Magnetic Man album review
To some, dubstep’s emergence from the underground to the bright lights of the mainstream is a signal that the music scene has finally run out of ideas. This hybrid genre, mixing elements of grime, drum n bass, techno, garage, trance, hip-hop and a whole lot more, feels like the well of fresh and interesting new musical ideas has well and truly run dry – leading producers to take apart old ideas, jumble them all together and call it progression. To others, though, dubstep is the sound of the future – the first exciting, revolutionary musical movement of the 21st century.
Tasked with the job of cementing dubstep’s position in the mainstream is super-group Magentic Man. Although they bear a superhero name, you wouldn’t think this would take a superhero-esque effort. After all, dubstep is basically a lot of mainstream genres merged into one. But with Magnetic Man, dubstep luminaries Skream, Benga and Artwork have made a mainstream dubstep album that also acts as a tent-pole for the genre as a whole – establishing its own conventions along the way.
Magnetic Man’s songs can be put into two categories. There’s the straight up dubstep featuring the slow grinds and menacing electro powered rhythms that have come to define the genre. Then there are the standard pop songs poured through a dubstep filter. Of these more mainstream efforts, it’s the ones featuring rising star Katy B that shine brightest. Miss Dynamite makes a decent impression on the grimey ‘Fire’ but, like John Legend’s ‘Getting Nowhere, there seems to be something missing. In contrast, Katy B’s entrancing vocals work perfectly with the slowed down floor-filler ‘Perfect Stranger’ and the brooding tension of ‘Crossover’. On its release, first single ‘I Need Air’ sounded so exciting and full of ideas that we all thought it would be one of the highlights of the album – but it sounds distinctly lightweight when rubbing shoulders with the albums stronger pop songs, and pails into insignificance in relation to some of the powerful dubstep beasts on offer.
As is to be expected with an album with one eye on the mainstream, the ‘dubstep’ songs are more concerned with introducing the uninitiated than doing anything too daring with the dubstep formula. The likes of ‘Ping Pong’, ‘K Dance’ and ‘Karma Crazy’ act as simple dubstep run-throughs, and as such are nothing more filler. That’s not to say there isn’t anything pushing boundaries on Magnetic Man. ‘The Bug’ broods with dark malevolence while ‘Anthemic’ does exactly what it says on the tin. Best of the lot though is ‘Mad’, which mixes the thunderous bass and grinding electro rhythms of dubstep with a full-on techno riff to make a storming album centrepiece.
While it may not be the masterpiece we might have expected, Magnetic Man is certainly a more than passable effort at establishing dubstep in the mainstream. Now they’ve done that, we can expect them to really start pushing the boundaries of the genre.