Friday, December 3rd, 2021

Clean Bandit x Topic ft. Wes Nelson – Drive

Given all the 6s, is this an episode of Kinda Like Island?


Iain Mew: Clean Bandit’s top-5 hit-making years covered a versatile range of styles and guest vocalists, but they were always very recognisably Clean Bandit. Beyond a couple of minor string frills here that’s not the case. And not even all the goodwill built up by watching the 2018 season of Love Island in a new parent haze can help convince me that Wes Nelson is bringing the personality to compensate.

Nortey Dowuona: The loping bass below Wes Nelson’s serrated, thin voice makes it seem stronger and more tender it is. TOPIC wisely plays the background near the clicking house drums and the strumming violins and cellos, allowing Wes to lift higher and higher, his thin voice beginning to set aflame, TOPIC below him to carry him further.

Tim de Reuse: Wes Nelson seems sheepish at the mic, ducking in and plucking out words like he’s worried the mic’s going to snap at him; the string section is equally scared to let any note linger for longer than a fraction of a second. The result is a stilted, plasticky environment, competent on most technical levels but just off enough to make me itch. The bottom line: given that the last few decades have left us with no deficit of of warm, smooth, inviting romance-techno, why would I ever listen to this?

Ian Mathers: Maybe I’m just nostalgic for strings that sound like this in dance music tracks, because in a lot of ways this feels kind of undistinguished (which isn’t the same thing as bad!), but I keep listening to it anyway.

Harlan Talib Ockey: I feel like I understand Clean Bandit less and less with each release. They’ve been consistently described to me as “EDM meets classical,” but it’s hard to discern anything classical at all in their latest singles. Even when the strings are there, they sound more like an accessory than a load-bearing pillar. “Drive” is immensely pedestrian progressive house-pop, and while it’s easy to see Topic’s influence as a progressive house-builder himself, I’m genuinely not sure what Clean Bandit brought to this other than an ineffectual sprinkling of nu-disco strings. There’s a real lack of detail and nuance in the production that just ends up feeling like a lack of identity. The lyrics, too, are underdeveloped to the point of being vestigial. The verses are so short and empty that I can only speculate what the song’s narrative is. The driving motif works, I guess, but it’s never clear why it’s even being used here, since it only appears in the chorus. More positively, I was surprised to learn Wes Nelson is a Love Island guy at the very beginning of his music career; he’s pretty inflexible through the choruses, but once he’s allowed to ease off the gas pedal during the bridge he proves he has a decent amount of emotive range. For most of “Drive,” however, he’s anonymous, much like everything else.

Michael Hong: Its lousy metaphor isn’t really all that surprising for Clean Bandit, but you’d expect the group to at least put some flair to their track. The strings arise only for seconds as sharp little cuts that can’t even slice through its dull atmosphere.

Mark Sinker: It’s just nice having these old-school string shivers on such a glidingly smooth song. Not much happens and Wes doesn’t make a fuss about it and it works. 

Leah Isobel: Clean Bandit insists on the vocalist as another instrument — if not supplementary, at least not particularly important — which is fine, but it also makes their songs as indistinct as they are hooky.

Alfred Soto: I don’t believe the fear of “the darkness,” but I believe the electrobass thud, disco strings, and the decent Wes Nelson vocal. I usually like these tracks faster.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Wes Nelson works a lot better as an anonymous-but-moderately-charming dance vocalist than as a rapper — as a cog in the sound machine here he acquits himself nicely nestled between Clean Bandit’s surprisingly effective application of strings and Topic’s deeply generic beat. It’s a perfect piece of slightly exciting radio filler for a long drive, the kind of song that gives you no reason to change the station when it comes on and no reason to miss it once it ends.

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