Leftfield – Rhythm and Stealth

Somehow, it was a very long four years between Leftfield‘s groundbreaking debut Leftism (1995) and the follow-up Rhythm and Stealth, released fifteen years ago this week. Given how active they have been since, this might seem surprising, but their style is so unusual, so unique, that every year counts.

Rhythm and Stealth opens with an entertaining quote about how it isn’t freestyle, because style isn’t free (it’s expensive) and then launches into the brilliant Dusted, with Roots Manuva. This second album contains many more collaborations than the first, and that largely serves it well.

This is an album which spawned relatively few singles, but somehow nearly every track seems like one. Phat Planet, for example, was not a single, but must have been everywhere on advertising or television, because it’s immediately familiar. Or perhaps it’s just incredibly good – the enormous driving bass is pretty unforgettable.

In terms of sound, this second album is noticeably harsher and darker than its predecessor, but there are shared elements too, as Chant of a Poor Man illustrates before the vocal comes in. And all the way through, there’s somehow this enormity to the sound, which truly sounds amazing.

It does have its weaker moments though – after those first few tracks, Double Flash feels a little bit empty, and El Cid, while better, is still not as aurally fascinating as some of its neighbours. It’s left to lead single Africa Shox to lift things back from the level of “good” to “amazing”, with the quite astonishing vocal performance from Africa Bambaataa.

From hereon in, it’s largely plain sailing. Dub Gussett is less explosive, but still strong, and almost reminiscent of some of the tracks from the first album. This mixes into the final single Swords, which is also underplayed, but hides an exceptional song, and also an extremely good video, although that isn’t included here.

6/8 War is fun too – this is a relatively rare time signature in dance music, and makes for a really unusual sounding track too, but one that works really well. And finally, Rino’s Prayer is yet again absolutely enormous, despite also being one of the quietest pieces on the album. It’s a great closing track for a quite exceptional release.

Not counting the odd compilation or live album, Rhythm and Stealth was the second of two Leftfield albums, and while I would definitely have welcomed a third a few years down the line, it just feels too late now. It would be futile to even consider which is better out of this and Leftism, but they had an enormous impact on the dance music scene throughout the 1990s, and then went onto other projects. But both are absolutely essential purchases for anybody who claims to like anything electronic.

You can still find Rhythm and Stealth from all over the place. Harder to track down but worth the effort is the double CD including Stealth Remixes.

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