The album's magisterial opener, "Kultra Kafe," is typical of Mark E's recent, synth-drenched epics (especially last year's "Midland Nights" on Running Back), but at other points on Product Of Industry, he seems to be hesitantly feeling his way through new territory. "Eganix" and "Myth Of Tomorrow" are surprisingly harsh and mechanistic; these are songs with dirty metallic surfaces being methodically battered into shape as they judder along his assembly line.
Product Of Industry is a tribute to the industrial history of the West Midlands, and it's clear that Mark E sees this album as an outlet to express himself in a way that he perhaps couldn't with, say, an expertly-tuned Grace Jones sample. But while this idea might be a source of inspiration, it's also a hindrance. This album's best moments come when he loosens the thematic shackles he's placed on himself. "Smoke" is an immensely playful nine-minute groove of sparsely employed slap-bass and a clipped whisky-and-cigarettes vocal, mmhming and yeahing its way throughout. Alongside the thick, spiralling horns of "Persia" and the delicate, piano and synth-led neosoul of "Being Hiding," it helps form a strong first half.
Mark E's meticulous approach makes Product Of Design a cohesive body of work, but in a way that's also its greatest flaw. Stone Breaker, this album's predecessor, was essentially just a bunch of great Mark E tracks, and it didn't suffer for that. Instead, it gave him a platform to express himself in a more carefree manner than he perhaps has here. Product Of Industry shows a producer testing his own limits. He's not reached them yet by any means, and there are some great moments on here, but overall the album is some distance from his best work.