Jungle - 'For Ever' Album Review

UK modern soul collective Jungle make suspiciously uncontroversial music. On their self-titled debut, their brand of moody mid-tempo funk was meticulously-crafted to soundtrack festival coverage and sports montages. The group appeared so calculated it was worth considering if they had anything to offer beyond their stylish image.

The branding became especially suspicious when the group's founding members were revealed to be two privately-educated white men. Notably, they were represented in early videos and promo shots by unnamed black dancers.

For Ever does not dispel these concerns, but this second album does broaden Jungle's sound towards a more distinctive style. While Jungle was musically homogeneous, exploring the limits of a specific style, this album finds room for Moby-esque walls of strings ("House in LA"), sharp summery dance groove ("Heavy, California"), and blatant James Blake worship ("It Ain't Easy"). The atmosphere is more blissful as well, informed by recording sessions in LA, which plays to the band's skill for unifying crowd-pleasing hooks. For Ever drops much of the seriousness from their first album and it's noticeably better for it.

Nevertheless, it is still hard to ignore the feeling that Jungle make music for public demand. These songs are tailor-made for balmy evenings, soaked in beautifully rich, detailed production. They are also quite easy to ignore, partly because they feel so clearly indebted to fashionable sounds. Maybe this is exactly the music Jungle want to make, but there is a sense that the edges have been smoothed off For Ever.

Great dance music can find joy in pain; often this is the source of its euphoric power, and there are allusions to hardship across this album. But, this record feels a little bit too comfortable to seriously reach those heights. The album's dynamic closer ("Pray") comes closest, achieving a sense of drama and purpose to justify its title. Jungle remain impossibly slick on For Ever, which creates an enjoyable listen, but a little bit more soul would be welcome. (www.junglejunglejungle.com)