Virus Syndicate
The Work Related Illness

Toddler investigates Manchester's foray into bimma-shaking grime.

By Demented Toddler

Manc grime outfit Virus Syndicate more than deliver on this impressive debut album. It contains a few tunes worthy of classic status, some smart, inventive production, and delightful lyrical turns. The record sits easily beside the best work of the London crews, with the odd borrowing from them (like Kano's "nursery rhyme / first rewind" rhyme). The tunes are by Mark One, whose instrumentals featured on Rephlex's 2004 Grime showcase. MC JSD, Goldfinger, and Nika D make up the rest of the Gunchester group. They get the album off to a bimma-shaking start with instant anthem Slow Down, setting rapid verse chat against the pseudo slo-mo of the chorus, all over huge, creaking bass, reversed drums, and excitable choral samples. Keeping the standard high, Virus are out of the car and into the club with Major List MCs, a bubbling floor filler where, as JSD says "everything's mint like murray".  He's "got more flavours than a McFlurry".

As with McFlurrys, not all the flavours here are quite as tasty as the first two. Like most of the genre's players, Virus Syndicate sometimes let quality control slide. The flabby skit which opens Clockwork is a cringeworthy example: "Right – hustling, that's what I do. Like, like you go to work like 9 til 5, I'm up in the morning getting mine. Its just like a job for me. It's all I know. Right, maybe it's not all I know, but, boy, it's good. I get mine a lot quicker than you get yours. You keep doing what you're doing and I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing alright, like clockwork…"  Just one more take, or a judicious cut, could have sorted that embarrassment, probably the album's worst excess. Choruses are another flaw. Some are fine, but others are forgettable or facile.  "I'm like a machine, I treat them mean and I keep them keen", they chant about girls, in a misogynist diatribe whose nadir is a babbled list of ladies' names worthy of Mambo No. 5.

The girl-related tracks are weakest, one-for-the-ladies instrumentals playing second fiddle to over-simple storytales, as on Nadine, a stereotypical tale of drug-addled descent. Throwing in the towel is a reasonably intelligent musing on the end of a relationship, and like similar stuff from Mike Skinner, it's effective more for its truthfulness than sparkling rhymes. and Virus' preachy tendencies occasionally ring false. On a n.e.r.dy clap beat, cautionary tale Karma entertains with a guilty relish of the violence it purports to warn against. They're much better at the snoopy hedonism of Wasted and the shameless avarice of Get Money, repeating "money" more times than Roots Manuva on Too Cold, bass jogging urgently beneath the "rat race".

The end is a brilliant high note: pyrotechnic bank heist Taxman. Mark nicks Danny Elfman's theme from the Burton Batman movies, chopping it into an eloquent, grimey rapid rap record with ticking hi-hats and gunshots on percussion duty. This is also the finest example of the crew's narrative rhyming, their seemingly effortless flow devoid of the odd clumsy or silly lyrics which crept into lesser songs: "It's a jack move – get on the floor / I'm the taxman, and I want what's yours / fill that bag with tens and scores / and put the pink notes in the blue holdalls / are you thick? stop pressin that button / we cut the power so it won't do nothing…" There are some really great tracks on The Work Related Illness, but it's worth buying for these final four minutes alone.
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