Timeless is about to celebrate its 21st birthday. In 2014, Goldie launched an orchestral version, which might make it dance music’s riposte to Tommy. And like that sprawling behemoth, it too has it’s fair share of scoffers eager to dismiss it as over ambitious, pretentious even. Upon its release, Goldie likened it to a Rolex – a confident assertion for someone to make during what was one of the most fertile periods of innovation in electronic music. I am staggered by how incredibly modern it sounds today – its deluxe crystalline production seems contemporaneous with the likes of Burial’s Untrue or Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma, both equally brilliant but much later, creations.
Goldie was inspired by the blissed out synth washes of second wave US techno producers like Carl Craig, Joey Beltram and Jeff Mills, and was possibly even more closely attuned to the sonically adventurous London collective of Detroit disciples, 4 Hero. Hellbent on making a game changing record, one to catapult drum and bass into the future, he added swathes of dancehall and dub to some twisted hardcore and hip-hop breakbeats which he bullet punched beneath ceilingless synths sharper than asteroid shards hurtling through space. At times these mysteriously dissolved, tapering off like boomerangs returning to another galaxy. There was little doubt Timeless was a hugely ambitious concept and the perfect antidote to Britpop. You couldn’t dance to it, but neither could you ignore it.
Goldie’s time-stretching technique, along with those meticulously de-ranged breakbeats were in part what made the album sound so 21st century in ’95. Simon Reynolds pointed to an “astonishing soundclash of tenderness and terrorism”. That “tenderness” transfused tracks like the glacial soul of ‘State Of Mind’ with its immaculately clean piano chords – one of two tracks to feature vocalist Lorna Harris. And the “terrorism” was in evidence when flying roughneck over a disorienting clatter of beats on ‘Saint Angel’. Even better was ‘This Is A Bad’. Taut and menacing, it was inspired by a user’s frantic search to score some coke (Goldie’s own drug problems of the time were well documented). Over those shivering synths, the recurrent stuttering electric piano motif was truly inspired. ‘Jah The Seventh Seal’ was darker, sculpting apocalyptic loops from tightly coiled springs.
The samples and influences were unsurprisingly disparate. Art Blakey, The Stranglers, The SOS Band. Even Dire Straits! ‘Sense Of Rage (Sensual VIP Mix)’ fashions a miracle from the intro to ‘Money For Nothing’, it’s muscular bass breakdown half way through leaving in its shuddering wake a weightlessness which might have embarrassed Hütter and Schneider. There is deep sadness in the chords to ‘Kemistry’, written in 1992 for Metalheadz co-founder and DJ Valerie Olusanya who was Goldie’s girlfriend at the time. She would later die tragically in a car accident in 1999.
But it was the extended title track, a prolongation of his ‘Inner City Life’ single from the previous year, that was authentically groundbreaking. Co-written and performed by the late Diane Charlemagne, it is a three part hardcore symphony which remains his finest recorded moment. How long can breakbeats stay interesting within the confines of one track? With Goldie at the controls, it would seem for quite some time. Here, he manufactured the perfect soundtrack to an urban neurosis with which he was all too familiar – spraying rhythms and beats around like graffiti over claustrophobic sonic landscapes. Tension. Pressure. Release. Its 22 minutes still sound like the future to me.
If Reynolds was impressed, yet he was also critical of the album’s forays into future soul and prog jazz, where Goldie lay bare his fondness for the likes of Loose Ends, Maze and late period Miles with very mixed results (check ‘Sea Of Tears’ and ‘Adrift’). If the charge of ‘”embarrassing” was a little harsh, nevertheless those tracks reflect the perilously thin line which exists between ambition and pomposity. But on a good day the whole of Timeless sounds beautiful.
Nevertheless, the assurgent creative trajectory was not to last. When he invited Noel Gallagher to join him on the cringeworthy ‘Temper Temper’, it confirmed our worst suspicions. Goldie, it seemed, would try anything to stay in the public eye. During that time he indiscriminately produced or remixed records by just about anybody. He wormed his way into a number of TV shows – East Enders, Celebrity Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing. Perhaps this lost him some credibility along the way and few remembered the time when he had the world at his feet.
Not only was Timeless the most vertical expanse of sound imaginable, but Goldie had created a visionary masterpiece of shattering beauty, full of elastic algebraic rhythms and skull crushing digital beats. For all his subsequent wayward moves, nothing and nobody can take that away from him. (JJ)