East London-based collective Rudimental could serve as a primer on the past 20 years of British R&B and dance, building on a through-line of electronic soul that includes trip-hop, drum’n’bass, garage, grime and dubstep. While it’s largely a studio creation that centers on the group’s four main songwriter-producers, in a live setting, Rudimental is a dozen-strong dynamo complete with singers, rappers, horn players, percussionists and backing vocalists, which makes the band’s dancefloor-friendly tracks looser and more organic than associated acts like Disclosure or Gorgon City.
The group’s 2013 debut, Home, spawned several European hits (“Feel the Love,” “Waiting All Night”) and scored it a BRIT Award, but it was more about hooks and moods than fully realized songs. And while that’s occasionally the case with Rudimental’s second outing, We the Generation, it’s overall a confident, focused and, with 18 tracks on the deluxe edition, far-ranging step forward. The songs span from familiar pulsating drum’n’bass fare (such as a caffeinated remix of its Ed Sheeran collab “Bloodstream”) to slower, meatier grooves (“Go Far”).
Rudimental doesn’t have a full-time lead singer, but rather a rotating cast of promising rookies (Anne-Marie, Will Heard), old hands (Home alums MNEK and Ella Eyre) and all-stars: Lianne La Havas sings two of the set’s strongest songs, “Breathe” and the jazzy “Needn’t Speak”; Sheeran turns in a hearty vocal on “Lay It All on Me”; and, in one of his last appearances on record, the late, legendary soul singer Bobby Womack lets loose a gutbucket vocal on “New Day.” Lyrically, the tracks focus on mantralike exhortations that act as a sort of spiritual reinforcement to the rhythm — “We’ll fight until we fall,” “Let’s do it for our people!” — but the songs are loaded with deceptively complex hooks, along with subtle crate-digger nods to Massive Attack, Roni Size, Basement Jaxx, Dizzee Rascal and others. We the Generation is the rare sophomore album that opens up new possibilities without alienating the faithful.