Song: “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”
Album: Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)
Within every musical genre, there are moments that so completely go against everything that has been done previously, that many of the already established artists lash out at the new sound with a wide array of negative commentary. In most cases, this is due to the new sound being so shocking and overly creative that one can argue the “older” artists fear their sound will be topped, and in some cases, this has occurred. However, in the early years of the 1990’s, music was being fused together in countless previously unexplored ways, and few groups received as much criticism from their “own” genre as P.M. Dawn. Taking the delivery style of hip-hop music and infusing it heavily with everything from psychedelic moods to new wave keyboards to almost mystical sounds and themes, the group presented hip-hop without any aggression or pretension, and this clearly did not sit well with the rapidly growing “gangsta rap” movement. Even KRS-ONE took a lyrical shot at P.M. Dawn, though his accusation that they were just another “pop rap” group could not have been further from the truth, as P.M. Dawn have proven to be brilliant musicians with a vision and musical courage far beyond that of nearly any of their peers. From their completely entrancing musical arrangements to their almost philosophical lyrics, the group stands in a category all their own, and there are few songs from the decade that stand as iconic and memorable as P.M. Dawn’s classic 1991 single, “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.”
From the moment that “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” begins, the song is clearly unlike anything else in music history, and yet at the same time, there is no question that the musicians behind the song are well versed in all genres. This is largely apparent through the spectacular mix of samples that can be found throughout the song, as it is based around the core hook from Spandau Ballet’s “True.” It is the way that DJ Minute Mix is able to make this classic sound work in an entirely new manner that makes the song so fantastic, and the fact that he makes the sample blend perfectly with the core drum hook from Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid In Full” eliminates any question of the groups’ hip-hop knowledge. The other noticeable sample within the song comes from The Soul Searcher’s “Ashley’s Roachclip,” and the flawless fusion that comes to fruition on the track is nothing short of unforgettable. The combination of the sounds has an almost ethereal sense, and it manages to be mellow and relaxing, while at the same time having a spirit and bounce that is unquestionably hip-hop. It is also the fact that the music on “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” seems to spin around the listener that draws them in so deep, and in this aspect, one can see links to groups like De La Soul and other sonic pioneers within hip-hop history. Every note on “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” is absolutely perfect, and it is the unique musical ecstasy that comes forth which makes the song such an unforgettable high-point of the entire decade.
It is also the way that the vocals and lyrics from Prince Be blend so flawlessly into the music, becoming an instrument onto themselves that completes the amazing experience that is “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.” If there was every a lyricist that sounded as if his vocals were completely effortless, it is Prince Be, as he rarely moves much beyond smooth, calculated speaking, though this in no way detracts from the impact and unique allure of his performance. It is his measured, calm delivery that makes “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” all the more hypnotic, and yet it is also his verses which deepen the display of the duos’ vast display of their musical expertise. Though they were certainly lost on a majority of listeners at the time, the first verse of the song pays heavy tribute to Joni Mitchell’s “The Boho Dance,” as Prince Be changes only a few words from the original lyric, and later in the song, the line “subterranean by design” is also a nod to the same source material. Prince Be also gives a nod to the likes of George Michael and The Pointer Sisters throughout the song and then finishes it off with one of the most infamous lines every from A Tribe Called Quest. Throughout all of these references, Prince Be spins one of the deepest and most intellectual lyrics ever composed, as he provides a commentary on letting go of the material things in life. The poetic brilliance of the rhymes cannot be overlooked, and when it comes to the finest lyricists of the 1990’s, it is impossible to leave this moment out of the discussion.
Whether it is hip-hop, new age, psychedelic, or any other genre, it is simply impossible to classify “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” into any single category. The song manages to pull from so many difference sources that the resulting material remains completely unique more than twenty year after its initial release. Yet on many levels, the song fit perfectly into the time period and culture of the early 1990’s. The sense of freedom and pure acceptance is unparalleled, and the song also has a rather unexpected “danceability” that cannot be denied. One can also cite “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” as one of the key moments in the resurgence of the 1960’s “hippie” culture, as the psychedelic influences and lyrics which question the importance of certain parts of life match perfectly. Furthermore, the musical roots which P.M. Dawn displays at every turn show an understanding and appreciation for all forms of music, and this is likely one of the keys to the song itself standing as so impossible to classify. However, at the same time, there is no way to argue that the base of the song does not reside within the world of hip-hop, and the way in which many of the “high visibility” entities of that community turned on the group stands as one of the more bad-mannered moments in music history. There is no question that the song itself is one of the most impressive musical amalgamation’s ever captured on tape, and there has simply never been another song quite like P.M. Dawn’s unforgettable 1991 single, “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.”