It is a strange thing… Sitting down to review something and believing you have a decent understanding of the subject matter, only to realise you don’t have the first idea.
I picked up the Stereo MC’s Album ‘Connected’ when I was rummaging through boxes of cassettes at Clocktower Records in Dorset. The artwork jumped out at me, several people stood around flowers and mushrooms with a snake, volcano and thunderbolt for good measure. I immediately remembered the title track ‘Connected’ blaring out of the speakers in my parents’ Golf GTI back in the early 90’s and recall it featuring in Carphone Warehouse commercials in the 00’s. I also have fond memories of ‘Step it Up’ and its Yeah, Yeah, Yeah chorus. I didn’t listen to the album at the time of release, but for some reason, I thought I knew enough about it to wing a half decent review.
What I have concluded in the last few days though (following some ‘strenuous’ googling), is that late 80’s to early 90’s dance and hip hop would never be my specialist subject. I had always assumed that the Stereo MC’s sat smack in between the Madchester and Britpop scenes with The Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, Stone Roses and the like (an assumption drawn from only really knowing the band’s two commercially successful tracks). However, despite placing 8th in a list of 25 awesome one hit wonders, the Stereo MC’s were and continue to be a big deal in the UK’s underground dance scene. This was something of a revelation to me when I started researching the origins of the band.
Initially signed to Gee Records (alongside a number of influential underground artists of the mid to late 80s), Island Records purchased the label and took the band for their own. They now release music via their own ‘Connected’ label in partnership with long-term friends Terranova and support a number of emerging dance and hip hop artists. So why did I not associate them with this genre of music?
And then I remembered why I knew the words to ‘Step it Up’ from start to finish. The seminal moment of mid nineties culture for me was Euro 96. A football tournament that plopped itself alongside the Cool Britannia, Brit Pop era and produced an absolutely belting compilation album – The Beautiful Game. Nestled alongside Oasis, Jamiroquai, Supergrass, Black Grape and Pulp – this album was my favourite during that infamous football tournament and the months that followed.
Somehow, I’ve managed to go almost 500 words and not even touch on the album I intended to review, so here goes. Connected is a solid album. As we’ve established, it sits in a genre that I know little of, but this breakthrough collection of tracks is a bouncing, club-oriented throng of vibrant and funky dance. The rapping though, it’s a bit…. Lazy. The track that ‘quotes’ Humpty Dumpty is the low. It’s as if every lyric is a bit of an afterthought, but thankfully this doesn't divert from the sheer pleasure of the sound. The lack of complexity in their lyrics is probably the difference between Stereo MCs being revered in the same camp as Massive Attack. Instead, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that Reverend and the Makers clearly took them as inspiration.
I was recently invited to a weekend at Butlins, Minehead titled Shiiine On. It’s a tribute to a moment in time with acts like Ocean Colour Scene, Orbital, Peter Hook and the Light and Shed Seven performing. Stereo MC’s are on the line up and whilst I’m not sure I’ll make a concerted effort to stand at the front of the crowd, I’ll be up and raving when I hear that line… To the left, to the right...