Bombay Dub Orchestra 3 Cities Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Exotic aural wallpaper with pretty but inconsequential patterns.

Jon Lusk 2009

Three years on from their debut, the press release for the second album assembled by London-based producer/composers Garry Hughes and Andrew T. Mackay tacitly acknowledges that it's more or less more of the same. That is, a series of sluggish, cinematic soundscapes peopled by 75 Indian session musicians, none of whom make much impression thanks to the homogenised Massive-Attack-stuck-in-Buddha-Bar production style.

The three cities in question are Mumbai, Chennai (formerly Madras) and London, where the album was recorded and mixed. The fact that Hughes and Mackay have used the colonial moniker 'Bombay' offers a clue; this is dated exotica that sounds like it was made last century. As for the dub part? Well that's frankly a misnomer, since dub effects are conspicuous by their absence. King Tubby hasn't been within spitting distance of this over-processed pile of sonic candyfloss.

It's not that there aren't some good performances here, simply that 3 Cities is so much less than the sum of its parts and lacking in any sense of originality or spark. String sections swoon, a santoor (hammered dulcimer) tinkles away here and there, someone potters on a tabla, and an oud plunks amiably on the opener Egypt By Air. The classical Indian vocals, sitar and bansuri flute on Journey are joined synth squelches, (more of them later…) saccharine strings, keyboards and loping trip hop beats. And so it goes on. By the time the ponderous beats and pedestrian keyboard motif of Greenish Blues kick in, you won't care that it’s a 'gentle nod to the soundtrack of the classical Indian film Ram Teri Ganga Meli'.

At its best, 3 Cities is simply world music-lite, exotic aural wallpaper with pretty but inconsequential patterns. But then there are more upbeat pieces such as Monsoon Malabar, with its vocal percussion, dhol drums and churning beats, obviously created with dance floors in mind. Overall, it's too obtrusive in its banality to work as proper film or chill-out music, and too tedious and long-winded (70 whole minutes, gasp…) to bear close scrutiny.

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