It was perfect timing for Leftfield. They'd built a huge store of goodwill for themselves at the start of the decade with bona fide club smashers that, for better or worse, set the template for progressive house. Tracks like "Not Forgotten" and "More Than I Know"—and their remixes for React 2 Rhythm, Inner City, Ultra Naté, Stereo MCs—laid down that steady pile-up of simple riffs that felt like a safety net beneath the ever-accelerating mania of hardcore. Prog would eventually become grossly overblown, but until late '92 it was all good fun. Leftfield didn't go that way, thankfully: through "Release The Pressure," "Song Of Life" and "Open Up" they kept what was charming about their original sound, and added drama without locking into the lazy formula others did.
Leftism, then, really was bang in the middle of everything. And if that suggests "middle of the road," well, there was that, too. It became the default soundtrack of every student-shared house, every between-bands bit of Glastonbury, and, increasingly, every dinner party. Listening back now, it still pumps. But it's a palatable pump, with enough hooks and vocals to work as well over pasta as in a field at 4 AM. Funnily enough, the tracks that have aged best are the ones that pump least: the sensual Orb-like ripples of "Melt" and "21st Century Poem," the trip-hop lope of "Original," the endearingly ham-fisted attempt to fuse jungle and trance on "Storm 3000," and the wonderfully mature peace-and-unity cheese of "Release The Pressure." The 4/4 tracks that make up the skeleton of the album sound more dated, but they were never bleeding edge anyway. The album sounds as much like a raver's comfort blanket as it ever did.
For Leftism's remixes, Leftfield have done a smart thing in keeping the album's running order, remixing the whole experience of the album as much as the individual tracks. It starts out well. Adrian Sherwood is a genius pick for "Release The Pressure," scrambling an overfamiliar song with all his dub utensils. Likewise, Peverelist and Hodge couldn't be better for "Afro-Left": they retain all the deft parts and dubwise quality but turn its predictable '90s plod into a razor-sharp groove. Adesse Versions uses a deep understanding of older dance track tonality to subvert any sense of retroism, turning "Original" into a shuffling house beauty that keeps the original's spirit entirely intact.
Though other remixes in the middle section update the production techniques, they don't really advance on the festival-pleasing 4/4 or big beat predictability of the originals. Skream and Zomby, rounding off the album, haven't turned in their best work. Zomby's contribution is more subdued than, say, his recent Hyperdub album, Ultra. Skream's take on "Open Up" is a shameless crowdpleaser. The remixed album, as a coherent listen, doesn't work as Leftism does. Though there's an uncanny excitement in hearing familiar motifs in new forms, the constant shift between production styles stymies the flow. It's a fascinating experiment in rewiring something so plugged into the collective unconscious, and there are some truly brilliant bits in it. But while Leftfield managed to be all things to all people almost by default, the remix album seems to be trying a little too hard to pull off the same trick.
Mon / 22 May 2017
01. Release The Pressure
04. Song Of Life
06. Black Flute
07. Space Shanty
08. Inspection (Check One)
09. Storm 3000
10. Open Up
11. 21st Century Poem
12. Release The Pressure (Adrian Sherwood Mix)
13. Afro-Left (Hodge & Peverelist Mix)
14. Melt (Quiet Village Mix)
15. Song Of Life (BodyJack Mix)
16. Original (Adesse Versions Mix)
17. Black Flute (Ben Sims Mix)
18. Space Shanty (Voiski Mix)
19. Inspection (Check One) (Maafi Mix)
20. Storm 3000 (Dungeon Meat Mix)
21. Open Up (Skream Mix)
22. 21st Century Poem (Zomby Mix)