Rudimental: Toast to Our Differences review – As subtle as a late-night tourist bar in Magaluf

Fri, Jan 25, 2019, 05:30

   
  

Album:
Toast to our Differences

Artist:
Rudimental

Label:
Asylum/Atlantic/Major Tom’s

Genre:
Dance

I’ll say this about Rudimental – nothing they do is understated. Powered by a potent concoction of drum and bass percussion and skyscraper-sized horn sections, the fourproducer/musician’s arrangements are colossal, bombastic and full of colour.

It’s a methodology that has taken Rudimental – Piers Aggett, Amir Amor, Kesi Dryden and DJ Locksmith – to the highest peaks of British chart music. Put in this way: when your iPhone contact list includes everyone from Ed Sheeran, to Emeli Sandé, to Rag‘n’Bone Man, you are pretty much shacked up in the cultural fabric.

Third album Toast to OurDifferences is about as subtle as a late-night tourist bar in Magaluf. It’s a pure summer holiday record, full of sunny club jams and cheesy pop tunes. Dozens of guests are handed the mic over the deluxe version’s 16-tracks, meaning the set feels more like a hastily compiled playlist than a cohesive album.

So you get Tom Walker’s button-down-shirt folk vocal style and the choral South African sound of Ladysmith Black Mambazo; Jess Glynne’s smoky soul-pop voice and Elli Ingram’s more delicate chirps. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of collaborators, but with Rudimental music-making in the kitchen, this is a buffet as low-nutrient as jellybeans and alcopops.

Rudimental: The four producer/musician’s arrangements are colossal, bombastic and full of colour
Rudimental: The four producer/musician’s arrangements are colossal, bombastic and full of colour

There are some highlights. No Pain (which features Maverick Sabre, a vocalist with roots in New Ross, Co Wexford) is a solemn reggae-influenced jam that bemoans human suffering and includes rapper Kojey Radical paying lip service to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Rita Ora’s soft-focus vocals work well on the contrasting smooth verses and rapid chorus of Summer Love, while Ingram’s voice is elegant and precise on one of the albums more mellow pop numbers, Leave it for Tomorrow.

Last Time actually boasts one of the best sonic elements of the whole album: a rubbery 1980s-style drumbeat that’s easy to groove to. But it’s let down by the daft hook, which sees singer Raphaella repeat the line “We don’t live forever” over and over again.

The instrumentation is awkward and too few of the melodies really resonate

I see what Rudimental are envisioning here: kids, getting wild on the dancefloor, will suddenly be struck by forbidden thoughts of their own mortality and, therefore, inspired to party twice as hard. It’s such a transparent and dumb move but I’ve no doubt it’ll work.

Hey, I’ve seen people lose their minds to The Black-Eyed Peas star will.i.am simply stating, “I’ve got a feeling tonight’s going to be a good night”.

Other moments are just plain sloppy. The digitized vocals on Dark Clouds seem to mimic the talkbox sound of funk legend Roger Troutman of the band Zapp but instead come across as rusty and awkward. The grating drum loop and overwhelming horns of Let Me Live imbue the track with an off-putting friction. These Days features what must be one of Macklemore’s worst ever verses, which, as anyone who has paid attention to Macklemore knows, is very bad indeed.

The absurdness of Toast to OurDifferences runs through the title track. “I wanna live in a leaderless world,” sings Shungudzo, evoking the spirit of John Lennon by trying to, ahem, “imagine” a world without class structure, where rich kids and immigrants have equal opportunities.

It encapsulates the admirable ethos Rudimental spoke of in press releases, describing the album as “an emphatic celebration of difference and a coming together of cultures and genres”. Except that things get solidly more ridiculous from there. Shungudzo lays out a vision of a planet “without cool kids and presidents,” seemingly comparing the Regina Georges of this world to our flawed leaders.

But that’s the album. In my weaker moments I almost marvel at its splendor and silliness. Then I come to my senses and see Toast to Our Differences as far too long and far too ambitious. The instrumentation is awkward and too few of the melodies really resonate.

With those bright arrangements, I’m sure plenty of people will be grooving to some of these numbers come July, but beneath the summer Instagram filters, the record, though imaginative, is a bit of a lumbering monster.