Yes, this is a music blog now. I still might do the odd non-music related piece but I need to post more regularly and album reviews are probably the best way to do that. If you’re not that into music. Well. Sucks for you.
So anyway, if you haven’t been living on a different planet for the last month, you’ll know that Stormzy’s released his debut album and everyone’s been pretty much going insane. It’s reached number 1 in the UK charts and everyone and their mums have been raving about it and becoming apprentice roadmen.
I was very excited to give this album a listen, as the last grime record that I gave a try was Wiley’s latest album, ‘Godfather’, which was incredible. Seriously. If you’ve got a friend that’s never liked grime and doesn’t get it, tell them to listen to that album. Pretty much every song on it’s a banger.
I was expecting something similar from ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’, hence my excitement. However, I came away from it fairly disappointed. And I’ll tell you why.
But first, the good stuff. Now I won’t lie, there are some excellent cuts on here. The first single to be released from the album, ‘Big For Your Boots’, is punchy and aggressive (which, in my opinion, is what Stormzy does best) and also had a great music video which provided an insightful social commentary of modern day Britain (more specifically, London). ‘Cold’ is along the same lines, with a fast paced and catchy instrumental the compliments Stormzy’s style very well. ‘Bad Boys’ is slower in pace, but not anymore laid back. The trap influenced instrumental combined with the holy vibes of the low pitched choral backing really brings out the grittiness of this track. J HUS’ and Ghetts’ features are much appreciated, especially the latter with his very distinct voice and staccato delivery contributing to the overall vibe here. ‘Mr Skeng’ is another banger much along the lines of ‘Cold’, with a slightly less high-strung instrumental. ‘Return of the Rucksack’ is another great tune (the line “Then I blow on the riddim like ISIS” never fails to make me chuckle a bit).
Yet the majority of songs on this release leave me wanting for more. Stormzy seems to be going for this more deep and personal vibe, romantic in some cases. However for me, it just doesn’t work. Of course, he can do personal very well, as we see in ‘Big for your Boots’, but in these other cuts, it just sounds corny. The instrumentals are all very slow paced, which in itself is not a bad thing, but they feel lethargic when you know that Stormzy is better suited to going at a fast pace. On tracks like ‘100 Bags’ I keep on expecting him to start speeding up and the beat to actually, y’know, move a bit. Alas that doesn’t happen and subsequently I want to go to sleep. In ’21 Gun Salute’ the instrumental is so minimalist. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing. But here it’s just. So. Boring. On the other hand, ‘Blinded By Your Grace’ has an instrumental that feels so bombastic it’s ridiculous. There’s some sort of soulful vibe going on I think? Yet it just feels silly. Speaking of silly, the song ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ makes me cringe. I’m not sure why. It could be the clash of the subject matter (smoking weed ‘n’ all that) and the saccharine instrumental which would be best suited to a slow dance at some crap bar somewhere. Not a rave, not a club, not anywhere else really.
There’s a soulful vibe going through most of this album. However, it doesn’t work to Stormzy’s strengths. I can understand why people like it, and it is interesting that the big man opens up and gets a bit more emotional, rather than threatening to beat people up all the time. In my opinion however, overall, this album is just a bit boring. It’s definitely a disappointment in my eyes but I also look forward to what Stormzy’s going to get up to in the future. He’s got shedloads of talent and that was evident in some of the songs in this album. Again, like I said before, Stormzy is best suited to punchy, fast, and violent grime that buoys people up, as opposed to this slow, uninteresting stuff that makes up most of this album. The lyrical content is interesting, don’t get me wrong. But the instrumentals? Nah. Not my thing.
Before I finish, I would like to say that I am glad that the album’s reached number 1 in the charts. Unlike pretty much everything else on there (with notable exceptions such as Rag ‘n’ Bone Man), it has personality and character. As opposed to the processed garbage that’s being thrown at us by coked-up millionaire pop stars who couldn’t give less of a fuck about producing quality music. Mini rant over.
FINAL RATING: 6.2/10
Favourite tracks: Big For Your Boots, Mr Skeng, Cold, Bad Boys (ft. Ghetts & J HUS), Return of the Rucksack
Least favourite tracks: Cigarettes and Cush (ft. Kehlani), 21 Gun Salute (ft. Wretch 32), Blinded By Your Grace pt.2 (ft. MNEK), Blinded By Your Grace pt.1, Velvet/Jenny Francis – Interlude