Is it a cheap shot to blame the Prodigy for what Pendulum have become? Or maybe it isn’t. After all, although they were already rising stars in the drum’n’bass scene, it was their simply awesome reworking of Voodoo People that thrust them into the limelight, and since then their insistence on merging the ideals of rock and drum’n’bass (much like The Prodigy did when making a rock show from a dance band) has taken prominence over what made them so great in the first place.
Hence why they now seem to fall between two stools. Enthusiastically embraced by the rock press as “the next big thing”, when in reality they had already had mainstream radio exposure just about everywhere two years previously thanks to the aforementioned remix and also the shitkicking drum’n’bass fun of Slam, this change of direction appears to leave the band in a quandary.
And In Silico proves this awkward position that they have left themselves in. As Showdown gets things moving, the first problem becomes apparent, which was also plainly obvious from the pre-album singles Granite and Propane Nightmares – the vocals are really, really poor. Somehow both flat and strained at the same time, they really do intrude on some of the songs. Happily on Showdown they don’t stick around for a while, but the rest of the track is a re-hash of previous tracks, it feels, that doesn’t really go anywhere and certainly doesn’t reach any of the heights the band have proven capable of previously.
The fist signs of the “rock” appear on Different – breakbeats appear in soft focus, with squalling guitars and those sodding vocals again – all, no doubt, coming to a “rock” dancefloor near you – and in truth, it’s dull as fuck. Single Propane Nightmares then appears, the bizarre use of mariachi-style horns standing out as a monstrous mismatch with the fast-paced track they are married to. It’s not a bad track otherwise, though, and this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that it is still getting regular play on various music channels, some months after release.
Visions is another wierd one – vocals buried in a torrent of effects, and otherwise a pedestrian break-beat ambles through nearly six minutes of tedium – it could have been half the length and no-one would have complained. Midnight Runner, however, is perhaps the one track where things become really interesting. A long, long track that takes it’s time to unwind, it’s a fantastic, spaced-out epic that on this album stands out not only as a highlight, but also as an “if only”.
…which The Other Side just proves again. Another pedestrian track, with a horribly inane vocal, that I couldn’t get through quick enough. More interesting, if not necessarily better, is the very odd indeed use of drum’n’bass in swing-time, apparently, on Mutiny, which certainly makes it stand out. And the simple fact that it stands out (and even has a guitar solo!) gives it the odd mark or two above most of the rest.
9000 Miles is a dreadful wannabe ballad using acoustic guitars, more soft-focus breaks and vocodered vocals, that I can just see being used by ad-men at some point to sell some totally unconnected product. Granite is still a slamming single, full of hard-hitting beats that nearly hit their target, and the alien-effects that streak across the track like UFOs in the night sky are a nice touch. Even the vocals don’t sound that bad…
And, then, the grand finale of The Tempest all feels a bit of a let down. Lots of screamed vocals, guitars, and a pace that feels deliberately reined in, with no real opportunity to “cut loose” as the song constantly feels like it is about to.
Perhaps that is the nub of the problem here. In effectively neutering their sound for mainstream acceptance, they have erased all the really great aspects about them, and that made Hold Your Colour such a great album. The band long-since diassociated themselves from the main Drum’n’Bass scene, so it’s hard to level the label of “sell out” – and nor would I want to. It’s just that the bottom line is that this is really not good enough.