Mecca (Virgin LP / Cassette / CD)

THERE MUST be something in the holy water up there in Leeds. Two and a half years ago at the height of AOC's last assault on the public they appeared to get on down with any and every 'positive' cultural force that moved. Having
car-crashed a cover of Prince's 'Kiss' into the top end of the indie charts they threw themselves infusing hip-hop and industrial noise, re-aligning Motown, fighting apathy, jangle pop introspection and urban decay and tried to pretend that wearing vile cycling gear was hip.

It made for a marvellously challenging manifesto, and with the exception of the odd startling track ('Don't Get Mad Get Even' for one), it made for a hectoring, ugly racket in dodgy Lycra shorts.

This, however, is a bold re-invention of the old AOC. They have replaced their former rant-rap sloganeer front-person with a proper soul type singer, Charles Hutchinson. And although they are still urging us to get-up-and-go-for-it while
dancing in a knowing, culturally informed sort of a way (the inner sleeve '90s connoisseur acknowledgements of Public Enemy, De La Soul, Metallica, The Hacienda, Bladerunner et cetera make that quite clear) they are going about it in afar less confrontational manner. 'Mecca' is an album of exuberant, primary colour, techno dance pop which gushes with pepped up funkiness and much sound advice. For the most part there is a happy integration of studio sheen, easy access melody, arena-sized dance beats and deft sampler sounds. There are plenty of peaking, celebratory moments, like the rapturous electro-Gospel 'Higher Than Heaven' and the crash-chord powered 'Refuse To Lose'.
There are plenty of teasingly familiar pop reference points from '60s dance rhythms to Prince. And vocalist Hutchinson could quite probably make plenty of money standing in for T T D'Arby.

But here and there in the wall of positivity there are cracks to be found. The two noticeably deviant tracks, the sombre keyboards shuffle 'Snowbiind' and the spartan funk of 'What's Happening?' dip into predictable social conscience territory- credit card debt and market economy heartlessness. And in their loosely formulated embrace of funky spirituality ('Mecca'; "I'm living in a world possessed / And I'm never gonna rest / Til Mecca is moving West") there is a bubbly fervour which eventually starts to grate.

A little less fanaticism on the road to rhythmic elation would have been no bad thing, but this is still a pilgrimage worth getting in step with.

Progress satisfactory. (7)