Album review: Example - The Evolution of Man

Rapper Elliot Gleave, aka Example, freely admits he's not good at singing but he does it anyway
Rapper Elliot Gleave, aka Example, freely admits he's not good at singing but he does it anyway
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AFTER indulging the excesses of his breakthrough, Example’s new effort is his rock-rap confession. The trouble is, even his therapist might find it dull



Star rating: * *

THE rules of the fame game are all too familiar: after the party, you have to deal with the comedown. And the addendum for those who want to stay on the right side of their public: after the misbehaviour comes the confession.

Example is as good an example, if you will, of that well-worn trajectory as any in recent years. As an aspiring rapper, he arrived just ahead of the Brit-hop curve and was met largely with indifference but changed his tune to appeal to the dancefloor and succeeded in catching the rave pop wave. He topped the singles and album charts, graduated to playing arenas and made the most of all the insidious perks that came with his newfound success.

He has subsequently referred to his breakthrough, Playing In The Shadows, as his “fear of growing up album” and described being on tour as an extended stag do. His relationship disintegrated when his numerous infidelities came to light, and he ended up in therapy.

Which is where all the fear and self-loathing could have stayed if he wasn’t a songwriter by trade. Instead, Elliot Gleave intends to share his darkness via the medium of rap (and toneless singing, and generic tech rock). The Evolution Of Man – a lofty title for such a feeble album – was inspired by a six-month period last year when Example maxed out on celebrity and made it out the other end to tell the tale.

Undoubtedly, there is potential in that plot but rarely has it been sung to such a boring soundtrack as this. Mike Skinner, who was Gleave’s former paymaster at the Beats label, almost came unstuck exploring exactly this territory on The Streets’ uneven third album, The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living, and Skinner is the superior word- and tunesmith of the two, so what hope for Example?

Gleave has noted that he listened to Kasabian for lyrical inspiration – if that doesn’t make you shudder with apprehension, then dive on in and devil mend you. While writing the album, he was listening to a diet of rock heavyweights – Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine and Metallica – so it’s no big surprise that he affects a rock stance on The Evolution Of Man, even recruiting Blur’s Graham Coxon to play on a few tracks. You would never know that one of the country’s most distinctive and influential guitarists played any part in this by-the-numbers workout though.

Gleave lays it all out on opening track Come Taste The Rainbow, checking off his mental health conditions and a catalogue of recreational drugs on a rap rocker that doesn’t rock. At one point, he rhymes “ketamine” with “kettle on”. But it’s difficult to care about his wordplay when the other aspects of his music-making fall short.

Example freely admits that he is not a good singer, but he does it anyway, weighing down the entire album with his flat delivery and charmless baritone, which teeters on the edge of tunefulness. The “featuring (insert name of guest vocalist blatantly jostling for exposure)” trend has reached epidemic levels in pop music but this is one case where it might have yielded benefits for the listener as well as the collaborating artists. Instead, Gleave is left to slug it out alone, so that everything bar the rapping sounds stilted and forced.

Queen Of Your Dreams makes a return to upbeat rave pop though the lyrical tone is still one of regret for “the one that got away”. Not for the first time, one can imagine another act, one more suited to frothy pop music, making a better job of this than Example. The single Say Nothing is cut from the same cloth, with the same old “wo-ohs” supplying the tired hook.

The mid-paced trancey apology All My Lows might have made more impact if it wasn’t simply re-iterating the theme of the whole album, and Gleave is still banging on about his mistakes on One Way Mirror, a my-drug-hell number performed in the style of a third division rave rock band.

Musically, Example does not have the chops to match his aspirations for this album, though he does liven up and loosen up a touch in the closing stages on Blood From A Stone – produced by over-excitable Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe of all people – and Are You Sitting Comfortably? The latter musters some malevolence in its execution and forceful intent in its drumming, but we’re still a long way off Nine Inch Nails. Ironically, on an album that lays bare his flaws and emotions so thoroughly, Example sounds more anonymous than ever.