The seven-year gap between Utah Saints (reviewed previously here) and Two (2000) must have seemed interminable to Utah Saints fans at the time, although it pales into insignificance when compared to the fifteen-year gap which has come since. But in those seven years of one-off singles, Leeds-based Utah Saints managed to find a mature sound which failed to make much of an impact on the charts, but was excellent nonetheless.
Their second album (they clearly struggle with names), Two opens with a gentle piece called Sun before launching into the lively Power to the Beats, the third single from the album. It’s a good place to start, sounding not entirely unlike the Utah Saints hits of the early 1990s, although without the samples that made them so famous. It wasn’t a hit, although that was partly because the CD wasn’t eligible for the UK charts.
First single Love Song comes next, with its enormous pounding beats. It’s a great track, but the record buying public of 2000 clearly wasn’t too bothered, as it barely scraped into the top forty. Which is a shame – it may not have the catchy charm of What Can You Do for Me or Believe in Me, but it’s far from bad.
Final single Lost Vagueness is one of the best tracks on here, but was entirely overlooked on its release the following year. Chrissie Hynde‘s weirdly synthesised vocals mix wonderfully with the almost symphonic backing. It’s great, but in the context of this album it forms a part of something even stronger.
This was, perhaps, the problem with Two – commercial success tends to come from singles, and whereas Utah Saints had plenty, Two is a more coherent, and much more complete release. Few tracks stand out, because the general level of quality is so high across the board.
As a fun deviation, Michael Stipe from R.E.M. turns up on a number of tracks, including Punk Club, which samples him largely listing cities in the US, which makes for an odd track, but sounds great nonetheless.
More of that later, but for now the album’s one hit single Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On, which sees Chuck D singing over an enormous driving industrial dance beat. Although actually, apart from the vocal, there isn’t a lot to this track, so you could be forgiven for not being too keen. Again, in the album context, it fits very nicely indeed.
The pleasant didgeridoo-fashioned instrumental Massive follows next, and then another Stipe conversation in the form of the brilliant Rhinoceros. This must be as filmic as music can really be, with its silent movie-style piano backing, and the farcical story (Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On) told in the vocals. Truly brilliant.
This mixes into the lovely, deep and gentle Morning Sun, before they flirt again with their rave roots on Sick, which surely must have been considered as a single at one point. But with the later tracks on the album it’s easy to just slip into the music, and enjoy the way it all fits together – B777 drifts into Techknowledgy and the lovely Three Simple Words, and suddenly closing track Wiggedy Wack is upon you.
Two is a great second album – definitely better than its predecessor – but the last fifteen years have not been kind to it. Not because it’s dated in the slightest, but just that everybody has long since forgotten about it. But it’s long overdue another listen, and as soon as you pick it up again, you’ll realise it’s pretty amazing.
You can still find Two at your local high street record shop.