Roni Size/Reprazent

In the Mode (Island Records)

Dance music remains painfully short on personalities, but U.K. jungle has managed to produce two bona fide superstars, Goldie and Roni Size. A menacing yet ghetto-fabulous Darth Maul to Size's reclusive, inscrutable Obi-Wan, Goldie revels in his fame, collecting magazine covers and celebrity pixies (Björk, Kate Moss) like he does 14-karat dental work. Meanwhile, Size quietly racks up studio hours, steering clear of the flashbulbs and Cristal, and in 1997 he earned the bigger reward: the prestigious Mercury Prize for his album New Forms.

Nineteen ninety-seven, you say? Practically Paleolithic. Yes, the dance music time line runs in cruel dog years, and drum 'n' bass is no longer the latest and greatest. Size releases In the Mode into a different world. Since his last triumph, garage and the house revival have snagged the golden crown, banishing the dark jungle stepchild to the underground. With d'n'b trailblazers like Photek throwing up their hands and retreating into the sweet, simple refuge of house beats, Size's crew has apparently realized the fragile state of the scene, packing the greenroom of the Reprazent lyricists' lounge with all the crossover-happy guest stars possible.

Though the first three tracks -- the direct New Forms sequel "Railing Pt. 2," the smart if repetitive Running Man­style thump of "Snapshot," and the "Brown Paper Bag" rustlings of "System Check" -- are straight-up déjà vu, "Ghetto Celebrity," featuring Method Man, blows the cobwebs out but fast. Over dirty, urgent beats, the incomparable Meth raps, "Come bring that pussy here/Where, I don't even care/Vaseline Intensive Care/We 'bout to take you there," and gives props to Erin Brockovich, Mennonites, and even Lady Di. When the chorus demands "Now who the man again?" the answer is obvious.

Less transcendent are the beatbox machinations (amazing, yes, but we've heard it all before) of Rhazel on "In Tune With the Sound" and Zack de la Rocha's angry-man shtick on "Centre of the Storm." They lack the vibrant chaos of "Ghetto Celebrity" or the smoky elegance of another standout track, "Lucky Pressure," featuring Onallee. Still, Size recognizes that in 2000, jungle confronts a stark choice: evolve or die. Consequently listeners looking for Newer Forms won't find it on In the Mode. With less jazz and more hip-hop grit, Reprazent has pushed the high-bpm behemoth just a little further, and the beast is better for it.

 
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