Album Review by Mark Bayross
The trio of Tim “Christmas” Sheridan, Keith Binner and Brixton-based “Portal Pimp” Chico Ijomanta have crafted quite an epic for their debut album. They have pulled out as many stops as they could for DOPE RADIO, including a concerted assault on their little black book of celebrity contributors.
You can’t fail to be impressed when you hear Shaun Ryder’s mancunian holler dueting with legendary Dope God Howard Marks on BARABAJAGAL (the latest single), but then the Smugglaz don’t only have friends in high places (Utah Saints, 808 State, artist Craig Cooper and the proprietors of Home and Fabric), they are recognised as having influenced a fair few too. Tim is a renowned DJ (he played a mammoth 18 hour set at Glastonbury and co-founded dance station Kiss 105) and the Dope Smugglaz have remixed the likes of Finitribe, the Utah Saints, Elcka and Moloko.
DOPE RADIO is a sprawling epic of beats, bleeps and electronic noises, taking in rap, hip-hop, techno and ambient textures, sometimes all at once. OVERDOSED ON EVERYTHING is a case in point. Starting with a Howard Marks spoken passage, it builds into a collage of bass-heavy beats and processed vocals, with a rap of increasing intensity over the top, until, before you know it, the song is literally overdosing on an orchestral crescendo of strings, harps and brass.
Most of the 16 tracks here are less claustrophobic – last year’s No.15 hit single DOUBLE DOUBLE DUTCH is a cheery gospel-disco number with lush strings and what sounds bizarrely like sleigh bells in the mix. The aforementioned BARABAJAGAL is similarly upbeat: the addition of Rowetta’s backing vocals to Shaun Ryder’s distinctive voice lends the track even more of a Happy Mondays feel.
The Dope Smugglaz are also not without a sense of humour: song titles like I REMEMBER WHEN IT WAS ALL FIELDS and YO MOMMA AND HER MOMMA TOO have a tongue-in-cheek surrealism reminiscent of The Pharcyde. In addition, the pastiche of sounds and effects (self-referencing samples, soulful female vocals) evoke the playfulness of the KLF.
One of Tricky’s former singers, Angela Murrell, lends some sweet-toned female vocals to a couple of songs (the funked-up MI GLAD YOU LIKE IT…NOW STEP!” and the 70s disco of MARRIED 2 MUSIC), while Jo-Jo, now a presenter on Galaxy 105, leads ONE 4 LAYDEEZ. At times the messing around seems to dominate at the expense of an actual song, but who cares when the results are as spectacular as THE BASS THAT STARTED IT ALL, a sample-filled slap-bass frenzy that, despite being pure showing-off, is just undeniably enjoyable.
Even without chemically-enhanced listening (trippy sequences, Howard Marks, visits to Thailand and the West Indies, Dope Smugglaz…surely not?), this album still delivers a superb head-mashing. Worth listening to over and over again, if only cos Carl Puttnam, mega-voiced singer from former indie darlings Cud, is on here somewhere, and I’m buggered if I can find him amongst all this drug-addled haze.