For Ever, the new album from Jungle, a seven-piece funk cohort signed to the well-known English indie label XL, lacks a center.
That has something to do with the absence of distinctive singers. The band conjures amiable, non-invasive, bass-heavy tracks, but they rely heavily on massed vocals to disguise the lack of commanding leaders. In the past, this is a quality that they have presented as a strength, a way to “get rid of the ego” and embrace “a collective sort of spirit.”
That’s all well and good in theory. But in practice, For Ever is less promising. Jungle often sound like a number of popular white groups from the late Seventies who had success with funk and disco. “Heavy, California” and “Beat 54” approximate the Bee Gees’ falsetto but lacks the Gibb brothers’ lancing, nasal tone. The gaseous clouds of vocals keep threatening to evaporate.
Jungle get away from the Seventies throwbacks on the second half of For Ever. Programmed drums grate against strings on “Give Over.” “Cosurmyne” transposes all that lite groove into the world of hip-hop head-nodders. And “Home” is beat-less, just a lone vocal laid across a bed of synthesizers. There’s more to latch on to here — the isolated voice on “Home,” for example, is tangier than the group-sing — but nothing grand.
It turns out that centerlessness works just fine commercially: Jungle’s self-titled debut has sold over 100,000 albums in the U.K., a highly respectable sum in the streaming era. But this music still tends to slip into the background, affable but never striking.