, June 26th, 2012 09:19
In 1999, flush from - and bewildered at - the success of the Norman Cook pitched-up version of 'Brimful Of Asha', Cornershop assumed a new persona and released Disco & The Halfway To Discontent under the name of Clinton. It was a chance to realise their funkiest urges, to enslave themselves to the bassline instead of the pop hook. And it did bugger all. Still, it was a fluid, slinky record and little by little it's fed back into the traditional Cornershop sound until now - now Cornershop are Clinton. Just like they always were.
Urban Turban is subtitled The Singhles Club, a sledgehammer pun for a subtle device. Assembled largely from mail-order singles snuck out under that same dazzling wordplay, it nevertheless sticks together as a cohesive album with Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres concentrating on the melting pot grooves while guest singers and rappers provide the - usually pretty scarce - words. Singh persistently maintains (and you may be able to spot his tongue lodged in cheek) that the real roots of hip-hop are in Indian folk music and on Urban Turban he sets out to prove the hypothesis. Or at least shove the two together until it looks like proof.
All this theory is nothing new for Cornershop. Singh and Ayres have made a habit of adorning the music of their youth - glam rock, disco - with tablas and sitars, and on last year's The Double 'O' Groove Of they smuggled Bubbley Kaur out of the local launderette to sing entirely in Punjabi over an ecstatic amalgam of hip-hop beats and bubblegum pop. Fusion's in their DNA and their innate understanding of pop's warmth and joy eases the blend.
A bit of unabashed silliness helps too, and Singh's right there with a rare vocal on opener 'What Did The Hippie Have In His Bag?' - reprised later with the extended 'High Slung Satchel' mix - remodeling the old Perishers cartoon theme around funky jangles and squashy bass with able support from a class of Lancashire primary school kids. At one point he cedes the lead to the pupils with, "Now you carry on 'cos I've just dropped a crayon / It must be here somewhere 'cos... crayons don't walk". It's not Radiohead. Nor is 'Solid Gold', a slab of Daft Punky fader disco that's apparently "as roller rink as the colour pink".
Where the mix of styles really takes shape is on 'Beacon Radio 303' where moog, Punjabi and beats straight out of Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five's 'Step Off' meet, or on 'Milkin' It''s shout-outs to Biz Markie, Kurtis Blow, Slick Rick and more as In Light Of Aquarius spits over pattering drums and loquacious bass. And, ok, on 'Who's Gonna Lite It Up?', prowling along on a Led Zep riff as tablas beat the rhythm. Or maybe when 'Brimful Of Asha' clashes with Lou Reed's 'Vicious' in the snaky grooves of 'Something Makes You feel Like'. Basically, it works.
Perhaps there's a danger here and there of Singh and Ayres getting their heads down and too deep in the blissed-out funk - 'Concrete, Concrete' is a proper Sly Stone workout with all the fuzzed-out indulgence that implies; 'Inspector Bamba Singh's Lament' gets a little locked into its Blaxploitation swagger - but really they just want to see what sticks. That's all they've ever tried, and most of it does.