Pinning down exactly what 1 Giant Leap are isn’t easy. Their eponymous debut album / video-album 1 Giant Leap (2002) was groundbreaking, and featured the likes of Maxi Jazz, Robbie Williams, Michael Stipe, and others, alongside vocalists and musicians from all over the world. On the same tracks.
Once you’ve got the hang of all of that, the opening track on their second album What About Me?, a piece entitled Come to the Edge, makes a lot more sense. Kicking off with a spoken philosophical sample, it then mixes instrumentation and vocals from all over the world, despite only lasting a couple of minutes.
The first proper song Each Step Moves Us On is a little anticlimactic after that opening track and everything that came before it. After a wait of seven years (it was released five years ago this week) this second album was a very long time coming. This time it overflowed onto two discs, becoming a slightly bloated double album, again with a video version for those with the patience.
Maxi Jazz (you’ll remember him from Faithless) turns up for the brilliant How Can I Be a Better Friend to You?, the first of a number of tracks which really hit all of 1 Giant Leap‘s trademarks – there are great vocals, some fun exploratory musical backing, and in general some great songs.
There then follows a whole string of them – There’s Nothing Wrong with Me, Wounded in All the Right Places, and I Have Seen Trouble, featuring mainly African and Middle Eastern influences, with vocals from the likes of kd lang and Michael Stipe from R.E.M.
My favourite track on the first disc is probably the haunting Spanish sound of Solita Sin Solidad, featuring a vocal from Lila Downs but perhaps more remarkably Carlos Santana from The Mighty Boosh on guitar. The rest of the first disc is less remarkable, although the vocal ramblings complete with clicks in Serenity Prayer are a treat to hear.
Disc two opens with Under a Stormy Sky / I’ve Been Away, which features Maxi Jazz again to liven things up, as well as Michael Franti, Eddi Reader, and some other friends. The Farsi rap half way through from Haale is really rather special. The second track What I Need is Something Different is rather brilliant too.
My favourite track on the second half of this album is the driving beat of The Truth is Changing. Apart from a great vocal from former pop idol Will Young, there’s just something very catchy and compelling about it. Similarly Arrival features an appearance from former God Alanis Morissette, and is a very enjoyable track indeed.
Otherwise the second disc has a few less interesting moments, such as the confusing Freedom, or Forgive Me and the last proper track Set Me Free. The closing dub version of What I Need is Something Different is a welcome inclusion.
As a rule I’m not a huge fan of double albums – I think there should always be a good reason for allowing a release to spill over the eighty minute mark. And I’m not sure that reason exists here, apart from the fact that a lot of very talented people put a lot of work in. Even so, it might have benefitted from a little pruning here and there.
But it was definitely worth the seven year wait, and also the work involved in tracking down a copy of the album – when it’s good, it’s every bit as good as the first album, and even when it’s not so great, it’s still a fascinating listen.
Unfortunately What About Me? isn’t the easiest album to get hold of – the DVD is available through Amazon here, but I’ve only ever managed to find the album as an Australian import. But it’s worth the effort!