Perhaps the one prevailing characteristic that defines Skream is his versatility – from mid-range wobblers to eyes down rollers, 24 year old Oliver Jones has skated around the blurred edges of dubstep’s ever-expanding palette ever since his self-titled debut in 2006. Skream! was released at the dawn of dubstep’s inexorable rise to the key underground scene that it is today. It also served as arguably the first major album of that genre and as a watershed in terms of new listeners, primarily due to the success of ‘Midnight Request Line’. Aside from that, Skream dragged dubstep from the dark, meditative vibes of DMZ and FWD and made it suitable to listen to it at home with melodic tracks such as ‘Dutch Flowerz’ and ‘Summer Dreams’.
His work since then has been an unfocused and inconsistent collage of various 140 bpm productions, interspersed with his excellent Skreamizm EP series. His second album Outside The Box is a good summarisation of the myriad of styles he employs, some more successful than others.
The album starts rather promisingly with ‘Perforated’, a beatless, synth-led intro that sets the pulses racing satisfyingly. The following tracks ‘8 Bit Baby’ and ‘CPU’ don’t fare so well, both utilising dull, laborious ideas with the former featuring an uncharacteristically insipid appearance from the usually colourful rapper Murs. Outside The Box’s highlights generally come when the energy is upped a gear. ‘Listenin’ To The Records On My Wall’ is a shameless, hands-in-the-air track, backed with euphoric rave stabs and an unrelenting amen break, whilst ‘Wibbler’ gives a great example of how mindless wobblers can be effective.
One of the undeniable highlights of Skream! was JME’s paranoid turn on ‘Tapped’. Aside from the aforementioned Murs, Sam Frank, Freckles and pop starlet La Roux all feature with varying levels of mediocrity and tackiness.
It’s hard to pin down a precise fault in Outside The Box’s shortcomings – the inferiority of the tracks compared to the special edition Skreamizm EP, the homogenous, uninspired formula that sweeps the album and a general damp feeling all spring to mind. The breathless urgency of Jones’ previous work is missing, and perhaps lends evidence towards the opinion that his music now works better in single format.
There’s no doubting that Jones hasn’t had his head turned at the prospect of a fast buck – there is enough quality on Outside The Box to please the purists, and his Magnetic Man project with Artwork and Benga seems to be his vehicle for more commercial ventures. However, despite my misgivings about this, Skream deserves all the success he can get, but overall his second effort is underwhelming, with a gleaming polish that rubs off too easily after a few listens.