Review: A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine.


Back in 1985 two friends from Queens chose to make new rap by unconventional means. Yes, A Tribe Called Quest were unlike other rappers, they had conscience and class and sly beats like hammers, with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White, they would lay down the line for what would be new life, for the art of Hip Hop had begun to evolve then, while reporting the problems it would try to solve them.

Positivity compounded in the Native Tongues with De La Soul, Black Sheep and Jungle Brothers as one, they took Hip Hop to places it had never been, and gave hope to all the people who were tired of the scene. In 1990 it would come to pass, their first album would drop and it would move some ass, and by “The Low End Theory” in ’91, with their legendary status only just begun, they could have no idea in 20 16 what a new ‘Quest’ record could possibly mean to those raised on Lil’ Wayne, Eminem and Drake, or what direction that the record could possibly take. As it turned out the album would go number one; after all this time they’re still tons of fun, the flows were just as deft and the beats still flex, even Enough!! (which ruminates on the trials of sex).

Opener “The Space Program” is a storm of layers, taking immediate charge and answering your prayers, a reinvigorated Tribe for the present day, fluid thoughts moving fast with their rhyme display that doesn’t seem to have diminished with the passage of time, Q-Tipall on the off beat, tougher than crime; a precedent set in production and sound and boy, do Quest like to throw the beats around. There’s an approach that reminds me of Robert Johnson, once he was done with riffs, he decided to toss them. Just bits they needed remain on track, and as the record progressed I thought they’d dial it back, but ATCQ know just what to do, not dallying or fannying, just smashing through. Tracks like “We The People” and “Whatever Will Be” would give Gil Scott Heron a smile or three, as their depiction of the life of people of colour paints a very dim view of how we see each other; how the media wants a black man to be a criminal, an idiot, a cheat, nothing covert or subliminal, how the way white America looks at its own is something that humanity can’t possibly condone. The Killing Season shows how the country sees veterans, or how someone’s only crime can be possession of melanin, which in this day and age shouldn’t be at all, as we’re all born human, after all.

Review: The Devil Wears Prada – 8:18

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine.


Christian metalcore, as a genre, has no shortage of detractors. Many source its fundamental unlikeability to its implied, often third-tier piety and identikit nature. Today, let’s put all that to one side and look at the music exclusively.

After reading the hype about ‘darkness’, ‘relentlessness’, lyrical misery and so on, one can be forgiven for expecting, at the very least, a properly heavy record. Production wise, there’s lots of chunks, chest-out ambience and plunging bass, with the ubiquitous backwards cymbals during empty moments in the beatdowns. Adam K, of gurning warriors Killswitch Engage, acted as executive producer with Matt Goldman, who worked with The Chariot, giving the whole record a dense, modern feel. That was a good omen; initially, at least.

Hereafter, my tolerance for this album evaporated. 13 tracks of overly plaintive, hope-withering bluster was too much, and by the half-way point of Sailor’s Prayer I was considering a future without sight or hearing. In an attempt to find something to like, I forced myself to listen to 8:18 over and over again. Of all the tracks contained therein, War’s chorus stood out, as did some of the quieter moments, the saccharine jubilation in squeals that is In Heart managing to pull itself from the wreckage.

The vocals, however, were agony. The brattish, unlikeable, sputtering yelps of a slackjawed shrieker boiled every drop of my blood. In the hope that this was a new, ill-advised direction, I consumed TDWP’s back catalogue, only to find the same material, with even more hateful vocals. Dangerously toxic even if coming from a teenager, these are the worst kind of look-at-me screams, the sound of someone professing brutality without any of the danger.

8:18 is a record TDWP fans will love, delivering as it does a toothless stream of single-minded, unimaginative, cro-magnon melody, an abundance of empty lyricism and a total absence of new material.

Not great.

Review: Miley Cyrus – Bangerz

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine.


As a hate figure for the easily outraged, Destiny Hope Cyrus has excelled.

Number 1 album and singles on both sides of the pond, with every foul husk in the slavering, morbid tabloid press baying for her every utterance. Many are asking what price this has all come at; the twerking, the drugs, the dressing in half a condom – to the outsider, she is a free-wheeling, miasmic firework, no longer tethered to the everyday.

This unyielding shamelessness manifests on Bangerz. Discomforting in the extreme for those who pine for the days of Hannah Montana, Bangerz is a harrowing litany of borderline sadism and genuine heartache; a schizophrenic, skeletal hydra, putting the lions’ share of weight on two opposing styles. Why this defiantly minimal record required 12 producers is beyond me – even more baffling are the 35 writers credited with its creation. 35!

Opener ‘dore You is a grand piece. Sweeping, elegant even, pointedly equipped with a simple, two part harmony, auto-tuned to illicit maximum emotional yield. This rather morose piece sets a dark, painful tone to the album; following track and recent single We Can’t Stop sounds as though it is seen through the eyes of the party-goer who’s been partying too long. With a slower pace than is common for the style, it is the regretful dawn, when everyone is burnt out, cursing their sniffing and headaches.

Unlike Ke$ha, whose records ooze brazen raunch and carefree energy, Cyrus’ party numbers sound like a girl trying very hard to upset The Man. SMS(Bangerz), Love Money Party and the idiotic half-country of 4×4 are shudderingly embarrassing, our protagonists’ truly moronic lyricism giving glorified corner-thug Nelly a run for his money.

The more balladeering work, the pinnacle of which being Wrecking Ball, is much stronger. My Darlin’ and Drive are strong tracks, and though that slow-motion kick seems to permeate everything, Cyrus’ wounded, straining voice soars in these powerful frames. She sounds believable and angry, not pitiful and young.

At the album’s midway point is a track called #Getitright, the most uncomfortable, desperate song in history. Framed in the context of the painful, one-sided relationships, derided public metamorphosis and punitive partying elsewhere on the album, this song paints the common picture of a girl trying to be something for a boy, being taken for granted and pushed to one side. Echoed in part on the I’ve-been-through-the-mill of Someone Else, what seems to radiate from this experience is genuine teenage pain, rather than a marketing team pulling heart strings.

Bangerz is a record that makes me sad. Not because it’s the product of increasingly dignity-crushing music engine, but because it’s a tough record to listen to. Taken as a commentary on the life of the artist at its core, Cyrus is a scared little girl, trying to be a woman, with as much pressure on her to deliver and satisfy her investors and hangers-on as anyone else.

Truth be told, this album is far too long; pruning some of the worst material, it would be a heartfelt, modern album with some dance on it. As it is, this is two distinct creations – the child in agony and her brave-face alter – scrabbling for space on one disc. I honestly believe there is scope for Cyrus to advance and be valid, but she needs to be mature rather than just sounding it.

Miss Cyrus, in case you’re reading – give in for a bit. Stop trying to be a dominant, sexual woman and let yourself grow into a person first. Too many are lost because they believe they knew better, and were found wanting. Learn from those who went before.

Review: Middleman – Counterstep

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine.

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Leeds-based quartet Middleman are a bit dangerous. Having every track on your new album licensed out to adverts is rare, especially an album that’s an amalgam of electrock, rapcore, dubstep and anthemia.

Reading their press release and seeing names like Blur, The Streets and Rage Against The Machine is a touch misleading; the toil involved in creating an album this wide reaching must have been significant, as the boys tear through genres like petrol station loo roll. Seldom is such cross-pollination administered so well, and points must be awarded for covering so much ground.

Opening with recent single Helpless, the bands’ intent of getting everyone involved is clear. Gang chorale not withstanding, the floor-burning, stuttering electronics that greet the listener are made to get you out and on it. Andy Craven-Griffiths’ vocals have come a long way from the perfunctory proclamations of previous album Spinning Plates, which, in retrospect, laid the foundations beautifully for Counterstep. Now a truly confident, heart-on-sleeve frontman, the final pieces of the puzzle align.

The glorious, star-caressing melodic work in Blindspot and Keep Breathing, and a desire to constantly push their envelope is both endearing and, in their lyricism, quite affecting. It is rare indeed for a band sprung from the historical markers of hip hop, dance and hardcore to be able to move with such delicacy, and yet Counterstep understands itself. This is an album – a record with a full and constant narrative. Even in dealing with that most common of topics – relationships gone wrong – the band are concise, direct and utterly believable; see Lifeline for proof.

Tempting though it would be to compare this record endlessly to their previous work, their contemporaries and touring buddies in The Streets and so on, to do so would be to do Middleman a disservice. A well-thought out, custom-wound, participatory record, and great on cans, this is an album worth taking on its own merits.

When the band choose to toughen matters, it is done so with great conscience. The punishing strength of Tunnel Vision, and the carefully off-kilter drum work and bewildering vocal overlay on Youth Is Wasted On The Young are well-realised and deftly executed, the production always giving the bigger picture.

Presented with the prospect of reviewing an English-voiced, dance-informed rap quartet, I will freely admit to expecting stilted flow, embarrassing lyricism and camera-on-the-floor council estate posturing. What I got instead was a wholly convincing, enthralling and human album that gave more and more with repeated listens. For a record to start off bouncing but end with the magnificent widescreen of Deny It All, with its strings and plaintive restraint, and to be bereft of a single cynical moment, was truly eye-opening.

Go and buy this record. Dance to it, cry to it, scream its words from the top of your lungs. A full five without hesitancy.


Review: Jahmene Douglas – Love Never Fails

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine –


X-Factor runner up (second is first after first!) Jahmene Douglas has overcome confidence issues, himself and his detractors to release this albums of covers. In keeping with the tradition of this heinous, dream-shattering enterprise, future I’m A Celebrity I Really Am I Promise entrant Jahmeme has enlisted the help of a couple of guests – the first being panel judge and mentor Nicole Scherzinger, and the second being non-sighted iconoclast and hallowed gift to the music realm, Stevie Wonder.

With each track on this record being someone else’s, one must look to Douglas’ interpretations of the source material. An able singer in the gospel/soul style, Douglas is more than capable of taking on this project. The production is very good, mastering the digital emptiness so essential for this sort of release. Everything is as it was intended, with every plugin doing the job for which it was designed.

Effortlessly taking the only good Coldplay song, Fix You, and rendering its deeply affecting, human construct utterly inert with his plunging/soaring Whitney exertions, my soul was prepped for an ever-widening spiral of sterility, and this record did not disappoint. The version of Beyonce’s Halo was completely dead, with the choral backing giving nothing other than the agony of a false smile.

Nothing, however, compares to the anguish of experiencing our shelf-stacking protagonist spending five minutes burying his mentor during their thursday-night-karaoke rendition of Houstons’ The Greatest Love Of All. A truly mind-blowing schmaltz excursion in the much missed hands of Whitney, listening to Scherzinger fumbling in her charges’ shadow was agonising, serving only to highlight Douglas’ prowess. If this was the intention, smashing.

I’d spent the whole record, teeth clenched, waiting for Stevie Wonder’s appearance on Christian traditional Give Us This Day, only to find that he limits his input to harmonica.  This was a crushing, saddening moment.

What makes this record such a harrowing listen, is it’s intention. This isn’t about Jahmene Douglas, it’s not about the artists he covers, it’s not about the music – it’s about someone, somewhere, making money from someone elses’ story. In the months or weeks to come, when Douglas is scrabbling around for panto work, those involved in this facile, heartless business will be circling the herd, smacking their lips at the prospect of twisting the heart strings of those who tune in for a bit of hope.

Because what a man like Douglas brings to the world is hope; hope that the ordinary man can rise from nothing to be a star, and that his hardships were not for nothing. This album will be bought exclusively by those who tune in religiously to the X-Factor, leaving the rest of us to get on with our lives. Though this almost negates the necessity of a rating, a five for the singing and a hard zero for the renditions grants it a 2.5.


Prophets Of Rage – Prophets Of Rage (Fortitude Magazine)

prophets-of-rage-new-album-debut-2017-1024x1024.png   5/10. It drove me insane.

Here’s the skinny with this. You want to love this album. It seems like a foregone conclusion that because it’s, like, Rage and stuff, that it must be good. Imagine, if you can, that the Prophets are a new band, not one with a legacy taking in Audioslave, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine.

Imagine, then, hearing Radical Eyes as the opening number; swaggering into view like a pissed-up relative, this ponderous, insipid drudge would have been acceptable at the album’s mid-point, but to kick off with it is not good enough. Unfuck The World¸ with its idiotic chorus, ultra-American anti-American-ness and festival-strafing immediacy, would have been a better pick. Two tracks in and I’m shuddering with worry, but when Legalize Me begins, I draw breath; this sounds fresh and pretty decent, but only in the context of the two wooden wrecks that have just gone past. The lyrics are absolutely rotten-the sort of toss your pious room-mate might come up with in 2nd year. Knuckles white with anticipation, I sit there fizzing away as Chuck and B-Real take turns emptying their bowels onto all of the language.

Still, I pray, that the potential of this may come to fruition. After all, how can all the components be so right and yet so wrong? The Counteroffensive is a genuinely embarrassing corn-fed turkey of an interlude which isn’t remotely necessary, leading as it does to the lyrical hope-crippling that is Hail To The Chief. The structure beneath the vocals is sound enough, somewhere between Rage and Audioslave. Six tracks in and I’m beginning to get this; these are the wrong singers for this band.

B-Real, while ideal for Cypress Hill’s Berettas-and-bongs fare, sounds like a hype man; Chuck D is the big lad here, his gruff, meaty bark a better foil for the Morello/Commerford/Wilk axis, and yet, he’s not enough vocalist for a band like this. It’s as though the two singers together can’t add up to the one singer that would have enough spit to carry the band.

The real rage this record generated was inside me. The more I pressed on, the more the pain of listening to it grew, and by the time Take Me Higher had smeared its join-the-dots cack all over my ears, I had to steel myself to get through the rest of the album. Strength In Numbers is a hard-line Rage cast-off, and while some might decry such an assertion and fly the ‘well it is Rage’ flag, let’s set the record straight-it’s not. Prophets Of Rage are presented as a fresh band, otherwise, they would still be called Rage Against The Machine.

The hardest part of all this is that this band is needed-truly they are. A band with enough pedigree to be heard with a message that’s worth listening to feels like a great thing, but for that to be a genuine success, the band itself has to deliver the songs, not piss-wet gash like Who Owns Who. If one were to remove all the lines where ‘the people take a stand’ you’d have one empty record, padded out with childish swearing and a withering lack of anger.

In the 30-odd years that I have loved music, I have never come across an album so frustrating, so maddening as this one. I should love this, I should be sitting here foaming with superlatives about its quality and trying to reign in my hyperbole, but I can’t. The message is essential, but delivered without grace or agility; the music is fine but needs different singers. Utterly infuriating.

It drove me insane.