Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2010-02-22

Having spent the 16 years since his last album Spirits in and out of jail for various drug-related offences, it's unsurprising that I'm New Here is being touted as Gil Scott-Heron's bid for redemption. There's a seductive mythology swirling around this album like a fug of cigarette smoke, which perhaps makes it hard for critics to tell the actual quality of the work. Unlike the austere starkness and denuding dryness which Rick Ruben brought to Johnny Cash's American Recordings albums, the music on I'm New Here is a soupy, swampy mix; a confection of doomy Massive Attack atmospherics ('Me and the Devil'), skeletal hip hop beats ('New York is Killing Me'), acoustic finger-picking (the very Cash-like title track) and dubstep bass ('The Crutch'). All of it suits Scott-Heron's voice perfectly. In fact, much of I'm New Here, produced by XL Records boss Richard Russell, sounds fantastic; it's combination of Scott-Heron's baritone rumble and ominously portentous beats creating a feeling that, finally, the man has come around once more.

But beneath this arresting sound, it's questionable how much substance there really is to I'm New Here. On the evidence of this album, Scott-Heron certainly hasn't been spending his down-time writing: four cover versions (including one of his own song 'The Vulture'), four poems, only one of which stretches past the two-minute mark, and some snatches of not entirely coherent reminiscences add up to a body of work which is over almost before you've had a chance to get to grips with it.

The album is bookended by 'On Coming from a Broken Home Parts 1 & 2', a crumbly spoken-word rumination on Scott-Heron's upbringing, which serves to lend the album a narrative feel which it doesn't possess anywhere else. Perhaps this desire for coherency explains the inclusion of a series of brief interludes. There certainly seems to be little other point to them, besides perhaps a spot of myth-building as Scott-Heron imparts some kernels of wisdom. Although I suspect if the wooly fatalistic platitudes of 'Parents' and 'Blessed' were being imparted in any voice other than Scott-Heron's commanding mahogany drawl they'd probably sound a touch silly.

So when we get down to its bare bones, what to make of I'm New Here? It's a good album, not a great one, certainly not a solid one, but the impressively moody likes of 'New York is Killing Me' and 'Where Did the Night Go' are likely to remind people why he is a talent to be treasured and its laudable contemporary sound could well secure him some new fans. If that's the objective here, and it probably is, then job done. Now, let's not wait 16 years for the next one, Gil.

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