Label: Hard Hands (Sony Music)
Summary: Instantly accessible yet keeps you coming back. A classic.
I can almost imagine that Leftism was designed to be an ambitious showcase for the delay effect, and if it was ever intended as such, it certainly succeeds at making the delay seem like a valuable instrument in its own right.
The music on this album is a melting pot of different styles and influences, fused together by dance beats, Roland TB-303 basslines, luscious pads, and the ever-present delays. The rhythms are usually very simple, based around the 4/4 time signature and a pulsating synthetic kick drum. While this should make the album become tedious very quickly, it somehow manages to instead make it instantly accessible while still standing up to repeated listening. Perhaps it is the mixture of different genres that keeps me coming back to this album, or maybe it's Leftfield's use of vocals.
It seems that, for whatever reason, songs work better than instrumental music in modern records. Maybe people like the familiar sound of another voice, or perhaps the images invoked by a good lyric help emphasise the emotion invoked by the accompanying music. Whatever the reason, a sung lyric (as opposed to a single line repeated again and again, or no vocal at all) can really make a piece of dance music stand out from the crowd. Leftfield must have known this, because they included plenty of songs on this album. Original and Inspection (Check One), for example, are amongst the most catchy tracks on Leftism, and probably many people's favourites.
It seems odd to me that dance music is often instrumental. The fact that the people who compose it are seldom singers opens up an opportunity that seems almost unique to the genre: being able to pick a different singer for each song. Leftfield certainly took advantage of this freedom. Earl Sixteen, Papa Dee, Djum Djum, Toni Halliday, Danny Red, John Lydon and Lemn Sissay all provide vocals for this album.
The individual tracks are nice, but Leftism is a good example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. This is an album that you can listen to all the way through without a pause. This isn't just due to the quality of the music, but also the pace of each track and the order they appear in. After the first two cuts reel you in, Melt calms you back down again, giving you a rest before the album builds up momentum again. Melt isn't just filler either, and has found its way on many chillout compilations as well as fitting perfectly into Leftism. Once you're feeling sufficiently relaxed, the tension slowly rises all the way to the climactic Open Up, before calming you down again with 21st Century Poem.
I'd recommend this album to anyone who likes dance music, and at least one or two people who don't. Although it seems very simple, this is perhaps somewhat misleading: few albums keep you coming back for more as often as this one does. It's a deceptively humble masterpiece.