Thursday, July 19, 2007

Temptation in Technicolor

Having survived second-album-syndrome, Dizzee Rascal delivers his most confident release to date. It's almost silly to write excitedly about Maths + English now that whatever NPR-created aura of exoticism has dissipated, but the indifference with which this has been greeted offends me a bit. We do things a bit differently in America, unlike the British music press' fervent devotion to one-album ephemerality; I expect a bit more. The most depressing concert I've attended in my life was Dizzee's Miami show in April 2006. In a club with a dancefloor capacity of 250 I counted – no joke - 16 fellow revelers.

Anyway, M+E shows a Dizzee whose at last found a musical correlative for his swollen paranoia, which remains his great subject (accusing him of being repetitive on this count is like accusing Jay-Z of egomania). His flow relaxed, syllables enunciated, he's more approachable, as if resolved to say his peace and let the arrangements rough you up for a change. Sound effects, like the knives-as-percussion on opener "World Outside," remind him and us that he needs this world as much as the rest of us, even if it's closing in. On a purely musical level, it's my favorite album of the year; Dizzee's evolved from the spartan ethos of, say, Eric B & Rakim's Paid in Full to the multi-colored approach of Let The Rhythm Hit'Em. As Marcello remarks, "Da Feelin'" practically begs to be a summer anthem (indeed, it's Dizzee's version of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's immortal "Summertime"), and beside the rush of "Flex," a hybrid of "Britfunk, electro, and purple Unique 3" that Marcello is right to say is a complete success, the album's middle stretch begs the question of what this guy can do for an encore.

Well, not much. The "industry" serves as target and inspiration: it fucks him over ("Hardback"), threatens his identity ("Where's Da G's"), or fattens him to the point of satiety ("Wanna Be"). For the first time the duds – retreads like "Hardback (Industry)" and "U Can't Tell Me Nuffin'" – represent scantily developed ideas unsalvaged by Dizzee's enthusiasm. I cringed when I saw a song titled "Suk My Dik," then relaxed when I realized that this was funnier and faster than anything he'd previously attempted ("Bubbles" does the same trick with Boy in Da Corner's "What U On"). Once in a while we hear the Sega/Nintendo beeps on which his first two albums relied, but they serve as reminders of troubles he can't forget, habits he can't break. Speaking of the industry, two tracks demonstrate that if he can't beat them, he'll join them. The presence of Arctic Monkey leader Alex Turner on "Temptation" is crucial; here's another young guy who can't sort out his girl problems and whose own group's popularity has ebbed back home (not so's you'd notice though). But Turner's chorus adds aphoristic emphasis ("Temptation leads like your naughty mate/The one that used to get you in bother/The one you can never bring yourself to hate") to Dizzee's grim accounting of sin and forebearance ("Temptation" is Biggie Smalls' "Juicy" told from the point of view of a friend who failed to benefit from Biggie's sudden largesse). As for all-around gadfly Lily Allen's cameo on "Wanna Be," she mocks Dizzee exactly as you'd expect – she'd giggle at his obsession with size if she'd let him. Comfortable with conflict, ever smutty, ever present, he mocks his manhood with more swagger than his American counterparts.

(crosslisted with A Grand Illusion)

1 comment:

kiss out the jams said...

Thanks, Alfred. I'm a little shocked myself at how people have been treating this album, and this is the excellent defense for it that I haven't been able to come up with.

Dan Weiss