Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s
How remarkable and ridiculous that a band so utterly unsympathetic to dance music should make such a ravishingly danceable record. It’s almost as if FSOL have spent their careers since running away from “Papua New Guinea”. But nothing they come up with, no gloopy Liz Fraser collaboration or knowing big-beat abstraction or early-adopter internet gimmickry, will match this masterpiece of tingle and sway.
The first thing FSOL get right is sampling Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance. In truth, the part she plays here is the same part hundreds of stolen soul divas have played on any house hit you’d care to name – a large-larynxed prompter for the E rush. But Gerrard is an excellent choice: on DCD’s own records (truer 90s heirs to exotica than any winking Ultra Lounge pastichistes) she opens her mouth to sing mysteries. Beyond any specific culture, Dead Can Dance sing otherness itself, the overall – and vastly marketable – aura of the Un-West. How much more does this apply when Lisa is ripped from context and pressed into service as a sample? In “Papua New Guinea” (the title alone tells you precisely what she’s doing here) she rubs up against birds in flight, heavenly texture-blips, a noise that sounds like a pitched-up didgeridoo, and the underwater radar bleeps that so beautifully end the song. And, of course, the bassline.
The second thing FSOL get right is the bassline. In the early 90s, with the rise of ‘ambient dub’, bass stopped being something you nodded to and started being something you noticed: articles started appearing in which Jah Wobble (to name but one) was namedropped with regularity. The insistent, stalking b-line on “Papua New Guinea” is one Wobble or anybody would have been well pleased with, giving a purposeful undertow to a track which would otherwise have been all float. Maybe it was all too obvious for its creators, but it’s just obvious enough for me.