May 6, 1998 at 12:00 am
On paper, drum 'n' bass' promise of a rhythm collision between breakbeat's rapid-fire fury, reggae's blunt bass boom and techno's manic pace sounds almost too good to be true. And, for the most part, it has been. Lukewarm albums by Springheel Jack have proven that, stretched out over an LP (as opposed to freebasing the best of the best into a DJ-mix tape), drum 'n' bass loses its boom.

Adam F is one of those junglists, like Roni Size, for whom drum 'n' bass is the new acid jazz, where emphasis on composition over kinetics seems to warrant full-length exploration. While Size is the genre's Herbie Hancock behind his keyboards, trying to find an organic balance between live playing and drum 'n' bass' digital frenzy, Adam F relishes the disparity between the live and the electronic on Colours.

Trouble is, his forays into the live band arena aren't nearly as convincing as when he sticks to good ol' knob twiddling. The '70s cop show/Miles Davis electric-era live numbers included here ("Intro," "73," "Dirty Harry") are convincing but hardly new. Like Goldie's orchestral karaoke on Saturnzreturn, its merit is relative only within its context. F proves he's competent editing and arranging the twinkling jazz numbers. But they're nothing we didn't hear five years ago when MC 900 Foot Jesus traded in his grad school hip hop for Bitches Brew.

Like Goldie ("Digital"), F takes a turn at retrofitting and genre splicing on "F Jam," but the result is weak digital jazz gesturing in the direction of a hip-hop nation it never quite reaches -- from its Dr. Dre-ish high line to its arbitrary rapping by the equally arbitrary MC Conrad.

Even "The Tree Knows Everything" is just hi-NRG dance music with a syncopated kick drum; its vocal from Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn does little more than remind us how many better drum 'n' bass tracks she's lent her vocal talents to.

Colours' best track, "Metropolis," is its least ambitious stylistically, but perhaps it's for just that reason that it so utterly kicks ass: Starting with a tension-sustaining synth note, blurring computer drums chase a digital burp of a bass line around like remoras on a shark, playing call and response with a school of computer tom smashes. Unlike the rest of the album, it outpaces its references, reminding us, through its sheer electricity, of the post-everything originality and energy drum 'n' bass is capable of, and just why the rest of Colours doesn't.

Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].