A reminder of what the future once sounded like.
Daryl Easlea 2010-05-20
For a brief moment in the mid-80s, it was ex-Clash member Mick Jones, not Joe Strummer, who was the name to drop. Jones grafted together a band that defined the west London musical spirit in a way that hadn’t happened since his old group relocated to America earlier that decade.
The music of Big Audio Dynamite, a collaboration between Jones and non-musician, film-maker and ideas man Don Letts, was like walking along the Portobello Road, hearing snatches and snippets of what was happening: dub, punk, funk and electronica. This debut album is representative of a time when the possibilities of technology seemed boundless. Sonically, the group weren’t working in a vacuum; Colourbox and The Fall of the era were also dabbling in similar territory. But B.A.D. had witty, fully formed songs topped off with Letts' trickery – he was a dreadlocked Brian Eno to Jones' Bryan Ferry.
The group could almost sense their built-in obsolescence with album opener Medicine Show. Rolling into town as outsiders, B.A.D.’s smoke and mirrors may not ultimately change a thing, but it would make everyone feel elated with its insistent melody and samples of spaghetti westerns. The use of dialogue from director Nicolas Roeg's films in E=MC² seemed revolutionary. This was not just the long-term pop staple of flaunting your influences (Ian Dury’s Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3, for instance): actually hearing scraps of the film propelling the narrative felt groundbreaking.
This Is Big Audio Dynamite succeeds as a capture of the mid-80s zeitgeist. Subject matter includes AIDS (Stone Thames); corporatisation (Sony); personal and economical boom and bust (The Bottom Line) and African civil wars (A Party). Yet all these weighty subjects are approached with a joyous élan, and lyrical dexterity – no pun is too gauche, no rhyme is too nursery.
The Legacy Edition’s bonus disc is another snapshot of that era, featuring extended mixes, some worthwhile, some mere exercises in redundant excess. Fairlight stabs and percussive blips abound. The out-take Electric Vandal, with its infectious highlife guitar line, is tremendous fun, however.
Inextricably linked to a very specific time, this album was long overdue for reappraisal. This Is Big Audio Dynamite is a reminder of what the future once sounded like.