You could be fooled into thinking that there was some sort of concept behind “Time Traveller” as the pitched up raps of track one run down a list of musical greats through the ages. You might think you’re about to get an audio tour of forty years of musical genius. You’d be wrong because disastrously Jack Splash’s DeLorean only goes back to the mid-70s. The only concession to modernity is the first song where sublime sets of keys are laced with irritating helium-rap. Then Jack throws the switch and you’re transported to a world where Booty Collins is God, Prince is President and Sly and the Family Stone are the cabinet.
Truth is it’s not a bad place to visit. Throughout the record Plantlife conjure up a landscape of pleasant funk grooves which have never made it quite past 1985. The tracks are manicured with a touch of pop-soul finesse and everything is packaged up with a tasteful twenty first century shine as the drums are crisp and top end appropriately light and airy or dark and dingy depending on what’s called for. Many of the songs themselves however just pop in and out of their funk pockets for about 3 minutes before fading away, which proves a little disappointing as after half the album you yearn for a few surprises to jump out. Especially considering that the album runs to over an hour with little movement from it’s central M.O. of resurrecting the ghosts of George Clinton and his gang. Also the cleanness when compared to the influences it wears so boldly on its sleeve can make the whole exercise come off a little contrived.
There are several memorable moments, where they pull a great groove into a good song. “What a world” delivers a lovely little soulful summer jam, in the middle of all the popping bass lines it’s a real highlight. “Rollerskate Jam” is enough to get many a jaded b-boy off the sofa and “Got 2 Find a Better Way” shows how to resurrect the 80s synth ballad. Closer “Fool For U” even manages to make the most of Jack’s unique vocal styling. These moments however are spaced out by a number of self-indulgent cuts that really should have been cut out of the reels (“They Pay Me 4 This,” “Outta Control”). When it works they manage to transcend sounding like the sum of their influences but when it doesn’t you begin to wonder if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery.
Plantlife, so their press release tells me, have contributed production to a fine plethora of the Hip-Hop industries big names over the past few years. However by the end of their CD it’s quite clear why you wont see Jack Splash popping up on guest vocal duties as often his vocals get in the way of listening to a set of sublime throwback grooves. At best their inconsequential at worst they’re annoying. The lyrics aren’t much better, with the strippers anthem “Take it off” somehow coming off with more gravitas than obligatory anti-Bush song “Tear the House Down”.
While the music may not be exactly cutting edge and frequently stands in the shadows of it’s influences, it is consistently fun. The same cannot be said of the singing. Let’s hope that in future Jack and co choose to rope in some of the many artists they’ve laced with tracks to get on the mic. Unless grating falsetto gravel voiced singers are your thing I’d wait for the instrumental version if you want a real treat.