Jah Wobble & Julie Campbell, Psychic Life

Andrew Perry

By Andrew Perry

on 11.04.11 in Reviews

Wobble, sculptor of bone-crunching bass lines for Public Image Ltd circa 1979′s Metal Box, has made a career out of into-the-lion’s-jaws collaborations with some of rock’s most influential and outspoken figures, from PiL’s John Lydon, to Sinead O’Connor and beyond. His latest album introduces his most satisfying team-up so far, with 30-something Lancastrian singer-songwriter Julie Campbell, who first surfaced a year or two ago on Warp, under the alias LoneLady.

A far-reaching collection of moves and grooves

First put into contact by Warp’s boss, Steve Beckett, the unlikely duo soon discovered that, despite a 20-year age gap, they had remarkably similar goals. Campbell was retrospectively smitten by Metal Box — she’d barely been born when it came out. Wobble, for his part, had been thinking about making those kind of noises again, after wandering the perimeters of the avant-garde for 15 years. Together, they’ve dreamt up a far-reaching collection of moves and grooves, all loosely inspired by the genre-busting freedom of the post-punk scene, from which Wobble first sprung.

Campbell’s enthusiasm helped him to re-access the mindset of his PiL days, even if he had refused involvement in Lydon’s reunion — to the point where he even called in Keith Levene, PiL’s mind-boggling guitarist from that era, to play on two tracks. Disciples of that classic record will marvel at “Phantasms Rise…,” where Wobble’s ticklish up-and-down bass runs scamper thrillingly counter to Levene’s savagely churning FX, while Campbell murmurs and coos tangential abstractions over the top.

Psychic Life

Jah Wobble

Psychic Life, however, is anything but PiL by numbers. Instead, Wobble and Campbell tap into the same spirit that birthed its ground-breaking post-punk takes on Krautrock, dub and disco. Opener “Tightrope” marches on a brisk house beat through numerous arms-aloft dancefloor crescendos, while the title track brilliantly matches a robust hip-hop rhythm to an acrobatically zigzagging bass pattern that recalls Wobble’s b-line on The Orb’s early-’90s ambient-house classic, “The Blue Room.”

Against such an unpredictable sonic backdrop, Campbell revels in assuming different voices and styles. In “Feel,” she shrugs off ice-maiden froideur in favor of a full-tilt disco vixen’s craving for sensual release. On “Slavetown,” she yearns and moans and falsettos like an ambisexual funk regent (Chaka Khan? Prince?!), questing to escape the entrapment of her home city, Manchester.

Straddling the immediate and the out-there, the carnal and the metaphysical, with a Zen-like command, Wobble and Campbell have spirited up an album which duly deserves the widest possible audience.