Eleven years after the release of New Forms, Roni Size has set himself the unenviable task of reissuing one of the most well known (and owned) drum n’ bass albums of all time. The iconic status of the masterpiece he created with deebee supergroup Reprazent makes it at once untouchable, ubiquitous, and—if it is to be re-released—in need of an update. Of course the original was perfect, pioneering a unique sound that was both futuristic and nostalgic, and introducing the underground to the mainstream for the first time. However, a well-deserved Mercury Music Prize put New Forms on coffee tables the world over, so while its production hasn’t dated, familiarity places it firmly in the electronic epicentre of Cool Britannia, Bristol circa 1997.
So what does Mr. Size do to breathe new life into an album that everyone's already got, thereby making it an essential second purchase? Well, it seems, everything. All by himself. Remasters and re-edits, rare and live tracks—the only reissue trick that he doesn’t pull is guest remixes. No doubt cynics will claim that the timing of this “deluxe edition” proves that it’s an afterthought—Full Cycle cashing in on the ten year anniversary they missed in 2007—but it’s more likely a reflection of the time spent by one man working over his legacy and, unfortunately, overworking it.
For some reason, Size was determined to introduce added value to New Forms without increasing its running time. Rather than sticking new and rare material on a second disc, he’s made room for it on one by compressing the original album into half its size. Superfluous supporting tracks are nothing new, but that this edition doesn’t feature the classic record in full is reissue heresy. ‘Mad Cat’ might not be missed, and ‘Watching Windows’ always felt like one Onallee vocal too far (after the superior ‘Heroes’ and ‘Share The Fall’) but the mushing of the surviving tunes into bite-sized chunks is an unnecessary compromise. Here the track that least warrants revision suffers most: ‘Brown Paper Bag’ cuts straight to its climax, cluttered with all the elements that the ’97 Reprazent introduced over a restrained nine minutes, and in less than half that time it burns itself out.
These skip-to-the-money-shot edits do away with the tracks’ best parts (the foreplay), but they are at least clear attempts to reposition them for modern dancefloors, which Size demonstrates by mixing some together himself. Less understandable is what he refers to as “adding a new coat of armour” to tunes which remain otherwise uncut. This amounts to no more than painting in the gaps of formerly sparse productions like ‘Railing’, where the hyper beats and amorphous bassline are joined by string and horn sweeps, which fit more neatly with the neo-jazz noodlings of new tracks like the ironically named ‘Less Is More’. Whether it’s a rap anthem (current single ‘Don’t Hold Back’) or a live version (‘Encore’), the more Roni Size adds to New Forms, the more he takes away.
His justification, that “fans of the original album always appreciated what we did with the technology of the day. This latest version shows what is possible now", reveals the flawed thinking at the heart of this project—the assumption that the spacious, almost minimal sound of the initial release was down to technological restrictions rather than aesthetic choices, and that adding more into the mix is somehow an improvement. If that were true, all late ‘90s drum n’ bass would have sounded as stark as the first New Forms, and all modern variants would sound as messy and unfocussed as the so-called “deluxe edition”.
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Tracklist: Roni Size & Reprazent - New Forms 201 Railing
02 Brown Paper Bag
03 New Forms
04 Let’s Get It On
05 Trust Me
07 Matter of Fact
09 Share The Fall
10 Heart To Heart
11 Less Is More
13 Hi Potent
14 Don’t Hold Back
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