Inner Circle

One Way

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Having re-established their credentials with the magnificent Black Roses album, Inner Circle now appeared to be resting on their laurels. At first they seem to have spent their entire creative cache, as they coast through the first half of One Way. It's all pleasant enough -- upbeat club lite with just enough roots at the songs' cores to keep their old fans mildly interested. Still, saxophonist Dr. J adds punch to "Front and Center," while the generous nods to pop's past and music's present fashion will please younger ears. The themes are equally featherweight: unity, reggae's universal appeal, love, and soft culture are the flavors of the day. Then "Massive" kicks in, and the whole atmosphere of the set shifts, as Inner Circle reinvents the classic "Slaving" rhythm. "Bad Boys" is even more memorable, a scorching warning to the raggamuffins led by Ian Lewis' threatening bass and Lancelot Hall's thumping beats. "Champion" is even more lethal and several megatons heavier, while the impassioned "Keep the Faith" is a mix of lightness and heft, African tinges, and Jamaican riffs. So, the title is inaccurate, since One Way moves in two entirely different directions. It was less jarring on vinyl, of course, especially during the '80s when it was de rigueur for albums to be divided between a cultural side and a pop/lovers side. Black Roses needed no such separation, and was stronger for it in a way; Circle seemed to have misread the map here. Yet, even in their earlier heyday with Jacob Miller, Circle was torn between deep roots and pop, and that struggle is now beginning anew. Soon, they will give in to temptation and garner international success, but here their road has yet to turn into a one-way street.

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