Goldie's debut album Timeless established him as the king of jungle. Spanning two discs and boasting the epic, 20-plus minute "Timeless," Timeless was filled with ambition and invention, and it bristled with the thrill of the new -- it sounded as if the music was being invented as you heard it. The debut was so astonishing that it, in many ways, painted Goldie into a corner for his follow-up, SaturnzReturn. Goldie not only had to equal its consistency, but he had to offer fresh dimensions to the now-familiar drum'n'bass rhythms. Superficially, SaturnzReturn at least delivers in terms of scale and ambition. Running a little over two and a half hours and including a mini-symphony as its first track, the double-disc set is bursting with promise. Unfortunately, it fails to reach the dizzying heights of its predecessor, and its very ambitions feel like burdens. "Mother," the amorphous hour-long pseudo-symphony that comprises the first disc, collapses before the drums are even heard. After 20 minutes of atmosphere, a surge of intriguing rhythms wash up, only to fade away after another 20 minutes to reveal a simplistic, simple-minded symphonic theme that is never developed. If the second disc had been a masterpiece, it would have been easy to forgive the excesses of "Mother," but it suffers from a near-crippling schizophrenia. Divided between harrowing, dark aural journeys and slick, club-ready R&B, the disc never develops a consistent mood and often is sunk by overlong, misguided tracks. With its waves of processed Noel Gallagher guitars and garbled Goldie vocals, "Temper Temper" never quite hits as hard as it should, and it never has the impact of the gutsy KRS-One collaboration, "Digital." Those two vocal tracks are hardly the closest Goldie comes to accessiblity -- "Believe" and "I'll Be There for You" have slick soul textures, with layered keyboards, wah guitars and wailing divas. These soul excursions last too long, and are intercut with dark jungle explorations that have scary rhythmic structures, but no sense of purpose. There are some very provocative textures scattered throughout these ten tracks, and Goldie's skill for hyperactive drum programming can be astonishing, but that astonishment fades quickly since the music never goes anywhere -- it just meanders forever, as the drums slowly lose their power and turn into a tinny din of noise. As a result, Goldie sounds confused, as if he wants to push forward but doesn't know how. With some serious editing, SaturnzReturn would have been a powerful record, but as it stands, its bloated running time and pretentious, formless songs only obscure Goldie's considerable talent.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo