Goldie’s career has been nothing if not colourful.
It’s run the gamut from mind-blowing, future-rushing underground dance music through to flabby, proggy, outrageously pretentious mutations of the same; from time-stretching to time-wasting. He’s remixed everyone from Björk to, er, Babylon Zoo, and collaborated with everyone from David Bowie to Noel Gallagher; he’s played a Bond villain and a gangster in Eastenders; appeared on Celebrity Big Brother and Maestro, and, after winning the latter competition, he had his music performed at the Proms. If Goldie didn’t exist, well, quite frankly someone would have to invent him.
Following the announcement today of The Alchemist, his first comprehensive best-of compilation, we were moved to recall and set down four of Goldie’s finest musical moments, and four of his worst.
(from ‘DARKRIDER’, REINFORCED 12″, 1992)
‘Darkrider’ is of course the real classic, but the relatively frothy, throwaway A2 cut ‘Believe’ remains our personal favourite from this 12″. Chipmunk vocals and giddily sped-up pianos set the track up as a chirpy hardcore number, only for it to plunge headfirst and unexpectedly into far murkier waters. Rarely have euphoria and menace co-existed so perfectly in one piece of flab-free dance music.
(SYNTHETIC 12″, 1992)
21 years and innumerable orchestras, engineers and technological advancements later, Goldie has yet to top ‘Terminator’. On the one hand it’s a masterclass in simplicity, with minimal elements massaged into maximum effect, but the deft drum choppage and deployment of samples is light years ahead of the competition. The snatch of dialogue from a bemused, overwhelmed Sarah Connor in Terminator (“You’re talking about things I haven’t done yet…”) only serves to underline the future-rushing quality of the whole enterprise. B-side ‘Sinister’ samples Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, a portent of the prog-informed headspace Goldie would return to as the decade grew older.
‘SEA OF TEARS’ (1995)
(from TIMELESS, FFRR 2xCD, 1995)
We’re always surprised that this track isn’t more celebrated. It’s worth flagging up because it gives the lie to the supposition that prog grandstanding in drum ‘n bass leads always to drivel. At 12:01, ‘Sea of Tears’ isn’t exactly succinct, but you wouldn’t wish it a second shorter; Adam Salkeld’s guitar licks and Tim Philbert’s appropriately liquid basslines channel ’70s fusion, Lorna Harris’s vocals conjure an exquisite melancholy, the drum programming is deft and the string-pads leave Detroit techno in the dust. Future-soul doesn’t come more futuristic, or more soulful, than this.
(METALHEADZ 12″, 2001)
To be fair to Goldie, he learned from the mistakes he made in the mid-late ’90s (of which more later), and his drum ‘n bass productions since Saturnz Return have been almost self-consciously stripped-down and to-the-point. While that doesn’t mean he hasn’t still put out some real dross in the past decade or so, it’s not been an inexorable decline by any means. 2001’s ‘Beachdrifta’, produced with Danny J as Rufige Kru, is probably his last masterpiece: punishing but stately, both bruising and bruised. Burial once claimed that he listened to this track every day.
ADAM CLAYTON & LARRY MULLEN, JR.
‘THEME FROM MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE’ (MISSION ACCOMPLISHED) (CUT THE RED NOT THE BLUE)
(POLYDOR CD SINGLE, 1996)
And now, the bad: To get some measure of how hyped Goldie was in the mid-90s, and how quickly drum ‘n bass went from being an underground sound to a marketable mainstream phenomenon, you need only look at the kind of pop acts he was being paid, no doubt very generously, to remix: Babylon Zoo and Bush being the first, and most ridiculous, to spring to mind. His version of the theme from Mission: Impossible (as performed by U2’s Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. for Brian DePalma’s 1996 film version) is the very definition of phoned-in, and its one or two agreeable passages of plaintive synth-drift only serve to emphasize quite how wretched the rest of it is.
(from SATURNZ RETURN, FFRR 2xCD, 1997)
While the symphonic scale of Timeless felt fresh and exciting, on the hugely anticipated follow-up Saturnz Return Goldie pursued a proggish excess that proved to be too much for the critics and the record-buying public, even in the not exactly bombast-averse mid-’90s. While Timeless was rich and nuanced enough to nourish the serious drum ‘n bass heads and the dinner party dabblers, the double-disc Saturnz Return bewildered both factions. It was so bewildering, in fact, and so poorly received, that a leaner, meaner mini-LP – Ring Of Saturn – was rush-released mere months later, seemingly as an unofficial apology to the producer’s fans.
The 60:19 piece ‘Mother’, which takes up most of the first disc, was the chief culprit: a ponderous, outrageously self-indulgent orchestral epic that was perfectly pleasant but at least 53 minutes too long (we’re shocked that someone’s bothered to upload it to YouTube, frankly). 12 years later, Goldie would throw himself into the world of orchestral music once more, as a contestant on the BBC’s “feelgood” reality show Maestro, and find himself conducting to a packed-out Royal Albert Hall.
‘SHUTTING YOU DOWN’
(from MALICE IN WONDERLAND, METALHEADZ 3×12″, 2007)
Goldie’s recent Rufige Kru material has been surprisingly serviceable, despite some dodgy cover art and even dodgier titles (Malice In Wonderland is second only to Saturnz Return in the weak pun stakes), and it’s actually quite difficult to identify any real travesties. Production-wise, there’s nothing that offensive about ‘Shutting You Down’, but it deserves inclusion thanks to the clownishly pitched-down titular vocal sample. It might have been forgivable in ’92, but not in 2007.
‘TEMPER TEMPER’ (1997)
(FFRR 12″, 1997)
If you’re watching the ‘Temper Temper’ video for the first time, in 2013, you might reasonably assume it to be a parody of the post-Britpop era cooked up by Chris Morris or Charlie Brooker. But it’s real, very real indeed. Watch it right now: it manages to distil into four unintentionally hilarious minutes the extent to which wild, coke-bloated hubris was driving Goldie’s career, not to mention the music industry at large, in 1997. The song is scarcely any better, with Goldie yelling and yowling with all the authentic menace of a WWF wrestler over a perfunctory breakbeat – oh, and astringent, ill-fitting guitar noise supplied by Noel Gallagher in what must be one of the most pointless, tokenistic guest spots of a decade positively littered with them. It makes The Prodigy sound subtle. It’s a total car-crash.