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This Is What We Do Jeremy Allen , December 9th, 2022 09:51

Nearly two decades on from Leftism and seven years since their last album, Leftfield return with eleven cuts of pumping positivity

Like Neil Barnes of Leftfield, I know what it feels like when a colonoscopy ends with a nasty surprise. The trauma of having to imbibe several litres of Moviprep and allow it to purge your body turns out to be a mere inconvenience, as does the indignity of the procedure itself. Nothing quite prepares you for the news that there's a malignant tumour in your bowel.

This cataclysmic reveal, on top of other difficult life experiences, was the catalyst for Leftfield’s fourth studio album. Never the most prolific of acts, the threat of finality can sometimes be all the motivation one needs. You can either sit there and say “why me?” or you can ask “why not me?” Barnes burst into life and fragments of music and untidy demos began to take shape. The eleven tracks here are life-affirming and motivational, from the evocative mother and daughter scaling a mountainous landscape on the cover, to the big beats that pervade This Is What We Do.

The problem with the album as a listening experience is that it lacks a change of pace. From the title track to the throbbing, pulsating ‘The Power of Listening’, we’re steamrollered into adopting a positive mindset, where there appears to be no room for darkness or equivocation. When faced with a life threatening malady, people find their own ways of coping, and if dispelling all negativity is conducive to one’s recovery then I have no issue with that. Though it’s the moments of doubt and the facing up to one’s own mortality that are often the ones that produce sublime art. This Is What We Do instead embodies the steely sanguinity of a pensioner determined to vote.

‘Accumulator’ pumps emphatically enough, and it actually does change pace midway through, though that switch of tempo into a higher gear brings the lack of surprises into sharp focus. ‘Full Way Around’ featuring Grian Chatten from Fontaines DC is diverting enough, but using an indie celebrity to wax lyrical over a breakbeat feels very 1990s, and the return of Earl Sixteen on ‘Rapture 16’ reminds us of the sonic diversity that was on offer with Leftism yet largely absent from this fourth outing.

I certainly can’t speak for Barnes but in my own experience, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, two years of being sliced open, a thousand pinpricks a month, a truckload of morphine and opioids and the shame of soiling myself in the street didn’t always make me want to pump my fist in the air. His positivity is to be applauded, though there’s no shame in admitting you’re broken, you’re afraid, and you’ve just been to hell and back.