There’s no figuring out what’s going through the head of our Editor-in-Chief, here at DiS. Occasionally, he’ll grin and proffer a CD that should have me foaming at the mouth – Beyoncé’s I Am Sasha Fierce album, for instance, just before Christmas. Where that album passed the first test of Good MOR (you wouldn’t jump out of your mother’s car if she put it on), Lady Sovereign actually passes the first test of Good Pop (you could play the whole thing at a party, with little or no irony), and indeed the second test (you can listen to it on headphones, and actually kind of admire the Lady’s wordplay).
In terms of production and credibility alike, you’ve probably got the impression Lady Sovereign lies somewhere on the scale between MIA and Mike Skinner. Without getting into why both are hilariously over-rated as lyricists, and the latter is a wuss (dry yer eyes mate…), “the biggest midget in the game” is way more entertaining. Opener, ‘Let’s Be Mates’ is relatively weak, but it sets out the Lady’s agenda, over squelchy beats, and a sound that’s the grimy opposite of Lily or Kate’s cartoon sunshine world: “I’m weird / you’re weird / let’s be mates…” Yep – she does sound weird, rather than (spit!) “wacky” so, sure, why not? Straight after that, comes a run of flawless pop-tunes that don’t exactly tack on the contemporary genre signifiers (grime, crunk, whatever), but work perfectly with them. ‘So Human’ is built around ‘Close to Me’ by The Cure, and easily improves on the original – the bouncy little number from the 80s where the bipolar new-wavers ditched Goth for Talking Heads-style synth-pop, back in the year Sov was born (awww... she’s got a sentimental side).
Title-track ‘Jigsaw’ sounds like it should be a massive crossover hit – Tegan & Sara powerpop with rapping – and manages to balance bluffness in the delivery with fragility in the lyrics (“mah haht iz lahk a jigsaw puzzle / pick it up and figgah it aht / won’t you figgah it ou-oo-ou-oo-out…”). Opening with a nod to the Ur-synth hit, ‘Da-Da-Da’, ‘Bang Bang’ (track 4) seems to be taking the piss out of the proliferation of “urban” genres with its reductive chorus “I got the bang-bang sound…” Fair enough – who needs authenticity, and hip samples of exotic music styles, when you’ve got tunes and a kickdrum? She even manages to do a sort of budget Bomb Squad production – layers and layers of beats and samples, plus clones of the Midget Yeah-ing with all the feigned disinterest of every gumchewing chav on the corner.
After hearing about (but not hearing) all those gruesome attempts at being topical from Lily Allen, ‘Pennies’ (track 6) is so goddamn rude to the unemployed, it’s alright; she starts “yeah futha-mukkas, iz Lady Sovereign…” and then breaks off in the middle, “ah know there’s a recession going on, but (haha) you ain’t getting mah pennies…” So far, Sov’s done well for playing to her strengths, but it’s too short an album for filler, and a song about being unable to play the guitar is pointless, however melodic and Northern Soul the cello-part happens to be (‘Guitar’ – track 7). Next, ‘Student Union’ (track 8) is as flimsy as its title – illustrating the lyric “it wuz crap at tha / Student Union Bar” with a lazy slab of post-Blur indie. (Yeah, I thought so too, but is this supposed to be a bid to get played there, by wacky / ironic twats?) ‘Food Play’ (track 9) brings back the fun, with some gastro-porn. Sov pitch-shifts herself into a sin-pixie not far off Karin-from-The-Knife, but it’s more than just a comedy track with its spiky synth line that could have appeared on Deep Cuts. “I got nips like cherry-pips” is worth the price of admission, not to mention the twist that after working through the Haagen-Dazs, what she’d really like is for you to eat a Full English off her, or maybe porridge (“mhm, porridge...”).
All in all – it’s fun. Micachu might have ten times the credibility among DiS-readers, and a comparable sound with less predictable tunes, but she also has little to say, and not one memorable catchphrase or chorus. Bat for Lashes just released my most anticipated album of 2009 (by a female solo-artist), and yet this has had twice as many plays, without the benefit of an ultra-cerebral allegory of the conjunctio oppositorum derived from (or echoing) ancient Gnosticism (which is what usually does it for me). Huh! Whaddya know?
6Alexander Tudor's Score