Comparisons to drum & bass heroes-and-villains Pendulum abound; both groups indulge tendencies close to but unconnected with their respective genres. Where Pendulum charge their music with hard rock cliches and sci-fi wet dreams, Magnetic Man fold in festival-calibre trance and hardcore influences. The biggest difference lies in the quality of output: Chalk it up to mere taste, but Magnetic Man's is much better, its open-field glory sometimes even retaining some of the subtlety of the classic dubstep its members used to create.
On Magnetic Man's debut long-player, there are two kinds of tracks: vocal pop tunes in dubstep time, and instrumentals which are essentially dubstep-for-dummies. In line with the trio's sleek image, there's a slight obsession with technology, the instrumentals grinding and roaring with mechanistic ferocity. But despite the impression from the cacophonous racket of their Radio 1 Essential Mix, they don't simply provide party-pleasing bass wobbles. And, when they do, they're clever about it, as on the snarling engine-overdrive of "Karma Crazy," its bass embellished with dramatically overblown strings.
Make no mistake, Magnetic Man are a pop act, and as such their success lies in their vocal tracks. Katy B builds on her Benga-assisted hit "Katy on a Mission" with "Perfect Stranger," by far the album's peak. A rolling junglist anthem, its chorus launches into the stratosphere, propelled by a deceptively simple drum loop. Meanwhile, John Legend makes a subdued appearance on the album's soulful closer, Ms. Dynamite tries to breathe life into a staid stomper on "Fire" and Sam Frank makes a case for autotune on the breaks-driven "Boiling Water."
There's also the elephant in the room: "I Need Air," the album's immensely successful first single. It's the first thing out of Magnetic Man that most people will hear, and it's dishearteningly terrible: generic trance in halfstep with an embarrassingly grating vocal. Moments like "I Need Air" make it clear these men have their eyes on, say, Ibiza, rather than London (see also the overbearingly blissful synths of "Anthemic"). But it's that global perspective that paradoxically saves Magnetic Man's music; it might not be the best dubstep ever made, but most of the time this music-for-the-masses is endearing. In making a move to the mainstream without sacrificing (all of) their principles, Skream, Benga and Artwork have done something admirable even in its most detestable moments.