London-based duo 4hero is known for pioneering sounds that laid the groundwork for drum ‘n’ bass and later soul, jazz and electronica fusions. With Play With the Changes (the duo’s first album since 2001’s Creating Patterns), Dennis “Dego” McFarlane and Mark “Mark Mac” Clair pull from that same wide palate to create another broadly appealing musical opus. A majestic fourteen-track album of both forward-thinking and vintage soul, Play With the Changes is ambitious in production and lyrical content. It may seem soft compared with the group’s jungle roots, but the album is an impeccable journey through progressive soul.
Play With the Changes comprises two distinct styles: lush soul with a vintage slant and futuristic soul with an electronica feel. What makes the album so interesting is that the styles mesh together perfectly. The impressive roster of guest vocalists (Jody Watley, Jack Davey of J*Davey, Darien Brockington, Phonte of Little Brother, Ursula Rucker) is the perfect complement to the varied production.
The most sonically exciting tracks are those with a stronger electronica tinge, such as the future jazz of “Look Inside,” with its stuttering drum rhythms and soaring chorus. Jody Watley’s contribution is the drum ‘n’ bass-flavored “Bed of Roses,” which skitters by on its complex layers of sound. But it’s Ursula Rucker’s socially conscious “Awakening” that stands out here. With powerful lyrics (including “Into the awakening/ Bring/ It’s past time for you and your generation to put this universal chaos into order”), the track is a defiant call to arms for the 9/11 generation. The track rides subtle marching-band drums and gently rises on a cloud of bass, pianos and strings into an emotional crescendo. Jack Davey displays her star quality on “Take My Time,” a slice of subtle future funk. Davey has an irresistible presence on record, her gruff delivery at once hard and feminine. Vintage soul is the obvious influence on “Give In” with Darien Brockington and Phonte, as well as the Stevie Wonder-like “Superwoman.” And a few instrumental tracks develop the electronica-jazz fusion hinted at in the vocal tracks.
Play With the Changes is a journey through the many facets of soul music, stretching back to the experimental 1970s and reaching into the future of contemporary soul. Anyone who digs eclectic soul will find much to praise here.