The Bubble Album Reviews No. 29

Jason Derulo – Tattoos

Jason Derulo is something of a chameleon in the music world. He shifts personas with bewildering ease, playing the role of party-going womanizer on tracks such as ‘Don’t Wanna Go Home’ one moment, before becoming the most tender and selfless of lovers for ‘In My Head’ and ‘It Girl’ the next. To those unfamiliar with Derulo’s depth, this may seem to reveal a startling lack of artistic consistency and individuality. However, true Jason-connoisseurs will realise that Derulo instead intends to break down our very notion of identity through his music, revealing the innate fragility and hypocrisy of the human condition. The signature call of “Jasonnn Derulo!” towards the beginning of his biggest hits is therefore not a mere display of egotism; it is actually an attempt to cast doubt upon the concept of the self. “How could this one man, this ‘Jasonnn Derulo!’, be responsible for such an implausible range of emotions?” we wonder. This, of course, is the exact response he aims for.

Never is such innovation more apparent than on Derulo’s recently released third album, Tattoos. In eschewing such clichés of successful LPs as “having good production” or “containing generally nice sounds to listen to”, Derulo challenges our expectations from the off. Shrill, unpleasant opener and first single ‘The Other Side’ is a perfect example of this, as are undoubted future hits ‘Tattoo’ and ‘Trumpets’. Derulo’s insistence upon using an incredibly overpowering snare drum and the most piercing of synth melodies is particularly jarring – clearly a test to shake off all but his most die-hard of fans.

Recent UK Number One and breakout hit ‘Talk Dirty’ threatens to disrupt this pattern of sludge by being a genuinely original and catchy pop song, but is dragged swiftly into line with the rest of the album thanks to its groundbreakingly atrocious lyricism. “Been around the world, don’t speak the language / But your booty don’t need explaining” competes fiercely with ‘Trumpets’’ “Is it weird that your ass reminds me of a Kanye West song?” for worst line of the LP, although ‘With The Lights On’ contains a close third in “Hope you don’t mind if I keep my Nikes on, right? / We can film it all on my iPhone 5”. Such intentionally poor writing really forces us to look beyond the external meaning of the lyrics, encouraging us to look deeper and unearth Derulo’s true message. This requires repeated listening.

Just as impressive as Derulo’s layered imagery is his keen sense of contrast. The use of guests such as 2 Chainz and Pitbull (a pair of rappers, lest we forget, at the very bottom of their field) to make himself look comparatively fantastic is a masterstroke. Californian hip-hop star The Game also makes an appearance towards the album’s end, appearing on hidden gem ‘Side FX’. In what might perhaps be considered Tattoos’ emotional peak, Derulo very considerately warns female listeners of his dangerously addictive qualities as a sexual partner, proclaiming: “Loving me has got its Side FX”. Here (in case you understandably overlooked such complex wordplay) the song’s title is intentionally blurred with the phrase “side effects”, resulting in the kind of poetry most of us can only dream of.

Such musical brilliance (or R’n’B-rilliance, if you will) can be seen as representative of Tattoos as a whole. Derulo’s masterpiece shines on its own, but combines especially well with earlier efforts Jason Derulo and Future History to form a triumvirate of perfection. One can only hope that we are faced with the shortest of breaks before album number four, and the continuation of Derulo’s ascendency into musical immortality. Until then, our hero can rest. He has truly earned it.

Bravo, Jason. Bravo, Jason Derulo.

By Jack King

Death Grips – Government Plates

In little over two years, Death Grips have grown from nothing to become cult icons within underground music circles. Sure, The Money Store (their first official studio album) made it onto the shelves in HMV (those that are still left) but this new and prolific project still remains a rather niche hip-hop act, with their musical stylings not exactly best suited to an obvious future in the mainstream (despite Kanye’s recent best attempts to replicate and manipulate their aesthetic for a wider audience). The band are an unusual mix of hip-hop and industrial-noise-punk-rock, which I personally like to describe as ‘Grip-hop’ (a name to be submitted to whoever decides on additions to the unending list of official genre labels, perhaps?).

From the very beginning, on the quirkily Bob Dylan-inspired first song, the sound of shattering glass and abrasive, ear-piercing noise alludes to the fact that this isn’t going to be a major change towards the mellow for Death Grips on this album. Quite the opposite, as this first track is one of the most violently ferocious compositions to come from the band. The natural flow of emotion from vocalist MC Ride is as potent as ever, and this being the fourth mixtape to be released by the band in only a couple of years hasn’t diluted or watered-down either the quality of song structure or the aggression of the vocal delivery.

‘Hacker’ and ‘Artificial Death in the West’, from the band’s previous two albums both worked as stunning closing tracks (they are two of my personal favourite Death Grips songs in fact) and again here with ‘Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)’ we get an incredibly powerful, confident and textured tune to close the album off. This high point that the record ends on just begs me as a listener to press the repeat button, which so far I have been gladly doing.

The buzzing and churning intro to the song ‘Big House’ seems to symbolise the feeling of a person’s approaching insanity due to isolation felt while being in a large prison; the ‘Big House’, which could be either literal or a psychological metaphor for being trapped. Typical Death Grips themes of paranoia, anger and insanity crop up time-and-again throughout this album, both expressed lyrically and by the very style of the instrumental accompaniment. The song has an opening which is utterly captivating and hypnotic; the pulsing beat promises something very special but, unfortunately, the vocals which enter after a minute come across as a bit more subdued than I’d like, and don’t quite fit in with the atmosphere which is set up at the song’s beginning.

Another downside is that, for the most part, the lyrics on this album are not nearly as interesting or plentiful as on previous releases. While the short album length of just 35 minutes can account for some of that, several songs are almost entirely instrumental; a new approach for Death Grips. Perhaps they were running a bit low on brilliant lyrical ideas or perhaps they just wanted to create a different sort of listening experience. The first track (which I have avoided naming for brevity’s sake) is one of the more engaging tracks lyrically and also forms a very early peak in their levels of power and aggression on the album. ‘Anne Bonny’ and ‘Two Heavens’ are also high-octane tracks, with lyrics centring on power, control and insanity, both in situations of sex and drug-induced violence.

Overall though, this album is a very pleasing listen from beginning to end. It has a strong and moody sonic aesthetic and there are no tracks that I disliked. It is more-or-less what I expected to be hearing from Death Grips on their follow-up to No Love Deep Web, but in saying that, perhaps there lies the problem. I’m not sure I want Death Grips to become predictable. I don’t believe they quite did that on this album but a few more surprises would’ve been nice, when the biggest surprise of all was this album’s release in the first place.

By David McLennan

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