So, 10 days on from my “2 tracks in and liking it” tweet, I’ve had a chance to spend some real quality time (in the gym, mostly) with the latest long player from Roots Manuva. Cutting swiftly to the chase, I do believe that 4EVEREVOLUTION is indeed Roots best album since 2001’s mighty Run Come Save Me.
And that’s the end of this review.
Ha ha, not really..
It feels as though “best since Run..” is something you might hear a lot, especially as the record company, Ninja Tune, have said it themselves. And not for the first time- although, clearly, they were lying about Slime and Reason. In my case, I say it not just because I think it happens to be true, but also because the landscape of Run Come Save Me provides a fascinating counterpoint to this new release.
Lest we forget, Run Come Save Me is now ten years old, which seems kind of mad in itself. But it also harks back to a happier, more innocent time. A pre 9-11, pre Iraq and Tony Blair turning out to be a total fucking liar time. None of which is to say that it was a bundle of laughs from start to finish, but it did have a delightful song called Witness (1 Hope) on it and did Roots not sing on Dreamy Days of “fun and lots of laughter”? Compare this with the cracking Skid Valley, featuring strings which, fittingly, evoke Dreamy Days gone very wrong. The link is made more explicit through references to… what else but taxes? Skid Valley sees Roots lamenting the state of the nation. A week and a bit after walking down the boarded up High Road of Tottenham, catalyst for those dreadful riots, it’s difficult to pretend you don’t know what Roots is on about when he intones..
“It’s insane Britain, vanity claim Britain, nothing will change Britain, Britain will stay Britain..” and then referencing a subject anyone who’s seen the Colossal Insight video will know is close to Roots heart, chicken shops:
“I hear you talking about trade embargoes, you see those chicken shops, you need to bar those”.
As strings moan away in the background, it’s a staggering dissection of a broken Britain. And it comes just three tracks in. The disillusionment on offer, a theme continued later on in The Throes Of It, isn’t just limited to Skid Valley. After opening track First Growth has bounded from the speakers, Here We Go Again- a track that, both sonically and thematically, wouldn’t have been out of place on Awfully Deep- spins a tale of being asked for help by a “dude” only because he’s about out of friends. It’s a squelchy delight.
Who Goes There is in a similar vein, Roots counting “down to apocalypse” on behalf of a boy he told not to “take the piss”. Whilst the strings of the swirling Revelation, strangely reminiscent of Jay-Z’s Moment Of Clarity, continue the ominous tone, it’s not all “chalk on the floor”. Watch Me Dance is the first hint of an up tempo dancier side to this album and its circular riffs lodge themselves firmly in your brain whilst I fully expect heads to be nodding along to the gentle calypso of Wha’ Mek when Roots unfurls it on his live dates next year.
Takes Time’s menacing synth sounds evoke the Mercury nominated album I fell in love with a decade ago. It doesn’t particularly go anywhere, but it paves the way for a progressively more upbeat trio. First, Beyond This World, next Go Champ with its appropriately driving rhythms. And then the first single to be released from the album explodes into your ears. Get The Get (featuring Rokshan) wasn’t a track I particularly loved at first. Several listens later, I love it, it really benefits from following Go Champ. It starts off fast and, aided by Roots quickfire delivery, never lets up. Repeated listens also reveal some rather interesting effects on the vocals.
At this point, the album feels like the kind of thing you’d happily put on at a party. But the momentum can’t quite be sustained all the way home. I don’t quite subscribe to the Evening Standard’s view that a “half awake editor” would have culled half of the tracks on offer here, but of the last six tracks on the album, only the appropriately urgent Throes Of It and, closing track, Banana Skank really hit the spot for me. So, it’s not all totally positive, but I can forgive Roots Manuva a bit of overindulgence.
Slime And Reason was good enough not to totally dent my faith in the man, but it wasn’t an easy album to love. I think this one is. It’s certainly one that, as with anything worth listening to, watching, or looking at (and, with his habitually broad sonic palette, most Roots albums) you will notice new things every time you come to it. The dancier stuff on the album feels fresh and totally convincing, but there’s more than enough menace to keep miserable bastards like me happy. I had a conversation with my then hairdresser ahead of the release of 2005’s Awfully Deep, where he voiced the opinion that Roots Manuva was a consistent disappointment. If he’s still listening, I would hope that this album causes him to revise that opinion. It should, although if he didn’t like the first two albums perhaps there’s no hope for him. Tickets go on sale for a UK Tour on Friday, if I was you… well, I’d get on it!