers Katy B and Sam Frank, respectively. “Perfect Stranger” is comparable to “Katy On a Mission” with its every-person message (“Your words for me are like music”), Katy’s every-person karaoke and familiar comforts from across dance music history (such as the umpteenth use of the “Amen Brother” break). Skream’s muse Sam Frank provides broader assistance, from the string arrangement for the aforementioned “Flying Into Tokyo” to the seventh circle of Hell raps on “The Bug.” Then again “Boiling Water” is cut from the same cloth as Skream and Sam Frank’s 2010 collaboration, “Where You Should Be.” Though these tunes have a clear lineage, they are based on an appealing blueprint. Hence, the hype, er, “anticipation.”
Magnetic Man has its moments of greed when the call to both sides of the fence seem catastrophic. The fizzy “Perfect Stranger” is followed by the crushing “Mad,” a donkey punch of Arabic melodies, 8-bit games and adrenaline. And “Karma Crazy” shakes the baby after the Moroder lullaby “Box of Ghosts.” Hard to imagine pre-Kids kids comprehending a track called “K Dance,” but erratic dropthisdothat transitions scream ADHD. And doesn’t, like, everyone have that?
The album’s wild swings between airy and heavy wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t so predictable. The group sticks close to the music’s constant 70ish/135ish bpm tempos, and are subsequently stuck with only a couple tools to break up the proceedings: dynamics and space. And the pace established in the first quarter of the album — light interlude (“Flying into Tokyo”), club (“Fire”) and pop (“I Need Air”) — is simply rinsed and repeated.
That said, Magnetic Man accomplishes its goal: make pretty for the spotlight. Album closer and John Legend feature “Getting Nowhere” could have been axed to make the album leaner, but as it stands it is toned and fit for public consumption. Of course, let’s address Godzilla: “All this pandering is making me sick.” Purists will always exist. And conservative thought can provide a healthy counterpoint. However, Irememberwhenisms and Thatsnothowitshouldbes do not engender change. And, for better or worse, youths are often blissfully aware of this baggage and simply interested in the freshest art that truly expresses one’s self. Magnetic Man has asserted itself as the big brother and simply gives the youths what they want.