Live albums are curious things. At their best, they can be visceral explorations of why you’ve paid a dozen times to see an act rock their proverbial asses off in a variety of sweaty dives, sunny fields and all that lies between. At their worst, they feel like an exercise in endless ego-driven vanity, a token submission to the musical gods to prove they can ‘do it live’ or, worst of all, little more than an expensive souvenir of a tour you never signed up to and never wanted to. Leftfield’s Tourism, a mapping of the Australian leg of their 2011 comeback shows, takes in the whole spectrum of such things. Rewind a moment to the days when Trainspotting and Brit-Pop and all that associated nonsense were bossing music.
Back then, Leftfield were one of the four horsemen of dance superstar turns, alongside Orbital, the Chemical Brothers and Underworld. They were big news, soundtracking films and iconic adverts – remember Guinness’ massive ‘horses crashing out of the sea’ extravaganza? – and generally ruling at least part of the roost.
And let’s not forget, they were a formidable live act, facing the wrath of Dutch police and Brixton Academy staff amongst others by cranking the sound system up to terrifyingly loud levels and putting grins on the faces of audiences across the world. Punt forward a decade or so and, presumably wanting to cash in on the nostalgia merry-go-round the new millennium has become, one half of the line-up, Neil Barnes, decided to go back out and bugger off around the world with a greatest hits show. It was a blast for all involved, it seems – so much so that the inevitable live album now follows, cut across two albums and caught between two pillars. Twenty minutes into disc one and you’d be forgiven for wishing the recorder had not been switched on.
Overblown and overinflated versions of old favourite Song of Life and the sulky Original – complete with a vocal by Jess Mills which replaces Toni Halliday’s original ennui with some of the flattest and lifeless singing you’ll hear recorded – leave a feeling that this was probably best experienced live, preferably with a couple of tinnies inside you, as the Aussie crowd might have put it. But then the trademark toasts and MCing of Djum Djum kick in on a top rendition of Afro-Left and it all begins to make some sense. Some sense, that is – not total sense.
Even after a run-out for the earth-shaking Afrika Shox, with no live vocals (though Afrika Bambaataa’s clarion call still sends shivers regardless) and, of course, the marvellous Phat Planet, it still feels like Tourism is little more than an exercise in cash generation.
The truth is, you can lay your hands on Leftfield’s greatest hits, A Final Hit, for less than the price of a pint and you’d be better off buying that, warning the neighbours, sticking it on loud and getting your mates round to add the ‘atmosphere’ yourself, rather than waste your hard-earned on Tourism.
That way, you can also avoid the shouts of ‘Australia, bring the noise’ … unless your mates are from Adelaide, that is.