Propellerheads burst onto the lower reaches of the UK chart at the end of 1996 with Take California, scoring their most significant hit the following year with David Arnold‘s help on their version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They were a short-lived duo – Decksandrumsandrockandroll was their only full-length album release – but they were ambitious collaborators, and did manage something of an impact during their brief stay on the charts.
The album opens with the first hit Take California, a long and repetitive piece built around a fairly uninspiring sample. Then next is Velvet Pants – I hadn’t realised until listening this time around that I actually own the US version, which has a slightly different track listing to the UK one, so a track is missing here. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. As with the first track, it drags somewhat, but there’s a pleasant feel all the way through.
Better? might be a short track, but it’s far from a filler – it’s a sweet little jazzy track that fits nicely in between the bigger pieces. The UK version of the album then gets Oh Yeah? while the US version introduces De La Soul in a collaboration that seems to have been manned by Prince of all people – 360° (Oh Yeah?) is next, as an undemanding De La Soul vocal appears over the original track.
Oh, then Shirley Bassey turns up, delivering the vocal on the 1997 hit History Repeating. You can tell that Propellerheads are clearly big James Bond fans, and possibly for the first time on this album, it’s really rather brilliant
This is not so true for Winning Style or Bang On!, the latter sounding like early-90s era Moby when he was having one of his less creative days. But this is, broadly, a hip hop album, and so the short beatboxing of A Number of Microphones is appropriate, although not entirely welcome.
Finally, we get the hit single, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in glorious nine-and-a-half minute form. It’s huge, and absolutely every bit as good as the original. This is pretty much what Propellerheads their fifteen minutes of fame, and deservedly so. Anything else is going to feel like filler, and so pleasant though the gentle acid of Bigger? may be, it feels a little bit pointless too. Cominagetcha is nice enough too, but seems a little drifty and directionless.
Spybreak! was another single, which snuck in at the bottom end of the top 40 in 1997. Again, it’s far from bad, but it’s nothing particularly special, and it also owes a lot to the preceding single Take California. I’m starting to wonder now why I liked this album – it seems very bland now.
Sure enough, Jungle Brothers turn up for the closing track You Want it Back, and it’s nothing special either. Two decades on, this is, sadly, a rather disappointing effort all round.
The version of Decksandrumsandrockandroll that was reviewed is still available from the US version of Amazon here.