Monday, May 24, 2004
Contra K-Punk, I love the Wiley album, undeniably a more consistently engaging album on a musical level than Dizzee's if weaker lyrically. What Wiley misses I suspect is Dizzee's gift of metaphor; if you break it down almost all his rhymes are statements, pronouncements, accusations, denials, requests, interjections, repetitions... I'd be surprised if he ever busted out a line like "I'm hot like a kettle!" ("Pies" is the exception that proves the rule, with Wiley being inordinately and amusingly proud of this all-purpose analogy where Dizzee would just use it and move on).

But this limitation is in the right light a strength as well; much more than with Dizzee, I get the sense that Wiley is speaking to and not at me, and his emphasis on conversation and communication rather than storytelling or wordplay makes him an incredibly likeable, sympathetic and genuine seeming character, for all his unreconstructed opinions about personal agency and the marketplace. My favourite example (perhaps only because it's so familiar by now) is his admonition in the now-very-old "Happens For a Reason", "come on blud, that's not true!", but there are similiar moments peppered throughout the album. I think it's in "Pies" that he graciously shrugs off "to the man who don't like me, to the women who don't like me, that's cool, I'm bigger now!" He's such a gentleman!

And yeah, musically I think this is just more consistently satisfying than Boy in da Corner: there's nothing as absolutely astonishing "I Luv U" of course, but nearly every track is simply delightful, bursting with surprises and effervescent energy - see the glorious quasi-ambient opening of "Special Girl" swooping into those lovely SWV exclamations of "that's what I need!", or the truculent computer bleeps of "Pies", or the gorgeously tumbling avalanche of strings in "Pick Yourself Up", or the snapcracklepops of the brilliant "Next Level" (esp. for Kano's verse; hearing Kano on this simply serves to remind you how urgent and key a Kano album is) or the eerie, bittersweet synth tones of "Treddin' on Thin Ice" (with its great cod-Jamaican chorus) and "I Was Lost", both shamelessly trying to outpace Dizzee's own patented emotional arrangements.

I was struck by Mark K-Punk's complaint that little on the album lives up to what he perceived to be the emotional force of the instrumental "Ground Zero" (which appears with vocals on the album as "Doorway"; hey presto I like it more!), perhaps because as an instrumental "Ground Zero" is not really a favourite of mine; maybe it's just too morose and moody and, well, subtle for me to really connect with it. I can't deny that, for me, the largest part of the appeal of grime/garage is its visceral effect. Grooves have to be joyous or punishing or neurotic or insane; choruses have to big whether they're sugary or spiteful; sonics have to be overblown whether they're pretty or abrasive. Stuff in the middle just doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid: dubstep started to lose its appeal for me at the moment where it lost 2-step's original friskiness and became to noir-ish and spaced-out, and as an instrumental "Ground Zero" may as well be another dubstep track for all its emphasis on chilling isolationism or whatever. (I agree though that, when it comes to this sort of track Dizzee's hostile paranoia would probably make more of it than Wiley can).

Was it the Guardian that claimed "Ground Zero" was some sort of scene anthem?!?! I can't help but suspect that the line of thinking which supports such a conclusion is one which assumes that sophistication - musical, emotional etc. - can only improve things. It's undeniable that a tune like "Ground Zero" seems to evoke something more subtle and accented than a tune like "Special Girl" which plugs straight into your pleasure centers. But, I dunno, at the end of the day I like feeling plugged in a hell of a lot more. It's not even necessarily a case of "give me something I can dance to", though I admit that that is still frequently a factor when it comes to me liking particular grime tracks. What I think distinguishes grime (and 2-step before it, and 'ardkore before that) is that it's music that is unafraid to be bold, to get across its point directly and enthusiastically at the same time as being creative, original, groundbreaking even. I want my grime to be painted with broad and expressive brush strokes on large canvases with plenty of contrast and drama.

It's not that the contrasting existential-crisis noir approach of "Ground Zero", dubstep etc. is across-the-board undesirable to me - I like a lot of techstep in this mould, for example - but I guess that, going right back to '99 when I first got into it, garage has always been for me about a surfeit of intensity, a climactic release that can take on any emotional characteristic it likes as long as it doesn't hold back. You could say that Wiley as an MC holds back, but his very tone of reasonableness and equipoise tends to actually highlight the urgency and vitality of most of the arrangements. By contrast, a tune like "Ground Zero" is all about holding back - the sense that there's something missing - and that very fact means that much of its value is wasted on me. I like Mark's description for it though: "depopulated carnage". It makes me want to like the track more than I do.


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