Jah Wobble & Julie Campbell
, November 10th, 2011 11:59
A liaison forged in Heaven - or, more precisely, Manchester’s Deansgate, which can attain heavenly qualities on any given day. In February, unlikely resident of Stockport Jah Wobble and north east Manchester’s edgy, aloof Julie Campbell (aka LoneLady) met over snails and beer.
It was Warp Records boss Steve Beckett who alerted Wobble to Campbell's talents, one presumes in the vague hope of some kind of collaboration. Campbell’s 2010 Warp released album, Nerve Up, immediately set up a stall that seemed distinctive and distant, a world away from the music generally reverberating in the city. That album's raw, pared-down melodic sensibility reflected post-punk Manchester bands such as Linder Sterling’s fiery Ludus and the raw early Buzzcocks.
Although the initial meeting of the pair was seemingly fraught with misconception, Wobble explained that he was looking to make a record that also reflected the positive vibes of post punk - and more specifically his own part in it, by recalling PiL's blindingly brilliant Metal Box, and its groundbreaking mix of percussion, dub and white noise. He thought that Campbell’s vocals, at once stark and heartfelt, might prove the key ingredient.
And so, nine months later, the result of this meeting arrives in the form of Psychic Life. It's a postulating affair that transports this particular listener to intoxicated nights languishing in Hulme's Russell Cub, soaking in some kind of industrial vibe and unknowingly witnessing the birth of Factory.
But there is more. Recorded in Stockport, Huddersfield and Manchester, Psychic Life even includes the scintillating guitar of one Keith Levene, edging this recording somewhat closer to the early spirit of the classic PIL line up than John Lydon’s sad musicianly gathering at the tail end of last year. But while that exercise appeared to languish in past glories, Psychic Life evolves way beyond the template of Metal Box, even drawing in unexpected jazz tones (on ‘Slavetown1 and Slavetown 11’) where trumpets and flugelhorn compete with Clive Bell’s high flying flute. It’s an undeniably urban offshoot that on first listen seems slightly at odds with Wobble’s guiding basslines. This contrasts gloriously with the sexual thrust employed on ‘Rainlust’ and the dub bass of closer ‘Isuara’, which slides closer still to the notion of a PiL revisit.
What we find, perhaps surprisingly given the distinctive contrasting elements here, is a nine song exercise in contemporary fusion. Something that, frankly, would have been lost in clouds of sophistication in 1979. And sophistication is the key here. Do not expect the raw edge of musical naiveté. Pyschic Life is cleverly evocative of post-regeneration city living. This is a smart record whose textures become more powerful with each successive play. Most intriguing of all is the way in which two artists that have previously remained within the expectations of a certain stylised approach have drawn each other carefully out of their comfort zones. Surely, one senses, this is a triumph that exceeds their own hopes. Once you find yourself lost in these musical structures, it’s difficult to find a way out. That is fine by me.