This album review was submitted by Philip Lickley. If you want to contribute to All-Noise, send your music news, views and reviews to [email protected]
Labrinth – Electronic Earth
Buy Electronic Earth
Having already teamed up with Tinie Tempah on two of his biggest singles it’s time for producer Labrinth to stand on his own two feet and deliver his debut album, entitled Electronic Earth – which is released on the SyCo label more associated with reality acts than a London-based urban producer.
Those expecting a poppy X-Factor style album or indeed a guest-name-packed, club-tracks-dominated long player akin to David Guetta’s recent release will be disappointed. Actually, disappointed is not the word. I’d say surprised, as what I thought could well be an example of style over substance is in fact one of the most consistent and enjoyable albums I’ve heard. Coming in at almost forty-five minutes, Electronic Earth is up there with producers Guetta and Timbaland at their peak – but it’s an album that’s not afraid to dip the pace and bring something much more heartfelt rather than constant bass noise.
The album kicks off with ‘Climb On Board’, which is perhaps not the best showcase for what is overall a well-produced album. Filled with autotuned vocals and plinky-plonky piano, track number one is an eclectic, schizophrenic opening but one that fits in with the exploration and travel concept of the album. Full of random stops and starts and occasional speaking sections, it does show off Labrinth’s willingness to try different styles. ‘Climb On Board’ is certainly a grower and the mis-fire opening two minutes bleeds into an enjoyable track with stuttering hooks and tip-top production.
Second single and the track that first prompted me to purchase this album follows. The ‘Come In’ sections of ‘Earthquake’ combined with the chip-tune and then heavy electronic openings are well produced and even more addictive in this extended album version. Ditching the autotune, Labrinth’s voice is allowed to shine and mirrors his great appearances on the singles from Tinie Tempah, who guests on this track. Incredibly catchy both musically and vocally and just as well produced, this is certainly one of the singles of the year. Throw in the inspired chant breakdown, the trumpet section and the fast-paced multi-layered rap from Tinie Tempah and you get a top track that an extended ending finishes off nicely.
Onto ‘Last Time’ and we return to the theme of travel. This is a track that I reviewed badly in my recent single reviews but it has really grown on me. Though I still think the heavy use of autotune is a waste of his voice, the production combined with the bridge and chorus make for a very catchy song and a grower for those who, like me, didn’t enjoy it on first listen. Featuring great synth sections and more hooks from the stuttering second chorus to the string elements, it shows Labrinth has plenty of memorable and fresh elements to bring to his songs.
Follow-up ‘Treatment’ is a more straight-forward track that thankfully drops the autotune and brings in rock-tinged elements with ballad-based sections. Refreshingly more traditionally produced but still with plenty of hooks, it mixes elements of boy band ballads with a more electronic feel, and even throws in a lyrical nod to Cypress Hill’s famous ‘Insane In The Membrane’.. With some additional female vocals and a cracking instrumental breakdown, it’s a worthy track from the album, leading into the LP’s adapted cover of Charlie Williams’ ‘Express Yourself’, keeping the familiar chorus but adding new verses around it and a less sunny feel. Though not a million miles away from the original it does have some better elements and is a faithful adaptation but one that can stand on its own. Plus, it throws in a pleasing acapella section as it nears its close.
First album cut ‘Let The Sunshine’ is next and gives the album a summery feel with clap- and sing- along sections. Sounding more established as a song than it actually is, this is a joyful and great change of pace for the album.
Track seven is my tip for the next single release. Not a spelling mistake as you may first think, ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ featuring Emile Sandé on guest vocals, is a piano-led ballad that shows that Labrinth can calm an album down when needed. Showing off his voice, Labrinth has written and produced in this song some very emotive lyrics and created a soulful addition to the album. Mixing in some heart-pulling strings, a beautiful second verse and chorus from Sandé and then a building duet on the third section, this is a pitch-perfect meeting of minds and voices. A beautiful track.
As we enter the final third of the album it could be argued that it does lose its pace a little here. ‘Sundown’ is a serious change in style from the emotional rollercoaster of the preceding track to a bombastic production-led song that mixes in more crude metaphors but with a nicely interpolated section from Joni Mitchell’s famous song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. It’s not the best track on the album but the production works and it’s a nice bridge onto ‘Sweet Riot’ – which is similar in style with good verses. It doesn’t really step up to the plate until the strings and guitar solo appear nearer the end which save the track from mediocrity, as it wraps it up with a call to arms with a speech near the end.
Album closer ‘Vultures’ is a slow end to the album and though not up there with the best tracks is a satisfying way to end the album thanks to its lyrics and summing up of the album’s themes.
Overall Electronic Earth has surprised me as an album. Dispensing with the plethora of guest singers and club-tunes that usually dominate a producer-led album, Labrinth instead steps up to the plate to deliver his own vision with the most exciting production I’ve heard in a long time but also a great mix of stars. Though the ending doesn’t quite live up to the vision set out by the first seven / eight tracks, it’s well worth a listen and one of the most consistent and enjoyable albums I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in the past couple of years. This bodes well for Labrinth as both a producer and solo artist.