Most people could probably name where they were the first time they heard Leftfield‘s debut Leftism. Opening track Release the Pressure just seems to explode out of nowhere, in a way that’s extremely rare in music.
It takes a couple of minutes before Release the Pressure really starts properly, but even before it does, you can tell there’s something unusual about it. I’m not convinced that anything quite like it has been released in the two decades since the album originally appeared, but certainly in 1995, the mix of dark electronic beats, African and West Indian influences, and I really have no idea what else – it remains totally unique.
So it continues – Afro-Left, also a single, still sounds pretty much unlike anything else on the planet, and still sounds absolutely faultless, with its enormous tribal beats. The deliciously chilled out Melt is also entirely brilliant, and it and its neighbour Song of Life must have appeared on every film soundtrack in the last couple of decades.
Then comes what’s perhaps the most commercially accessible track on the album, the fantastic Original. Despite definitely having “hit single” written all over it, it also fits perfectly on the album, alongside its more underground compatriots. It’s a beautiful pop song with a brilliantly performed vocal, but also with the enormous electronic burbles and crunches that we’ve got used to over the preceding tracks. If that isn’t pure genius, it’s difficult to know what is.
If this album has a weak point, it’s over the next few tracks, but only because we’re forced to take a break from the catchier, more standout tracks and launch into the darker tribal explorations of Black Flute and Space Shanty. By no means is there anything wrong with them, but perhaps it’s only thanks to the preparation of the first half of the album that you’re ready for this kind of thing to turn up. Or perhaps your expectations are so high by this stage that you won’t accept anything less than exceptional.
Either way, it’s pretty hard to figure out what’s going on in Inspection (Check One), which seems to be an exploratory voyage more than anything, but good nonetheless. The dark instrumental Storm 3000 follows, still very much exploring new sonic territories.
Open Up, originally released a couple of years earlier as the first single from the album, does cause a slight change of direction for the release, even at this late stage. It’s undeniably great, although John Lydon‘s vocal is a little odd to say the least.
The album comes to a close with the fantastic 21st Century Poem. Deep, dark, dejected, and very good indeed, it’s a fitting close to a fantastic album, with all its reverse samples and haunting sounds. Or rather, it would be – there’s a short bassy postscript that follows after a few seconds’ silence, which is the real end to this truly unique release.
If you can find it, the double CD version from 2000 adds some extra remixes and alternative versions, making the album into an even more complete experience. But even without it, no music collection can ever possibly be complete without a copy of Leftism.
Unfortunately the double CD reissue seems to be harder to find these days, but the original release is still widely available.