Chase & Status occupy a pretty unique position in the UK music scene. Arguably the biggest drum ’n' bass act this country has ever produced, with genuine links to (and credibility within) the underground, they are undeniably a pop act with chart ambitions and expectations.
In the run-up to the release of ‘Tribe’ – their fourth album – Will Kennard and Saul Milton promised it would be “energetic and varied”, and there’s no denying this is case. The album brings together the various sounds and styles that the duo have explored over their previous three albums, with nods to their early roots alongside tracks worthy of festival main stages.
From the very start of the album, opening track ‘Big Man Skank’ is unapologetically huge – fusing trap, reggae and drum ’n' bass in a way that brings to mind the duo’s triumph as part of the Rebel Sound collective at Red Bull Culture Clash.
Kano feature ‘Dubplate Original’ follows, the trap-meets-grime production seemingly taking heed of the huge popularity of the MC’s recent collaboration with Rustie, and giving a 100% success rate in collaborations between Chase & Status and the grime veteran (after 2008’s ‘Against All Odds’).
Elsewhere, title track ‘Tribes’ is perhaps the rawest on the album, a percussion led, horn-filled affair reminiscent of ‘Smash TV’ from the duo’s debut, while the jazzy liquid instrumental ‘Tribute’ is a real high point of the record.
Guest appearances from the likes of Mr Vegas, Shy FX and MC Singing Fats pay homage to the roots of their sound, while those from Bugzy Malone, Section Boyz, Novelist, and Kiko Bun look forward to the new generation of UK underground talent.
The real issue with the album though, more than any other, is its length (and the inconsistency that this brings with it). Few albums ever benefit from being 17 tracks long, particularly when there are obvious candidates for exclusion. And without wanting to sound too dismissive of the aforementioned chart ambitions, it’s here that sacrifices could have been made for the benefit of a more coherent and engaging record.
Tom Grennan collaboration ‘When It All Goes Wrong’, for example, though not a bad track, has no obvious business being on the album given it is now nearly a year old. Similarly, the recent Emeli Sandé single ‘Love Me More’ (essentially ‘Heaven 2.0’) is a decent song with undeniable potential for radio play, but that’s not necessarily enough to warrant its inclusion.
By far the album’s weakest point comes with another big-name collaboration – this time Craig David – whose garage/8-bar track ‘Reload’ becomes genuinely irritating within two minutes.
The desire to work with these big names, make radio-friendly hits, and explore collaborations with others from outside their obvious sphere (Blossoms, Slaves etc.) is understandable, but surely none of the artists would have felt too aggrieved were their songs released simply as non-album singles.
These missteps and the excessive length aside, ‘Tribe’ is a record with the potential to cement Chase & Status’ place at the top; paying tribute to the roots and foundations of their music, tracking their evolution, and also offering scope for exploring the newer aspects of their sound. When they are firing on all cylinders, there’s no denying that the duo are still some of the best in the business, and thankfully there are more than a few glimpses of that on display here that help to make up for the album’s inconsistencies.
Words: James Kilpin
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