You’ll all know the feeling. You’ve randomly decided to take a punt on an album with no prior knowledge of the artist, no sense of what you’re about to experience. Something just grabbed you. Maybe it’s the cover or the name, or maybe you’d seen them on the lineup of a festival you figure knows a few things about music. You’re excited. And then that first song validates you. Boom. You’re a musical Mystic Meg, a future predicter, someone with a spidey-sense for a sick tune. You’re a legend.
No? You’ve never had that feeling? Just me?
I had that feeling when Skinny Pelembe’s Dreaming is Dead Now opened with the Afro-Beat/Trip-Hop/Otherworldy ‘Gonna Buy a Car Today’, a dreamy, slick song that demonstrates his equal ability to sing and rap, his eye for a smooth but powerful piece of music. And this feeling of my own majesty only grew as we moved onto the second song, ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.’ What was going on here? Not only had I randomly picked an album that was clearly going to be musically superior, but I’d also managed to land on a political artist who is fighting racism with his music. Was this going to be my perfect album? The spiky beat beneath the lyrics about being ‘too black, too militant, too light, too assimilant’ suggested that it might just be.
The title song came next and I was able, for another three minutes and thirteen seconds, to sustain this feeling that I was the next John Peel. ‘Dreaming is Dead Now’ is a much more chilled out, abstract song, with elements of Morcheeba and others from trip-hop’s golden era. It’s limited use of vocoder gives it a subtle nuance, helping you get into the dream state that it discusses. All is right with the world.
And if I could just stop there, we would all become Skinny Pelembe’s fan club and we could rename Picky Bastards as ‘WE LOVE SKINNY PELEMBE’ and no other music would ever be necessary again. All those hardworking musicians could give up and go home. But, alas, I can’t.
Because we never really come out of that dream state for the rest of the album. And while we never cross over to nightmare, it does become something like a recurring dream that will begin to bother you to the point that you have to discuss it with your friends and order a book by Balzac. ‘Spit/Swallow’ seems to forget the need for words. ‘Without a Doubtful Shadow’ meanders, making two and half minutes feel like two and a half hours. ‘My Love is Burning, Down’ takes so long to get going that you think it will have to go somewhere very exciting once it finally breaks. It doesn’t. ‘Ten Four, Good Friend’ starts with an oft-repeated and reggae esque rap that promises much, before disappearing. Finley Quaye forgetting to write the rest of one of his best ever songs.
And by now I’ve crossed over into disappointment. I’m not John Peel. I’m not even Mystic Meg. And Skinny Pelembe isn’t as disappointing as I might have made him sound here, either. Things pick up again with ‘I’ll Be On Your Mind’ and I’m reminded that there are at least four stonking songs here. The problem lies in starting an album so strongly, with so much power, and then stepping down to something that’s so much more mellow and uninspiring. There was so much promise in those early songs, that I feel deflated as the album moves on. Dreaming is Dead Now, therefore, does not make me want to rush out and buy a copy of the album on vinyl. But it does add another artist to a list of careers I’ll be watching with a careful eye.
Words by Fran Slater