"NO SOUND SYSTEM IS SAFE" declared the cover of one magazine when Leftfield launched their debut album, 'Leftism', in 1995. It was a prediction that by the Summer of 1996 had literally come true: during a gig on the 'Leftism' tour at London's Brixton Academy, sound levels reached the highest ever recorded at the venue, while the bass vibrations caused the ceiling to start disintegrating, showering dust and plaster onto the stage. Four years later, 'Leftism' has just been declared the Greatest Dance Album Of All Time in a poll of top DJs, while its timeless mix of ribcage-shaking dub, grandoise techno, and futuristic splendour still sounds like it was made yesterday. Fresh enough to soundtrack key parts of this Summer's hot film, 'Rogue Trader' - the story of renegade Singapore stock market trader Nick Leeson which stars Ewan McGregor and Anna Friel.
'Leftism' was an album that redrew the borders for dance music, pioneered a radical hybrid of dub and house and breaks (long before anyone had invented big beat), and threw together guest vocalists from other musical worlds (gothic torch singer Toni Halliday, reggae toaster Earl Sixteen) over rhythms borrowed from dub, reggae, and African music. It sold more than half a million copies in the UK alone. More than just a great dance album, it was a defining moment, a Pink Floyd for the 90s, the Dark Side Of The Disco. Now, four years later and three long years in the making, it's time for the new album, 'Rhythm And Stealth': the sequel.
Many thought the Leftfield duo of Neil Barnes and Paul Daley would never be able match its melancholy splendour again. Paul Daley was one of them. 'Rhythm And Stealth' - a stunning album that is as vital and challenging as 'Leftism' - will silence them. Leftfield have spent three years struggling to invent new cathedrals of sound, racked by the fear that they could never do anything as good as 'Leftism' again. Hear rising London rapper Roots Manuva freestyle over the sci-fi hip hop of 'Dusted' and let the bass blasts those doubts away. Listen to the way the pounding beats of 'Phat Planet' - the harsh soundtrack to Jonathan Glaser's stunning, monochrome Guinness ad, the one where the surfers ride amongst white horses - breaks into dirty funk. And get fired up by the chilling future electro groove of 'Afrika Shox', dark and bassy, with a vocal from electro godfather Afrika Bambaataa that is far from the party-time singles he's been releasing lately. 'Rhythm And Stealth' is an album that is futuristic, creative, and forceful. Where 'Leftism' was grandiose, 'Rhythm And Stealth' is tailored, minimal, ruthlessly effective - a new take on the breaks-orientated dance music of the last few years. Even the collaborators, bar Brummie toaster Cheshire Cat, are new, like former Curtis Mayfield collaborator Nicole Willis, who sings on the esoteric 'Swords'. Leftfield are defiantly back.
Paul Daley blames the delay finishing this album to the success of 'Leftism', the way it span into something neither he nor Neil Barnes had imagined. He found the acclaim difficult to deal with. One fan came up and declared that he'd crashed his car listening to 'Leftism' and spent six months in hospital: he lost concentration "when the bass kicked in!" "I don't like a lot of attention from people singling me out to be something, cos you have to live up to that, and that's when you stop being yourself," says Paul reluctantly. Bewildered by the acclaim, he also was racked by self-doubt. "Is your music any good? All these people telling you you're great, are they saying that cos they really think your music's great, or are they just saying that to make you feel better?"