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In A Funk

 

Cornershop: Handcream for a Generation

V2, 2002

Rating: 3.7

 

 

Posted: May 7, 2002

By Laurence Station

Cornershop's 1997 breakthrough release, When I Was Born For The 7th Time, promised a bright future for the London-based Anglo-Punjabi alternative pop quintet. Instead of building on that promise, guitarist Ben Ayres and chief arranger/lyricist Tjinder Singh shelved Cornershop in favor of Clinton, a politically minded dance outfit that ultimately produced 2000's interesting (if thematically conflicted) Disco and the Halfway to Discontent -- a fun record underlain with a quasi-socialist groove and noncommittal "take the party into the streets" mentality.

So the arrival of Handcream for a Generation, the official follow up to When I Was Born, promised a return to the cool cultural stew that made Cornershop so appealing and unique. Unfortunately, Handcream is more akin to Clinton than Cornershop, extending the discontent felt on Disco, vainly attempting to cloak its bitterness in a feel-good summertime vibe. The most obvious example comes in the rehashing of Disco's leadoff track, "People Power in the Disco Hour," repackaged here as a peppier, more danceable cut that fails to shake the brooding apprehension that permeates its funky beat.

"Heavy Soup" opens the disc with veteran Memphis soul man Otis Clay announcing the album's cuts as if Handcream were some future retrospective of hits that never were: Cornershop touring the Miami Beach club circuit, circa 2020. "Staging The Plaguing Of The Raised Platform" juices things up with a funky guitar and some of Tjinder Singh's most intriguing vocals, aided by a children's chorus that counterbalances the weariness in Singh's voice.

"Lessons Learned From Rocky 1 To Rocky III" embodies the record's darker, more cynical lyrical bent. Whereas When I Was Born had a fuzzy, optimistic warmth (as evidenced by infectious pop cuts like "Brimful of Asha" and the warm country groove of "Good to Be on the Road Back Home"), "Lessons" bitches about the "overgrown supershit" dominating the current state of club and dance music, as if Singh can't understand how the scene has passed him by in a mere five years. "Music Plus 1," with its muted vocals and droning beat, and the laconic funk of "Wogs Will Walk," only reinforce Singh's sense of apathy and bafflement. The worlds of indie rock, trip hop and electronica he once considered hip has been relegated to the back rooms of clubs, with no room for his ironic, bemused insights..

On the upside, "Motion The 11" (a Jamaican-tinged number featuring Jack Wilson and Kojak of the Nazarites) and the monumental, near fifteen-minute long "Spectral Mornings" (with Sheema Mukherjee on sitar and Oasis' Liam Gallagher on guitar) lift Handcream from its self-inflicted doldrums.

Tjinder Singh is clearly a talented voice in the world of pop music and it's obvious he has interesting and vital things to say. Hopefully, with Handcream, he's gotten enough vitriol out of his system so that he can get back to concentrating on his strengths: Crafting culturally diverse music that incorporates the best of today's electronica beats with an engaging sense of melody.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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