As good a soundtrack to the last decade and a half as anyone can muster.
Andy Fyfe 2010
London’s The Herbaliser have been Ninja Tune stalwarts ever since their 1995 debut album Remedies announced them as a serious alternative to the mod-esque acid jazzers and bug-eyed big beaters of the day.
Even so, it took the duo of Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry until their second album, 1997’s Blow Your Headphones, to really find their feet and fully justify the patronage of their close mentors (and, not coincidentally, Ninja Tune’s head honchos), Coldcut’s Matt Black and Jonathan Moore.
There were always similarities between The Herbaliser and the acid jazz groovers, but where the mirrored beanie brigade placed so much emphasis on finding that oh-so-obscure sample, Wherry and Teeba seemed more interested in the textures of the beats, marrying jazz and soul to their old-skool hip hop roots, rather than the other way around.
Remedies is entirely written out of Herbal Tonic’s best-of picture, while only The Blend from Blow Your Headphones gets a look in, although two other tracks from the album are included from the full-band live albums Session 1 and Session 2: Mr Chombee Has the Flaw and a mighty version of Ginger Jumps the Fence.
Although Herbal Tonic isn’t a conventional chronological best-of, it’s obvious that, as fruitful as the early days were for The Herbaliser, it was 2005’s Take London – controversial in Herbaliserworld for being a studio album with a band rather than glued-together beats and samples – where their blunted vision swam into sharp focus. Both opening tracks here are from Take London, and rightly so; Gadget Funk, a huge slab of Fashion-era David Bowie-meets-Afrika Bambaataa soul funk, and Nah’ Mean Nah’m Sayin’, featuring the under-rated MC Jean Grae. When they give way to 1999’s alternative Mission: Impossible theme The Missing Suitcase, giving David Holmes a run for his money, it’s obvious we’re in for a ride through a varied and far-sighted back catalogue, brought up to date with the final track, Stranded On Earth, from their one non-Ninja album, 2008’s Same As It Never Was (!K7).
Whether sitting in the sun with a few cold ones, or catching your breath in a sweaty club of dubious legality, Herbal Tonic is as good a soundtrack to the last decade and a half as anyone can muster.