It’s an obvious thing to say but Ibibio Sound Machine aren’t Radiohead. Radiohead aren’t important here – I could have picked any one of several bands to make my point. Anyway what I mean by this is that unlike, say, Radiohead in the late 90s, nobody is expecting Ibibio Sound Machine to make a great album. The pressure is off.
What people are expecting though, is a good time. This album is a party, then. But perhaps not in the way you might think.
By party I don’t just mean the party bit of the party. I mean the whole experience. An experience which, in this case, is sadly a sorry one.
The excitement builds beforehand in ‘I need you to be sweet like sugar’. The album opens with this yearning, all funky electro bassline, wah-wah guitar and spiky horns, but doesn’t quite get going. The song fades out.
A bit of pre-party stress. Is anyone going to come? How can we make sure people enjoy themselves? “Tell me what you want me to do…what more can I do?”
‘I Will Run’ begins with its Chemical Brothers beat and promises to be a highlight. Yet we find ourselves teased again as it fades out after just over two minutes. I’ve not left the kitchen yet. I’m starting to feel a little frustrated. Am I having a good time?
‘Just go forward. Don’t look back’ the next track demands. Ok I’m ready to get back into this. Or maybe I’m a little drunk now and actually I’ll pop to the garden and try and bum a rollie off someone and see how it’s going when I get back in. Another fade out. Do they not know how to end a song?
I’m back inside. ‘She work very hard’. Ok ok I appreciate the effort you put into hosting. Convince me. And two minutes in they do – my hips are shaking.
Next up is ‘Nyak Mien’. Finally we’re getting going. A few folks are dancing round Ibibio’s living room. And then guess what. FADE OUT. Imagine if every sentence. Of. This. Review. Jusssssssssssst…
Oh this feels different. ‘Kuka’ eases its way in. Ok you got me. I said rollie but, well you know. Swampy vibes. Doctor John has swapped Louisiana for Lagos. Temporarily anyway. Less than three minutes actually, before drifting back across the Atlantic, fading the track out as he goes.
While I’ve been known to stay to the bitter end, a night can be turned around by leaving on a high. Quick, out the door before final track ‘Basquiat’ fades out.
It’s over and all I’m left with is a highly unsatisfying hangover and the creeping existential dread as I face a return to reality. Doko Mien doesn’t quite meet the greatness that the singles tease you into believing it will.
I’m not saying I want the album to be entirely the party bit of the party, but I want to get a little more enjoyment out of it than I am. It just left me slightly flat.
I don’t want to feel like this about the party. I like Ibibio. Maybe albums just aren’t their thing. Like I said, no pressure to write a great one. I feel like nearly every track on this album, ‘Tell Me (Doko Mien)’ excepted, could be at least twice as long. It would give them the chance to really get the groove going. The next time I see Ibibio live, when they’ll have the opportunity to do just this, I hope they will have help me enjoy the songs as much as I want to. And play each song all the way to the end.
Words by James Spearing.