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Not my usual fare by any length of the imagination but I have a soft spot for The Shamen just as I do a lot of other early 90s music. The difference is that a lot of it was really naff (think Haddaway and Reel 2 Reel), the only two out of that dance or techno fuelled era that I still rate are The Shamen and Ini Kamoze. Back in 1992, I was 6 years old and I pretty much stipulated that I had the radio on to go to sleep. Strangely enough I found great comfort in the song Ebeneezer Goode and it used to send me to sleep whenever it was played.
The Shamen were an electronic dance band who started out as a psychedelic rock act in the mid 80s before ultimately penning dance hits like Ebeneezer Goode and LSI. This Aberdeen act the most successful album and the one I'm most familiar with is Boss Drum.
Boss Drum (album)
Boss Drum was an album whose cassette box constantly occupied the compartment in the driver's seat door of my father's car. This got played endlessly and when I begun to listen to it again, it took me down memory lane. No less than seven musicians took part in the making of this album but obviously the band borrowed rapper Mr. C for this album who was something of a focal point. Boss Drum, like The Shamen in general was known for its controversial lyrics, which perhaps even helped the band achieve success to some extent. Released in 1992, the band never quite managed to follow up on this album with the same level of success but it's a legendary album and I'm pretty shocked no one else has reviewed it.
Boss Drum (song)
The album starts with the title track, a spacey 6 minute track which starts with what sounds like a triangle, a didgeridoo and a synthesiser before bursting into a more colourful tune. The cool thing about this track is it's many layers and the way the two vocalists work alongside each other, Shamen possessed an outstanding ability to entwine catchy choruses into verses of shamanistic jargon!
You, activate the rhythm, the rhythm that has always been within.. You etc.
Let it connect you to the powers that be
With healing rhythmic synergy
Techno tribal and positively primal
Shamanic anarchistic archaic revival
Whilst Boss Drum is pretty accessible, it's still quite alternative and may only really appeal to a raver. L.S.I on the other hand, short for Love Sex Intelligence is perhaps about as poppy as the band gets. The vocals of Jhelissa Anderson, Mr. C and Colin Angus weave in and out of each other seemlessly. This is one hell of a catchy tune and it's little wonder that it reached the dizzy heights of 6th in the charts, 1st position of course was occupied by another Shamen song - Ebeneezer Goode and my wasn't that video scary!
Space Time is a hark back to the days when dance music was for tripping hippies who considered the use of electronic music far out. It's before it was commercial and over-produced and the lyrics reflect that.. it's like listening to a poem written by a drug induced riddler in a sci-fi film.
Librae Solidi Denari
Librae Solidi Denari somehow avoided the scrutiny of Ebeneezer Goode and other tracks with drug references but for me it's fairly obviously a nod to LSD rather than a look at the pre-decimal currencies. Devoid of the charming lyrics that have graced the album so far, this is a longer and more intense piece of electronic music for the ardent fan of the dance genre.
The band's most known track is based on the same formula of two vocalists, fast sung, almost rapped verses and the thumping chorus that caused so much controversy, we all know it. 'Eezer goode, eezer goode, he's Ebeneezer Goode' which obviously is 'E's are good, e's are good, these effin e's are good' itself an ode to ecstasy, the dance drug of the time. Personally I always admired the band for slipping the word geezer into a song. then there's those sadistic laughs that sort of sound like Johnny Rotten has bred with satan and spawned Shamen. There are various versions of the track, the one on the album is the Beatmasters Mix, the single had at least two alternate versions as I recall, one which was shorter and more suited to the radio, this one has a rather long intro.
Comin' On starts quite intensely, the bass line is quite thin but repetitive, in retrospect it has aged quite badly and sounds like the music to a handheld game, particularly a Chinese immitation version of Tetris. Of course, this can be overlooked because the mad ranting of 'Keep comin on you know we keep comin on' or 'Comin' on strong, we're comin' on strong' sounds like Mr.C has worked himself into a stupor and then in contrast there's somewhat smooth 'Hey hey yeah, With shamanic magic mystical music' which seems to adopt the same fraudulent Jamaican accent as Sting and the lead singer from Space occasionally did. Catchy but probably the 4th best song on the album.
An anthem back in the day, this was another one of the band's successful hits, reaching a lofty 5th in the charts, it's easy to see why. It's an uplifting song, full of positivity. Jhelissa Anderson's vocals are bright and cheery. It was released in January but it's a rather summery song.
At this point, the similarity in the tracks drum beats are starting to show, The Shamen make use of some sort of string effect (possibly harp) on the keyboard, it gives the track a slight eeriness or would do if it wasn't for the brash vocals which are representative of white people rapping before Eminem came along. In truth, this track is a little on the long side, the sections without vocals are not attention holding enough and the lyrics look like they've been written by a teenager during a lesson he doesn't like..
You know the Fat Man
Has got you on the crack
You can't move, screwed down
Real hard, with your face to the ground
Keeping You in the place that you came from
While the Fat Man spends your money on bombs
Scientas is an instrumental track, it's quite relaxed and loungeish considering the intense pace of the rest of the album. It's still a little psychedelic but it's the kind of music you might find in a shopping centre. If your constipated, it's ideal for listening to on the toilet whilst reading the chemical ingredients of an air freshener spray and brushing up on your Hungarian by reading the instructions.
Whilst the early section of the album has a focus on the more commercial side of the band, the latter is only really for true fanatics. Re: Evoution is the weirdest track on the album, it is rather academic, a speech of prominent American psychonaut and lecturer Terrence McKenna's read out about the man himself. One of McKenna's main topics was shamanism, to be honest I find his droll delivery a bit dull but the music that accompanies it is fairly interesting.
Towards the end of the album is a second version of Boss Drum, a slower and more cosmic version, ideal for the spaced out raver and most definitely the type that was played in the early hours of the morning in a club but not quite right for radio.
The album finishes off with Phorever Dub which is another instrumental piece, it's decent electronic music and at 3.54 it's quite palatable and rather chilled out. It's a different kettle of fish from the earlier tracks and might not appeal to everyone.
There's no doubt about it, Boss Drum is the classic Shamen album to have and despite the fact it has its fair share of hits, it doesn't completely sell out and there's something there for the true lover of electronic music as well. I never did quite get The Shamen's obsession for replacing F with Ph, they did it on an earlier album too, perhaps you'll resolve the mystery.
The Shamen have sadly faded into oblivion. Lost somewhere in the musical ether, with 'Ebeneezer Goode' making sporadic appearances in 'Most Annoying Record Ever' rundowns. Listening to this album is a reminder that there is more them than just one gimmicky record though.
Who are they:
Fronted by Colin Angus, on synths with rapper Mr C providing cockney raps. They specialised in dance music, often with a trippy, techno edge.
The title track is a trippy affair, with a less than enthused vocal from Angus. I never found his singing very strong, he always sounded like he'd just woken up after a very heavy night and couldn't quite muster the energy to pull off any taxing notes. As a result, he breezes his way through this song with all the appeal of a dead woodlouse. Vocals aside, the beat is strong and Mr C sounds quite excited on his rap sections and manages to lift the song. It is not as instant as 'Ebeneezer Goode' but benefits from a pleasing catchy chorus.
'Space Time' is an odd track. It has a rambling melody and never quite gets off the ground. The chorus sounds like it was recorded when they were spaced out and on another planet and I swear they are offkey. This is worth hearing just because it highlights how strong some of the other tracks are.
'Love Sex Intelligence' is much better. A ballsy female vocal drives the track with plenty of gutsy energy and she seems to really feel the lyrics, injecting the song with excitement at every step. Her vocals work well alongside Mr C's jovial rap and the track has a strong pop hook which makes it one of the more commerical songs on the album.
'Ebeneezer Goode' has to be singled out as a highlight. The song might be overshadowed by media types claiming it advocates drug use, but you can't ignore that it is also a very well crafted dance track. A smart rap from Mr C, a chanty chorus and some superb synth hooks, it peaks on every level.
A rather brisk 10 tracks, most of them are pretty good listening, but there are a handful of fillers which lack the punch of the singles. Artwork is sufficient, but more band shots would have been good.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Boss Drum
2 LSI Love Sex Intelligence
3 Space Time
4 Librae Solidi DenarI
5 Ebeneezer Good
6 Comin' On
7 Phorever People
10 Re Evolution