Dostoevski was a terrible poet and T.S. Eliot couldn’t sing. It’s just a sad fact that sometimes being great in one artistic field means failing miserably at another. Nitin Sawhney — the English producer and composer widely acclaimed for his fusion of jazz, electronica and other influences from around the world, is hopeless at wordplay. No number of Mercury Music Prize nominations or South Bank Show Awards (with both of which he has been honored) can hide the fact that the “London Undersound” pun on the British capital’s frail Tube network, the London Underground, stinks worse than the cider-swilling homeless who lie strewn about the seats on the last train home.
Still, mind the gap with that title, and “London Undersound” reveals itself as an album as diverse and dynamic as Sawhney has come to be known for. A bittersweet love letter to the city he’s seen change dramatically in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, from opener “Days of Fire” — relaying guest singer Natty’s personal experiences of the aftermath of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian mistaken for a terrorist and shot dead by police on the Tube in 2005 — to “Shadowland,” performed with Spanish nine-piece Ojos de Brujo, it is an album that ruminates on both London’s immediate political climate and wider issues of integration and multiculturalism; beautifully produced and always surprising.
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