cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected

 

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected

 

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

"(The album) is a winner alright, paced and pitched for today." - (Jim Carroll - New Music Express 1992) .. .. .. "They were definitely at the top of the chain when it came to purveyors of quality urbane pop of the time." - (This review)

This is album retro-review number 186 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.

This is a rare trip into the 1990’s, not my favourite period, but there were some interesting groups starting to refine street rap into excellent music, and this week’s group is one such group.

The group is the Stereo MC’s and this is a CD album is titled – Connected.

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected
CD Label – [CLICK to enlarge]
Released on the Island label in 1992 it has the identifying code of 512 743-2. It is a twelve track album.


The Stereo MC’s started out as a three-man electro hip-hop band with Rob “B” [Birch], The Head [Nick Hallam] and Owen If [Ian Rossiter]

They first came together in the East End of London, Clapham, in 1985, when this style of music was really making itself known on clubs and other live venues.

Now while radio was a little slower picking it up, by the time their first third album was released in 1990, they became the first English hip hop band to get a single into the US R&B charts – that single being Elevate My Mind from that 3rd album, Supernatural.

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected
Rob B, Owen If & The Head – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

In having that single in the USA they had in fact, re-exported hip hop back to its origins.

Their live band performances included singers Andrea Bedassie and Verona Davis, as well as Cath Coffey who also worked with the band in the studio. They were one of the few hip hop outfits to play rock music festivals at the time.

When they released the album Connected in 1992, they recorded it with Verona Davis and Andrea Groves in addition to Cath Coffey.

Connected the album remains one of my all time favourites in this style of music, which is a style that I find I have to be selective in.

This album contains the single Connected, which although getting good air play never made number 1. In fact their only single to do that was Lost In the Music which reached number 1 in 1991 in the US Dance Music Charts.

However, Connected the single rated in more charts than any single prior or post this album’s release. It did so in ten countries, and twice in the USA where it reached a very respectable number 8 in the Alternate rock charts. The album spent almost a year on the UK album chart, peaking at Number 2.

Their last album release however was Emperor’s Nightingale in 2011. The track Boy was lifted as a single but it failed to chart.

The group has had its share of success but still did not set the world on fire.

Yet when we look at Connected we find an album that won Best British Album at the 1994 Brit Awards. Q magazine placed Connected at number 52 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums and album was also included in the book the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

I am selective about rap, hip-hop and the variations because, while I think the music of the “streets” can be exciting and raw, generally it’s simply pulse driven and limited in other elements of music I appreciate.

In Connected the Stereo MC’s have shown this does not need to be the case. The album is a great mash-up of rap, hi-hop and damn fine dance music.

It has strong pulse, but it is overflowing with rhythms and importantly, it has melody and even harmony. In fact it is cheekily funky with an element of swing.

That makes this album stand out. In fact initially nobody knew what to call their mix of groove, soul, melody and inspirational raps, but that meant that no one group of listeners could claim it as exclusively their own.

As Jim Carroll wrote in his 1992 review of this album, “A joyful collision of sounds and vibes, influences and attitude, uptown trains and downtown nights, this album knows the score.”

Track Listing:

1. Connected
2. Ground Level
3. Everything
4. Sketch
5. Fade Away
6. All Night Long
7. Step It Up
8. Playing With Fire
9. Pressure
10. Chicken Shake
11. Creation
12. The End

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected
Rear Cover: Including track listing – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Personnel

  • Robert Charles “Rob B.” Birch: Vocals
  • Nick “The Head” Hallam: DJ
  • Ian Frederick “Owen If” Rossiter: Drums, Percussion
  • Cath Coffey: Backing Vocals
  • Verona Davis: Backing Vocals
  • Andrea Groves: Backing Vocals

Additional Personnel

  • James Hallawell: Keyboards, Organ
  • Paul O. Kane, Matthew Seligman: Bass
  • Chicu Modu: Sax
  • Ivan Hussey, Johnny T., Anya Ulman: Strings
  • Kick Horns: Brass

So we come to the first track – Connected.

I think this is the killer track of the album and almost makes the album worthwhile on its own.

It’s so close to a perfect song with Birch’s sharp lyrics layered brilliantly over those mesmerising beats. The track is chock a block with jazz riffs (hardly the stuff hip-hop was supposed to be based on), it has unlikely instruments such as flutes and, I love the chunky chugging organ.

Finally Rob B’s fine growling rap is in a rap class of its own.

It is supplemented, with a mire ground level lay-back rap and Cath Coffey’s vocals act as a counterpoint to the shuffling background beat.

Nor should we lose sight of the clever DJ mixing that is outstanding on this track, courtesy of “The Head“.

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected
Nick “The Head” Hallam – [CLICK to enlarge]



From the moment it kicks off you know you are listening to some of the classiest rap ever recorded.

They have built on that firm base that artists like Grandmaster Flash started, and really, their only competition for this “Classy rap”, might be the KLF, who incidentally were another British group.

This is without doubt the top track on an album of fine music. It has it all – the lyrics, the pulse, rhythm, great harmony from the backing singers and damn fine musicianship.

Kudo’s for the production work guys!

Somethin’ ain’t right
Gonna get myself, I’m gonna get myself
Gonna get myself connected
I ain’t gonna go blind
For the light which is reflected
I see through you, I see through you
I see through you, I see through you
Ya dirty tricks, ya make me sick
I see through you, I see through you
Gonna do it again, gonna do it again
I’m (gonna do it again, gonna do it again)
Gotta do right (gonna do it again)
‘Cause somethin’ ain’t right (gonna do it again)
Gotta do right, come on

If you make sure you’re connected,
The writing’s on the wall
But if your mind’s neglected,
Stumble you might fall
Stumble you might fall
Stumble you might fall

I, ain’t gonna go blind
Gonna get myself, I’m gonna get myself
I’m gonna get myself connected
I ain’t gonna go blind
For the light that is reflected
Hear me out
Do it again, do it again
Do it again, do it again
I wanna do it again, I wanna do it again
I wanna through it again
Ya terrified (I wanna do it again)
Ain’t gonna go blind, ain’t gonna go blind
(I wanna do it again) here we go

If you make sure you’re connected,
The writing’s on the wall
But if your mind’s neglected,
Stumble you might fall
Stumble you might fall, hear me out
Stumble you might fall

Interstate five stayin’ alive
Won’t someone try open up your eyes
You must be blind if you can’t see
The gapin’ hole called reality
Ow, wanna do it again,
I know I’m gonna do it again
I wanna do it again, come on,
I’m gonna do it again
Hear me out, terrified
Somethin’ ain’t right, here we go

If you make sure you’re connected,
The writing’s on the wall
But if your mind’s neglected,
Stumble you might fall

Connected

Everything the “Stereo’s” present on this album is at the very least, good!

So I’m picking out the four tracks that I find grab me the most, and in doing so I move to track 3 – which is in fact, Everything.

Now this track appeared to have received little attention when the album came out, and stuffed if I know why.

It kicks off with a really funky bass line before a semi-muffled voice poses the question, “What would you do if a vicious enemy suddenly started coming at you?”

At this point the drum kit kicks in reinforcing what is a developing hard to resist beat – then the voice continues, “armed to the teeth and ready to kill you.”

This ain’t Kansas Dorothy, this is the hard side of that street the street gangs made their own!

A second voice answers simply, “Ahhmmm“! And, in kicks the chorus as sung by Coffey, Davis and Groves. It is the land of milk and honey, but it has a side that only the street people see. It is an amazing street rap song, that just doesn’t fit the mould we came to expect with the gangester rap style that got more than it’s fair share of play.

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected
Cath Coffee, Verona Davis & Andrea Groves – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Great flute playing, simple as hell, but it is the spaces that sometimes makes the best sound – and if you want punch, well that comes with the brass.

In just one stanza we get the message.

The land of milk and honey don’t seem to be nowhere
Joe took a gat to Johnny, it’s family affair
His sister’s in the bathroom cryin’ tears of despair
‘Cause when you can’t recover?
How’s it feel to be a mother and the father don’t seem to be nowhere?

So check the hard line we all be carrying
Seems like the dollar bill we be marrying
Tag teams assaulting my brain
Well, I’m breaking out, no more sighing or carrying on or crying
As they abuse your emotions so that you can be used
It just a ruse, a plot to cook ya goose
Like blackmail, the ultimate untruth

As every day people get pressure close hand
Nerves are frames to the very last stand
And when they snap who knows?
Who can say which way the wind blows?
I’m not rising no kinda crusade
Just trying a see if sense can persuade
Let there be light surprise visualize
Get a vision and open ya eyes

All I wanna do is get it through to you
We’re picking up the pieces and we’re making new
All I wanna do is get it through to you
I wanna break through, I wanna break through
I wanna break through, I wanna break through

Everything

A track I could have easily discussed in depth and played is track 5Fade Away.

Polyrhythmic, it is a great dance track, but there are other tracks I would like to dwell on, but you will find this track in the “video” section of the review.

Next in line is track sevenStep It Up.

This was another track lifted from the album and in fact, outsold Connected ! The track peaked at #12 on the UK Singles Chart and also peaked at #13 on the New Zealand singles chart, charting in Australia and was featured in the 1993 comedy film Wayne’s World 2.

It is about as “pop” a hip hop/rap track could become and in many ways explains why the MC’s drew big crowds, as they appealed to wide range of audience.

Step It Up

Track 8 Playing With Fire.

This is yet another face of the Stereo MC’s. It opens with a damn fine drums, percussion and bass combo, that could have been home in any US R&B funk band.

But then there is a familiarity with the lyric delivery to allow us to instantly recognise it is the MC’s – and is built around a strong down-beat, some fine synth playing and the voice of Cath supporting Rob B.

This is a more subtle track befitting the concept of playing with fire – and while we know that if you play with fire, you are likely to end up on a funeral pyre – on this occasion the perfect melody and brilliant bass line keeps the track within limits of safe, but very powerful fire.

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected
Cath Coffee – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Incidentally the track contains a sample of “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” by Pet Shop Boys.

The track more than adequately demonstrates that these guys did not have to sink into the “F’n whore, and my bitch and your bitch” dregs of lyrics that many gangster rap tracks laid on us.

Birch and Hallam, who wrote most of the songs, are no McCartney and Lennon, but they were light years ahead of most in this genre.

You’ll end up on the funeral pyre and now you’ve lost your soul
And to all the youngsters, you’re a mystery role
Ya think ya running the show but you’re just being
used like a dirty old hole
A model of travesty, ya falling thru gravity
Ya try to get a grip but you slip on your sanity
There’s nothing you can do when you realise it’s a picture of you
Is it something to reach to?
Being all boxed up
Didn’t nobody teach you?
They’re gonna sell ya
Feed you up and swell ya
Like a fool in the frying pan
I ain’t a fortune teller
I’m just a realist, a catalyst
And if you get the gist, come closer, get it real crisp
It’s a dog eat dog world
That’s the truth
Especially to the youth,

Playing With Fire

Track 11 is Creation.

Also released as a single after the album was released, it reached number 19 in the UK in 1993.

In some ways it is delivered in a more traditional rap delivery style, but that’s probably about as close as it gets to traditional rap. The track contains some excellent drumming from Owen If. This is particularly demonstrated toward theend of the piece along with some fine percussion work.

The track moves along at a hot, hot pace. It starts with the (supposed) sound of creation, before what sounds suspiciously like bongo’s kick in, and then the “guys” are off and running.

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected
Robert ‘Rob “B” Birch’ & Ian “Owen If” Rossiter’ – [CLICK to enlarge]



It’s hard not to appreciate the production and playing skills. The track is a meld, a fine meld of instrumentation and yet even at the frantic pace that develops nothing ever trips over anything else.

Gimme no slack and I bring it right back
Cos the punch I pack is gonna come with a smack
Cos I’m like that, exactly like that
And if I slip there’s no excuse for that
It gets deep but I can’t control
The road is steep and full of pit holes
Cheap and nasty sophistication
But all I seeing is pure creation
A solo station for civilization
Congregating in another dimension
Don’t ask me why I don’t understand it
It’s just the way nature planned it

I’m talking about creation
I’m talking about relations
I’m talking about creation
We need a combination

Ooh yeah… yeah yeah

To a hairs breath how we gonna do it
You want to look but you knew it you blew it
Out of proportion no I don’t think so
This thing’s bigger than both of us so
Drop your anchor and weigh your thoughts
Like mega ton bombs dropping on your front porch
A real summer breeze that’s gonna be
When they don’t exist and neither do we

I’m talking about creation
I’m talking about relations
I’m talking about creation

Creation

We do need to call a “spade a spade”!

This was a fine album but the problem is they did nothing to capitalise on their success.

Really they launched a failed record label and sporadically released what have been described as underwhelming remixes.

Yet their legacy which includes the stunning and highly memorable track Connected, was that they were definitely at the top of the chain when it came to purveyors of quality urban pop of the time.

cream of the crate: album review # 186 – stereo mc’s: connected
Stereo MC’s – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

More recently they have made a successful return. Maybe it’s a case of everything old is new again – but I am quite definite when I say, they are among the best at what they did and in fact might just be the classiest rap/hip-hop group of all time.

Of all their releases the album Connected is absolutely the best and it rightly deserves a place in my crate.

Whether you think it deserves a place on your music shelf, is entirely up to you.

It is some indication of the revival of the Stereo MCs and this album that it was re-released on vinyl in 2014, for use in clubs and because music lovers, discerning music lovers, are returning back to the sound that only vinyl can provide.

You can pick up a new vinyl copy for around $30,00 which includes postage, but for those who desperately hang onto CD’s, the re release is about $20 plus postage, but original copies of the 1992 Cd are available for about $10.00.


VIDEOS:

Youtube comes through in “spades” on live performance vids, and here are a couple of the most relevant to this review.

 

Fade Away

 

Connected (Fantastic live version)


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.

#151.  The Shaggs – Philosophy of the World

#152.  The Animals – The Animals

#153. Omah Khorshid & His Group  – Live In Australia 1981

#154. Alan Parsons Project – Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe

#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier

#156. Aretha Franklin – The Best Of

#157. Big Bill Broonzy – Big Bill’s Blues

#158. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go 

#159. The Band – Stage Fright

#160. Ray Brown and the Whispers – Hits and More 1965 – 1968

#161. Guitar Junior – The Crawl

#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One

#163. Memphis Minnie – Queen of the Blues

#164. Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy)

#165. The Loved Ones – Magic Box

#166. Various Artists – On The Road Again [ An Anthology of Chicago Blues 1947 – 1954]

#167. Janis Joplin – Greatest Hits 

#168. David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust [The Motion Picture]

#169. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

#170.  Chain – Two Of A Kind

#171. Bob Marley – Legend

#172. Koko Taylor – What It Takes

#173. Stevie Wonder – Original Musiquarium

#174. Various Artists – The Unissued 1963 Blues Festival

#175. Noeleen Batley – Little Treasure

#176. B.B. King – The Best Of

#177. Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac

#178 – Memphis Slim – I Feel So Good

#179. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Live at Budapest

#180. Flowers – Icehouse

#181. Joe Tex – The Best Of

#182. Chicago [Transit Authority] – Chicago Transit Authority

#183. Deep Purple – The Deep Purple Singles

#184. The Doobie Brothers – Best Of The Doobies

#185. Dig Richards – Jive After Five