After we reviewed Gentleman’s Dub Club perform live in London last month, they were kind enough to send us an advance copy of their new album Dubtopia, which is out today on Easy Star Records.
That gig, I wrote, was a ‘raucous, knees to your chest performance’ of this new material now sitting in my hands in physical form. So I slotted the CD into my stereo in much the same way I entered the music hall that night in March: with firm expectations. I’m the first to admit I’m a fan of GDC, so this review was always going to be positive. But it wasn’t until the record was reverberating through my living room that I realised this could be their strongest album yet.
The striking thing about Dubtopia is how consistent it is from start to finish. In my opinion, Gentleman’s Dub Club’s previous two full-lengths had stronger and weaker points, split as they were between rambunctious live material and weaker downtempo cuts. But on Dubtopia, the Gents seem to have perfected both.
Three records in, it feels like GDC’s first real tour-de-force. But their problem, now the pinnacle of their formula has been reached, is that they’ll have to do something revolutionary next time round.
Track seven, ‘Hotter’, exemplified this for me. It sounded a bit too familiar. “Hotter, it just gets hotter, flames through the roof, do you hear your heart flutter”, it goes, before a trumpet explosion over a heavy bassline. But, flicking back to ‘Fire’ from 2009, we can hear basically the same song: “Fire, feel that fire, watch that fire, see it burning”. There’s only a limited amount of combustion-themed dancefloor-oriented dub-reggae songs a band can make before drawing criticism for sameyness.
That said, pretty much every other track is great. ‘Dancing in the Breeze’ starts the album as it means to go on: with dubby echoes reverberating around a building bassline, jubilant brass, and lyrics espousing the simple joys of sunshine, life, and music.
Some tracks are clearly designed to tear up dancefloors, while others are slower and more reflective. ‘Fade Away’ is one of these, and low-key shows that GDC have real crossover potential. “I won’t let it, I won’t let it fade away… so please don’t let it, please don’t let it fade away,” vocalist Jonathan Scratchley sings tenderly, over a melancholy yet optimistic reggae beat.
The album’s cover art shows what a ‘dubtopia’ might look like: a multicoloured exotic paradise floating in midair; with a mountain, rivers, trees, and appropriately, a rather large sound system. Behind it sits a monochrome horizon of dark, smoking, ‘babylon’ London, helicopter searchlights penetrating the cityscape, and a Sauronic all-seeing eye in place of Canary Wharf. This is a far cry from their previous veneration of London. The track ‘London Sunshine’ off their first album was an ode to the way the capital sheds its skin in the summer; and their second album The Big Smoke is titled after a common nickname for the city.
Admittedly, none of that is very relevant. Dubtopia is first and foremost an album to accompany beers in the sun, whether at a utopian festival escape or next to an open window looking out onto the streets of the big smoke. It’s certainly a rejection of taking anything too seriously. ‘Let a Little Love’, the third track, assures us of this early on. “Let a little love in your life, that sweet sensation, deep vibration” Scratchley sings. There’s something to be said for equating the feeling of love to that of a deep bassline reverberating through your chest.
Guest vocalists are sparse on the record, but they work well where they do feature. Eva Lazarus and Lady Chann stand out, bringing some much needed femininity to the gentlemen. Both ladies exhibit their ability to spit and serenade seamlessly, and, as I wrote in my earlier piece, it’s nice to hear Lady Chann on ‘Young Girl’ making a political statement when the Gentlemen, for all their anti-babylon imagery, mainly stick to singing about having a good time.
On all tracks, Dubtopia has some serious bassline pressure. The whole album is masterfully, er, mastered. The melody and vocals remain the focus of most songs, yet the basslines came through beautifully on both sets of (not too fancy) speakers I listened to the album on.
So formulaicity is Dubtopia’s only real fault. It takes nothing away from the fact it’s a blisteringly strong album, which I highly recommend you listen to. Hopefully Easy Star, despite being a small independent label, will give it a decent push. It deserves it.