The trouble with recording an album in the lead up to a major event like the US presidential election, is that your efforts can suddenly seem tame and out of touch. While A Tribe Called Quest attempts to address some aspects of the last 18 months of nauseating electioneering, the album lacks the anger and urgency it needs to fit in with the fraught week the world has experienced.
We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service hits all the points you’d expect from an A Tribe Called Quest record. Smooth rhymes and beats, inventive use of familiar samples and loops, but it comes across as too sentimental — not surprising given the death of Phife Dawg during recording — and a tad pedestrian. Their lyrics tend to focus inwardly rather than apply a critical eye to the world in which we find ourselves, and while introspection is important, the world they create on this record seems too small, insular and limited. They sing about their lives, which is fair enough, but it isn’t what I want right now. That’s what got us into this mess.
It’s a tough pill to swallow. That a record so anticipated from a group so revered cannot provide the type of comfort I’m looking for. It might be unfair to expect it from them, but the best records tend to capture the mood of the world they were created in. I think immediately of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Released in the aftermath of 9/11 and despite being written and recorded months before the event itself, it has become a touchstone for those first years of the 00s. I can’t help but relate We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service to the blindsiding we have all experienced and how out of touch and oblivious at least half the western world seems to be.
This record, for better or worse, will more than likely get lost in the endless noise and histrionics that have come to characterise 2016.
Apparently Robbie Williams is still alive and The Heavy Entertainment Show is his wailing from beneath the rubble. Exactly what you’d expect from its title, replete with self-aggrandisement disguised as deprecation and song titles like “Party Like a Russian” and “Motherfucker.” No idea who this is aimed at but it misses.
“This House is Not For Sale” is the weirdest title for anything. Of course, it gives ol’ Jon a chance to bellow “We’re coming home!” for some reason. The band sounds like they’re having a good time, and who am I to begrudge them that? It’s my own fault for listening. Perhaps fans will like it, but like most bands of Bon Jovi’s ilk, they could release the 5th Symphony and people will still say it’s no “Livin’ on a Prayer.” I would be surprised if anyone bought this record, not because it is particularly bad, but because it isn’t 1985.
Tall Black Guy’s third record, Let’s Take a Trip, is a subtle yet absorbing mix of jazz, hip hop, soul and funk. Like contemporaries such as Ivan Ave, it is deceptively engaging while remaining mellow. I can imagine listening to this on a Sunday afternoon, or equally, late at night. The way it weaves samples and instruments through each other, makes it a record that will continue to reveal itself with each listen and mood you are in.
Kendrick Lamar didn’t simply raise the bar, he created an entirely new one. Hip hop records now have to either aim low and hit the modest mark of familiarity, or aim for the stars. Common’s Black America Again sails through these two points, never quite reaching the cinematic scope of Lamar, or his own Be, without hitting you in the guts like more straight-forward yet accomplished records such as recent releases by Ghostface Killah. Black America Again is decent enough and I’m sure it would benefit from repeated listens, however, given its lack of mind blowing ambition, it probably won’t get that kind of attention. From me at least.