The Shamen – UV

The Shamen always seemed pretty daft and short-lived, and so it’s odd to think about reviewing one of their albums two whole decades after its release. Odder still, when that album is UV.

This was their final release, following two years after their final release on One Little Indian, Hempton Manor. The story goes that they were trying very hard to get themselves released from that contract, but having done so, The Shamen were effectively over. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that UV is a little uninspired at best.

Opening track Mercury offers little new. The beats are, perhaps, a little more house-inspired than previously, but otherwise this could have fit well on Axis Mutatis (1995). That’s a good thing – Axis Mutatis was a great album, but it’s perhaps surprising that three years later they were opening an album with something so similar.

The album had launched with the single Universal, but oddly The Shamen have never quite seemed to be able to bring their own ideas into full fruition without a little help (as witnessed by all the Beatmasters remixes of singles which turned out to be so much better than the originals). So it is that 187 Lockdown‘s handiwork on Universal is what really brings it to life. With that, it’s a great mix of deep house, and the dance/pop crossover that The Shamen were so good at.

The mix of interplanetary and old world references were one of the things that had characterised Axis Mutatis, accompanying tracks that were probably very good for taking drugs to, and so having got the single out of the way, UV settles back in with more of the same. Palen (K) is a very good instrumental, driven by a huge acid bass line. Nothing new, but nothing bad either. Beamship – Brief Sighting is a short beatsy thing that doesn’t seem entirely sure what it wants to be.

You’ll experience a brief moment of joy as I Do sounds a lot like Ebeneezer Goode for exactly one note, and having got past that, it’s a pretty good song, with some nice vocal work but the lyrical drivel that you should absolutely be used to by now. As with a lot of The Shamen‘s own production work, it almost works. Imagine how good this would have been if The Beatmasters had been allowed to get their hands on it.

Pop is next, a big, slow instrumental that takes some inspiration from preceding albums Hempton Manor and Arbor Bona Arbor Mala, the exceptional bonus disc that accompanied Axis Mutatis. It’s not quite as good as any of that, but having accepted that this is a bit of a career retrospective album, it’s good to have a nod to it here.

One of the more misguided things on this release are the multiple versions of Universal, which does make it feel as though it was thrown together pretty quickly from a few random leftovers. 1999‘s version is pretty poor – all the interesting parts of the earlier version have been removed, and replaced with dull house beats, and not a lot else. Even the fade at the end seems to have been slapped on in less time than it took the track to play.

Sativa ’98 is an updated version of an underground 12″ that the duo had released the preceding year, and it’s another pleasant house instrumental, taking a lot of influence from those preceding instrumental albums again. It’s the sort of thing that I feel I’d enjoy more as a single track on an obscure vinyl white label – on an album, or on this album anyway, it just doesn’t quite seem to work.

Serpent is typically daft, but it’s probably the best track on here actually. Again, there’s nothing particularly new here, but it does at least show The Shamen at their best – silly lyrics against great, banging dance music. My apologies for the use of the word “banging” there, but it seemed appropriate.

Next is Mr. C‘s club mix of U Nations, which seems to be different from Universal, although it’s not entirely clear how, as some of the lyrics are shared between the two. I’m not sure my brain can cope with this, but at least some of it appears to be borrowed from Universal, which makes it the third time they’ve put it on here. Is that really necessary?

For Marca Huasi, we get an exploration of drum and bass, territory into which The Shamen had strayed a couple of times before, and you feel as though they almost know what they’re doing, but it doesn’t completely work here. It’s good, but it’s not great. The Technical Itch mix of Sfynx is better, an instrumental, still drum and bass, but they haven’t tried to mix a song into it, so it’s clearer what it’s trying to be.

Finally, we get Metatron, which particularly seems to be echoing Axis Mutatis, but this time they do it well, with the slightly frenzied beats and lyrics that are probably as silly as ever, but aren’t really audible. And then the album draws to a close. So UV isn’t a bad career retrospective for The Shamen, but it’s probably a good thing that they never followed it up – there’s little new here apart from the discovery of house beats.

This album is no longer available new, but you should be able to find second-hand copies floating around.

The Shamen – Boss Drum

In 1992, The Shamen were truly in control of their careers. The five years that came before had been turbulent, as they journeyed from indie to pop-dance

Fifth album Boss Drum opens with the self-produced version of the title track, later released, in reworked form, as the third single from the album. Most of the singles were remixed at the hands of The Beatmasters, and frankly those that weren’t do suffer noticeably. So the album version of Boss Drum is a bit dull and noisy, particularly when compared to the single.

For L.S.I.: Love Sex IntelligenceThe Beatmasters were at the helm as producers, and this is consequently brilliant. Mr. C‘s rap is typically awkward, but hey, these were the early 1990s – pretty much nobody in the UK was an expert at rapping back then. This was released as the first single in June 1992, and immediately hit number four.

With seven singles from a ten-track album, there’s little room for anything else here, but Space Time is one of the few album-only tracks. It did appear on The Face EP in remixed form, and with some acid chirps it’s a bit deeper than some of the other tracks on here, but ultimately it isn’t really anything special.

Librae Solidi Denari literally means “pounds, shillings, and pence” in Latin, but you have to wonder from the initials and some of the other tracks on here whether it took its inspiration from another source. It’s a pretty dull tribal instrumental that also made it onto The Face EP and the subsequent remix album Different Drum.

Then comes the number one hit Ebeneezer Goode, released just a couple of weeks before the album appeared. In a curious step, listeners of the LP version get The Shamen‘s own (vastly inferior) version, whereas on the cassette and CD you get an extended version of The Beatmasters‘ single version. It’s a great track, very much of its time, and yes kids, it is about drugs. Don’t do them.

The second half of the album kicks off with the final single, Comin’ On. If there was ever a track that needed to be reworked by The Beatmasters, this is definitely it. On the album, it’s a dreadfully misguided attempt to sound Indian (or possibly West Indian? It’s difficult to tell at times – or perhaps that’s the joke?) full of silly voices and sitar samples and descriptions of people as “yellow” (was that really ever acceptable?) It would be hard to believe that this seemed funny to anyone, even shrouded by illicit substances as they probably were when it was recorded.

But amazingly, there was a good song hiding in there. The 1993 single version strips out all the silly and racist bits and turns it into something quite brilliant. The Beatmasters, it seems, are indeed capable of magic.

They also had their hands on the single version of Phorever People, released just in time for Christmas in 1992, but in this instance the album version holds the song together well. It’s followed by the dreadful album-only track Fatman.

Things do improve towards the end though, with the pleasant instrumental Scientas, which could have only been improved if it had been a bit more melodic, and finally the eight-minute single Re:evolution, featuring the drug-inspired ramblings of neophilosopher Terence McKenna.

I like the track – actually I like it a lot, particularly some of the remixes on the single from The Future Sound of London and others, but bluntly, he is talking total nonsense. Even the first sentence, “If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed,” doesn’t really make sense if you stop and think about it. I’ve really tried – I’ve been listening to this song for at least two decades now, and ultimately I’ve had to just conclude that the whole thing is gibberish. But close your eyes, try not to listen to the actual words too carefully, and maybe imagine you’ve injected a lot of cannabis pills, and you can enjoy it as an intriguing, experimental piece of music. Which is reasonably true for the album as a whole actually, on balance.

But in the end, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The CD version of the album gets you a couple of additional dub versions of Boss Drum and Phorever People, but honestly it isn’t worth the bother. Save yourself the money and just get the singles album The Shamen Collection instead.

If you do fancy a copy of Boss Drum, it is still available here. It’s worth taking a few minutes to enjoy the reviews first.

Peel Sessions – The Shamen, 12 February 1991

The Shamen‘s fourth and final John Peel session was recorded in February 1991 and broadcast several times that same year. The Shamen had long been featured on Peel’s radio shows, and he seems to have even stuck with them once they transitioned from psychedelic eighties “alternative rock” to the rave-pop-dance that they were so fond of in the early 1990s.

The session opens with a pretty good version of En-Tact‘s Hyperreal, already available in the shops for a year or so at this stage. It seems to have gained some slightly daft sound effects which weren’t there on the quite brilliant original version, and it’s notably lacking the input from William Orbit that made the US album and subsequent versions so good, but it’s still pretty strong.

Make it Mine had already been a single in 1990, and this version seems to have undergone a slightly ill-advised reworking, with a pointless middle section and a length rap from Mr. C. It’s interesting to see them exploring some slightly different directions, but they really don’t seem to know what they’re doing. The input of The Beatmasters that would characterise the next album seems long overdue.

Possible Worlds is a nice inclusion – definitely one of the best tracks from En-Tact, it offers them a chance for some musical exploration without going completely off the rails. There’s a bit more freestyle rapping (including rhyming “brain pattern” with “Saturn”), which is definitely unnecessary, but in general it’s pretty good. Just not quite as good as the original version.

Then comes In the Bag, which I think I’m saying was never released anywhere else. It’s a pretty nice ambient piece which is entirely lacking in melody, but it’s a strong inclusion nonetheless. In a way it’s pieces like this rather than the better known singles and album tracks that make it worth hearing these sessions.

You can read more about The Shamen‘s relationship with the John Peel show here. This session is available on The Shamen‘s 1993 compilation On Air, which is still widely available.

The Shamen – Axis Mutatis

An album that seems to have been around my whole life long celebrates its twentieth anniversary this week, The Shamen‘s most complete effort Axis Mutatis (1995).

After their initial acid and industrial explorations, The Shamen‘s commercial explosion came with 1991 (-ish)’s Pro-Gen, which you might know as Move Any Mountain. The Boss Drum album which followed in 1992 yielded pretty much every hit single anybody had that year, but has little else to offer, and so it’s very much left to Axis Mutatis to be an album in its own right.

Axis Mutatis opens with its most commercial track, the weirdly astral Destination Eschaton. Proving that drugs do little for your comprehensibility, this is the single that instructs listeners to “imminentise your Eschaton”, but for all its lyrical weirdness it’s a great pop song.

Single Transamazonia follows. The Shamen were at the top of their game here, as both Axis Mutatis and its companion piece Arbor Bona Arbor Mala emit an analogue warmth and depth which they hadn’t tapped previously and never would again.

The Aguirre-inspired Conquistador follows, with the early Latin American explorers getting a heavy dose of criticism for their love of gold, and then MK2A (“Mauna Kea to Andromeda”) follows. A couple of years ago I watched the New Year’s sunrise from Mauna Kea, which is definitely a deeply spiritual experience. If I were to try to put it into words, it would probably sound something like this.

In a rare case of a miss for The Beatmasters, omnipresent in the 1990s, both when they created their own hits and when they turned everyone else’s songs into huge hit singles as well, their single version of MK2A, which appears on the 1998 compilation The Shamen Collection isn’t anywhere near as good. Given that they were responsible for this and two other tracks on this album, that’s a curious fact, but sadly it’s true.

On the face of it, Neptune is one of the less exciting pieces on the album, an instrumental based around weird poppy and bubbly sounds. It is nice, though, and offers a gentle interlude after the heavily pop-driven dance that’s all around it.

Apart from any narcotic influences it may or may not have, Axis Mutatis seems to be influenced by a number of factors, but the conflicts between the old and new worlds during the Age of Discovery seem to play a big part, and Prince of Popocatapetl returns to that theme. With relatively few lyrics, but lots of deep jungle and acid noises, it’s an intriguing musical exploration.

Next comes the poppier, bubblier, and entirely more daft third single Heal (The Separation), produced by Steve Osborne. As with Destination Eschaton, you would be hard pushed to describe what it’s actually about, but it’s a great, uplifting dance track, and a worthy single.

A lovely deep instrumental follows, Persephone’s Quest, full of deep chimes and bobbly bass parts. It’s a reminder, were it needed, that The Shamen are a lot more than just the people who brought us Ebeneezer Goode and then had to spend a lot of time trying to justify it to the tabloid buying public – they are also capable of beautiful electronic music.

The mid-1990s were the period when cramming as much onto your album as possible was all the rage, and you do have to wonder slightly whether Moment actually adds anything much to Axis Mutatis, but it’s not doing any particular harm where it is, at the deep and dark instrumental end of the album.

The bonus disc Arbor Mala Arbor Mala is a magnificent 70-minute exploration of deep electronic trance music, which I’d hoped to find time to review here in its own right, but it will have to wait for now. As a precursor, the tail end of Axis Mutatis brings you a four-part piece called Axis Mundi, which mixes into one of The Shamen‘s own takes on Destination Eschaton (possibly proving that without The Beatmasters at the helm it’s not nearly such a good song), followed by the eleven minute Agua Azul. If you came here expecting more hit singles, you’re going to be disappointed, but for fans of electronic music, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Bringing up the rear, and strangely lonely right at the end, is S2 Translation, a musical conversion of the amino acids in the S2 protein. Or something. As ideas go, it’s nearly as daft as trying to play the music notated by birds sitting on a telephone wire, but it’s very listenable too. The result is a strangely hypnotic piece, which closes the album entirely appropriately.

Sadly that was pretty much it for The Shamen – 1996’s instrumental follow-up Hempton Manor is great too, but was never going to be much of a commercial success, however much they wanted to blame the record company for its failure, and 1998’s final UV is an other-worldly exploration with little to offer the charts.

You can find Axis Mutatis at your regular music retailers, most likely second hand. Try to make sure you’re getting the double CD including Arbor Bona Arbor Mala.

Music for the Masses 39 – 7 May 2005

For the final run of Music for the Masses, from April to May 2005, I had secured the coveted Saturday night slot, building people up to a stomping night out in Leeds. Or alternatively helping them to revise for their exams. Or potentially neither; it was rather difficult to tell. But looking through the playlist, I can see a slightly more uptempo seam running through the show, culminating with the Electromix at the end of the show.

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Show 39: Sat 7 May 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: The Shamen.

  • Morcheeba – World Looking In
  • Erasure – Here I Go Impossible Again
  • 1 Giant Leap feat. Robbie Williams & Maxi Jazz – My Culture
  • Mylo – In My Arms (Sharam Jey Remix)
  • The Shamen – Comin’ On (Beatmasters Mix)
  • Sylver – Make It
  • Aurora – Ordinary World
  • BT – Orbitus Terrarium
  • Kraftwerk – Aérodynamik
  • The Shamen – MK2A
  • Depeche Mode – Freelove (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Stereo MCs – Connected
  • Technique – Sun is Shining
  • Felix – Don’t You Want Me
  • Yello feat. Stina Nordenstam – To the Sea
  • New Order – Jetstream (Arthur Baker Remix)
  • The Shamen – Indica
  • Binar – The Truth Sets Us Free
  • Talk Talk – Talk Talk
  • Mirwais feat. Craig Wedren – Miss You [Electromix]
  • Elektric Music – Lifestyle (Radio-Style) [Electromix]
  • Front Line Assembly – Everything Must Perish [Electromix]
  • Fluke – Absurd
  • Bent – The Waters Deep

The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.

Music for the Masses 21 – 10 October 2004

After a four year break, Music for the Masses made its triumphant return, switching now from Aberystwyth to Leeds, and finally making the break into the world of FM broadcasting. The first show started a few minutes late, as the producer had fallen asleep so deeply that he couldn’t hear the telephone ringing, as I frantically tried to get somebody’s attention inside the building so I could come in and do my show. After a lot of waving my arms around, I finally got the attention of the DJs, who politely waved back. Eventually, somebody let me in, and the show began.

Show 21: Sun 10 Oct 2004, from 4:05am-6:05am

Broadcast on LSR FM, on FM and online. Artist of the week: Depeche Mode.

  • Télépopmusik – Breathe
  • Air – Cherry Blossom Girl
  • Enigma – Boum Boum (Chicane Mix)
  • Delerium feat. Zoë Johnston – You & I
  • Depeche Mode – Behind the Wheel (Beatmasters Mix)
  • Alpinestars – NuSEX City
  • Front Line Assembly – Transmitter
  • Client – The Chill of October
  • Yello – Time Palace
  • Depeche Mode – Only When I Lose Myself
  • S.I. Futures – Eurostar
  • Echoboy – Turning On
  • Dirty Vegas – Days Go By (Acoustic)
  • New Order – Touched by the Hand of God (Biff & Memphis Remix)
  • Apollo 440 – Vanishing Point
  • Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence
  • Asana – Re-embodiment
  • Goldfrapp – Hairy Trees
  • Orbital & Angelo Badalamenti – Beached

This show was recorded, and for the most part still exists. It will be posted as a Playlist for stowaways soon.