Red Snapper

Prince Blimey

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At a time when Warp Records was known as "the premiere electronica label," along comes another album from this mostly acoustic quartet to drop some jaws with good old-fashioned musicianship. Richly accomplished for a sophomore full-length, Prince Blimey finds Red Snapper expanding rather than floundering for ideas. In a time where acid jazz was busy developing by artificial (sampled) means, Red Snapper's musical prowess became a force to be reckoned with, and many of the tracks here place heavy emphasis on the group's secret weapon: the rhythm section. On a drawing pad, many of these songs would look like pyramids, with the base (bass) end getting most of the emphasis and the top corner crammed with little harmonic afterthoughts. The double bass is essential to the success of these tracks, featuring Ali Friend growling, slinking, and sliding on the frets as confidently as Zeus with a thunderbolt in his hands. Similarly, Richard Thair keeps his drums in time with Friend -- hopscotching, marching, and breakbeating from R&B club to jazz dub to acoustic jungle. The flip side to all this is that other elements seem downright compromised. Although there are tight guitar hooks and some very impressive saxophone work (courtesy of Ollie Moore), both frequently get downplayed in the mix. Even guest vocals by Anna Haigh on "The Paranoid" have trouble redirecting the focus. However, with grooves this infectious there's still a lot to appreciate. "3 Strikes and You're Out" gives guitarist David Ayers a little gutbucket blues drawl riff and backmasking acrobatics, and "Thomas the Fib" is the very cigarette dangling from a con artist's lips, replete with catwalking basslines and some haunted vocal cackling. "The Last One" (also released as a single) seems to have the most studio enhancement, laying down rusted bass slides and cavernous drum cans underscoring an increasingly amusing soundbite. The jazzy "Get Some Sleep Tiger" and the fire-alarm funky "Digging Doctor What What" are both relentless, go-for-broke police chases through the dark streets of London, rich with imagery and tension. The last two tracks are looser, where the scaffolding overhead reveals some expanded atmosphere. "Gridlock" is a spaced-out theme, strummed through a black hole like chill-out acid jazz (if there is such a thing), and "Lo-Beam" staggers about for the finale, a late night rock noir in the same vein as David Holmes' grunge epic, Bow Down to the Exit Sign. Only a handful of bands can successfully reside in the category of "electronica" when so little of their material stems from it, so Warp gets points for pushing the envelope just enough. In terms of songwriting, Red Snapper might not live in a completely furnished house, but the foundation is rock solid.

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