Ten years ago Car Boot Soul, Nightmares On Wax’s third album, pretty much backboned most of our less lucid evenings, its smooth, unobtrusive funkiness the aural equivalent of a sunset and a hammock. Its predecessor, Smoker’s Delight, really was too – but in an age of smoking bans they’re not quite so relevant.
According to the press release, Thought So…, their sixth album, was ‘inspired by a special journey.’ Presumably it was a round-trip, as not much has changed here. Loop-driven, Balearic House offerings supplanted with occasional vocal wailings and hip-hop/soul rhymes are still very much the rule, with scarcely a nod – mercifully – to the more song-driven approach trialled on 2002’s Mind Elevation. Now that ‘chill-out’ is no longer a genre automatically met with pitchforks and torches, mainman George Evelyn is free to pursue a musical template ‘that puts inner peace, joy of life and uplifting spirits first at all times.’
Fitting, then, that Thought So… opens with laughter, the musicians joking around before launching into a bassline that sounds as though it’s coming from underwater. It segues seamlessly (it’s the same riff…) into Da Feeling, a track thankfully better than its title. For anyone versed with the NoW oeuvre the formula will be a familiar one: lay down a bassline, repeat it ad infinitum, add some drums and a smattering of instrumental texture, leave it for a while before drizzling some vocals or voices over the top, take them away again. All that’s left for us to predict is which cliched lyrical theme – there’s a choice of about three – will be used this time, although to be fair you’ll likely be dancing too much to notice.
Elsewhere, first single 195lbs stands out for Ricky Ranking’s very effectively-processed vocal contributions, whilst Calling provides a more dramatic, introspective element to the album, all warm synths and rolling bass and more than a nod towards Car Boot Soul’s opener Les Nuits: it’s the best thing on here, and not just for relieving us from Bringin It’s eye-gougingly irritating vocal refrain.
As the cover art with its array of primary-coloured blobs merging together suggests, the rest of the album tends to mesh into a blur of saccharine tones and routine drums, the uniform tempo a godsend for insomniacs but of less interest to everyone else. The wah-wah guitar line of Moretime and the off-key scratching in closer Hey Ego! are worth waking up for, although you’ll probably find yourself unable to fathom why Thought So… is still going at 53 minutes when it should have stopped at 40.
And yet criticising it seems wrong, somehow, akin to deriding that guy at a party who’s always relentlessly, infuriatingly optimistic just because you resent his cheery disposition. Here’s an album that isn’t trying to be clever or groundbreaking, to wow us with some new sound or redefine the very nature of music – just to provide us with something to soundtrack a summer’s eve. Forget for a moment that Thought So… is repetitive, overlong, uninventive and arguably unnecessary, this sound already perfectly explored within the existing Nightmares On Wax releases. Forget even, if you can, that the very notion of ‘summer’ in the UK is purely ironic: this isn’t really an album to analyse in any great depth, more to nod to endlessly, ideally with a drink in hand and a clutch of friends arrayed around, in staunch defiance of our grey-skied British reality.