Review Summary: Plasticity vs. Humanity
Rudimental’s third album is a prime example of musical tug-o-war, with two different aesthetics constantly fighting for dominance. The group have been promoting this project as a cross-cultural fusion, intent on highlighting musicians of several different backgrounds to promote unity. Yet, despite what seem like good intentions on paper, Toast to Our Differences
sounds strangely synthetic and artificial in its execution. It’s a shame too, because there’s actually a decent amount of variety on offer here. One song, you’ll be hearing some traditional reggae-inspired jungle music for a laid-back atmosphere; another, you’ll be hearing some rapid-fire drum n’ bass breakbeats that give off a more urgent vibe. The album functions as a grab-bag of sorts; there’s not much organization in the tracklist, just a bunch of assorted songs that sound pleasant but don’t provoke much of a reaction otherwise.
Chalk this up to another case of intent trumping practice, I suppose. Toast to Our Differences
is at its best when it lives up to its promise of diverse genre cross-pollination and some actual organic moments. There’s a fantastic little interlude called “Thula Ungakhlai,” whose a cappella African chants immediately reminded me of Paul Simon’s classic Graceland
album with its deep world influences. But then it’s immediately deflated by the following number “These Days,” which negatively expounds upon the same melody with a repetitive dance beat and limp verses from Macklemore. With that said, there are some moments that actually marry the old and the new quite well. “Sun Comes Up” is marked by subtle tinges of melancholy that emanate from the delicately plucked acoustic guitar, as the Latin backbeat offers some exotic flavor to liven the song up. It’s a neat dichotomy that hints at better things than this album is often able to offer. “Dark Clouds” is another decent tune, nimbly shifting between contemplative keyboard-laden verses and machine-gun breakbeats to constantly throw listeners off guard.
The biggest problem, though, is the fact that the whole “synthetic” side of the band’s musical juxtaposition just doesn’t work very well. For all the group’s talk of diversity, this is some really washed out, plastic jungle music. Some of the songs have been so scrubbed of any traces of a human touch that the arrangements just go in one ear and out the other. It’s the definition of musical autopilot, especially accentuated by the boring-as-hell midtempo pop number “Walk Alone.” Tom Walker’s vocals sound ridiculously disinterested, but I wouldn’t really be invested either if I was given such bland and overproduced beats. There’s simply no punch
! The same can be said for “Let Me Live,” which uses an overused chord progression and dull vocal passages to try and propel its lifeless songwriting forward. Let me be clear here: I don’t mind listening to a world music album that incorporates electronic elements in its sound. But my point is that it if you’re going to promote it as some diverse cross-cultural powerhouse, at least translate that to the music itself. It’s not enough to just feature a bunch of popular singers and call the album a grand “celebration of difference” as they’ve labelled it. And considering all the disingenuous lyrics and glossy studio polish that tops it all off, something tells me that Rudmental’s ambitions didn’t really go beyond how much money you can make from appealing to several regional markets at once.