My introduction to Leftfield was via their collaboration and single – “Open Up” with John Lydon. Not least due to the fact that it was infinitely better than anything Lydon had produced during the previous few PIL album releases.
Ironically, upon Leftism’s release, “Open Up’ became one of my least favourite tracks on the LP. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate it again as only Lydon could deliver the ‘Burn Hollywood Burn’ chorus with that amount of spiteful menace and sneering venom.
The LP is diverse in its influences – afro rhythms (“Afro Left”), ambient (“Melt” and “21st Century Poem”), dub (“Song of Life”), reggae (“Release The Pressure”), trance (“Space Shanty”) and trip hop (“Original”), yet a very cohesive album. So I was surprised to find out it was a collation of their releases or interpretations of their work between 1992 and 1995, rather than something they’d recorded as an album. The influences are obvious but due to the electronic twist of them, it is not derivative and is original throughout.
Like what seemed to be the norm at this time, guest vocalists figure, as well as Lydon, there is also the reggae singer – Earl Sixteen (“Release The Pressure”) and Curve’s Toni Halliday (“Original”). ‘Original” could easily have been recorded and released by either Massive Attack or Portishead.
Much is made of the guitar bands and pop that defined this era but for me far more influential are Leftfield along with Underworld, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Orbital. Time has been far kinder to their material than those of their ‘Brit Pop’ guitar counterparts.
“Leftism” along with The Chemical Brothers “Exit Planet Dust” and Tricky’s “Maxinquaye” form the holy trinity of LPs from 1995 and “Leftism”, in my opinion, is one of the great LPs of the 1990s.
I was lucky enough to see Leftfield twice on the “Leftism” tour in Leeds and Manchester. Both times they were exhilarating and re-imagined the LP in such a way it was better live than on record. Each song was built up layer by layer before a euphoric finale. At the Leeds gig, we were stood directly in front of the speakers and during one song, when the bass kicked in with such force, the contact lens of one of our group popped out, never to be found or seen again.