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Jah Wobble and Keith Levene - Yin and Yang

  by Adrian Janes

published: 12 / 1 / 2013

Jah Wobble and Keith Levene - Yin and Yang
Label: Cherry Red Records
Format: CD


Challenging but increasingly compelling joint album from original Public Image Limited bassist and guitarist, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene

Key members of the original line-up of Public Image Limited (PIL) in the late 70s, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene’s careers subsequently diverged. In the intervening years Wobble has developed a solid track record of albums and various collaborations which have built his reputation, while Levene, a gifted guitarist, has been rather more low profile. It is exciting to see them reunited, although the temptation to want to hear a version of PIL should be resisted, not least because of the absence of a strong vocalist. Wobble takes on most of the vocal duties, his limited range more conversational than sung. ‘Yin and Yang’ commences the album, the aggressive delivery of the verses contrasting with a wistful chorus. Musically Wobble, Levene and Marc Layton-Bennett (drums) play with brooding power. The song seems at least in part to concern the dualities of life, and in a similar way musical shades of light and dark colour the entire album. Next ‘Strut’ is a great slow funk instrumental, Wobble’s bass is especially prominent while Levene’s guitar moves from being acoustically lyrical to fiercely powerful by the end. ‘Jags and Staffs’ has its words declaimed by Wobble in a manner that at times inadvertently recalls the start of Spinal Tap’s ‘Stonehenge’ (e.g.), “The plutocrat cannot assuage/The broken classic arch of civilization.” Yet although at nine minutes plus the track is somewhat meandering, sadness for a lost London and the vulgar Essex lifestyle, where the former’s “forgotten tribes” have ended up, is powerfully evoked (despite the line “Weep not for their passing”) by its slow pace and an anguished guitar set against amournful synthesiser. In the concluding part Wobble’s bass once again comes to the fore, while percussion crashes and guitar bleeds over all. ‘Mississipi’ is the poppiest song on the album, complete with bright organ and backing vocals, and functions as light relief after ‘Jags and Staffs’. Its most interesting feature is the clattering drum sound that pushes it along: as producer, Wobble deserves praise for bringing out and enhancing the sound of all the players throughout the album. ‘Within You Without You’ is indeed a cover of the Beatles song. Once again Wobble’s vocals are passable but no more; Levene’s cutting guitarwork seems somewhat directionless here, although it could be intended to unmask the apparent serenity of the original. After this, although good up to now, the album becomes more consistently compelling. On ‘Back on the Block’ Wobble and Layton-Bennett set up a slow, ominous rhythm over which Levene expressively works out, interspersed with a rising synth. ‘Fluid’ then puts Sean Corby’s trumpet and flugel horn centre stage, laying down a strong theme which is propelled by a busy, funky rhythm from the other musicians. As is typical of several tracks, this one has the feel of something born of improvisation if it is not an actual jam, a quality which gives much of the album an air of freshness but sometimes produces less interesting passages as well. ‘Fluid’ fades into a final segue of ‘Vampires’, ‘Understand’ and ‘Understand Dub’: the first is short, before a parched vocal by Little Annie is then abruptly replaced by an energetic reggae rhythm and imaginative playing from Levene. ‘Understand’ carries this on, with vocals from Nathan Maverick (who has previously sung live with Wobble and Levene). The excellent dub version raises the mood still higher as Maverick implores. “”You’ve got to try/You’ve got to try/Do what you need and fly”. ‘Yin and Yang’ is a challenging album, with the musicians all playing with great commitment. Not every track is fully satisfying - as noted, several seem to stem from improvisation which, of its nature, is somewhat hit and miss - but there is more than enough here to merit repeated listens. If Wobble and Levene may be thought of as having always been somewhat overshadowed by their early days in PIL, they have now emerged into the light.

Track Listing:-
1 Yin & Yang
2 Strut
3 Jags And Staffs
4 Mississippi
5 Within You Without You
6 Back On The Block
7 Fluid
8 Vampires
9 Understand
10 Understand Dub

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