Asian Dub Foundation :: Tank
The state of the world in February 2003 was vastly different from what it currently is. Our generation's most costly and controversial war was still being plotted by over-privileged cowboys from Texas with something to prove. Heavy artillery was yet to roll into the streets of Baghdad yet Asian Dub Foundation had enough aggro beats and blistering prose to put out Enemy of the Enemy. The future looked promising even with the absence of their long-time front man.
Exactly two years, thousands of body bags and millions of taxpayers' dollars later, a once again slightly altered ADF offer up Tank, complete with stark cover photography of tank tracks by Ron Haviv, the acclaimed journalist who has spent his career covering conflict ridden areas. You would think that with this much turmoil going on in the world, the most politically vocal band of our time (with Rage Against the Machine on an indefinite hiatus) would have enough fuel to light a colossal fire under the collective asses of Bush & Co. But, alas, though starting off with two of their best tracks to date, the album quickly turns into a disappointment on a scale that I haven't witnessed since the latest Daft Punk record.
"Flyover" is ADF's trademark breakbeat-fuelled punk, once again proving that 150+ BPM is what they do best. Much like "Fortress Europe," the opener of Enemy of the Enemy, the highlight here is the face off between Ghetto Priest's roots-reggae stylings and the dancehall chatter of MC Spex. The title track is a slow burner with its beats centered around uncanny Indian inspired strings, noisy synth fx and a powerful closer by Spex that begins with one minute to spare in the track. Newcomer Lord Kimo takes the lead vox on "The Round-Up", dropping verses about questionable arrest-and-detain actions, backed up by Spex and Ghetto Priest and an incredibly punchy bass line. More Iraq war bashing on "Oil" with the soon-to-be memorable lyric of "...No Iraqi ever called me Paki..."
The largely instrumental "Powerlines" does a poor job of imitating the classic "Riddim I Like" from Community Music, with its electro-noir stomp and vocal sample telling the plight of the indigenous Krikati Indians of Brazil, who in an effort to get the national government to hear their concerns, knocked out powerlines in cities across the region. Sounds exactly like a cause the crew would get behind. Like "Dhol Rinse" and "Cyberabad" before it, "Warring Dhol" is Prithpal "Cyber" Rajput's time to shine. He is definitely under-utilized on this record; how many contemporary bands can boast of a tabla/dhol player in their line-up? Album closer "Melody 7" sounds like an outtake or a leftover from a sound-check; not the best way of a band of their calibre to end their fifth album.
ADF's last three full-length releases, this one included, have all had rotating line-ups, which has made it daunting for them to recreate the glory of the early days. Ever since Deedar left after Community Music to concentrate on his own group Rebel Uprising, ADF have been hard pressed to fill his charismatic role as the voice of the band. Spex and Aktarvata, now with the Nasha crew, came close to doing that in 2003 with the chemistry that manifests itself after having traded vocals for a while. On Tank, it all falls to Spex and Ghetto Priest, a prolific reggae artist in his own right who eerily sounds exactly like Horace Andy of Massive Attack fame, to handle the mic duties. Somehow they don't seem to complement each other so perfectly. Will the self-described "Asian Jungle-Punks" ever recover and impress us again or should we, as loyal fans, look at this as a celebration of a truly illustrious past? Stay tuned.