“While pretty much every trend of the early 90s now seems horribly dated, the hip-hop-influenced R&B genre called new jack swing now seems wonderfully dated!” —Todd “in the Shadows” Nathanson, 2015
Seed is not a new jack swing album, nor do I particularly want to see these three release a new jack swing album. Let’s put that out there right now and move on.
However. I distinctly recall the first thought I had when I listened to this little mini-album for the first time. I queued it up on my phone, hit play and WHAM. Full nineties. Right in the face.
Growing up in the 90s, my musical DNA consisted of a few disparate strands that don’t necessarily mesh well. Wilson has spoken many times about how his family was one in which Pink Floyd coexisted with Donna Summer. My family was not like that, but if we take Donna Summer as a synecdoche for whatever music was popular in our respective preadolescence, then her role is filled mostly with video game soundtracks. This album sounds more or less what the soundtrack to SimCity 3000 (ayyy) would have been like if the video game was actually set in the year 3000, and I therefore can’t help but love it.
The standout here is self-evidently the first track, an unashamedly trip-hoppy remix of Beginning to Melt that slowly unfolds over the course of eleven minutes. Well, okay, it’s only a remix in the most superficial sense of the word. They took the original song and threw on slapped on a seriously groovy bassline and programmed drum loop. You can’t help but bob your head rhythmically while listening to it. The effect is to pull the song from its original timeless void (one of the few JBK songs up to this point about which this can legitimately be said) and situate it solidly within John Major’s Prime Ministership. And, to be clear, when vaguely downtempo-y music is pretty firmly embedded in your DNA, the sudden temporal grounding works in the song’s favor. If someone made a video for this song, it would probably overflow with every cheesy fish-eyed oversaturated video effect in vogue at the time and it would be wonderful.
The other three tracks are considerably more electronic and chilled-out than the opener, and there’s a direct correlation between how good they are and if all three worked together on them. This, then, means that The Insect Tribe is the most successful; a song in which we get to experience in real time the hesitant feeling out of new sonic territory and then growing comfortable within it. The transition is marked with the introduction of Mick Karn’s bass. He only plays two notes in the song, repeated at critical points, but those two notes are powerful. They’re not so much heard as felt, the sort of bass that makes your bones vibrate. They give the song a depth that it had previously lacked…and are, since it’s Mick Karn, sexy as all hell.
In the Black of Desire and Prey are both strictly Jansen/Barbieri collaborations and sound appropriately chrome and futuristic. Wilson once again has a minor part in the latter, here contributing some electric guitar that’s about as close to funk as you can get without actually being funky, and does a pretty good job of giving the song some punch.
How appropriate that we round out 1994 with an album that screams 1994 from its every pore. While Jansen and Barbieri would collaborate again the next year, as would Barbieri with Karn, both times with Wilson tagging along, the three men wouldn’t release another album as JBK until 1999. This is a bit of a shame, but Barbieri’s been a little preoccupied lately.