For a long time this piece of music by Mark Stewart and produced by the god-hero Adrian Sherwood was a favourite, if not my favourite track.
Sampling the so-called 'unofficial anthem of England' (the same hymn I used to sing at morning assembly at my private school in Melbourne) it deconstructed the hymn that had in turn hijacked William Blake's original intention. Returning Blake's poem to its original mental-space of political protest and defiance, and in so doing created music of great beauty and power.
Even though this hymn has become a symbol of 'Englishness' -
as the YouTube comment below the video states: 'A tribute to the generations that have gone before us to preserve that 'green and pleasant land' for 'England & St. George!' anyone with any knowledge of Blake knows that he never intended his poem to be a 'tribute' to anything, and especially not to English nationalism. As Kate Maltby writes 'There is nothing patriotic about William Blake's Jerusalem':
Mark Stewart/Adrian Sherwood understood this of course; and the greatness of their achievement lies in the way they introduced a Black musical idiom - dub - to provide this political counterpoint to the classic trope of (white) Englishness.
Starting with the mix of a crowd, perhaps a football crowd and rain, a warm/welcoming sound and Stewart's extremely earnest delivery (the epitome of the sincere/committed artist) where you can barely make out the words:
The final verse of the poem, which would normally have acted as a conclusion, is brought to the top, as an expression of Stewart's conviction - but under the production, this statement of conviction is barely heard, almost muffled and hidden.
The wonderful single drum beat that keeps shifting (at times deeper and at other times more sibilant-snare, sounding different each time it's hit) is interrupted by a scream twenty seconds later. This beat, with its changing intensity, sounds like a simplified military drummer's beat. So sweet then the swirling, rousing orchestral sample (that is also so familiar to people from my background) that offers a kind of comfort and resolution, while Stewart snarls:
'Jerusalem' is a hymn re-interpreted; indeed the samples from the hymn seem slightly out of sync (sped up, spliced and forever truncated), so that they become just one more element with the others: the crowd/the rain/the beat and the classic elements of dub production; the bass and drums meandering together. Still, the music retains a majestic aspect.
None of this is ironic, it seems to me, in the mocking idiom of much contemporary music, where references are made as a kind of in-joke; to demonstrate 'knowledge'. It's more subtle than this. Don't forget Mark Stewart's vocals are also submerged deep in the mix, avoiding his characteristic style that could at times verge on the dogmatic/bombastic.
And it is also extremely moving; as it subverts while recognising a shared cultural heritage. In this sense, Sherwood demonstrates his true knowledge of the dub aesthetic and spirit, where creating 'versions' allows the producer to return to the originals, to re-imagine them. The intention is not to ridicule what had come before but to give it a new life.
Wilson Neate's AllMusic review of Stewart's album Learning to cope with cowardice includes the following comment on 'Jerusalem'
Snare and hiss within the sibilant-heavy production sound, offered foundation by the bass-line and that solitary beat: 'Jerusalem/Jerusalem ...'