Album reviews: Dizzee Rascal | RM Hubbert

Dizzee Rascal. Picture: Getty
Dizzee Rascal. Picture: Getty
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Ten years ago, when Dizzee Rascal released his acclaimed debut album, Boy In Da Corner, the idea that a British rapper could dominate the UK charts, let alone take on the US titans of hip-hop, felt like wishful thinking.

Dizzee Rascal: The Fifth

RM Hubbert. Picture: Different Light Photography

RM Hubbert. Picture: Different Light Photography

Dirtee Stank/Universal


Star rating: * * *

But with a little sanding of the rough edges and a lot of rave pop formula, Dizzee became that proper pop star, paving the way for a brace of his mostly London-based peers to stride forth with confidence and, in the case of Tinie Tempah, sell UK dubstep to the States.

Now Dizzee returns with his first album for new label Universal and the plan is clearly to have his cake and eat it. On the one hand, The Fifth preserves his larger-than-life pop persona, teaming him with the predictable likes of Calvin Harris, Robbie Williams, Jessie J and for more of that blaring but unthreatening dance pop.

But there is also an effort to recalibrate the hip-hop balance, which will make him a more attractive proposition over the pond. I Don’t Need A Reason is distilled Dizzee as we haven’t heard him in a while, quickfire toasting over a minimal Timbaland-style production with little competing noise.

Other crossover attempts are not as successful. Arse Like That is an ill-fated bash at a UK Baby Got Back. Dizzee is not an obvious fit on the R&B smooch, Good, or the disco funk jam, Life Keeps Moving On, but he finds his space on both tracks. Tinie Tempah, meanwhile, leads the way across the Atlantic with his pliable accent on Spend Some Money. Thankfully, there is no taming of Dizzee’s unmistakeable squawk. He just doesn’t blend in, which is his blessing and his curse.

This is especially evident on H Town, his collaboration with Houston rappers Bun B and Trae tha Truth. The track is a cool departure but has little to do with Dizzee and plenty to do with trying to sell him to an American audience. The opportunity for a dynamic culture clash has been lost. Even Dizzee doesn’t sound too convinced about “keepin’ it true in the home of the brave”.

Back on familiar territory, the previously released Bassline Junkie sounds pleasingly primitive after generic bangers such as Love This Town. Yes, it is cartoonish and comical but it also succeeds in reflecting his roots while delivering a universal get-on-the-dancefloor message. Surely that is a better way to sell yourself to the international masses.



RM Hubbert: Breaks & Bone

Chemikal Underground, £13.99

Star rating: * * *

Acoustic guitar maestro RM Hubbert concludes his self-styled “ampersand trilogy” with another downbeat, personal collection of healing finger-picked balm.

This follow-up to the Scottish Album of the Year, Thirteen Lost & Found, features Hubbert’s sombre and soothing vocals on a number of tracks. There is a gentle catharsis at work here, though lyrics such as “if life’s a happy song, then we’re tone deaf” are no party. The closing track, Slights, dedicated to his late father, is a heartbreaker, though Hubbert still conveys most of the lyricism and dynamism through his idiosyncratic playing.


The Dirtbombs: Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!

In The Red, £14.99

Star rating: * * * *

Following their album of Detroit techno covers, Motor City garage rockers The Dirtbombs now pay tribute to the bubblegum pop of the late 1960s and early 1970s – think the sugary likes of The Archies – with ten originals revelling in titles such as Hot Sour Salty Sweet and Sunshine Girl. They’ve nailed the simple, repetitive hooklines, added the handclaps and finger clicks and deliver a dreamy ballad, Girl On The Carousel, with moony oboe and high harmonies. But their alternative roots are still showing in the punk edge of Hey! Cookie and analogue electro weirdness of No More Rainy Days/Interlude.



Schubert: Symphonies 
Nos 3 & 4

Harmonia Mundi: HMC 902154, £15.99

Star rating: * * * *

There’s a startling moment in this double dose of Schubert. Just as the last bombastic note of the D major Third Symphony dies away, the opening C minor chord of the Fourth Symphony comes crashing in – a heart-stopping effect, the single note drop from major to minor symbolic of the light-dark relationship these respective symphonies bear. Under Pablos Heras-Casado, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is on fiery form. A little too much, perhaps, in the opening movement of the Third, which is just too rough hewn to be convincing. But thereafter, infectious energy, nimble delicacy, and supreme solo playing combine to make this a truly wholesome Schubert feast.



Kate and Mike Westbrook: The Serpent Hit

Westbrook Records, web only


Kate and Mike Westbrook have been partners both on and off stage for four decades, during which Mike has written some of the most individual and ambitious extended compositions in European jazz, working in just about every conceivable combination, from solo to very large ensembles. This project features a six-piece band that includes long-standing Westbrook collaborator Chris Biscoe on alto in a section of four saxophone players alongside Andy Tweed, Karen Street and Chris Caldwell, with Simon Pearson on drums. Kate’s vocal style owes more to the traditions of cabaret, political song and music theatre than jazz, and may prove an acquired taste for listeners bringing expectations from the latter quarter to this apocalyptic fable. Anyone who has followed the Westbrooks, though, will recognise the creative signature they bring to everything they do.




Contact Eddie Wilkinson on 0208 676 5114 or, £13.99

Star rating: * * * *

Rare in every sense of the word is this unusual but inspired collaboration between Swedish nyckelharpa or keyed fiddle player Erik Rydvall and Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Olav Luksengård Mjelva. As the sleeve notes suggest: “Two musicians, two countries, two instruments and a total of 25 strings.”

There is a baroque joyousness to some of these tracks and at times it can be hard to tell these two distinctive folk instruments apart as they swirl together in a lather of vibrating strings in polskas such as Di Man, while a Norwegian halling dance tune, Skøren, works up a hypnotic spin. Gentler-paced material comes in the shape of the Hardanger wedding march, Viksdalsbrura, the melancholy waltz, Baggbölebäckens klaganor, and the haunting, teased-out harmonics of the Fogelvikaŕn polska.

The album’s title, taken from a Swedish polska, means, “the Ice Breaker.” Supposedly evoking the sound of ice melting around the early 19th century composer’s barge, as thaws go, this is a welcome one.



Mercedes Sosa - La Voz de la Zafra

Milan 399 462-2,


Star rating: * * * *

Here is a very beguiling sound from the past, not only in terms of the music but also the purposes to which it was put. Nicknamed ‘La Negra’ (the Black One), this Argentine singer was also known as ‘the voice of those without a voice’ – the people of the impoverished province where she grew up. She became one of the key players in the nueva cancion movement, and when she fell foul of the military junta which seized power in 1976 she was forced to emigrate. These tracks reflect the simplicity and directness of her art.