Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

For them it’s a full-time job. British culture always likes a bit of rough, with every neurotic or paranoid popster from Morrissey to Tricky getting off on the no-nonsense style and attitudes of gangsters: men who get respect, men for whom things are that bit more straightforward. The tenor of underworld mythologising shifts with the times, but right now cockney accents, good suits and a willingness to apply a bit of pressure are as trendy as the East End these hard men sprang from. Ex-villains make records, write bestsellers, model clothes and pen advice columns for lad mags. Every one of them is, naturally, reformed. It’s as easy to fall for their rough-cut, faintly archaic glamour as it is to deplore a situation where crime not only pays but comes with a tasty royalty rate.

Renegade Soundwave, then, were well ahead of their time, and not just musically. Their tough electro-dub experiments get some credit now for helping to spread the breakbeat virus through British dance music, but their crim-glam stance now seems just as prophetic. “Probably A Robbery” ‘s rueful-vengeful jailbird narrative is as sharp as you’d expect but it also catches the thick, black humour that runs through a lot of British crime narratives – just as that title indicates, it’s as much a comedy record as a dance one. It’s also, while completely atypical, RSW’s best commercial shot, with a chantalong chorus and keystone-cops brass hook to sugar the swaggering, brittle beats and background string lurches. It hit the Top 40 at the low end in 1990 and stood out a mile, totally out of step with the times. Now its rolling, easy arrogance sums up this cocksure decade as certainly as anything else you could mention.