Because a lot of what I am going to say in this review will sound negative, I do want to start by saying that I love Young Fathers and I think that Heavy Heavy is a very solid and enjoyable album. In songs such as ‘I Saw’, ‘Sink or Swim’, and ‘Shoot Me Down’ it also has some top tier Young Fathers’ songs that I can’t wait to see in a live setting in a couple of weeks’ time. They continue to be a unique band. Their undefinable sound, the way they straddle so many genres that it would take me too long to list them all, and the fact that there is nobody else who does what they do in the way that they do it – all of these things still stand. I can’t argue with that.
But despite all of those positives, I do find Heavy Heavy a very difficult album to be excited by. This is a band who’s sound has evolved with each album, who has always surprised us, who is adept at doing something totally new while managing to keep their own personality at the forefront of their work. But Heavy Heavy doesn’t feel at all surprising. In fact, it feels almost exactly like I would have expected a Young Fathers album to feel at this stage of their career. It still lives, very much, in the world of Cocoa Sugar – in the songs that build and build, growing to a cacophony of sound, added grandeur to the grime of their earlier work. Songs that end abruptly. Songs that measure a real sense of drama against hectic vocals and aggressive percussion.
This could, in fact, be called Cocoa Sugar 2. ‘Tell Somebody’ sounds like it was left on the cutting room floor when they finished their 2018 LP, ‘Drum’ sounds like a not too distant cousin of ‘Toy’, ‘Geronimo’ a less intriguing ‘Tremolo.’ Cocoa Sugar is an absolutely cracking album, so it is no disaster that this album sounds so much like that one – but when Cocoa Sugar followed White Men Are Black Men Too, or when that album followed the Mercury-winning Dead, there was a real sense of ‘wow – look what they’ve gone and done this time’.
There has been five years since their last release, and yet they have come back with the album you’d get if you put the phrase ‘what will a Young Fathers album sound like in 2023’ into an album generator program on your computer (if this isn’t something that exists then it really should, okay).
So it’s definitely not a case that this is a bad album. It’s a good one. It has some of the most enjoyable songs of 2023 so far – but it does also leave me with a little ‘meh’ feeling after a month or so of listening to it. I expected, especially when I saw the album title, to be shocked and awed and blown away (again) – instead, I just feel comfortably okay with an addition to their catalogue that I probably won’t listen to again for a long time. Next time I want to listen to Young Fathers I’ll be reaching for one of the two albums that came before this one, attempting to regain that feeling of true excitement at the sounds they were producing.
Words by Fran Slater