Coldcut is one of the most important duos in electronic music. After their revolutionary “Paid in Full (7 minutes of madness)” remix, Jonathan More and Matt Black went on to found Ninja Tune, one of the premier labels in dance, and create 70 Minutes of Madness, widely regarded as one of the best deejay mixes ever. Their original work, however, has not been as successful. Their 1997 release, Let Us Play!, didn’t give us a particularly compelling reason to, and although their early work is out of print, the few tracks that occasionally surface don’t seem to shout out for a re-release.
So it’s nice to say that even if their latest stab at the original work doesn’t dazzle the mind the way their patchwork releases do, it’s at least a decent record. Most of it is clogged with guest vocals, but many of the appearances are successful, most notably Roots Manuva on the excellent “True Skool.” But the feeling created by this genre-stitching design and varied vocals brings up too many bad memories of the late ’90s. And when generic tendencies rear their ugly head too much, a record all too often falls victim to the notorious disease that plagues so many similar artists who attempt to craft original products.
What would an artist like this have to do to make a successful record? So much of their success is based upon the re-appropriation of other work that it must be difficult to make the jump into totally original creations. But is this their problem or ours? The value of “originality” has become so important that cover records are dismissed and evolving folk music falls by the wayside. If something is good, then what’s the big deal? Why jump into creation when it isn’t your strong suit? When artists who work best as samplers try to construct songs (think Shadow, Z-Trip and RJD2) their work is not as successful, and yet somehow this makes them lesser artists. Coldcut’s originals will never surpass their mix work, but the desire to keep pushing what they were not meant to do is a constant.
I am not saying that people shouldn’t do exactly what they want; I just hope they are doing it for the right reasons. The average Coldcut fan should be satisfied with Sound Mirrors, but then again, the average Coldcut fan wasn’t struck first by the group’s original compositions. Too often, artists feel they have to prove themselves – or at least be like other artists. It’s the reason emcees surpassed deejays as the leaders of hip-hop: the music industry needed something that was closer to the typical rock frontman. And if you have a choice between paying someone else for royalties or writing your own music and waiting for the commercial licensing, which one are you going to pick?
If I’ve strayed from the record (and I have), it’s because nothing in Sound Mirrors is inspiring me to stay on topic. “Everything Is Under Control” is worth a download, and Saul Williams’s spoken-word performance on “Mr. Nichols” is worth noting, but how much of this record has been done before and how much of it will be done again? What Coldcut mix can you say the same about?
Ninja Tune Records Web site