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Greater Manchester's very own Andy Carthy, aka Mr. Scruff, has always been a bit of a puckish figure in the world of dance music, keeping the Madchester mischievousness alive in the post-Hacienda years. His first major release, 1999's Keep It Unreal was packed full of playful, cheeky little moments, from the Mary Anne Hobbs intro 'Is He Ready...', to the samples of Sir David Attenborough and David Bellamy on album closer 'Fish'. It was fun, sample-heavy dance music; it's whimsical nature only being further cemented by the "potato-style" cartoons that adorn most of his work, be that album covers or tea towels, and the notoriety of his teashops set up during his sets (his tea is actually very, very good. The Big Chill blend, the festival itself known for running a Mr Scruff tea stand, was often a fixture in my cupboard at university, standing side by side with the ever-present box of Yorkshire Tea). This sense of cheeky fun was imbued in his further releases but, after taking a six year break, it feels as though Carthy has kicked off his trainers and slipped on something more comfortable. Friendly Bacteria is the sound of a man shedding his schoolboy ways and maturing a lot more, embracing the more mature side of himself.

Other than the Carthy artwork on the album sleeve, which is recognisably Mr Scruff, you'd struggle to find anything of the old Mr. Scruff here. It's a grown-up, darker sound; less backyard BBQ tunes, more late night on the streets/stormy night soul. He informed us that this would be a "tougher" record and it's something that definitely shows upon listening to it. Shades of Ghostpoet's late night contemplation and the vibes of Carthy's good pal Roots Manuva's occasional dip into his darker side are ever present here, to the point where album opener 'Stereo Breath' sounds almost like Manuva's 'Witness' being played backwards through a bunch of filters as Denis Jones' smooth Mancunian vocals signifies a greater focus on song writing.

This isn't a Mr. Scruff attempting to instigate the good old knees-up of yore. Of course, there are plenty of tracks that would go down a storm in dingy clubs, from the funky 'What', which is packed full of the jelly-like "wobble" bass that Carthy so loves, to the totally disparate 'Feel Free', a sun-soaked samba tune that doesn't even feel like it belongs on the album but is still wonderfully captivating; the sense that the old Mr. Scruff is still there, ready to cause a bit of mischief, but now it's just a bit more laid back on the deckchair than partying it up on the beach.

The rest of the album keeps things at a more laid back pace, textured instrumentation and low basslines taking the place of funky, often seemingly random samples. The soul packed 'Come Find Me', assisted by the vocals of Vanessa Freeman, is the perfect example of this, with buzzing synths, deep bass, and light percussion laying low and letting Freeman shine. But while the tracks with vocal accompaniment really shine - Freeman, Jones, and Robert Owens doing a phenomenal job - the Scruff solo tracks not mentioned above kind of fall flat. They're not terrible songs it's just that there's nothing defining about them; you'd be hard-pressed to guess it was Mr. Scruff if you were given those tracks without any introduction. The charm and cheekiness that seeped through all his previous albums just isn't there anymore and those tracks, beyond the likes of 'What' and 'Feel Free' are largely forgettable.

Credit where credit is due to Carthy for trying something a little different and almost giving himself a rest, putting his feet up, and taking on a more relaxed vibe, but sometimes you just yearn for the old Mr. Scruff, the one with his tounge firmly placed within his cheek. The increased focus on tracks with original vocals is definitely a plus point, however, with Jones especially bringing out something in Carthy's music that we've not seen as much before. I would be more than happy with a Mr. Scruff album of the two collaborating, judging by the four tracks featuring Jones. Yes, it's clear that this is a more matured, polished Mr. Scruff that often bristles with darkness, but it's a more mature Mr. Scruff at that sacrifices the puckish rogue charm we all fell in love with. The highlights of Friendly Bacteria are where that old Mr. Scruff shines through like a beacon in amongst the darkness and, when taken with the vocal heavy tracks, there is a lot here to love. It's just the rest sort of passes you by like a leisurely cyclist as opposed to a mischievous lad on a motorbike.

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