Coldcut - What’s That Noise - Review
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critics' view

So what’s the first classic artist album after the summer of love and acid house? Leftfield – not until 1995, dubnobasswithmyheadman – 1994, The Prodigy Experience – 1991 – surely that’s it. I’d like to advance another candidate: Coldcut’s debut What’s That Noise? from 1989. I bought it when it came out on vinyl, but recently I got hold of a CD copy and,listening to it on a Friday afternoon on the M6 ,it absolutely gripped me.

It’s got a number of storming singles – People Hold On and My Telephone (which together launched Lisa Stansfield), Doctorin The House (they’d already made vocalist Yazz a huge star with The Only Way Is Up) and Stop This Crazy Thing with reggae singer Junior Reid. But every track is insanely listenable to: from the pop upfrontness of My Telephone to the samples and beats frenzy that is Beats N Pieces, which harks back to eighties sampledelia such as MARRS and Steinski and Mass Media.

What I ‘got’ this time about this album was how much it brought together all the elements that were making dance music so exciting at the time. People Hold On is classic piano house, Doctorin The House pure acid, and Stop This Crazy Thing adds funk. There’s indie dance represented via Mark E Smith on I’m In Deep and hip-hop and breaks via Queen Latifah. Listening to it, like London Calling, you can hear all the influences from one decade being soaked up and represented in a way that points forward to the one just about to start. The beats are always crisp and compelling, the bass lines lay down great grooves – and on top there’s a world of samples that shows which records artists such as DJ Yoda listened for one to to pick up that style.

Why has this been so neglected? I think it was ahead of its time sure. In an era when new developments in dance music were represented via quick and cheapo cash in compilations perhaps genuine artist albums were a rarity. Secondly, I think the huge reputation of their Erik B and Rakim Paid In Full remix, and the 70s Minutes of Madness dj mix made audiences file them them with the remixers and the dj rather than the orginal artist. When the ‘ proper artists’ did come along from dance they offered work within a particular genre – big beat for the Chemicals, techno for Underworld, rave and hip-hop for The Prodigy, jungle for Goldie and so on. What’s That Noise? is a testament to the catholic spirit of early house and rave – an artist equivalent to my cherished Balearic Beats Vol 1 which finds room in a single CD for Sueno Latino, The Woodentops, The Residents, Nitzer Ebb and – gulp – a jazzy remix of a Mandy Smith track alongside more conventional balearic tracks. It’s not even currently in print or on Spotify – perhaps due to the aforesaid sample frenzy – but reasonably priced used copies I can see are around and I’d urge you to seek one out. The singles are on streaming and Youtube.

They didn’t follow it up with another album as focused and accessible – despite producing great music throughout the 90s, founding Ninja Tunes and tons of other stuff. If you’ve never heard it I’d heartily recommend it.

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