Roni Size returns to the drum-‘n’-bass spotlight with an album laden with guest talents. Return to V is billed as a return to his soulful roots, but that tagline proves to be a bit misleading. Size does represent for most forms of d ‘n’ b on the album, but it’s definitely geared toward a harder sound. Return to V is a tour of jungle styles conducted at breakneck pace. Eighteen tracks are mixed together, for better or worse — it helps maintain the pace, but gives none of the tracks room to breathe, and due to the nature of drum ‘n’ bass, it’s not always clear when you’ve moved from one track to the next.
Most of the tracks, such as “Shoulder to Shoulder,” “Fassyhole” and “Give Me a Reason” (the latter featuring d-‘n’-b MC-ing stalwart Navigator) feature thunderous scattershot rhythms and the kind of distorted basslines that shake the pictures hanging on your wall, one of the best examples being “Trouble,” featuring Rodney P, which has anthem written all over it. These tracks are fairly standard fare for the genre, however. Things get more interesting on “Pull Up,” which achieves a successful blend of smooth and tough edges, featuring the honeyed vocals of Vikter Duplaix. The other two standouts are “No More,” featuring British soulstress Beverly Knight, and “Sing,” featuring diva Jocelyn Brown, both of which are stellar slices of catchy, soulful drum ‘n’ bass that will further increase Size’s rep outside of the immediate genre audience.
In the middle of the album Size slows things down with some industrialized hip-hop and R&B moments. “Time,” featuring Darrison, draws parallels to Dizzee Rascal, featuring a similarly arrhythmic foundation. It’s an inventive departure from the rest of the album — whether or not it really works as a hip-hop track is up for debate. “Problems” is similarly downtempo, leaning toward a tough-edged R&B sound.
New Forms turned Roni Size into something of an ambassador for drum ‘n’ bass, that album being one of the genre’s few that spoke to mainstream music fans and critics. Perhaps due to the weight of that obligation, and the hopes of a follow-up work as definitive and groundbreaking, Size has chosen to shrug off those expectations this time around with an album strives to be nothing more than true to its genre’s roots. It’s well produced and mixed, but lacks the edge to make it really interesting. Casual drum-‘n’-bass listeners, or those who acquired New Forms for their coffee table, may want to approach Return to V with caution and cherry-pick their listening moments.