We’re All Alone In This Together starts with the sound of a film countdown. Dave’s previous LP, Psychodrama, was similarly framed with a cinematic concept. But whereas that record focused on a therapy session, this one will double up as a soundtrack for a film inspired by his mother’s life. When it comes to creating a film, the importance of a director’s vision is well trumpeted. But just as essential is the less heralded role of the editor, who assembles these visionary parts into a coherent whole. And (you know where I’m going with this) that is where this album falters. Like Psychodrama, this is a showcase for a technically gifted, charismatic and thoughtful artist that is hampered by an unfocused narrative and an uneven structure.
The Mercury-winning Psychodrama was a promising record, yet while Dave’s narration was at times compelling, on occasion it felt overwrought – as if he was trying too hard to create an Important album. But the highs were genuinely excellent songs, and that’s also the case on We’re All Alone which starts particularly strongly. The opening track gives us the state of Dave in 2021, neatly setting the scene by summarising his achievements, hopes and fears. It then slides effortlessly into ‘Verdansk’, a 3-minute freestyle-like track full of tough talk and humblebrags with his lyrical prowess fully on display.
The opening salvo also features two of the album’s out and out highlights. ‘In The Fire’ pulls that classic trick of hiding a bunch of features which results in a thrilling surprise on first listen. Over a pitched-up gospel sample, Dave is joined by Fredo, Meekz, Ghetts (continuing his impressive year with another stellar verse) and Giggs – all rising to the occasion with relish. And this is followed by ‘Three Rivers’, the best song here. Documenting his own process of broadening his life outlook, Dave discusses the British immigrant experience – touching on the Windrush scandal, as well as the lives of people from eastern Europe and the Middle East. Broaching issues rarely heard in mainstream music, it’s a terrific song that shows Dave at his very best: socially conscious and narratively absorbing.
Of course though, Dave is a 23-year-old commercially successful artist and more than just a social commentator. Some songs need to go off at festivals and bang on car stereos. And he’s absolutely capable of doing both. A problem on this album though, is that the socially conscious lyrics and the party tunes seem so completely unrelated that it makes this album a jarring listening experience. Take the way ‘Three Rivers’ is directly sequenced with the Wizkid-assisted Afrobeats bop ‘System’. I’ve trawled for logical reasons for this bizarre segue but I’ve come up short.
And unfortunately, the party smashes are incredibly weak in comparison with some of the straight rap moments. ‘Clash’ with Stormzy is nothing but a marketing exercise. It’s remarkable only for how forgettable it is, with the blandness of its beats and lyrics seemingly less important than the track merely existing. ‘Law of Attraction’ similarly has no character or purpose other than to get the buzzed-about Snoh Aalegra on the album. And ‘Lazarus’ is the record’s nadir. The references to (in no particular order): Lagos, a girl called Uche, paying deference to one’s uncle and Maggi cubes may seem like touching homages to Dave’s Nigerian heritage, but to me they come across as calculated and cringeworthy. I didn’t need to check that featured artist Boj was a Nigerian musician to know: this is a planned move to appeal to an identified market and feels completely naff.
The frustrating thing is that Dave can do so much better. Despite the album’s seemingly personal premise, this feels so rushed – almost as if he’s been encouraged to get a post-pandemic album out there ASAP. It feels as though it was half-finished, and it has been padded out with thinly developed tracks with big name features stickered on.
A couple of moments before the end illustrate that we could have had a richer, more satisfying record. ‘Both Sides of a Smile’ may lack a compelling story, but musically James Blake offers the best of the listed features, with considered production and a nice hook. And ‘Heart Attack’ summarises my frustrations with We’re All Alone. Over nearly 10 minutes of straight rapping, Dave lets rip at everything from his background, to his environment, to his mental state. I’ve heard it multiple times and each time it’s mesmerising. But why are moments like this restricted to long, hard to replay cuts at the end of the record? It feels like a more narratively satisfying album would have spread these moments around, and it’s a shame.
The intriguing, pandemic-referencing title of We’re All Alone In This Together is sadly a somewhat flimsy masquerade. It isn’t the narratively accomplished masterstroke one hoped for; instead it’s a half-strong album padded out with filler. The best moments here again suggest that there’s great work from Dave to come. With more time to develop his ideas, and with the same level of meticulousness applied to the party tunes as the social commentary, the next record can be a great leap forward. And with a disciplined editor on duty for the planned film, hopefully this record will land more effectively when it hits the big screen.
Words by Tom Burrows