James Devlin is a bit of a lad. The title of his debut
album confirms this. 'Bud, Sweat & Beer's' sounds like a
manifesto of a kind or a call to war for Dagenham yoof.
I suspect, however, that there's a bit more to this lad
than his moody cover shot would have us believe.
The album is good; very good in fact. Mr Devlin spits out
his thoughts well against dense percussive arrangements which
are as musically interesting as they are confrontational in
a well-behaved literary kind of way. The words have a lively
presence in Mr Devlin's hands. He can do double-time rhyming
with ease (he's clearly learned his lessons well from Mr Mathers)
and brings an appealing freshness to this well-worn genre.
His friends and helpers contribute additional tone and colour
here and there which helps to keep the fourteen tracks moving
along nicely without detracting from Mr Devlin's centre-stage
performances. Jodi Connor does a particularly good turn on
'Brainwashed', a wonderfully moody piece of post-hardcore(ish)
sturm und drang. Beauty and the beast working it all out!
'London City' is a cracker too. A an urban soundscape which
depicts a night out in the capital with energy and elan.
It sounds as though Mr Devlin likes to party hard but retains
a degree of moral sensibility even in his darker moments.
'Marching Through The Fog', however, is a far more angry affair.
It blisters and burns its way into the listening world firing
on all six cylinders. Between verse and chorus he seems to be
at odds with himself : throwing out hard-as-nails challenges
to all and sundry whilst at the same time doubt seeps in
insidiously through the cracks. A litany of violent imagery
railing against "the dying of the light". Reflective rage.
'Runaway' romps along on the back of an addictively broken beat
but the keys, strings and Yasmin's lovely vocal bring a touch
of something approaching soulful tenderness to the angst.
Emeli Sande chips in nicely too on the short-but-sweet 'Dreamer'.
These switches between hot and cold and sweet and sour serve to
sustain our interest and attention from beginning to end.
As endings go 'End Of Days' is a curious one. Mr Devlin's
apocalyptic vision is spun out over a doom-laden bunch of
big beats and grinding synth/guitar chord progressions. He
spits out his message like a nail gun pinning us to the wall.
An album of clever contrasts. A powerful debut. Brutally impressive.