Roots Manuva - 4everevolution

by Charly Richardson Rating:5 Release Date:2011-09-26

Considering how long he's been going, Rodney 'Roots Manuva' Smith has maintained an impressively prolific output. He is not fazed by the pace at which the UK's black music forms evolve. Even a breakdown didn't cause much of a hiatus (listen to the title track of 2005's Awfully Deep). Yet only a few tracks into his latest offering, 4everevolution, you can't help thinking that - this time at least - maybe he should be opting for quality rather than quantity.

4everevolution peaks early and never really recovers. 'Here We Go Again' is by far the best offering (in terms of production anyway); a huge, brooding, crunchy affair with a filthy bassline and catchy vocal hook. But this is Track two of 17. The following track, 'Skid Valley', has tasteless, shrill strings and a tasteless, shrill vocal chorus. Luckily Smith's lyrics and wordplay are spot-on. His witty and insightful state-of-the-nation address contains more than a couple of zingers: "The cost of life's so cheap 'round here but the cost of living ain't cheap 'round here"; "I hear you talking 'bout them trade embargos, you see those chicken shops? You need to bar those"; "The birthplace of the gentleman that ain't gentle when they wish to gentrify". But the production doesn't do him justice. It fact it actually sucks the life out of his words. And this continues throughout the album: strong lyrics, weak production.

Roots Manuva albums have always have had eccentric skits, but they have been peppered inbetween well-produced, certified bangers. 4everevolution feels like an album of skits which have been extended into full tracks. There is the skippy reggae of 'Who Goes There?' and the slightly bizarre funk work-out 'Watch Me Dance' which sees Smith crooning about the joys of dancefloor courtship. In fact he has always been a good singer when given the right material, and the dreamy, wonky-pop of 'Wha' Mek?' is surprisingly enjoyable. 'Revelation' starts promisingly, and I half expected a huge post-dubstep beat to kick in. But the drop falls flat almost immediately, and a double-time grime-style approach would have been more appropriate than Manuva's half-time flow (although the The Old Testament heavy chorus is surprisingly catchy). The dancefloor-friendly 'Beyond This World' is probably the most commercially accessible.

All in all, 4everevolution feels more like an unfinished scrapbook of eccentric, electronic wonky-pop. Roots Manuva has always dabbled with other styles, often to great effect. But 4everevolution feels too scatty and unsure of itself. There are a few 'proper' hip hop tunes such as 'Crow Bars', 'Much Too Plush' and 'Take Time', but they don't quite hit hard enough. The bashment skank of 'Go Champ' boasts: "None can test the champion, Manuva the champion". But if he's going to maintain his title, he needs to find a new producer who can do the entire album rather than a track or two, and take time to put out a more complete and polished product next time.

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