Roots Manuva – 4Everevolution
Big Dada/Banana Klan
At times while listening to his eighth studio album, Roots Manuva aka 39-year-old Rodney Smith reminded me of Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, watching, as he is, a hideous drama unfold in front of him while being powerless to do anything about it.
Grimness abounds on 4everevolution: it’s in the shivering, fatalist dub of ‘Here We Go Again’ (“It’s funny how life goes and scolds a dude”), the booming-about-apocalypse-over-a-bedraggled-skank of ‘Who Goes There’, and the declaration that the “honeymoon is over, never to return” on ‘The Throes Of It’.
One cause of all this uneasiness is that oldest of chestnuts, rampant capitalism. “Move to the big city / Sniff some gold / When you are old what will you have to show for yourself?” he asks London’s financial classes on ‘Revelation’. Smith’s ever-limber lyricism makes him one of music’s most ingenious chroniclers of glass-ceiling life in 21st century Britain. ‘Skid Valley’ — featuring Skunk Anansie’s Skin, no less — in particular chimes with the No Future-feeling in UK cities (Smith lives in Sheffield and London) that led to an August of smashed-up pound shops and burned-out Footlockers: “Cost of life’s so cheap round here / But the cost of livin’ ain’t cheap round here”.
But it’s not all doom and gloom — ‘Wha’ Mek’ is dreamy, and the buffed-up R&B optimism of ‘Beyond This World’ and Toddla T-produced ‘Watch Me Dance’ are straight-up bangers. More than anything, the album is a fertile 17-track exploration. Backed by his extended crew, the Banana Klan, it’s a mixture of ever-so-slightly portentous declarations, tongue-in-cheek wit and dream-logic meanderings, often on the same song. And it’s one of his most sonically-varied and genre-non-specific so far.
In 2005 people were calling Smith a depressive for the moody, squelchy, reflective derangement of Awfully Deep. But after the latest summer of discontent, this particular instalment of dark observations and inner struggles rings loud, clear and true. Tim Burrows