Island - 2001 – 54 minutes

There's a great scene in Rob Reiner's film 'This Is Spinal Tap' where the band, their hired guns and hangers on, gather around a radio to hear one of the group's old hits on the radio. But smugness turns to sourness as the song fades out and the DJ says that Spinal Tap currently reside in the 'where are they now?' category. Doubtless, the Stereo MC's can empathise with that on-air dressing down.

Think about it, in the time it's taken them to release 'Deep, Down & Dirty', we've seen the Stone Roses come back, go again and take up their place in the history books, witnessed the blossoming of the likes of Leftfield, The Chemical Brothers and DJ Shadow and wondered how we ever lived without the Internet. That puts some perspective on the nine-year wait for the follow-up to 1992's 'Connected', the style-hopping anthem album which established the MC's as the band no-one could dislike and just about anyone could dance to. With their right-on raps and sassy singalongs they booted the charts up the backside, found favour with musos, metal kids and indie outcasts alike and made a generation swop their guitars for a set of decks. We have much to thank them for.

But while the world moved on from the lessons of '92, the band found themselves teaching them on a tour which was to swallow up the next two years of their lives. When they returned to their Brixton base, they endured domestic break ups and freakouts, wasted time and money trying to concoct a new album and now having finally made their comeback, find themselves living the musical equivalent of groundhog year.

'Deep, Down & Dirty.' is pure nostalgia - it may have been life-affirming (and 'till ringing) in the post 'Connected' glow but now it sounds like a band rewiring past glories rather than trying to map out the future sounds of London. All the elements which made the MC's great are still there - from frontman Rob Birch's jump around delivery to the catchy beats - but the brittle production does little justice to the album's title and the whole thing comes across like a positive pep talk from a parent: you know how it will end even if the middle bit sounds a bit different. Only on the dubby 'Unconscious' and girl trouble shuffle of 'Sofisticated' do they sound like they're back with a vengeance and you have to wonder whether road-testing the album before recording it would have made any or all the difference.

That The Stereo MC's are back in the public eye is a huge achievement in itself and shows just how much they mean to so many people. The big question now is where they go from here. And this time 'round, no-one will have the patience to hang around nine years for an answer.

Harry Guerin

Tracklisting: Deep Down & Dirty - We Belong In This World Together - Breeze - Running - Graffiti Part One - Graffiti Part Two - Sofisticated - Traffic - The Right Effect - Stop At Nothing - Unconscious - Shameless - Deliverance