ROCK AND POP
Will Smith: Born to Reign
Columbia, 14.99 **
AS Men In Black 2 patrol the cinema galaxy, here’s a new popular music waxing from the multi-talented star of the film - not the one with the face of a bloodhound, the one that played Mohammed Ali on screen. If that guy can deliver a tune with the same punch he uses to dispatch the alien menace, then that’s got to be worth hearing.
Will Smith is more big business than artist. His unthreatening affability makes him ideal for mass market consumption. But he tries to offer something for everyone in his music and ends up with a mushy commercial gumbo.
He tackles grinding reggae on Willow is a Player and employs chunky rock riffs to underpin his film theme Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head). He acknow-ledges his heritage by covering Luther Vandross on 1,000 Kisses and even lets a small child into the studio to gurgle to daddy. Everything is fair game as long as he can fit in a no-brainer fists-in-the-air chant in time for the chorus.
The R&B rap How Da Beat Goes is his nod to the hip-hop tradition. While other rappers boast of how many police officers/gang members they have maimed, Smith raps about being nominated for Oscars and meeting the President. You win, Will.
Block Party must be the first recorded case of an established R&B artist ripping off a boy band, because it sounds remarkably like Blue’s breezy Fly By. The irony is that Blue’s track is probably more authentic - just when was the last time that millionaire film star celebrity Will Smith attended a block party?
So, Born to Reign is contemporary candy floss, well-produced pop music with a sense of fun where the talent should be.
Sparta: Wiretrap Scars
Dreamworks 13.99 ***
TEXAN/Californian quartet Sparta are great fun live in a being-shouted-at-for-an-hour-sort-of-way, but anyone hoping that the demise of the wonderfully wired At The Drive-In would result in two equally storming splinter groups may be slightly disappointed by this album. Wiretrap Scars is sonically closer to At The Drive-In than the work of the group’s other offshoot, the stratospheric and superior Mars Volta. Tracks such as Cataract and Assemble the Empire could almost be out-takes from old Drive-In recording sessions. And that’s the problem - where Mars Volta are forging a unique identity, Sparta are still dripping in the honest, hard-touring sweat they have been generating for years.
McAlmont & Butler: Bring It Back
Chrysalis, 13.99 ****
ERSTWHILE sparring partners David McAlmont and Bernard Butler - and their accountants - well remember the success of their sumptuous single Yes and have decided to put their musical and personal differences aside to create more fiscally motivated beautiful music together.
There can be no better reintroduction to their panoramic songwriting and McAlmont’s swooning vocals than Bring It Back’s opening track, the magnificent Philly soul pastiche Theme From. Their bonding feels better, second time around. The whole album is joyously upbeat - Can We Make It? could certainly have inspired a soft shoe shuffle in the heyday of the Wigan Casino all-nighters, and even the introduction of a plaintive harmonica on Blue cannot suppress the ebullient mood.
Jesse Rae: Having An Enron Day
Luzuli Music ***
YES, it’s the man with the helmet and the claymore who first flummoxed the music-buying public on The Tube in the early 1980s and, yes, he’s still making albums which confirm his love of black music. He resurrects his most successful song, the 20-year-old No 3 Odyssey hit Inside Out, in what must be a rare example of a songwriter producing a poor karaoke rendition of his own track. The silky soul of How Long (Must I Wait For U)? and the minimalist funk of Time ’N It Makes Me (think Basement Jaxx without the beef) are the cream, rising above the tinny electro tracks. An ultra-cheesy version of Auld Lang Syne is sadly predictable, coming from a guy who dresses in full Highland dress to visit the shops.