Sunday, August 12, 2012

Album Review: Leftfield – Tourism (2012)

Hugely influential electronic act Leftfield arrived to international prominence in the mid Nineties with an album, Leftism, that helped set new standards for not only producers of all types of electronic music, but for progressive techno-orientated dancefloor music as a whole.

The duo of Neil Barnes and Paul Daley would subsequently go on to become one of the genre’s most iconic acts during a decade that also introduced us to the likes of the Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Daft Punk, Orbital, and The Orb. Each of the aforementioned acts came up with at least one genre-defining album of its own during the era, yet Leftfield’s Leftism is surely the one that has best stood the test of time. It still sounds fresh today, some 17 years or so after its release.

Having already struck commercial gold after their collaboration with ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon (on the single ‘Open Up’), the duo’s status as one of the more celebrated acts of the period was practically assured by the time ‘A Final Hit’ was used to soundtrack one of the more memorable scenes in the cult/hit movie Trainspotting.  

Leftism was quite simply a sublime piece of work, and it therefore comes as no great surprise that the album in its (virtual) entirety helps form the core content on Tourism, Leftfield’s rather belated nod to its live performances; a double CD set that seeks to document Leftfield’s Australian tour of 2011. Although technically, it was really just Barnes (and friends) by this stage, with Daley having finally left him to it.

What strikes me about Tourism is just how easily these studio-inspired tracks translate into live gems, with ‘Song of Life’, ‘Original’, ‘Release The Pressure’, and even the spaced-out ambience of ‘Melt’ all proving to be rather compelling as live show highlights. There are a couple of tracks from Leftism’s 1999 follow-up album, Rhythm And Stealth, with the seminal ‘Phat Planet’ being an ideal album closer.

Although there was a compilation of the duo’s earliest material (Backlog, 1992), and a remix version of Rhythm And Stealth issued (as Stealth Remixes, 2000), plus a “Greatest Hits” (A Final Hit, 2005) collection, Leftfield’s discography remains quite lightweight so this live album also works as a genuine overview of Leftfield’s best work. In truth, there’s not a huge difference between the studio and live versions of many of these tracks, and if anything, some of them sound re-energised in a live setting. Capturing the between-track crowd reaction throughout certainly helps add to the sense of occasion.

And it probably rates, at this stage anyway, as one of my best purchases of 2012 so far.

Neil Barnes, Sydney, 2011

Here’s what Barnes himself has to say about Tourism: …“We were in enjoying ourselves in Sydney after a period of extreme flying and mental gigs when the idea of a live album was mentioned in passing. The Australian tour was such a success; it seemed like a waste not to do it. We wanted to try and capture the quality of music, the excitement we were all feeling and the enthusiasm and warmth of the Australian crowd. It’s been a massive project but Tourism feels like a testament to all the hard work and enjoyable graft we have all put in over the last two years.”

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