|Black Star Liner|
[The Guardian, 1996]
BLACK STAR LINER
YEMEN CUTTA CONNECTION
THE hippies are back. They've been creeping in for years via the blunted end of the dance scene, where self-righteously banal messages are tolerated - even encouraged - as long as they accompany music you can happily lie around on the floor to. Now we're stuck with them. Aggravatingly, Yemen Cutta Connection will probably be greeted with stoned enthusiasm by people with wispy chin beards and windsocks on their heads or, worse, those shocking bobtails and patchwork hats that hark back to the great old days of the village idiot. Black Star Liner's mainman is Choque Hussein, and although he is of Indian/Trinidadian descent, his name alone is doubtless enough to put this album into the Walkman of every half-baked pilgrim who blunders into the Hindu kush in search of spiritual sustenance and ends up getting flown home by the British High Commission.
If Yemen Cutta Connection has a spirit, it's that of the Leeds basement where it was conceived and recorded. This is the work of a talented and omniverous pop fanatic, his mind popping with ideas. Black Star Liner brew up techno, dub, rap and Eastern samples, which is hardly a novelty these days; but unlike their contemporaries, clothed in and addled by hemp, Black Star Liner don't reel this stuff off by the yard or merely lob in the occasional Bollywood sample in the hope of coming across as suitably exotic. At times, they seem to be attempting with Indian films what Portishead (following Barry Adamson) achieved with Hollywood and British thrillers: a synthesis of soundtrack and club culture. Again, since Portishead's success, this ground has been covered ad nauseam, but rarely with so fresh an approach or inspired a choice of sources as this. While Portishead's music is as shadowy and ominous as the movies it emulates, BLS take on the lustre, melodrama and breathlessness of Indian cinema. The result is a mighty, careering album that shakes the ground it treads on.
The voice of Cornershop's Tjinder Singh is one of the few to raise itself above the delicious clamour; his urgent Punjabi megaphone rhetoric sets the LP's tone on Duggie Dhol. Yemen Cutta Connection is unmistakably urban, less the sound of the streets than sound coming from underneath them. The scramble and hustle of Hooba Hooba and Killah Connection would make sense in Port Of Spain or Bombay or any other brash, frantic city - although not as much as in Leeds or West London - as would the sluggish nocturnal menace of Ottoman Empire Strikes Back and None Stop To The Border, or the snatched and fragile tranquility of Harmon Session Special.
Yemen Cutta Connection also comes with a hidden CD-rom program which I stumbled upon while writing this review. It mirrors the ornate humour that runs through the album, a scrimshaw of bathos, in-jokes and wry mundanities placed to trip up the unwary. Is that a prayer ritual, as years of po-faced “world dance” records might lead you to expect? On closer hearing it sounds more like the chant from a game of kabbadi. Not that it matters. This album is a joy, even without a user's guide.
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