It comes as no surprise that Two Pages is a double-CD. Not so
much because of its title as because of its genre: 4 hero are known for drum &
bass, and every drum & bass album is a double these days. Why? Who
decided that every single artist within one specific genre must deliver
up to two and a half hours of music even on their debut release? (It
would have taken the Beatles or the Stones five albums to get that far!)
Is there not a drum & bass artist brave enough to give us an hour of
music and leave it at that?
In fairness to the duo of Dego McFarlane and Mark Mac, 4 hero helped
found the whole double-album syndrome back in 1994 with Parallel
Universe -- which means they aren't simply following the current
trend -- and if any drum & bass album I've heard this year has
justified spanning two CDs, Two Pages is the, er, one.
"Page One," the first CD, is primarily vocal, features entirely "live"
instrumentation and is surprisingly soft on the palate. It opens with
"Loveless," on which Ursula Rucker, who also graced Josh Wink's recent
album, drops a half-spoken, half-sung but always rapidly delivered poem
about mother earth and our treatment of her, the general theme that runs
throughout Two Pages. Accompanied by exquisite jazz drums, a
gentle double-bass, a few keyboard pads and a touch of violin,
it's a subtle announcement that this album is not going to play by the rules.
Rucker is far from the only vocalist to guest on "Page One." Carol
Crosby takes the lead on both "Golden Age of Life," a midtempo number
dominated by grand-piano flourishes, and "Wishful Thinking," an overt
love song that heads toward a Philly soul vibe. Face sings two of the
album's most commercial offerings, "Escape That" and "Star Chasers,"
each of which uses heavenly metaphors to achieve dreamlike status. Ike
Obiamiwe sings "Cosmic Tree," which again plays to the preordained
lyrical concept, and, in an attempt to shift yet further from formula, "The
Action" features Ish on a rap that leans heavily into Jungle Bros./A
Tribe Called Quest territory. With such an array of vocalists and its
mature arrangements, "Page One" is a guaranteed delight for fans of
live jazz, '70s soul and spiritual rap.
"Page Two," meanwhile, is almost totally instrumental and completely
programmed on machines, the total opposite of the lush songs on "Page
One." Tracks like "We Who Are Not As Others" and "Mathematical
Probability" are harsh digital beats rescued from some future eon, the
music we might have expected more of on this album. But "Greys" and
"In The Shadows" are experimental electronica of the kind that would do
the Warped label (home of Aphex Twin and Autechre) proud.
Those enticed into Two Pages by the commerciality of the songs
on "Page One" may find its digital companion too intense for their
liking. Similarly, those who came purely to dance might deem "Page One"
too middle of the road. But those who come to the party with an open
mind, eager to hear drum & bass progress, will be captivated.
Perhaps even mesmerized. Two Pages is -- to borrow from its
spiritual theme -- a revelation.